Neutrinos appear to break speed limit of Universe

The laws of Physics have been broken. At least, that is the apparent result of experiments at Cern, where subatomic particles seem to have travelled faster than the speed of light.

The speed of light (3oo million metres per second, or 671 million miles an hour) is the speed limit of the Universe. A fundamental law of nature is that nothing can possibly exceed such a velocity. And yet, in a 732-kilometre journey from Cern to the San Grasso Laboratory, tiny neutrinos have recently seemed to do just that – by turning up a fraction of a second too soon.

The researchers behind this seemingly surreal discovery have been quick to point out that these results will be treated cautiously, and more tests would need to be carried out to confirm its validity. Nevertheless, Einstein’s equations, modern Physics, and our understanding of reality could end up being turned completely on its head. 

Full story: BBC News


Domino’s: One day we will serve pizza on Moon

Don’t you just hate it when you go for a trip through space, visit planetary satellites, and can’t go for a pizza? Fear not. Domino’s has announced plans to become the first pizza restaurant to open on the Moon.

It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but the Japanese branch of the pizza chain is serious about constructing a two-storey, dome-shaped concrete restaurant on the Lunar surface. The company have calculated it will take 15 rockets to transport 70 tons of construction material and pizza-making equipment to the Moon, and estimate the entire project will cost Y1.67 trillion (£13.4 billion).

Their reasoning behind this somewhat audacious plan is that, one day, people will be inhabiting the Moon. Tomohide Matsunaga, a spokesman for Domino’s, told the press: “In the future, we anticipate there will be many people living on the moon, astronauts who are working there and, in the future, citizens of the Moon.” Domino’s have said they first started thinking about this project last year, but admitted they have yet to decide when the restaurant will actually open. 

The notion of having “citizens of the Moon” may not realistically happen for decades, or even centuries; it may never happen. But if and when it does occur, at least there will be somewhere for these people to have a take-away pizza.

Full story: Daily Telegraph

Eating lots of chocolate cuts risk of heart disease, research suggests

Good news for chocoholics everywhere: eating high amounts of chocolate could reduce the risk of suffering coronary heart disease and stroke, and may even be good for the brain. That’s according to scientists at the University of Cambridge, who have analysed data from over 100,000 patients and found levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

But before we all start to binge on chocolate and expect perfect health, the researchers have warned that high chocolate consumption can lead to other problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and – perhaps unsurprisingly – weight gain. They have also pointed out that further research is needed to confirm the beneficial effects of chocolate.

The research suggests that a couple of bars of chocolate a day will help reduce blood pressure. However, The British Heart Foundation have made it clear there are better ways to achieve this. Victoria Taylor, the Foundation’s senior heart health dietician, advises: “We can’t start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research.”

Full story: BBC News

Introducing Robonaut R2: The robot that uses Twitter. In outer space.

R2 is a robot with a difference. Not only is it the first ever human-like astronuat robot, but it uses social networking website Twitter to write status updates from The International Space Station.  The popular robonaut has already acquired over 40,000 followers on the site.

R2 has been designed to assist astronauts in The ISS, both inside and outside the station. (It describes itself on its Twitter profile as “A humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people”). The robot currently sits in a fixed base, but eventually NASA plans to attach legs so that R2 can crawl through the Station corridors. Further forward in time, it may even be mounted to a 4-wheel rover and sent to explore the surfaces of Mars and the Moon.

The success of R2 is considered a massively encouraging sign for future space exploration. Writing on NASA’s website, John Olson, the agency’s director of Exploration Systems Integration Office, said: “The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts … It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

Full story: BBC News

Study reveals polar bears have Irish maternal ancestors

Where do Polar Bears come from? The obvious answer is, of course, the North Pole. However, if we go far back enough generations, the real answer is theRepublic of Ireland. The furry white giants are in fact descended from now-extinct Irish brown bears that lived during the last Ice Age.

This surprising finding is the result of a study of ancient brown bear teeth and skeletons found in various cave sites across Ireland. Scientists from the UK, Ireland and the US analysed the brown bears’ mitochondrial DNA – which is passed from mother to child – and it turns out they share a distinct DNA sequence with all of today’s polar bears.

Oxford University’s Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, the research paper’s lead author said: “Hybridization between ancient Irish brown bears and polar bears has led to the complete replacement of the original polar bear mitochondria. This maternal lineage is now present in all modern polar bears … It’s amazing to think that Irish brown bears are the ancestors of the modern maternal polar bear lineage.”

It was a changing climate that caused their paths to cross. Just before – or during – the last Ice Age, the two species came together and polar bears mated with female Irish brown bears. “The hybridisation between the two species occurred at a time when their home ranges overlapped, most likely during environmental stress”, explained Dr. Edwards. 

Full story: BelfastTelegraph

Student devises optical device that could give us invisibility cloak

We’ve all seen the films or read the books. Harry Potter has a magic “invisibility cloak” that allows him to perfectly camoflague himself and creep around un-noticed. It’s the work of fiction, but a student at St. Andrews University has taken it one step closer to becoming a reality.

22-year-old undergraduate Janos Perczel has devised a way of slowing down light as it travels around an object, which creates an optical device called an “invisibility sphere”. This overcomes a major hurdle that had previously prevented the progress of inventing invisibility cloaks. It could now lead to such a cloak that works against backgrounds of a variety of ever-changing colours and remains unseen.

The makers of the Harry Potter movies must be frustrated that a real-life invisibility cloak wasn’t invented as they were making the films. It would have saved an awful lot of time and effort on special effects.

Full story: Photonics Online

Music linked with helping depression

Music is non-verbal communication, and allows people to express emotions in ways that words cannot. It therefore has the power to help people physically, mentally, and spiritually. That’s the basic premise of music therapy. It has its critics and its skeptics, but music therapy is used by the NHS to help children who struggle to communicate.  

Now, latest research in Finland suggests that the very same therapy can help adults improve their levels of depression and anxiety. In a study of 79 people, all patients with depression received the standard practice of counselling and appropriate medication, while 33 patients received twenty additional sessions with a trained music therapist.

After three months, patients receiving music therapy showed a greater improvement in scores of anxiety and depression than the other set of patients. Although there was no statistical improvement after six months, it still supports the short-term effectiveness of music therapy to treat depression, when combined with conventional therapy.

The University of Jyväskylä’s Professor Christian Gold said: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.”

Full story: BBC News

The internet is affecting the nature of our memory, research suggests

The way the internet affects human memory has been quantified in a new study – and the findings suggest that it is changing the way our brains remember information.

The scientists behind this research say the internet has become a “transactive memory” for us. In other words, we treat the internet like an external memory – a storage place or a memory bank that exists outside of our heads.

In experiments carried out at Columbia University, participants’ ability to recall answers to quiz questions was poor when told the answers would later be available on a computer. 

A stream of facts was presented to a group of participants – half were told the facts would be stored in computer files, while the other half were told the facts would be erased completely. When tested on their ability to recall the facts, those who knew the information would be erased had a far better recall than those who filed the information away.

However, the group who had the information stored away on a computer were remarkably good at remembering the folders in which they had stored the information.

Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow concluded: “This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.”

We are a generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on computers to think for us, find facts for us, and remember information for us. Will this over-reliance on the internet eventually make us lazy and stupid? Dr. Sparrow reassures us: “I don’t think [the internet] is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.”

Full story: BBC News

UK knocked out of Robot Soccer World Cup

The UK’s strongest team of football-playing robots has been eliminated from the World Cup in the group stages. The competition is called Robocup, and is an annual event that has been growing in competitors and popularity since its inauguration in 1997. This year’s finals were held in Istanbul, Turkey.

The UK team coach, Edinburgh University’s Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy, attributed the team’s failure to software, strategy, and inexperience. However, he feels the team (called Edinferno, comprising four robots) had achieved its goals for the tournament, and will come back strong next year. 

“Almost all the bugs that stopped us were because we were not match ready. I suspect we are one of the few that are here for their first year. Until this year there was no British team, and we learned that our core technology is not that bad even though we have not been very successful,” he explained.

All the robots competing at Robocup are autonomous – they play with their own software intelligence. They may seem a little slow and a little clumsy, but the ultimate long-term goal of Robocup is to produce robots that can defeat a team of human players. The target is to produce a robot team that will beat a human Fifa World Cup-winning team by the year 2050, and Dr Ramamoorthy believes this is achievable.

“I think we could get there. We can make robots that can win that game as all the pieces are here … However, if we did get there, the result would not be just about football. If you had robots that could win that game they would be useful for so many other things,” he said.

Above: video of the Robocup 2011 Adult Size Final. The final score was 1-0 to Virginia Tech’s robot named CHARLI.

Full story: BBC News

Official site of Robocup 2011:

If cows had digestive systems of kangaroos, Global Warming could be prevented

Cows are bad news for the environment. They emit enormous amounts of methane gas, and this contributes massively to the Greenhouse Effect. If only they could take a leaf out of the kangaroo’s book…

Grazing animals such as kangaroos or wallabies have very similar digestive systems to cows: they all process food in multiple stomach pouches, let microbes in one pouch do most of the work, and the fermentation of the food produces methane.

But there is a significant difference: kangaroos and wallabies are far more efficient with their emissions. In fact, the average wallaby will emit 80% less methane than the average cow from the same amount of plant matter. Scientists have recently found why this happens. They have isolated a type of bacteria, called WG-1, that grows in the guts of Tammar Wallabies, and believe this is the key to low methane production. Upon analysing the way it broke down plant matter, they found it produced a substance called succinate, which isn’t found in high-methane-producing ruminant animal guts – i.e. animals such as cows.

So, if scientists were able to turn a cow’s digestive system into a kangaroo’s digetsive system, a major cause of Climate Change would be significantly reduced. Or maybe humans should just start eating kangaroos instead of cows.  

Full story: IO9 Science