Artist's rendition of a particle event inside the International Linear Collider. Source: ILC
| Issue no. 26, 2010
Published: Jul 30, 2010
| Plans for an international linear electron smasher - the ILC|
| Deal finalised on fusion reactor|
| Graphene could revolutionise DNA sequencing|
| Drive wheelchairs and surf internet by breathing|
| Italian autonomous car to drive from Italy to China|
| Researchers use Twitter tweets to measure moods|
|Plans for an international linear electron smasher - the ILC
|Physicists at the European particle physics laboratory CERN are planning
a straight collider 31 kilometres long to complement the Large Hadron
Collider (LHC) and help them explain the mysteries of the universe.
CERN's 27-kilometer ring atom smasher, the LHC, only became fully
operational in March this year, but the scientists plan to start
building a new International Linear Collider (ILC), at a cost of USD
6.7bn, in 2012 to smash electrons and positrons together. The only other
linear electron collider is the 3.2-kilometer-long Stanford Linear
Accelerator built in 1962 in California.
The tunnel will use superconducting magnets to accelerate electrons and
their antimatter equivalents, positrons, towards each other at near
light speed. Construction is expected to take seven years. The linear
collider will enable physicists to explore in more detail the findings
of the LHC, which smashes protons together.
The ILC will give more precise information on the high-energy frontier
because it smashes electrons together, which are 2,000 times smaller
than protons, and are not thought to contain sub-particles. When two
electrons collide the released energy is known exactly. Electrons cannot
be effectively collided in the LHC because the tunnel is a ring, and
when electrons are bent by magnetic fields they emit X-rays, as do other
particles. Electrons are so small that most of the energy pumped into an
electron would only replace that lost as X-rays.
Jul 26, 2010
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|Deal finalised on fusion reactor
|The EU and six member states have reached a deal on the financing and
timetable for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
(ITER). An explosion in costs had cast a cloud over the project.
Additional construction funds for the experimental reactor will have to
come from within the EU's budget. Four years ago, the EU, Russia, China,
India, Japan, Korea and the US picked Cadarache in the south of France
as the location for the experiment.
Delegates agreed that the overall costs of the project will be almost
EUR 16bn, three times the original price. They also agreed a timeline
that would see the first plasma experiments in 2019, with a fusion
reactor generating significantly more power than it consumed by 2026/27.
The EU has agreed to meet a critical short term shortfall of EUR 1.4bn
by using money that has been allocated to other research programmes. But
the EU has said it will cap its overall contribution to ITER at EUR
6.6bn, leaving the project to find cuts in costs of around EUR 600m.
Some scientists in Europe are unhappy with the EU proposal to take funds
from unspent budgets to bail ITER out. In France, a group of physicists
- including Nobel prize winner Georges Charpak - have written a letter
calling ITER a catastrophe and arguing that it should be shut down. They
suggest that making up the shortfall in ITER's budget is costing France
alone the equivalent of 20 years investment in physics and biology.
| BBC News
Jul 29, 2010
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|Graphene could revolutionise DNA sequencing
|By feeding individual strands of DNA through nanometre-sized holes,
researchers in the Netherlands say they have proved the principle of a
revolutionary new DNA sequencing technique. The breakthrough is part of
a worldwide race to develop fast and low-cost strategies to analyse
these codes that underpin the chemistry of life.
The genetic profile - or 'genome' - of an organism is determined by
recording the full sequence of acid base pairs that make up its DNA. In
2003, the Human Genome Project made history by determining the entire
human genetic code - 3 billion DNA base pairs that took 13 years to
analyse using a technique that has changed very little since the 1970s.
One promising idea to improve sequencing involves passing DNA through
tiny punctures in a sheet of graphene - an extremely strong sheet of
carbon just one atom thick. A voltage is applied along the graphene
surface as DNA strands are passed slowly through the slit one base at a
time. The idea is that each of the four bases - A, C, G and T - will
have a unique effect on the conductance of graphene across the gap.
Now, researchers at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in Delft are the
first team to demonstrate DNA motion through graphene, although their
technique cannot yet read the genetic code. They created a series of
pores ranging from 5 to 25 nm in diameter by placing flakes of graphene
over a silicon nitride membrane and drilling nanosized holes in the
graphene using an electron beam. By applying a voltage of 200 mV across
the graphene membrane, a series of spikes are observed in an electric
current that scales the gap corresponding to drops in conductance when
DNA strands slide across the gap.
| PhysicsWorld Nano Letters
Jul 21, 2010
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|Drive wheelchairs and surf internet by breathing
|People with severe paralysis may soon be able to surf the internet or
drive a wheelchair simply by breathing, according to scientists at the
Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.
The researchers are testing a 'sniff detector' that is able to pick up
pressure changes in the wearer's nasal cavity and convert it into
electrical signals. The device can then be hooked up to special software
and used to move a cursor on a computer screen or control a wheelchair.
The device was tested on three people with locked-in syndrome, a
paralysis that 'locks' a fully intact mind into a paralysed body.
One patient, a 51-year-old woman who was left unable to move, speak or
blink after a stroke, was able to communicate for the first time using
the new technology. After 19 days learning to produce a sniff on demand
with 20 minutes of practice a day, she was able to write her family a
message for the first time. To this day, the 'sniff detector' remains
her only means of expressing herself.
Another man, who had been 'locked in' for 18 years following a car
accident, wrote his own name within 20 minutes of using the device.
Eleven other quadriplegics were also able to drive a wheelchair and surf
the internet using the detector.
| Daily Telegraph
Jul 27, 2010
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|Italian autonomous car to drive from Italy to China
|Scientists at the University of Parma in Italy have pioneered robotic
cars that can navigate on their own. They are about to drive from Italy
to China and plan to arrive there by mid-October.
In 2004, scientists from around the world battled it out in the DARPA
Grand Challenge, the first long-distance driverless car competition held
in the middle of the California desert. Of the 15 teams that competed in
that event sponsored by the US Department of Defence research wing
DARPA, none actually finished the course. But researchers had two more
chances, in 2005 and 2007, and those challenges did have winners.
Now, an Italian company called VisLab, staffed by many who designed one
of the vehicles in previous DARPA challenges, is now taking their car to
an entirely new level. Instead of driving on a pre-determined course,
VisLab's car will drive, on its own, from Parma, Italy, to Shanghai,
China, over the next three months.
The scientists explained they will be using two vehicles. The first
vehicle is manned and defines the route. It will be followed
automatically by the second vehicle. If the lead vehicle is not visible
from the robotic vehicle, it will broadcasts its GPS position, allowing
the autonomous car to catch up.
| Deutsche Welle
Jul 23, 2010
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|Researchers use Twitter tweets to measure moods
|Using millions of Twitter messages, or tweets, from the popular social
networking site, researchers at Northeastern University in Boston have
created a Twitter Mood Map to measure the moods of the US.
People are happiest in the morning and in the evening, with happiness
peaking on Sunday morning and dipping Thursday night, they found.
Twitter users appeared most gloomy at mid-afternoon, shifting to better
moods in the evening. Not surprisingly, people appeared happier on the
weekends, with residents of California, Miami and southern states among
the most content, they learned.
The researchers are the first to admit the findings are not terribly
scientific - Twitter users tend to be tech-savvy, live in large cities
and are a fraction of the total population - but according to the
results they have potential as a tool for providing real-time analysis
of critical issues.
The researchers used a psychological word-rating system to analyse key
words in some 300 million Twitter messages as happy or sad. They then
created maps based on the location of the messages and the general moods
they evoke. The map could be useful not only to collect public opinion
but to mobilise users quickly, such as in a drive for emergency relief
Jul 28, 2010
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