All humans evolved to find certain female traits attractive, across cultures, because they signal a potential mate's reproductive potential. Right? Actually, a new study finds that cultural norms can also play a big part. At least when it comes to big feet.[More]
By Keith Coffman and Alex Dobuzinskis
DENVER/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The number of homes destroyed by a Colorado wildfire rose above 500 on Tuesday as rain dampened the flames and allowed damage assessment teams to enter charred neighborhoods, as another threatening blaze grew in California.
Authorities said the so-called Black Forest Fire, which has killed at least two people and has burned in the rolling hills outside Colorado Springs for the past week, was 85 percent contained by Tuesday.
The most destructive fire in Colorado's history has charred 22 square miles (57 square km), destroyed 502 homes, and underscored concerns that prolonged drought conditions in the U.S. [More]
There may be killer asteroids headed for Earth, and NASA has decided to do something about it. The space agency announced a new "Grand Challenge" today (June 18) to find all dangerous space rocks and figure out how to stop them from destroying Earth.[More]
The circumstances surrounding the death of the first man in space Yuri Gagarin, who was killed in a 1968 jet crash, have long been clouded in theories and rumors. Now, the first man to walk in space says he can reveal what really happened to his friend and fellow Russian cosmonaut.[More]
Agricultural pesticides have been linked to widespread invertebrate biodiversity loss in two new research papers.[More]
Sadly, there's no room of requirement listed.
Carnegie MellonIt's geriatric Big Brother!
Using security cameras and algorithms, researchers at Carnegie Mellon created a nursing home monitoring system that "located individuals within one meter of their actual position 88 percent of the time." That's great news for people who want to be monitored all the time. For people who prefer to go about their business unobserved, it's another step toward a perfectly tracked future.
The system was inspired by the person-tracking Marauders' Map featured in Harry Potter books, and it's called multi-camera or multi-object tracking. Previous attempts at multi-object tracking have had limited success, accurate either one third or one half the time. But those systems were tested in tightly controlled labs. Carnegie Mellon decided to try a more organic environment. A nursing home is a great testing environment, the researchers say: cameras already exist and have to deal with realistic obstacles like inconvenient furniture placement, doors getting in the way, blind spots, and residents moving freely. It's also good because a tracking system in a nursing home reads as altruistic - it's important to be able to find and care for the elderly as soon as they might need assistance.
The technology works through a combination of facial recognition and color tracking. Colored clothing is a good way to identify people, because it is visible most of the time, but the same color shirt can look different under different lighting. Algorithms compensate for differences in color appearance under different light--they make it so that you can track someone wearing a red shirt as he moves from a dark hall to a brightly lit dining room. Facial recognition is the best way to identify people, but faces are rarely pointed directly at cameras, so it only works about 10 percent of the time.
That's why it's important to track both faces and colors at the same time. The process resembles how cell phones pinpoint personal location with different inputs. Signals sent to cell towers provide a constant, rough idea of where the phone user is, and occasionally a GPS double-checks the position and corrects it if need be.
Carnegie Mellon's program isn't yet ready for prime time. The researchers used 6 minutes of footage recorded by 15 cameras in a nursing home in 2005 to develop the algorithms and test the system. A live trial is still a long way off, but once the system completes identification in a real-time setting, expect it to move from nursing homes to prisons to casinos and then everywhere.
People wanting to say hidden from this might just turn to facial-recognition-thwarting makeup.
Scientists investigating the transformation of wolves into dogs are behaving a bit like the animals they study, as disputes roil among those using genetics to understand dog domestication.[More]
The different sizes of the quarks represent their masses. A proton and electron are shown at the bottom left corner, for comparison.
Incnis Mrsi on Wikimedia CommonsThis new finding confirms the particle exists.
Physicists have observed what they're confident is the first known particle with four quarks.
This isn't the first time the Belle detector, housed with the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Japan, has appeared to observe a four-quark particle, called a Zc(3900). This time, however, another particle accelerator, the Beijing Electron Positron Collider, confirmed the findings, Nature reported. There's only a 1 in 3.5 million chance that the observation is not true.
As Nature explains, current physics laws don't say that four-quark particles can't exist, but before the Belle observations, physicists only ever saw particles with two quarks and three quarks. Protons and neutrons have three quarks.
Check out Nature for more on the debate over how exactly the four quarks in the Zc(3900) are put together-and whether the particle represents a whole new building block of matter.
Wikimedia CommonsBe like the bat. Echolocate.
Researchers from American and French universities have discovered how to exactly map a room's shape solely by using a sense you wouldn't normally choose for this kind of task. Without sight or touch, this new technique can still reveal a room by using only the sense of hearing.
The system could fairly accurately be described as echolocation, just like bats use: it measures the time it takes for a sound to produce an echo at different points in the room. Essentially, what they've come up with is an array of microphones and an algorithm that picks up both the original source and its echoes. Our ears can't hear the tiny lags that make up the echoes in most sounds, but bats can, and so can this system.
From a single sound, they can reconstruct a room to within a few millimeters--provided the room isn't too complicated, at least for now. The system outputs a 3-D map, which until now could only be made with visual tools like LIDAR.
What could this be used for? Well, there are virtual reality possibilities--the Kinect, for example, might someday use audio as well as visual clues to more accurately map action. Or it could be used in forensics. A simple audio recording could reveal the shape of a room in which a crime was committed--a valuable clue to which we wouldn't have access before this.
The paper is published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Michael Bulcik / SKS Soft GmbH Düsseldorf via Wikimedia CommonsSympathies to the researcher who had to listen to amateur impressions all day.
Scientists have identified what happens in our brain when we mimic a foreign accent or impersonate another person, according to a recent study from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
The researchers, led by psychologist Carolyn McGettigan from Royal Holloway University of London, wanted to explore the way the brain controls the non-verbal aspects of our speech--the different tones or styles people use when talking in different contexts, like talking to your boss on the phone versus chatting with a friend in a coffee shop or hitting on someone at a bar.
Popular selections included Sean Connery, Elvis and Bill Clinton.
Before the study began, participants--all "non-professional impressionists"--were asked to make a list of 40 different accents and 40 people, from their mother to Arnold Schwarzenegger, they could try to impersonate. They then had to recite a few lines of a nursery rhyme in some of those accents while in an fMRI scanner. (Some popular selections included Sean Connery, Elvis and Bill Clinton.)
When study subjects consciously changed their voices, either with a new accent or during an impersonation, the left anterior insula and the interior frontal gyrus (LIFG), areas associated with planning and producing speech, lit up in fMRI images.
Impressions in particular generated greater responses in other regions of the brain, the posterior superior temporal/inferior parietal cortex and right middle/anterior superior temporal sulcus, but there was no difference in the increase in activity in the LIFG between accent and impersonation planning.
This research "could potentially lead to new treatments for those looking to recover their own vocal identity following brain injury or a stroke," lead author Carolyn McGettigan explained in a statement. Identifying the regions of the brain involved in controlling the voice could be helpful in treating rare afflictions like Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition that distorts speech patterns, often after brain damage, giving a person a completely different accent.
Thanks to climate change, our oceans could rise by as much as 20 or 30 feet in the coming centuries. You can either build an ark (which sounds like an awful lot of work) or high-tail it to higher ground.
This map, designed by MIT music professor Michael Scott Cuthbert and researched by writer/designer Nate Barksdale, can help you plan your trip. The United States is organized by volume above sea level: the more high-reaching areas a state has, the more space on the map it gets. So the mountainous Southwest ends up holding on to a lot of its space, while the relatively low-lying South has almost completely vanished. If you're into cooler climes, Alaska seems to be doing pretty well, too. Rhode Island doesn't have much space left at all--but maybe if there's a tiny bit post-apocalypse you can create a Waterworld-style fortress island.
Each year hundreds of the best and brightest researchers gather in Lindau, Germany, for the Nobel Laureate Meeting . There, the newest generation of scientists mingles with Nobel Prize winners and discusses their work and ideas. The 2013 meeting is dedicated to chemistry and will involve young researchers from 78 different countries. In anticipation of the event, which will take place from June 30 through July 5, we are highlighting a group of attendees under 30 who represent the future of chemistry. The following profile is the 18th in a series of 30.[More]
Anthony Leonardo, Janelia Farm Research Campus / HHMI via WiredStrapped in for learning
How do you figure out the way a dragonfly's mind works? That's the challenge for Anthony Leonardo, a neuroscientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farms Research Campus who studies the role neural circuits play in behavior. He's currently exploring the neuroscience of how dragonflies and salamanders capture their prey.
To study the hunting behavior of dragonflies, Leonardo and his team needed to record how their neurons and muscles responded mid-flight. So they developed a teeny backpack for their flighty subjects, one that would amplify the signals from electrodes recording the dragonflies' brain signals.
As Leonardo told Co.Create, "to load an insect up with gear is like dancing in a ballet wearing a backpack filled with rocks. You can put double the dragonfly's body weight on these creatures and they can fly, but they won't try to catch their prey."
The final version of the insect-borne pack is light enough that the dragonflies aren't dragged down by it. It weighs 40 milligrams, about 10 percent of a dragonfly's weight, and is secured to its body with a little dab of superglue. It's powered by radio waves gathered by the long antennae extending from the pack.
Once the dragonflies were strapped in for studying, the researchers set them loose in a room designed to look like a meadow, with turf and a pond--a plain white room stressed them out too much, and they spent too much time trying to escape rather than hunt down flies. In the artificial lushness of the fake meadow, Leonardo and his team could watch their subjects dart around on the hunt through high-speed infrared cameras.
Leonardo's goal is to figure out how the dragonflies' neurons translate the visual information of their surroundings and their prey into a definitive attack plan.
A city doesn't always sound great: car horns blare, people shout. But a new project from artist Marc De Pape makes music out of the noise.
"The Chime" is a wind-chime-shaped mass of sensors that pick up on the environment: if the sensors detecting something approaching, the device tinkles with xylophone notes; if something is moving away, it swells with the sound of strings; and the music all shifts key based on the temperature. The result is a changing, ambient soundtrack for a city. De Pape explains the project like this:Inspired by Georg Simmel's notion of the Blasé (an indifference towards the difference between things), I set out to explore the relationship between sensing technology and the routines of everyday life. I feel the city is all too commonly represented by abstract systems and maps, a tendency driven by a reductionist pursuit of efficiency, and one which ignores the idiosyncrasies occurring on street level. This is the noise in the system, the richness that ultimately renders cities generative landscapes. I thus set out to bring attention to the noise by building a musical instrument inspired by wind chimes: The Chime is a collection of 18 sensors measuring 27 parameters assembled to poetically translate the impulses and flows of the everyday city into sound.
You can check more videos of the project over at De Pape's site. It's much nicer to hear than people talking on their phones.
Nobody who was there at the time, from the most seasoned astrophysicist to the most inexperienced science reporter, is likely to forget a press co n ference at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in January 1996. It was there that Geoffrey W. Marcy, an observer then at San Francisco State University, announced that he and his observing partner, R. Paul Butler, then at the University of California, Berkeley, had discovered the second and third planets ever found orbiting a sunlike star. The first such planet, 51 Pegasi b, had been announced by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva a few months earlier--but a single detection could have been a fluke or even a mistake. Now Marcy was able to say confidently that it had been neither. “Planets,” he told the crowd, “aren't rare after all.”[More]
Wikimedia CommonsHow the world's only known white gorilla came to be.
Snowflake, the long-lived gorilla who died in 2003, was famous for being the only known albino gorilla. He became a wildly popular attraction at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain, where he lived almost his entire life, becoming almost a mascot for the city. But until now, nobody knew why Snowflake looked the way he did.
Snowflake was a western lowland gorilla--the smallest subspecies of gorilla. It's not the rarest subspecies, but no gorilla subspecies are particularly healthy; the western lowland gorilla is listed as critically endangered. But it's the most common to be found in zoos, and in 2012, its genome was sequenced. That's what finally enabled researchers at the University of Pompeu Fabra to figure out what made snowflake so unusual.
Albinism is caused a genetic mutation; there are four specific ones in humans. Things don't work quite the same way in gorillas, but albinism in other animals, like mice, is fairly well-understood. Using a vial of frozen blood taken from Snowflake before he died, the researchers were able to sequence his genome and compare it with a non-albino gorilla genome. Then they could search for any of the other mutations known to cause albinism in animals.
The researchers pinned Snowflake's albinism down to a single gene: SLC45A2. The gorilla inherited the mutation from his parents--but why only Snowflake? The genome sequencing also revealed that Snowflake had large stretches of inherited genes from his mother and father that were identical--in fact, his mother and father shared 12 percent of their DNA, which indicates that they were uncle and niece.
Western lowland gorillas don't normally struggle with inbreeding, but as their population decreases and their habitat is destroyed, it's increasingly becoming a problem. Snowflake appears to be the result of that--though he lived a long and healthy life, fathering six children to adulthood and living to the ripe old age of 40 (western lowland gorillas usually only live to about 25).
Nelson Minar via FlickrAnd you thought the U.S. had deserts!
Who knew America was so well hydrated? These maps, created by former Google engineer Nelson Minar using data originally from the U.S. Geological Survey, show America's extensive system of waterways, including streams, tributaries and creeks. Even in places you don't often think of as water-logged, it's a surprisingly expansive network.
As beautiful as the maps turned out, Minar created the project largely just as a tutorial on how to make a vector-based map. (His code and more background on the process are on GitHub.) "It's mostly a demo project with readable source," he writes on his blog, "but it's also kind of pretty."
This particular map includes all flow lines, which is why you see a lot more blue than you might expect in desert areas--it encompasses seasonal water flow, like creek beds that are dry for much of the year. Down in Florida, the Everglades don't have well-defined enough flow lines, so the swampy preserve isn't included, and the state looks mysteriously white in comparison to, say, New Mexico.
And here's California and some of the surrounding area (look how all the squiggles converge on the California Delta near the San Francisco Bay over at the left):
You can see the full zoomable map and pinpoint precise waterways here.