Splitting Time from Space – New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime

Was Newton right and Einstein wrong? It seems that unzipping the fabric of spacetime and harking back to 19th-century notions of time could lead to a theory of quantum gravity.

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

More specifically, the problem is the way that time is tied up with space in Einstein’s theory of gravity: general relativity. Einstein famously overturned the Newtonian notion that time is absolute—steadily ticking away in the background. Instead he argued that time is another dimension, woven together with space to form a malleable fabric that is distorted by matter. The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two conceptions of time don’t gel.

The solution, Hořava says, is to snip threads that bind time to space at very high energies, such as those found in the early universe where quantum gravity rules. “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent,” Hořava says. At low energies, general relativity emerges from this underlying framework, and the fabric of spacetime restitches, he explains.

Hořava likens this emergence to the way some exotic substances change phase. For instance, at low temperatures liquid helium’s properties change dramatically, becoming a “superfluid” that can overcome friction. In fact, he has co-opted the mathematics of exotic phase transitions to build his theory of gravity. So far it seems to be working: the infinities that plague other theories of quantum gravity have been tamed, and the theory spits out a well-behaved graviton. It also seems to match with computer simulations of quantum gravity.

More via Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein’s Spacetime: Scientific American.

The Recent Future / November 25, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Scientists give grubby children a clean bill of health

For parents too stretched to make sure their offspring are perfectly turned out at all times, it may just be the scientific cover they’ve been waiting for.

They will now be able to answer the disapproving tuts of their more fastidious friends by pointing to research which gives biological backing to the old adage that the more germs a child is exposed to during early childhood, the better their immune system in later life

Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California found that being too clean could impair the skin’s ability to heal. The San Diego-based team discovered that normal bacteria that live on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt.

These bugs dampen down overactive immune responses which can cause cuts and grazes to swell, or lead to rashes, according to research published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

“These germs are actually good for us,” said Professor Richard Gallo, who led the research. Common bacterial species, known as staphylococci, which can cause inflammation when under the skin, are “good bacteria” when on the surface, where they can reduce inflammation.

More via Scientists give grubby children a clean bill of health | Life and style | The Guardian.

The Recent Future / November 25, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments

Why boys are turning into girls

Here’s something rather rotten from the State of Denmark. Its government yesterday unveiled official research showing that two-year-old children are at risk from a bewildering array of gender-bending chemicals in such everyday items as waterproof clothes, rubber boots, bed linen, food, nappies, sunscreen lotion and moisturising cream.

The 326-page report, published by the environment protection agency, is the latest piece in an increasingly alarming jigsaw. A picture is emerging of ubiquitous chemical contamination driving down sperm counts and feminising male children all over the developed world. And anti-pollution measures and regulations are falling far short of getting to grips with it.

Sperm counts are falling so fast that young men are less fertile than their fathers and produce only a third as much, proportionately, as hamsters. And gender-bending chemicals are increasingly being blamed for the mystery of the “lost boys”: babies who should normally be male who have been born as girls instead.

The Danish government set out to find out how much contamination from gender-bending chemicals a two-year-old child was exposed to every day. It concluded that a child could be “at critical risk” from just a few exposures to high levels of the substances, such as from rubber clogs, and imperilled by the amount it absorbed from sources ranging from food to sunscreens.

More via Why boys are turning into girls – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / November 24, 2009 / Health, Nature / 0 Comments

New Cancer Detector Chip Works in About 30 Minutes

So there’s this period of time during a visit to the doctor’s when you’re left alone in the office. You just saw the nurse or PA, and the doctor is playing golf somewhere, so you have to wait in your little paper dress. I was once stranded in that limbo for an hour. Wouldn’t it be nice if that time could be put to good use? Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a microchip that works with nano-materials to detect biomarkers associated with cancer. Bottom line, in about 30 minutes the new biosensor can determine if you’ve got the ‘Big C’. Having already been proven to work with prostate cancer, the device could one day even be adapted to detect HIV, or H1N1 swine flu. Now that’s a good use of my time.

Development of the cancer biosensor was published in ACS, and more recently in Nature Nanotechnology. Shana Kelley, team leader for the project, says that the cancer detection microchip is the size of a fingertip. It and related electronics could fit into a hand held device the size of a Blackberry™. That means the detection of cancer would not only be much quicker (30 minutes vs. days of lab work) but it could be portable and relatively cheap as well. Hand held detection of major diseases and illnesses would revolutionize medicine, making it more accessible and more informative.

The biosensor works by pairing three components: biological detectors, nanowires, and standard silicon chip technology. The biological detectors are attached to the end of nanowires (typically made of gold) and will bond to the biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer. These biomarkers are strands of micro RNA or messenger RNA produced by the mutated genetics of cancer cells and so the biodetectors are called nucleic acid probes. When the RNA interacts with the nucleic acid probes, electric currents are induced along the gold nanowire. These currents are detected and decoded by the silicon chip technology to determine if cancer is present in a sample.

via New Cancer Detector Chip Works in About 30 Minutes | Singularity Hub.

The Recent Future / November 23, 2009 / Health, Tech / 0 Comments

Secret Oil Rigs In Los Angeles Uncovered VIDEO

Did you know that LA sits on top of the third largest oil field in the country? Did you know oil rigs are scattered covertly throughout the city, placed near schools, malls and even a farmer's market? HuffPost Green did not know about this until we watched this awesome short from Palladium Boots about the secret, underground network of the LA oilfields and rigs hidden in plain sight as fake office buildings and flower-painted sculptures.

via Secret Oil Rigs In Los Angeles Uncovered VIDEO.

The Recent Future / November 20, 2009 / History / 0 Comments

Bomb-Proof Wallpaper Could Save You in a Natural Disaster

Imagine: a hurricane is barreling towards your house, but instead of hiding in the basement, you can stay safely and comfortably in your living room, all thanks to your X-Flex Blast Protection System wallpaper. It’s not a fantasy; the wallpaper, invented by Berry Plastics in a partnership with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, actually exists — and a single sheet is strong enough to stop a wrecking ball.

Best Of What’s New 2009: Bombproof Wallpaper Test from PopSci.com on Vimeo.

The X-Flex wallpaper is an adhesive with sticky backing that attaches to the inside of brick and cinder walls. According to its designers, covering an entire room takes less than an hour. The wallpaper is so effective that a single layer can keep a wrecking ball from smashing through a brick wall, and a double layer can stop blunt objects (i.e. a flying 2×4) from knocking down drywall.

So how does it work? The X-Flex system features Kevlar-like material in between two sheets of elastic polymer wrap. Apparently, that’s all it takes to keep a wrecking ball from taking down your house.

The Army is already thinking about using the wallpaper on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Berry Plastics plans to sell a commercial version of X-Flex next year.

via Inhabitat » Bomb-Proof Wallpaper Could Save You in a Natural Disaster.

The Recent Future / November 19, 2009 / Tech / 0 Comments

NASA Develops Tricorder: Adapts iPhone to Detect Dangerous Chemicals

iPhone Tri-CorderA researcher at the NASA Ames Center has developed a proof of concept device which can convert an iPhone into a chemical sensor capable of detecting ammonia, chlorine gas, and methane. The chem sniffing device is a small silicon chip (no bigger than a stamp) that plugs into the phone. Upon detection, the chip uses the phone to alert others. It was developed as part of Homeland Security’s Cell-All program. The US hopes that one day a small, inexpensive, and portable chip such as this one could be used to turn thousands (or millions) of mobile phones into a means of quickly detecting hazardous chemicals in public environments. That detection could save lives and help direct first response units. Of course, for the nerds out there the device’s true importance is easy to see: it’s the next step to developing a tricorder from Star Trek.

For those of you who don’t regularly attend conventions wearing pointy ears, a tricorder is a fictional device from the Star Trek universe. It’s the go-to scientific field instrument that identifies…well pretty much anything – alien life forms, rare minerals, the composition of the air. Your tricorder probes and samples its environment and tells you what’s around you. The NASA device does the same thing, albeit for a much smaller set of substances. Still, it’s the first of many steps to developing a handheld device that can measure the world in a scientific way. Right now, Homeland Security has plans to use the chem sniffer in an anti-terrorist detection program (more below) but one day we could see advanced versions helping us measure air quality, determine UV exposure, or tell us if there’s any dairy, nuts, or gluten in our meals. The tricorder would put scientific examination in the palm of our hands.

Currently, the device is only able to detect a limited range of gases using a 64 nanosensor array (16 on each side of the chip). The range of gases it can identify will likely expand and be refined as nanosensors are developed for new substances. A small “sampling jet” collects air from the environment and directs it onto the array. The multiple channel silicon chip also knows how to use the mobile phone to connect, via WiFi or Telecomm, to other phones or a central hub to alert them in case of detection. That’s a nifty piece of engineering, and something we didn’t really see in Star Trek. The connectivity of detection devices is going to affect the way we use chem sniffers long before they become as complex as tricorders.

via NASA Develops Tricorder: Adapts iPhone to Detect Dangerous Chemicals | Singularity Hub.

The Recent Future / November 19, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

The Vatican joins the search for alien life

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding a conference on astrobiology, the study of life beyond Earth, with scientists and religious leaders gathering in Rome this week.

For centuries, theologians have argued over what the existence of life elsewhere in the universe would mean for the Church: at least since Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk, was put to death by the Inquisition in 1600 for claiming that other worlds exist.

Among other things, extremely alien-looking aliens would be hard to fit with the idea that God “made man in his own image”.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ’s role as saviour would be confused: would other worlds have their own, tentacled Christ-figures, or would Earth’s Christ be universal?

However, just as the Church eventually made accommodations after Copernicus and Galileo showed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, and when it belatedly accepted the truth of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Catholic leaders say that alien life can be aligned with the Bible’s teachings.

Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and one of the organisers of the conference, said: “As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.

“This does not conflict with our faith, because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”

via The Vatican joins the search for alien life – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / November 14, 2009 / History, SciFi / 0 Comments

NASA Discovers Large Lunar Ice Field

A team of NASA scientists announced Friday the discovery of a large amount of water on the moon’s south pole.

“Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount,” said Anthony Colaprete, a principal project investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.Just weeks after NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission analyzed a plume of debris generated by the impact of a satellite into a crater near the moon’s south pole, scientists said the findings suggest the presence of frozen water at the site of impact.”We are ecstatic,” said Colaprete. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.” Over the last decade, scientists have found some hints of underground ice on the moon’s poles, but this is the best evidence yet.

via NASA Discovers Large Lunar Ice Field – News Story – KTVU San Francisco.

The Recent Future / November 14, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Parkinson’s dopamine killers identified

Researchers have found an essential key that could lead to new treatments and possibly a cure for Parkinson’s disease. They have identified the protein that kills dopamine-producing cells in the brain—and a way to disable it.

Parkinson’s disease sufferers lack a sufficient amount of dopamine. Anumantha Kanthasamy, a distinguished professor of biomedical sciences and W. Eugene and Linda R. Lloyd Endowed Chair in Neurotoxicology at Iowa State University, discovered that a novel protein—known as protein kinase-C—destroys dopamine-producing cells.

“We have millions of cells in our brains,” says Kanthasamy, “In Parkinson’s, about 10,000 of these brain cells die; no one knows why.”

Kanthasamy and his research staff discovered a compound that neutralizes the cell-killing kinase-C and allows the dopamine-producing cells to survive and function.

“With a lot of hard work, and little bit of luck, we found something important,” he says. “And when you find something like this you say, ‘This is great because it can be a target for developing new drugs.’”

Now, Kanthasamy’s group is looking for additional compounds that also can serve to neutralize protein kinase-C. By identifying more compounds that perform the function of neutralizing kinase-C, researchers are more likely to locate one that works well and has few side effects.

This discovery is expected to provide new treatment options to stop the progression of the disease or even cure it.

The Recent Future / November 10, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments