science + technology news

Bird flu could reach North America this spring

March 14, 2006

One day in the next few weeks, flocks of wild birds from Asia will wing northeast across the Bering Strait to Alaska, where they’ll join other birds heading north from their winter homes in the United States and points south.

As they embark on their annual spring migration, Asian ducks and geese may be carrying some unwelcome baggage –the highly virulent H5N1 avian-flu virus — that they could pass… read more

Dangerous Knowledge

March 14, 2006

Can dangerous knowledge — such as the publication of the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet — ever be contained? Once opened, might Pandora’s Box be shut again? Those questions lie at the heart of an ongoing debate over the necessity and application of precaution in the deployment of new technologies.

“Reversibility” is a concept that Jamais Cascio proposes as a wiser alternative to the… read more


March 14, 2006

University of Michigan physician and researcher James Baker has developed multipurpose nanoparticles precisely engineered to slip past barriers such as blood vessel walls, latch onto cancer cells, and trick the cells into engulfing them as if they were food. These Trojan particles flag the cells with a fluorescent dye and simultaneously destroy them with a drug.

The heart of Baker’s approach is a highly branched molecule called a dendrimer.… read more

Software Helps Develop Hunches

March 13, 2006

Eric Bonabeau, founder of Icosystem, has introduced “the hunch engine,” software designed to enhance and refine human intuition.

When the user starts the hunch engine he or she is presented with a seed — a starting point — and a set of mutations. The user selects mutations that look promising, and the application uses that selection to generate another set of mutations, continuing in that fashion until the user… read more

Far Out, Man. But Is It Quantum Physics?

March 13, 2006

“What the Bleep, Down the Rabbit Hole,” a new sequel to the popular new-age film, “What the #$!%* Do We Know!?,” argues, based on the insights of modern quantum physics, that reality is just a mental construct that we can rearrange and improve.

The films raise a disturbing question about the muddled intersection between science and culture: do we have to indulge in bad physics to feel good?

A Fast and Simple Cocaine Detector

March 13, 2006

UCSB researchers have created sensors using specific DNA sequences, combined with off-the-shelf components, that can detect cocaine in the blood and other substances.

The sensor consists of a gold electrode covered in specific strands of DNA. When the target molecule, in this case cocaine, binds to the DNA, it changes conformation. That change increases current flow through the electrode, creating a measurable electronic signal that can be read by… read more

Black holes: The ultimate quantum computers?

March 13, 2006

Nearly all of the information that falls into a black hole escapes back out, a controversial new study argues. The work suggests that black holes could one day be used as incredibly accurate quantum computers — if enormous theoretical and practical hurdles can first be overcome.

Seth Lloyd of MIT has used a controversial quantum model, which holds that under certain extreme circumstances, such as the intense gravitational field… read more

Optic nerve regrown with a nanofibre scaffold

March 13, 2006

Hamsters blinded following damage to their optic nerve have had their vision partially restored with the help of an implanted nanoscale scaffold that has encouraged nerve tissue to regrow.

The method uses sequences of peptides made to self-assemble into mesh-like sheets of nanofibers by immersing them in salt solutions at similar concentrations to those found in the body.

I, Nanobot

March 12, 2006

Scientists are on the verge of breaking the carbon barrier — creating artificial life and changing forever what it means to be human. And we’re not ready, predicts materials scientist Alan H. Goldstein.

He predicts, and warns about, the coming elimination of the barrier between living and nonliving materials with the emergence of “animats” (living materials) — nanobiotechnology devices that can survive and function inside human beings, derive energy… read more

2006 Guardian Award Winners Develop Defenses Against Harmful Nanotechnology And Biotechnology

March 12, 2006

This year’s recipients of the Lifeboat Foundation Guardian Award are Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Bill Joy, who have both been proposing solutions to the dangers of advanced technology since 2000.

Robert A. Freitas, Jr. has pioneered nanomedicine and analysis of self-replicating nanotechnology. He advocates “an immediate international moratorium, if not outright ban, on all artificial life experiments implemented as nonbiological hardware. In this context, ‘artificial life’ is defined… read more

How to discover asteroid impacts

March 12, 2006

An amateur geologist has demonstrated the power of the Internet with his discovery of two impact craters, using free distributed software (Google Earth, NASA World Wind).

The Longevity Dividend

March 10, 2006

Congress should invest $3 billion annually in understanding the biology of aging and how it predisposes us to a suite of costly diseases and disorders expressed at later ages, say a group of researchers led by S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois.

Spintronics may save Moore’s Law

March 10, 2006

The Western Institute of Nanoelectronics is being established with grants of $18.2 million, largely from semiconductor companies with an interest in breakthroughs in spintronics, which holds promise in minimizing power consumption for next-generation consumer electronics.

‘Mental typewriter’ controlled by thought alone

March 10, 2006

The Berlin Brain-Computer Interface (“mental typewriter”) makes it possible to type messages onto a computer screen by mentally controlling the movement of a cursor.

A user wears a cap containing electrodes that measure EEG signals and imagines moving their left or right arm to maneuver the cursor. It could allow paralysed patients to operate computers, or for amputees to operate electronically controlled artificial limbs. It could also be used… read more

Nanodevices That Assemble Themselves

March 9, 2006

A new self-assembly process uses chemical processes to create small “conjugated block copolymers,” or molecular chains, along with a thermodynamic phase diagram.

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