Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Britsih Science Festival

The British Science Festival is one of Europe's largest science festivals, taking place each September. The Festival is in a different location in the UK each year, bringing you the latest in science, technology and engineering.

The week long, jam-packed programme has loads of events for everyone. Each year thousands of people join us for talks, plays, debates, hands-on activities and more. This year the Festival is hosted by the University of Surrey in Guildford from 5-10 September with events taking place across Surrey.

The Science: [so what? so everything] team will doing science demonstrations and handing out goodies on 5th and 6th September, at the family weekend.

Please visit The Britsih Science Association for more.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Study: Monkeys share human preference for imitation

A new study shows capuchin monkeys prefer humans whose behavior mimics theirs, a trait they share with humans, scientists say.

This capuchin monkey lives in the Amazon rain forest of northern Brazil.

This capuchin monkey lives in the Amazon rain forest of northern Brazil.

Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health in cooperation with two Italian institutions examined how monkeys reacted to two types of humans -- ones who copied their actions and ones who didn't.

"If one person imitates what a monkey does, and the other person does not imitate, the monkey prefers to spend more time in front of the person that imitated them," said Dr. Annika Paukner at the National Institutes of Health offices in Poolesville, Maryland.

Research has shown for some time that humans prefer to interact with others who act like them, and people have a subconscious tendency to imitate others. Paukner told CNN the new study shows it is more than just a human trait.

"It's something that's quite old and something very, very basic. It's not just for us sophisticated humans," she said.

In the study, a capuchin monkey was given a wiffle ball and was allowed to interact with a pair of researchers -- one who, using another ball, attempted to mimic the action of the monkey, and one who deliberately acted in a different way.

Monkeys in the study consistently spent more time interacting with the imitators. They also more readily accepted food and trinkets from the mimicking humans, even when the non-imitators offered the same rewards.

According to the report, the new findings indicate an evolutionary link to the way humans form friendships and create social connections. It also eventually may help people who struggle in social situations, including those suffering from autism.

"Observing how imitation promotes bonding in primates may lead to insights in disorders in which imitation and bonding are impaired," Dr. Duane Alexander of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said in a written statement.

Autism spectrum disorders are often marked by an inability to recognize and process social cues that are clear to others.

The National Research Council in Rome and the University of Parma conducted the research along with the National Institutes of Health.

The full report appears in this week's edition of the journal Science.

Visit CNN for more.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Fabricated genetic fingerprints and the limits of forensic science


In CSI, the phenomenally successful television show about forensic science, DNA evidence is usually presented as something of a clincher. It's often said that a crime-scene sample that matches a suspect's genetic fingerprint leaves only a one in a million chance that he or she is innocent, and this sort of evidence is often among the most likely to convince judges and juries.

The police and the Home Office see it as so valuable and reliable that they want the Police National DNA Database to retain samples from people who are arrested but never convicted, even though the European Court of Human Rights has ruled this unlawful.

Since it was developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984, DNA fingerprinting has indeed helped to solve thousands of crimes, both convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. But valuable as it is, it is no more infallible than any other investigational tool. A fresh reason why has been highlighted this week by the New York Times, with a story suggesting that genetic evidence can easily be faked.

A team from an Israeli company called Nucleix, led by Dan Frumkin, has fabricated samples of blood and saliva that were provided by one person, but which carry the DNA of another. The scientists, whose work is published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, also showed they can build DNA samples to match anybody whose genetic code is recorded in a database, without even obtaining any tissue.

The implications sound pretty worrying. An enterprising criminal could cover his tracks, and frame someone else, by collecting cells from a glass they had used and turning it into a saliva or blood sample carrying the innocent person's DNA. An unscrupulous policeman with access to the DNA database might even be able to use its contents to create evidence that would implicate a suspect. The techniques involved, Frumkin claimed, are not particularly complicated. "You can just engineer a crime scene," he told the NYT. "Any biology undergraduate could perform this."

It's quite true that DNA evidence is potentially open to manipulation in this manner. I'm not entirely convinced, though, that this paper undermines its value in criminal investigations quite as extensively as it might seem.

For a start, as The Register notes, it's already perfectly plausible for a criminal to plant hair from another person at a crime scene, without recourse to a laboratory. Frumkin's claims about the simplicity of making DNA evidence notwithstanding, few criminals will have the resources or know-how to do it. And in many cases, their own DNA will be more abundant than the evidence they plant -- a rapist, for example, will still be vulnerable from the semen he leaves behind him.

Frumkin's company, incidentally, is trying to sell police forces a system it has designed for telling manufactured DNA apart from the real thing, by analysing methylation patterns (which are involved in switching genes on and off). It clearly has an interest in promoting the idea that this is going to be a major problem.

What this research does highlight, however, is the danger of treating DNA evidence as something special. Important as it can be, it can only ever be one element of the evidence that builds a case beyond reasonable doubt -- and that applies whether or not it is easy to fake.

The one-in-a-million probability of a chance match is a good place to start. The basic maths are correct enough, but that doesn't mean that the chances that a suspect who matches that sample is innocent are also one in a million. All that a match does is to place that person at the crime scene -- and most crime scenes will be littered with DNA from perfectly innocent people. Absent further evidence pointing to guilt, that should never be sufficient to convict.

What matters is the context in which DNA is found, and the supporting evidence. DNA from semen found on a rape victim, or skin cells under the fingernails of a murder victim, is one thing. A few hairs on the floor of a corner shop that has been robbed are quite another.

However simple it is to fabricate DNA evidence, it should never be trivial to plant it in a properly convincing way. So long as we see genetic fingerprints as one tool among many for solving crimes, and do not exaggerate what they can tell us, we should be reasonably safe from miscarriages of justice.

Visit Times online for more information

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Coordination Needed to Support Green Fingered Youths

Young people working on conservation projects are often coerced into "grunt" activities like digging holes or picking up litter and gain little from environmental volunteering, according to research at the University of Exeter.

The project, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), found that many young volunteers travelled long distances from cities to short-term projects in rural areas and felt they were being punished for being disruptive or naughty at school. They saw the conservation work as having no relevance to their future employment, or educating them on green issues.

'The problem lies in the mismatch between youth services and environmental education,' says Dr Michael Leyshon, who led the project. 'Environmental conservation is largely organised by people with a background in environmental science, but no training in youth work and youth workers have no training in conservation. The result is that young people and the environment both lose out. We need more coordination in the voluntary sector and an effective interface with youth services.'

Dr Leyshon acknowledges that many young people do volunteer because they enthusiastic about conservation, but he says that environmental skills should not be seen in isolation. 'There is a need for more certificated courses, in a variety of 'rural' skills, such as those run by the National Trust. But we also need to think more holistically, and try to connect skills-building with supporting local transport, training and business support as part of an overall regeneration policy.'

The report says that properly managed volunteer work in conservation could offer young people the opportunity to live and work locally. Latest figures suggest that each year 100,000 young people are leaving rural areas of England.

'Managing the countryside for the purposes of environmental sustainability is one of the few sectors of the rural economy that can offer the soft skills, like the ability to work in a team as well as the practical skills that could be useful in many other kinds of jobs,' Dr Leyshon explains. 'Environmental projects should be part of mainstream education, not somewhere for excluded kids and youth offenders to take a bit of exercise in a "green gym".'

Visit ESRC for more information

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

World's smallest laser unveiled

spaser lightGold nanoparticles (left) have been used to produce laser light (right).Noginov, M. et al.

The world's smallest laser, contained in a silica sphere just 44 nanometres across, has been unveiled. At about 10 times smaller than the wavelength of light, however, this is no ordinary laser, it is the first ever 'spaser'.

Whereas a laser amplifies light, using a mirrored cavity to intensify it, a spaser amplifies surface plasmons — tiny oscillations in the density of free electrons on the surface of metals, which, in turn, produce light waves.

The spaser could be used as a light source for scanning near-field optical microscopes, which can resolve details beyond the reach of standard light microscopy, and in nanolithography, to etch patterns much smaller than the width of a human hair. The device also opens the door to nanoscale circuits that could process information thousands of times faster than the microelectronic chips inside today's computers.

"This work has utmost significance," says Mark Stockman of Georgia State University in Atlanta, who with David Bergman of Tel Aviv University in Israel proposed the spaser concept in 20031. "The spaser is the smallest possible quantum amplifier and generator of optical fields on the nanoscale — without it, nanoplasmonics is like microelectronics would have been without a transistor."

Go to for the full article

Friday, 14 August 2009

Mars, Methane And Mysteries: Red Planet May Not Be As Dormant As Once Thought

ScienceDaily (Aug. 13, 2009) — Mars may not be as dormant as scientists once thought. The 2004 discovery of methane means that either there is life on Mars, or that volcanic activity continues to generate heat below the martian surface. ESA plans to find out which it is. Either outcome is big news for a planet once thought to be biologically and geologically inactive.The methane mystery started soon after December 2003, when ESA’s Mars Express arrived in orbit around the red planet. As the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) began taking data, Vittorio Formisano, Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario CNR, Rome, and the rest of the instrument team saw a puzzling signal. As well as the atmospheric gases they were anticipating, such as carbon monoxide and water vapour, they also saw methane.

“Methane was a surprise, we were not expecting that,” says Agustin Chicarro, ESA Mars Lead Scientist. The reason is that on Earth much of the methane in our atmosphere is released by evolved life forms, such as cattle digesting food. While there are ways to produce methane without life, such as by volcanic activity, it is the possible biological route that has focused attention on the discovery.

Please visit Science Daily for the full article

Thursday, 13 August 2009

So why do flamingos stand on one leg?

It is one of the simplest, but most enigmatic mysteries of nature: just why do flamingos like to stand on one leg?

The question is asked by zoo visitors and biologists alike, but while numerous theories abound, no-one has yet provided a definitive explanation.

Now after conducting an exhaustive study of captive Caribbean flamingos, two scientists believe they finally have the answer.

Flamingos stand on one leg to regulate their body temperature, they say.

Matthew Anderson and Sarah Williams are comparative psychologists based at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, US who are interested in the studying the evolution of behaviour.

"Flamingos captured my attention for a variety of reasons," says Anderson.

"Scientifically speaking, their highly gregarious nature makes them an ideal species for investigating social influences on behaviour."

"Aesthetically speaking, they are large, beautiful, and iconic."

"Perhaps most importantly, I was very surprised to discover how little systematic, hypothesis-driven empirical research had been conducted on flamingos."

Visit BBC Science for more

Questions kids ask

Why is the sky blue? Where do bees go in winter? What makes waves?

Are you sometimes stumped by the questions that your children ask you? Well, you are not alone. We at Science: [So what? So everything] found that a whopping 80% of parents have been baffled by the questions their children ask about the way things work.

But help is at hand. This website arms parents of young children with the science facts they need to answer their children’s tricky questions. There are also ideas for days out across the country and different activities families can do, to help both children and their parents to understand more about the science behind the way things work.

Please send your suggestions for fantastic science resources to help answer kids' questions, or ideas for “days out in your area” to We will place the best examples on the website.

Visit the Science: [so what? so everything] site to find out more

Monday, 10 August 2009

Battery Free Soldiers Power their own Equipment

EPSRC funded research aims to capture energy in soldiers march and use it to power their equipment.

Engineers at the University of Leeds are developing a new system designed to convert foot power into battery power which could reduce the weight of troop’s packs by up to 10kg. The devices will use high tech piezoelectric transducers to convert mechanical stress into electricity.

The project has been developed to help address the needs of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heavy packs which typically weigh as much as 75kg can severely limit a soldier’s mobility and lead to health problems.

Professor Andrew Bell, Director of the Institute for Materials Research who is leading the project at the University of Leeds says: “As well as the obvious green issue of using so many batteries, it could also significantly reduce a soldier’s pack weight. And this technology could potentially have lots of applications in civvy street too.”

The research project came about following an EPSRC Sandpit in April 2009 which considered the various problems faced by modern soldiers due to carrying heavy equipment such as batteries and telecommunications equipment. Participants of the Sandpit included chemists, electrical engineers, materials specialists, designers and energy experts. Serving soldiers were also involved to give first hand accounts of the problems they face.

For further information and media coverage:

Friday, 7 August 2009

£25M Trial Puts Electric Cars on UK Streets

Eight new low carbon vehicle projects are set to benefit from a share of £25 million of Government funding to run ‘real life' trials, Science Minister Lord Drayson and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis announced today.

The project will be the biggest of its kind and accelerate the availability of innovative low carbon cars to consumers. The successful bids, which bring together car manufacturers, power companies, RDAs, councils and academic institutions will operate ‘real life' trials in eight locations across the UK.

Government investment will support the investment already made by the consortia themselves and is the most significant step in the UK to date of a co-ordinated move towards low carbon transport.

Lord Drayson, Science Minister in the newly formed Department for Business Innovation & Skills, said:

"Low Carbon doesn't mean low performance. Modern electric cars offer power and bucket loads of torque.

"Today's announcement signals our intent to reduce our dependence on petrol- and diesel-based engines, and determine the best practical alternatives.

"Government and consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly vehicles is already creating business opportunities for established industry players and innovative new entrants."

Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis said;

"We want Britain to be at the forefront of ultra-low carbon automotive technology, blazing a trail for environmentally friendly transportation.

"Central to our plans is the stimulation of demand for low carbon cars through projects like this to test the technology and give motorists the opportunity to feedback the information needed to make greener motoring a reality

"Our aim is for ultra-low carbon vehicles to be an everyday feature of life on Britain's roads in less than five years. This is a challenging target and there is still a long way to go. However, if we continuing to work closely with motorists and the industry with initiatives like the demonstrations project, I believe it is achievable."

It is planned that approximately 340 vehicles will begin trials on UK roads within the next six to eighteen months, the biggest project of its kind. The majority of the vehicles are electric, with a small number being plug-in petrol/electric hybrids. The information gained from this project will make an important contribution to the future plans of manufacturers and their partners, to develop low carbon vehicles for the mass market.

The Technology Strategy Board created the Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator competition to act as a catalyst for industry, the public sector and academia to come together to create low emission vehicles and provide solutions to powering them.

The winning consortia showcase new and emerging low carbon vehicle technologies in real world situations - many of the electric cars will be recharged via plug-ins around cities across the UK, as well as at home.

Motoring journalist Quentin Wilson supporting the launch, said:

"For me this announcement signals the start of an exciting journey that will see a radical change in the type of cars that we see on the UK's roads in the next half century. The fact that there will be a move towards making these cars as appealing and as powerful as petrol consuming vehicles makes the next few decades a very interesting time for the environmentally conscious UK car driver.

For further information on the Technology Strategy Board

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Spaced out comets

So what do we do if a comet is likely to hit the earth?

Jurassic bully: Pick on someone your own size...

Scientists says the T.rex has been wrongly portrayed as an aggressive giant that stalked similar-sized beasts, such as the TriceratopsScientists says the T.rex has been rongly portrayed as an aggressive giant that stalked similar-sized beasts, such as the Triceratops

It was the biggest-ever carnivore to stalk the land and with banana-sized teeth and a set of jawbones that could swallow a kitchen table, Tyrannosaurus rex truly earned its name as king of the dinosaurs. But now scientists may have uncovered T.rex's dirty secret – it was a prolific baby killer.

A study into the predatory habits and diet of the biggest and most ferocious of the dinosaurs has concluded that T.rex and the other members of its carnivorous theropod family preferred to dine on juvenile prey, preferably small enough to eat whole.

The Hollywood image of T.rex – epitomised in Steven Spielberg's 1993 hit movie Jurassic Park – is of an aggressively agile giant that stalked and killed herbivorous animals of a similar or even larger size, such as the three-horned Triceratops or the long-necked Diplodocus.

These bloody encounters between lumbering giants may have made for dramatic imagery but the reality was probably far different, according to two palaeontologists who believe that T.rex and the other massive meat-eating dinosaurs that hunted on two legs preferred to pick on animals far smaller than themselves.

Titantic struggles between consenting adults may well have happened on some occasions but a far more likely scenario is that the Tyrannosaurs preferred to tuck into small and unwary juveniles rather than their fully-grown and dangerously armoured parents, explains David Hone, a British-born palaeontologist working in China.

"Modern predators mainly attack vulnerable, young animals as they are inexperienced in evading predators, and this was probably the same in dinosaurs," said Dr Hone, who works at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing.

"Young prey are easier to bring down and the risk of injury to the predator is much lower," he said.

Working with Oliver Rauhut of the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology and Geology in Munich, Dr Hone has reviewed the evidence suggesting that T.rex and its family went in for baby-eating in a big way. The two scientists also suggest that baby-eating was such a common behaviour among the large predatory dinosaurs that it could explain why the remains of so few juvenile dinosaurs have been found in the fossil record.

"We conclude that, like modern predators, theropods preferentially hunted and ate juvenile animals leading to the absence of small, and especially young, dinosaurs in the fossil record," the scientists conclude in their study published in the journal Lethaia.

"The traditional view of large theropods hunting the adults of large or giant dinosaur species is therefore considered unlikely and such events rare," they add.

It is known from preserved dinosaur nests that they produced many offspring and it is highly likely that most of them did not reach adulthood, with many of them falling prey to predators in their first few years of life

"Finds of dinosaur nesting sites indicate that dinosaurs laid large number of eggs and thus had very high numbers of offspring but little of this is reflected in the numbers of young in the fossil record," said Dr Rauhut.

But the two scientists also believe that eating baby dinosaurs whole or in large pieces by digesting them with the help of their stomach acids gave T.rex the added advantage of being able to utilise the minerals and nutrients stored in the bones of their small prey.

This could also explain why scientists have found so few bite marks on fossilised dinosaur bones, if it was indeed the case that T.rex and its ilk preferred to eat the bodies of juveniles whole or in large pieces –just like modern crocodiles and birds of prey such as eagles.

What little evidence there is from the fossil record supports this, said Dr Hone. "Although there are few records, where we do have the bones of prey species preserved in the stomachs of carnivorous dinosaurs they are from juveniles," he said.

Studies of dinosaur stomach contents and coprolites – fossil faeces – also suggest that prey was indeed swallowed whole, Dr Hone said. "Juvenile animals may have been systematically the primary prey of choice for the majority of theropods," he said.

Source: The Independant, written by Steve Connor, Science Editor.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Replacement teeth grown in mice

Replacement tooth (PNAS)
The researchers used a fluorescent protein to track gene expression

Researchers in Japan have successfully grown replacement teeth in mice, according to a report in PNAS journal.

Tissue containing the cells and instructions for building a tooth was transplanted into the jawbones of mice.

They report that these tissue "germs" regularly grew into fully functional teeth with a hardness comparable to that of the natural variety.

The work illustrates a technique that could lead to engineered organ replacements, according to the authors.

They found that nerve fibres were able to grow throughout the teeth and respond to pain stimulation.

The researchers also tracked gene expression in the engineered tooth "germ" with a fluorescent protein.

This revealed that genes that were normally activated in tooth development were also active during growth of the engineered replacement.

The study was led by Etsuko Ikeda from the Tokyo University of Science, Japan.

Source: BBC News

Monday, 3 August 2009

Careers in Engineering – Guardian Forum live discussion: Wednesday August 5th, 1-4pm

Following the success of the Guardian Online Careers in Science forum last month, the Science: [So what? So everything] campaign has sourced some experts in the field of engineering to help answer your questions about entering a career in this field.

A panel of engineer professionals will be taking part in a live Q&A on The Guardian Careers forum from 1-4pm on Wednesday August 5th. The panel will be available to answer questions and offer advice on the job opportunities available in engineering and give guidance to those wanting to enter this exciting and varied field.

For a list of who will be available to answer questions and to take part in the forum, please click here.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Monkeys live longer after eating lighter: study

A 20-year study on rhe­sus mon­keys sug­gests that slashing ca­lorie in­take slows the ag­ing pro­cess and leads to long­er life spans, pos­sibly in hu­mans al­so, re­search­ers say.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies with yeast, worms, flies, and ro­dents have sug­gested that this kind of “ca­lor­ic re­stric­tion” – a re­duc­tion of about 30 per­cent, and very dif­fer­ent from mal­nu­tri­tion – can lead to such health ben­e­fits in some mam­mals. But giv­en the many par­al­lels be­tween rhe­sus mon­keys and hu­mans, this study sug­gests that these ben­e­fits might oc­cur in hu­mans as well, ac­cord­ing to the sci­en­tists.

Calorie-restric­ted mon­key "Can­to." (Cour­tesy Sci­ence)

Ricki Col­man at the Wis­con­sin Na­tional Pri­mate Re­search Cen­ter and col­leagues be­gan the study in 1989 by as­sign­ing adult rhe­sus mon­keys, each be­tween age sev­en and 14, to ei­ther a ca­lor­ic re­stric­tion group or a con­trol group.

Once the mon­keys were as­signed, the re­search­ers be­gan re­duc­ing the di­ets of mon­keys in the ca­lor­ic re­stric­tion group by 10 per­cent every three months un­til they reached the de­sired 30 per­cent cut­back.

At the end of the stu­dy, 37 per­cent of the con­trol group had died of age-re­lat­ed causes while only 13 per­cent of the ca­lor­ic-re­stric­tion group had, they found. This find­ing means that the con­trol mon­keys ex­pe­ri­enced a death rate from age-re­lat­ed con­di­tions such as di­a­be­tes, can­cer, car­di­o­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, and brain at­ro­phy three times that of the ca­lor­ic re­stric­tion group.

Any mon­key that died during the study un­der­went a com­plete nec­rop­sy by a board-certified path­ol­o­gist, so that age-re­lat­ed deaths could be dis­tin­guished from oth­er un­re­lat­ed con­di­tions, the re­search­ers not­ed.

The find­ings are to ap­pear in the July 10 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Sci­ence.

A study in the No­vem­ber 2007 is­sue of the jour­nal An­nals of the New York Acad­e­my of Sci­ences reached si­m­i­lar con­clu­sions about the ben­e­fits of ca­lor­ic re­stric­tion by com­par­ing Amer­i­cans with some Jap­a­nese popula­t­ions with tra­di­tion­ally spare di­ets.

Please visit World Science for more information

Bloodhound diary: speed record

RAF fighter pilot Andy Green intends to get behind the wheel of a car that is capable of reaching 1,000mph (1,609km/h). Powered by a rocket bolted to a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine, the Bloodhound car will mount an assault on the land speed record.

Wing Cmdr Green is writing a diary for the BBC News Website about his experiences working on the Bloodhound project and the team's efforts to inspire national interest in science and engineering.

He says the latter presents "a huge task", but is worth the effort. He adds: "If we want to live in a high technology low-carbon world in the near future, then someone is going to have to build it for us, and that someone needs to be inspired now".

for more information on the Bloohound including Wing Cmdr Green's diary and video interview visit the BBC news site.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

News Release - heic0909: Hubble captures rare Jupiter collision

Click for larger image.

24-Jul-2009: The checkout and calibration of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been interrupted to aim the recently refurbished observatory at a new expanding spot on the giant planet Jupiter. The spot, caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, is changing from day to day in the planet’s cloud tops.

For the past several days the world's largest telescopes have been trained on Jupiter. Not to miss the potentially new science in the unfolding drama 580 million kilometres away, Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, allocated discretionary time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Hubble picture, taken on 23 July, is the sharpest visible-light picture taken of the feature and is Hubble's first science observation following its repair and upgrade in May. Observations were taken with Hubble's new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

"This is just one example of what Hubble's new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the hard work of the astronauts and the entire Hubble team", said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Fortunately, the best is yet to come!"

"Hubble's truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the 2009 impact site", said Hammel. "By combining these images with our ground-based data at other wavelengths, our Hubble data will allow a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening to the impact debris. My sincerest congratulations and thanks to the team who created Wide Field Camera 3 and to the astronauts who installed it!"

Discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley on Sunday, July 19, the spot was created when a small object plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrated. The only other time in history such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was 15 years ago.

"This is strikingly similar to the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 that impacted Jupiter in July 1994", said team member Keith Noll of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

"Since we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble", added Amy Simon-Miller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. She explained that the details seen in the Hubble view show a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter's atmosphere. The spot is presently about twice the length of the whole of Europe.

Simon-Miller estimated that the diameter of the object that slammed into Jupiter was at least twice the size of several football fields. The force of the explosion on Jupiter was thousands of times more powerful than the suspected comet or asteroid that exploded over the Tunguska River Valley in Siberia in June 1908.

The WFC3, installed by astronauts on the Space Shuttle in May, is not yet fully calibrated. So while it is possible to obtain celestial images, the camera's full power cannot yet be realised for most observations. The WFC3 can still return meaningful science images that will complement the Jupiter pictures being taken with ground-based telescopes.


Museums and TV have dinosaurs' posture all wrong, claim scientists

Photograph: Getty

The popular depiction of sauropod dinosaurs such as Camarasaurus, above, as lumbering creatures with outstretched necks may be wrong. 

The staid and scholarly world of palaeontology was thrown into rare turmoil yesterday following the latest salvo in an argument that dates back to Jurassic times.

The row erupted after a team of British fossil experts published a fresh analysis of animal bones in an arcane academic journal. In their paper they challenge a view of dinosaurs that is so familiar it has almost become the accepted truth.

The controversy goes to the heart of our perception of the largest of the dinosaurs, the sauropods, which became widespread 150m years ago in the late Jurassic. According to the researchers, the beasts did not stick their necks out in front of them as so often depicted, but held their heads high on majestic, curving, swan-like necks.

The claim overturns the popular impression of the lumbering creatures given by museum exhibits and TV series like the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs. The sauropods include many of the most well known prehistoric beasts, such as diplodocus and apatosaurus, the dinosaur formerly known as brontosaurus. Some sauropods were more than 40m long and weighed over 100 tonnes.

"Unless sauropods carried their heads and necks differently from every living vertebrate, we have to assume that the base of their neck was curved strongly upwards," said Mike Taylor, a palaeontologist at Portsmouth University in the UK, who led the study. "In some sauropods this would have meant a graceful, swan-like S-curve to the neck, and a look quite different from the recreations we are used to seeing today."

In their study, Taylor and his team examined the natural neck posture of a wide range of land vertebrates, such as cats, rabbits, turtles and crocodiles. They found that almost all of them hold their necks in an upright, S-shaped curve, even though analysis of the bones alone would suggest the neck should stick out horizontally. His report appears in the journal Acta Paleontologica Polonica.

"The burden of proof is very much on people who want to argue for a different posture," he said. "They are arguing that sauropods are doing it differently to everything else that's alive today."

Dave Martill, another palaeontologist at Portsmouth, said it was easy for fossil hunters and museum staff to get the posture of dinosaurs wrong. But he added: "In this case it is shocking, because our perception of these animals is ingrained, then someone comes along 50 years later and says it doesn't look like this at all."

The comments triggered an immediate response from the Natural History Museum in London, where dinosaur experts were keen to point out that it is almost impossible to be sure how the beasts carried themselves in their natural environment.

"The criticisms that various museums have their dinosaurs in the wrong positions are just nonsense," said Paul Barrett, one of the museum's dinosaur researchers. "I suspect no museum has a sauropod mounted in a position it couldn't achieve. Their necks may have been vertical from time to time, but they were still able to come down low to drink."

There is more to the debate than academic pride. If sauropods walked with their necks upright, it would change palaeontologists' understanding of their behaviour. Their ability to spot predators and potential mates would be dramatically different. It would also change experts' view of their ecological role as the animals would be able to feed on food that was out of reach of many other dinosaurs.

The idea that sauropods held their necks upright is not new. Until the 1950s, most dinosaur experts considered this to be their natural posture. That view changed when scientists suggested that an upright neck would raise the animals' blood pressure catastrophically.

In a study published only last month, the Australian palaeontologist Roger Seymour calculated that if a saurpod held its head upright, it would use half of its energy pumping blood to its brain, requiring a two-tonne heart that would hardly fit inside its ribcage.

But Taylor said the estimates of blood pressure were based on extrapolations from smaller animals, which he doesn't believe are valid for larger creatures.

"It might be that the sauropods found a similar way around the problem as giraffes, but we have no way of knowing. We just can't tell with the sauropods, because they're all dead," said Barrett.

Source: Guardian science

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bang Goes The Theory Free Science Roadshow

Bang Goes The Theory is BBC One's exciting new series that looks at how science shapes the world around us. From climbing a building using a vacuum cleaner to trying to enter the space race, Bang Goes the Theory discovers and challenges the astonishing scientific principles that shape our world.

This summer BBC Learning is giving everyone the opportunity to get involved with the thrills and spills of the programme with an exciting. Bang Goes The Theory roadshow currently touring the UK with live science shows, interactive exhibits and your chance to meet the Bang Goes the Theory presenters. For more information go to where you'll also find experiments that you can try out yourself and more information on the programme.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Brendan Walker shows us how we can be thrilled

Science: [so what? so everything] case study Brendan Walker shows us the science behind thrills and puts some Bankers through their paces on a bucking bronco.

The bankers are hooked up to a telemetry system which includes a heart-rate monitor, accelerometer and video camera. Physiological data and facial expressions are captured and beamed live into the control station where a member of the public is controlling the ride, making it more or less intense.

Brendan uses this data to helop develop the rides of the future. Foe more information on Brendan visit Science: [so what? so everything].

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

DART trial finds HIV therapy could be given safely without routine laboratory tests to save more lives in Africa

The largest clinical trial of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for people with HIV infection ever run in Africa has found that regular laboratory tests offer little additional clinical benefit to populations when compared to careful clinical monitoring.

The results suggest that many more people with HIV in Africa could be treated for the same amount of money as is currently spent if lab tests are not routinely used to monitor the effects of ART.

The evidence from the Development of Anti-Retroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) clinical trial will be of value to low income or resource poor countries that are prioritising ART access over investment in expensive laboratory facilities.

The DART trial aimed to find out whether the lab-based strategies used to deliver ART to people with HIV infection in resource rich countries were essential in Africa, where around 4 million people still need ART urgently and resources are limited...

Please visit MRC for more information.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Meet your virtual twin

Personalised simulations used to test treatments could soon be integrated into an entire virtual human:

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Careers in Science – Guardian Forum live discussion: July 16, 12-3pm

The Science: [So what? So everything] campaign is encouraging people to find out more about the variety of exciting job opportunities available in science.

To tie in with the campaign, a panel of science professionals will be taking part in a live Q&A on The Guardian Careers forum from 12-3pm on Thursday July 16th. The panel will be available to answer questions and offer advice ranging across the job opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and maths and give help for entering this vast and assorted field. Even if you don’t have any science qualifications, log on to find out more about what opportunities may be available to you.

For a list of who will be available to answer questions and to take part in the forum, please click here.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Science communicator position

“Science: So What? is a Department of Business Innovation and Skills campaign to encourage wider public engagement in science at all levels - from casual interest to education and employment opportunities - as well as promoting greater understanding of why science is important to the UK.

As part of refreshing the campaign we are now looking for a science communicator to find, create and edit online content and manage dialogue across the web and social media.

We’re looking for people that have a track record as a science writer, the ability to write for diverse audiences (including young people) and excellent working knowledge of online science content, social media etiquette, and the principles of good science communication.

We imagine this to be a part-time role in the first instance, but we are open-minded as to how the role will develop and would hope that you would want to be a part of that ongoing development.

If you would like more information please contact us with your name and contact details and a brief paragraph describing your experience at email address: sciencesowhatcommunicator at googlemail dot com .”

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

UK Sport: Garage Innovators Award

OBJECTIVE: To provide an avenue for British people to submit their ideas for innovation which, if explored, have the potential to improve the performance of British Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

The award is primarily aimed at those individuals with a passion to see the Great Britain team succeed, as the prize will enable the inventor to realise their idea, whilst enabling UK Sport to utilise any outcomes prior to 2012 during a period of exclusivity. £25,000 is on offer for an idea that has potential, and can be used to further the concept. If the inventor is unable to resource the idea development within their everyday business then UK Sport will find appropriate resources from the established Innovation Partner network and retain the inventor as an advisor. The Inventor will retain the Intellectual Property Rights of the invention.

JUDGING PANEL: Members of the UK Sport Innovation Partnership Network and other leading experts in the field of elite sport performance, including Olympic gold medallist Jason Queally, will scrutinise applications during the initial review.

PRIZES: Three finalists will be chosen by the UK Sport assessment panel and will each receive £500 for presenting their ideas at the awards event later in the year. The awards event judging panel will decide which idea has greatest potential to improve Olympic and Paralympic performance.
APPLICATION PROCEDURE: We have devised a simple application form. We are asking for an overview of your research, an explanation of the benefits to Olympic and Paralympic sports and how you would use up to £25,000 to further your idea.

IMPORTANT DATES: Applications for the 2009 Garage Innovators Award are NOW OPEN. Applications for this year's award must be submitted by 10 July 2009. Finalists will be notified in writing within two weeks of the closing date.

ENQUIRIES: Any enquiries about applying for the Garage Innovators Award, or the Ideas 4 Innovation programme as a whole, should be directed to Alison Neall. Email:

TERMS AND CONDITIONS: The judging panel reserves the right not to award the £25,000 research funding if it feels there are no projects that warrant further investigation. Please see below for full terms and conditions.

To find out more visit UK Sport

Monday, 29 June 2009

Medicine and Engineering unite to create 21st Century healthcare technology

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Wellcome Trust and have announced joint funding for four new Centres of Excellence in Medical Engineering to transform the future of healthcare.

Engineers have been at the forefront of medical innovation throughout the history of medicine, benefiting millions of people with tools such as implants and prosthetic limbs, devices to monitor the physiological state of patients, and instruments to maintain bodily functions, such as the implantable pacemaker. As both medicine and engineering continue to advance at great pace, it is crucial that the links between these disciplines are maintained, especially with the potential for groundbreaking advances in fields such as imaging and genetics.

In the UK, the population is ageing – people are living longer thanks to modern medicine. But as we get older, our bodies need more help to support us. Medical engineering will play an important role in meeting this growing demand.

Four interdisciplinary research teams – at Imperial College London, King’s College London, University of Leeds and Oxford University – will receive a combined total of £41 million over the next five years. The funding will help to develop integrated teams of clinicians, biomedical scientists and world-class engineers with the capacity to invent high-tech solutions to medical challenges, potentially improving thousands of patients’ lives.

  • Imperial College – Osteoarthritis: £10,951,487
    Professor Ross Ethier said: “Around 8.5 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis. It is the most common cause of chronic pain and costs the country an estimated £5.5 billion every year directly and indirectly. Our Centre will develop technologies to improve the lives of patients with osteoarthritis. For example, we will create the next generation of hip and knee replacement implants that will last longer and require less invasive surgery to fit. Tissue engineering will also contribute hugely in this area, using patients’ own cells to grow new cartilage for osteoarthritic knees. A better understanding of the disease will also lead to new technologies to diagnose and treat osteoarthritis at a much earlier stage.”

  • KCL – Medical Imaging: £10,200,355
    Professor Reza Razavi said: “Our Medical Engineering Centre will break down the barriers between engineering, the physical sciences, and biology and medicine. We will conduct world-class clinical trials to show the benefit of new discoveries in imaging technology that the centre will produce. I see patients in my clinic every day, so I have a very clear understanding of what they need to make their lives better. Medical imaging has the capacity to give my patients access to new tools for earlier and more precise diagnoses of cancer and heart disease, better targeted therapies, less invasive surgery, and improved techniques for rebuilding tissue after surgery.”

  • Leeds – “50 more years after 50”: £11,184,754
    Professor John Fisher said: “While more of us are living longer, our bones, joints and cardiovascular systems continue to degenerate as we age. At Leeds, we are looking how to help the skeleton, muscles and cardiovascular system support our bodies as we get older, through improved prosthetic implants and technologies to help our tissues regenerate. We are also looking to understand the process of degeneration so we can accurately diagnose its early stages and deliver appropriate and timely interventions. Our work is all driven by the concept of 50 more years after 50 – making our second 50 years as healthy, comfortable and active as our first.”

  • Oxford – Personalised healthcare: £8,002,101
    Professor Lionel Tarassenko said: “Much of the 20th Century was devoted to developing treatments that are broadly effective in most people. However, it has become clear that long-term conditions such as asthma, diabetes and cancer are best managed by taking into account how the individual is responding to their particular therapy. We will be developing techniques and strategies to precisely measure individuals’ response to their condition and therapies, and use those measurements to adjust and improve the way the person is being treated. This approach could have real impact on survival rates and improve the quality of life for people living with long-term conditions, from birth through to old age.”

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, said: “The Medical Engineering funding scheme has resonated with existing research programmes across the UK, but it has also stimulated new research teams to consider medical applications of emerging technology. This proves the value of the joint initiative in fostering highly potent partnerships and the new inventions that will result, which could have massive benefit for patients.”

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "Research in medical engineering has been responsible for major advances in healthcare, ranging from ultrasound scanning in pregnancy to hip and knee replacements. The opportunities for engineers and medical scientists to collaborate are endless but all too often are missed because each community operates in its own siloed compartment. I am delighted by this collaboration between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, which will fund four interdisciplinary teams to work on major medical unmet needs."

For more information please visit EPSRC

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Fishing puts a third of all oceanic shark species at risk of extinction

The first World Conservation Union (IUCN) red list of oceanic sharks names 64 species as endangered. Sharks are vulnerable because they take decades to mature and produce few young.

Overfishing threatens to drive a third of the world's open-ocean shark species to extinction, say conservationists. Hammerheads, giant devil rays and porbeagle sharks are among 64 species on the first ever red list for oceanic sharks produced by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Sharks are vulnerable because they can take decades to mature and they produce few young. The scalloped hammerhead shark, which has declined by 99% over the past 30 years in some parts of the world, is particularly vulnerable and has been given globally endangered status on the red list, which means it is nearing extinction. In the Gulf of Mexico, the oceanic whitetip shark has declined by a similar amount.

Scientists estimate that shark populations in the north-west Atlantic Ocean have declined by an average of 50% since the early 1970s.

Announcing the red list of open-ocean or "pelagic" sharks and rays today, scientists called on governments to set limits for catching the animals on the high seas and to enforce strict bans on "finning" – the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and throwing the bodies back in the water.

"Despite mounting threats, sharks remain virtually unprotected on the high seas," said Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the shark specialist group at the World Conservation Union and policy director for the Shark Alliance. "The vulnerability and lengthy migrations of most open-ocean sharks call for coordinated, international conservation plans. Our report documents serious overfishing of these species in national and international waters, and demonstrates a clear need for immediate action on a global scale."

Pelagic sharks are usually caught on the high seas in tuna or swordfish fisheries. In 2007, 21 shark-fishing nations reported catching more than 10,000 tonnes of shark. The top five – Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Spain and Mexico – accounted for 42%.

At one time, sharks were considered worthless bycatch, but they are increasingly being fished on purpose to serve emerging markets for their meat and fins, which are used in soups and can fetch more than £100 per kilogram. In places such as China, shark-fin soup could once only be afforded by the elite, but the growing numbers of middle-class people in the country has driven up demand.

To satisfy the growing market, some fishermen have taken to finning sharks. There are bans on this practice in operation around the world, but Fordham said the coverage is patchy and, in any case, enforcing the bans is difficult due to a lack of policing on the high seas.

"The overarching problem for sharks is that, for a variety of reasons, they've been considered low priority and they're traditionally low value compared with something like the tuna," said Fordham. "Also public image feeds into that – I don't know if there are people clamouring for their conservation."

Most species of pelagic shark take many years to mature and have relatively few young when they do reproduce. The IUCN's report highlights a study by scientists in Canada which showed that the population of porbeagle sharks, classified as vulnerable in the red list, has been so affected by fishing that it will take at least 100 years to recover. Yet the government still allows the animal to be fished in its waters.

The global dusky shark popualtion, also classed as vulnerable by the IUCN, could take up to 400 years to recover because the animals are not sexually mature until around 20 years of age and usually raise only one offspring at a time.

Fordham said that because many of the sharks on the red list are at the top of the food chain, their extinction could also cause major local ecological problems. "We know that most of these species are top predators and we know that removing the top predators usually has negative consequences to the system as a whole."

In 2007, Julia Baum of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, who is also a member of IUCN shark specialist group, published a study showing how a major decline in the numbers of predatory sharks in the north Atlantic after 2000 had allowed populations of cownose rays, which are their prey, to explode. The rays in turn decimated the populations of bay scallop off North Carolina. "There was a fishery for bay scallops in North Carolina that lasted over a century uninterrupted and it was closed down in 2004 because of cownose rays," she said last year.

Conserving threatened shark species might not be difficult. Last year, Peter Klimley of the University of California, Davis, found that scalloped hammerhead sharks migrate along fixed "superhighways" in the oceans, speeding between a series of "stepping stone" sites near coastal islands ranging from Mexico to Ecuador. Focusing marine reserves around these hotspots might be a cost-effective way to conserve the species.

The IUCN sharks red list is published a few days before Spain is due to host an international meeting of the managers of tuna fisheries, where many of the sharks are caught. Scientists are also meeting in Denmark this week to produce advice for authorities on how to manage populations of Atlantic porbeagle sharks. "The completion of this global assessment of pelagic sharks and rays will provide an important baseline for monitoring the status of these keystone species in our oceans," said Roger McManus, vice-president for marine programmes at Conservation International.

Source: Guardian