Sunday, December 30, 2007

New efficient bulb sees the light

A new type of super-efficient household light bulb is being developed which could spell the end of regular bulbs.

Experts have found a way to make Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) brighter and use less power than energy efficient light bulbs currently on the market.

The technology, used in gadgets such as mobile phones and computers, had previously not been powerful enough to be used for lighting.

But Glasgow University scientists said they had resolved the problem.

The project, being developed along with the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde, involves making microscopic holes in the surface of LEDs to increase the level of light they give off.

This is a process known as nano-imprint lithography.

Dr Faiz Rahman, who is leading the project, said: "As yet, LEDs have not been introduced as the standard lighting in homes because the process of making the holes is very time consuming and expensive.

"However, we believe we have found a way of imprinting the holes into billions of LEDs at a far greater speed, but at a much lower cost."

He added: "This means the days of the humble light-bulb could soon be over."

Story from BBC NEWS

Friday, December 28, 2007

PBS Tempo video with Kurt Gimson

This is an interview with my good friend Kurt Gimson, whom I've known for close to 40 years. HIs real claim to fame is that he's always played a mean game of table tennis!

The Queen's Christmas broadcast, 2007

Embedded Video

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monkeys can do mental math, too

Rhesus macaques perform quick addition almost as well as college kids

"Rhesus macaque monkeys performed nearly as well as college students at quick mental addition, researchers reported Monday, adding to the evidence that non-verbal math skills are not unique to humans.

The study from Duke University follows findings by Japanese researchers earlier this month that young chimpanzees performed better than human adults at a memory game.

Prior studies have found that non-human primates can match numbers of objects, compare numbers and choose the larger number of two sets of objects.

"This is the first study that looked at whether or not they could make explicit decisions that were based on mathematical types of calculations," said Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at Duke whose work appeared in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.

"It shows when you take language away from a human, they end up looking just like monkeys in terms of their performance," Cantlon told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Her study pitted Boxer and Feinstein — two female rhesus macaques named after U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California — against 14 Duke University students.

"We had them do math on the fly," Cantlon said.

The task was to perform mental addition on two sets of dots that were briefly flashed on a computer screen. The teams were asked to pick the correct answer from two choices on a different screen.

The humans were not allowed to count or verbalize as they worked, and they were told to answer as quickly as possible. The monkeys and the humans all typically answered within 1 second.

The college students answered correctly 94 percent of the time, while the monkeys were right 76 percent of the time. Both the monkeys' and the students' performance worsened when the two choice boxes were close in number, following a similar downward-sloping curve.

"If the correct sum was 11 and the box with the incorrect number held 12 dots, both monkeys and the college students took longer to answer and had more errors," Cantlon explained in a Duke news release. "We call this the ratio effect. What's remarkable is that both species suffered from the ratio effect at virtually the same rate."

Cantlon told Reuters that the study was not designed to show up Duke University students. "I think of this more as using non-human primates as a tool for discovering where the sophisticated human mind comes from," she said.

The researchers said the findings shed light on the shared mathematical abilities in humans and non-human primates and shows the importance of language — which allows for counting and more advanced calculations — in the evolution of math in humans.

"I don't think language is the only thing that differentiates humans from non-human primates, but in terms of math tasks, it is probably the big one," she said.

As for the teams, both were paid. Boxer and Feinstein got their favorite reward: a sip of Kool-Aid soft drink. As for the students, they got $10 each — enough for a beer or two."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Caught on Tape: Death Star Galaxy

"The latest act of senseless violence caught on tape is cosmic in scope: A black hole in a "death star galaxy" blasting a neighboring galaxy with a deadly jet of radiation and energy.

A fleet of space and ground telescopes have captured images of this cosmic violence, which people have never witnessed before, according to a new study released Monday by NASA.

"It's like a bully, a black-hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy," said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who wasn't involved in the research.

But ultimately, this could be a deadly punch.

The telescope images show the bully galaxy shooting a stream of deadly radiation particles into the lower section of the other galaxy, which is about one-tenth its size. Both are about 8.2 billion trillion miles from here, orbiting around each other.

The larger galaxy has a multi-digit name but is called the "death star galaxy" by one of the researchers who discovered the galactic bullying, Daniel Evans of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Tens of millions of stars, including those with orbiting planets, are likely in the path of the deadly jet, said study co-author Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.

If Earth were in the way - and it's not - the high-energy particles and radiation of the jet would in a matter of months strip away the planet's protective ozone layer and compress the protective magnetosphere, said Evans. That would then allow the sun and the jet itself to bombard the planet with high-energy particles.

And what would that do life on the planet?

"Decompose it," Tyson said.

"Sterilize it," Evans piped in.

The jet attack is relatively new, in deep space time. Hardcastle estimates it's no more than 1 million years old and can stretch on for another 10 to 100 million years.

"A truly extraordinary act of violence," Evans said. "The jet violently slams into that lower half of the neighboring galaxy after which the jet dramatically twists and bends."

The good news is that eventually an area of hot gas that gets hit and compressed by this mysterious jet - astronomers are still baffled by what's in it and how it works - over millions and billions of years can form stars, Tyson said.

NASA, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in United States and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom used ground optical and radio telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to get an image of the violence on various wavelengths, including invisible ones. The results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal next year.

The two galaxies are only 24,000 light-years apart and are in a slow merging process. The jet has already traveled 1 million light-years. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

Tyson said there are two main lessons to be learned from what the telescopes have found:

"This is a reminder that you are not alone in the universe. You are not isolated. You are not an island."

And "avoid black holes when you can.""

Arthur C. Clarke Still Hopes to Meet ET

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke listed three wishes on his 90th birthday: for the world to embrace cleaner energy resources, for a lasting peace in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, and for evidence of extraterrestrial beings.

"I have always believed that we are not alone in this universe," he said in a speech to a small gathering of scientists, astronauts and government officials Sunday in Colombo where he lives.

Humans are waiting until extraterrestrial beings "call us or give us a sign," he said. "We have no way of guessing when this might happen. I hope sooner rather than later."

Clarke has written more than 100 sci-fi books, including "2001: A Space Odyssey." His fiction predicted space travel before rockets were even test fired and envisioned computers dominating ordinary lives.

The British-born writer, who was knighted in 1998, moved to Sri Lanka in 1954 and became a resident guest - meaning he can stay permanently without a resident visa - in 1975. Since then, an ethnic conflict has flared and continues to rage between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists on the tropical island. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

"I dearly wish to see a lasting peace being established in Sri Lanka. Peace just cannot be wished, it requires a great deal of hard work, courage and persistence," he said.

Clarke, who suffers from post-polio syndrome and is confined to a wheelchair, cut a cake with "Happy Birthday Sir Arthur" written on it, as Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse, visiting astronauts and scientists sang "Happy Birthday."

Russian Alexei Leonov, who took the first walk in space in March 1965 and was a guest at Clarke's birthday tea party Sunday, gave him a medal from the Federation of Cosmonauts of Russia.

"Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered," Clarke said. "I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Emergencies

"In The Matrix, the hero Neo could dodge bullets because time moved in slow motion for him during battles. Indeed, in the real world, people in danger often feel as if time slowed down for them.

This warping of time apparently does not result from the brain speeding up from adrenaline when in danger. Instead, this feeling seems to be an illusion, scientists now find.

To see if danger makes people experience time in slow motion, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston tried scaring volunteers. However, roller coasters and other frightening amusement park rides did not cause enough fear to make time warp.

Instead, the researchers dropped volunteers from great heights. Scientists had volunteers dive backward with no ropes attached, into a special net that helped break their fall. They reached 70 mph during the roughly three-second, 150-foot drop.

"It's the scariest thing I have ever done," said researcher David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine. "I knew it was perfectly safe, and I also knew that it would be the perfect way to make people feel as though an event took much longer than it actually did."

Indeed, volunteers estimated their own fall lasted about a third longer than dives they saw other volunteers take.

To see if this meant people in danger could actually see and perceive more—like a video camera in slow motion can—Eagleman and his colleagues developed a device called a "perceptual chronometer" that was strapped onto volunteers' wrists. This watch-like device flickered numbers on its screen. The scientists could adjust the speed at which numbers appeared until they were too fast to see.

See a video here

If the brain sped up when in danger, the researchers theorized numbers on the perceptual chronometers would appear slow enough to read while volunteers fell. Instead, the scientists found that volunteers could not read the numbers at faster-than-normal speeds.

"We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets in slow-mo," Eagleman said.

Memory trick

Instead, such time warping seems to be a trick played by one's memory. When a person is scared, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down an extra set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories," Eagleman explained. "And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

Eagleman added this illusion "is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When you're a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when you're older, you've seen it all before and lay down fewer memories. Therefore, when a child looks back at the end of a summer, it seems to have lasted forever; adults think it zoomed by."

This work could help better understand disorders linked with timing, such as schizophrenia. Still, in the end, "it's really about understanding the virtual reality machinery that we're trapped in," Eagleman told LiveScience. "Our brain constructs this reality for us that, if we look closely, we can find all these strange illusions in. The fact that we're now seeing this with how we perceive time is new.""

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chimps Beat Humans on Memory Tasks

Young Chimps' Photographic Memory Better than Adult Humans

"In a memory competition of man versus chimp, Japanese researchers found that chimpanzees performed better than humans.

"No one could imagine that chimpanzees -- young chimpanzees at the age of 5 -- have a better performance in a memory task than humans," Kyoto University researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa said in a statement.

In the first test, the chimps successfully counted sequentially from one to nine in return for a peanut or other tasty reward.

In the second test, researchers flashed just some of the nine numerals, then blocked them. The chimps remembered, with mixed success, where each numeral was -- in the right order, even though some were missing.

Though far from perfect, the results surprised the Japanese researchers, who reported their results in the journal Current Biology.

See a video here and here

One chimp, Ayumu, distinguished himself from the other chimps in mental ability. He was included in a second round of tests, which included him and 9 college students.

Five numbers were flashed on a screen for 7/10 of a second, before they became white squares. The participants were required to touch the squares in their correct numerical sequence. When the numbers were shown, Ayumu and the college students succeeded in guessing the correct sequence about 80 percent of the time."

The Hobbit

A BBC documentary about Homo floresiensis...the Hobbit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007