Turning An Axel-Mounted Molecular Wheel

In the history of inventions, the wheel has been at the origin of major scientific and technological developments: from the creation of astronomical clocks or calculating machines to motor-drawn vehicles and other motor cars. At the molecular scale, the smallest at which a wheel can be created, it represents a major challenge for chemists and physicists. Since the end of the 1990s, chemists in the CEMES have been working on the design of molecular machines equipped with wheels. Step by step, they have studied this field in depth in collaboration with their colleagues at IBM in Zurich and then at the Free University of Berlin. After observing the random rotation of a flat molecular wheel in 1998, designing and synthesising a mono-molecular wheelbarrow in 2003 and then synthesising a molecular motor in 2005, they last year managed to operate the first molecular rack with a pinion of 1.2 nm in diameter.


How to Make a Starship Enterprise Out of a Floppy Disk

Floppy disks are a thing of the past. However, that doesn't mean you have to toss them in a garbage can. Pay a tribute to another thing of the past (or, the future?)--The Starship Enterprise--and you can reminisce and recycle at the same time!


Microwave Oven Can Sterilize Sponges, Scrub Pads

University of Florida engineering researchers have found that microwaving kitchen sponges and plastic scrubbers — known to be common carriers of the bacteria and viruses that cause food-borne illnesses – sterilizes them rapidly and effectively.

That means that the estimated 90-plus percent of Americans with microwaves in their kitchens have a powerful weapon against E. coli, salmonella and other bugs at the root of increasing incidents of potentially deadly food poisoning and other illnesses.

“Basically what we find is that we could knock out most bacteria in two minutes,” said Gabriel Bitton, a UF professor of environmental engineering. “People often put their sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher, but if they really want to decontaminate them and not just clean them, they should use the microwave.”



Laying Down the Einstein's Laws

I just got the January 2007 issue of Physics Today, and it has an interesting letter by Richard Kadel of Lawrence Berkeley labs:

Since my undergraduate days, I have been puzzled by the fact that we have Newton's laws of motion but only Einstein's theory of special relativity... It's time to rename it as more than just a theory.

I propose that we, as physicists, define a set of Einstein's laws, just as we have Newton's laws, Coulomb's law, or Faraday's law.

To paraphrase, the laws he proposes are:

* Einstein's First Law. The laws of physics are the same for all observers no matter what their velocity is, as long as they are not accelerating.
* Einstein's Second Law. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers.
* Einstein's Third Law. The total energy of a body with momentum p and mass m is (m2c4 + p2c2)1/2.

The third law implies that a body at rest (p = 0) has energy mc2 and that a massless body such as a photon (m = 0) has energy pc, which in turn implies that light carries momentum. These three laws capture the essence of the special theory of relativity. To rope in the general theory, too, we might add:

* Einstein's Fourth Law. No observer can tell the difference between acceleration and the force of gravity based on local measurements.

The general theory is so rich that it's hard to know what else to include.

Other folks have proposed a similar set of laws (see, for example, http://www.geocities.com/ciencia_farma/nat_laws.htm). Please let me know of any other prior art. And please let me know if you can come up with phrasing as elegant as the classic formulation of Newton's third law: "For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction."

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Escape from the Insipid: Our Brains May Be Wired for Daydreaming

Some people seem to continually have their heads in the clouds. Perhaps they are pondering during their drive to work the next pickle 24 protagonist Jack Bauer will find himself in. Or maybe they are assessing while buttering toast the Indianapolis Colts' chances of finally making it to the Super Bowl. Or considering where they will dine that evening as they tap out an e-mail. The question is: What makes their minds veer from the task at hand?

Researchers at Dartmouth College may have the answer. They found that a default network of regions in the brain's cortex—a grouping known to be active when the mind is completely unoccupied—is firing away as a person is engaged in routine activities.

Malia Mason, now a postdoctoral researcher of neurocognition at Harvard Medical School, trained subjects in verbal and spatial memory tasks that after four days of continual repetition became quite banal—perfect conditions for thinking about something unassociated with the work at hand. In fact, subjects reported more daydreaming when performing the rehearsed sequences rather then when the tasks were tweaked slightly to introduce a novel stimulus requiring a bit more focus.

On the fifth day, the subjects performed these activities while being surveyed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While the subjects were not performing any task, there was activation in several cortical regions, including parts of the medial prefrontal cortex (involved in executive functions), the premotor cortex (which coordinates body movements), and the cingulate (part of the limbic system that is implicated in memory and learning). When the subjects were asked to perform their well-rehearsed tasks, many of these areas were recruited once again, but when the job was slightly altered, the signals from these areas attenuated.

This finding "suggests that the default network appears to be associated with the production of these thoughts," Mason says.

The research team speculates that when engaged in a mundane task, mind wandering allows people to remain properly aroused. Alternatively, they say, daydreams could be a conduit for uniting experiences from a person's past or present to their future. Or, the brain may just have evolved the ability to handle more than one function at once.

"In a sense, these thoughts reflect an amazing capacity on our part to multitask," Mason explains, expanding on the last possibility. "It's like we have a sense of what we can and what we cannot get away with. In other words, it is as if we have a sense of how much attentional resources we have "left over" and [then we] allocate these resources to working out some problem or anticipating what we have to do in the near future."

Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, says that Mason's study illustrates that daydreaming is really the default state of the brain. He cautions, however, that while he finds the evidence—published in this week's Science—compelling, the measurements are indirect. "They didn't actually examine activation of the default network specifically during times when individuals were reporting mind wandering versus not," he says. "That's an important additional line of research that needs to be done."

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Ultra-Dense Optical Storage -- On One Photon

Science Daily Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.

While the initial test image consists of only a few hundred pixels, a tremendous amount of information can be stored with the new technique.

The image, a "UR" for the University of Rochester, was made using a single pulse of light and the team can fit as many as a hundred of these pulses at once into a tiny, four-inch cell. Squeezing that much information into so small a space and retrieving it intact opens the door to optical buffering--storing information as light.

First image stored and retrieved from a single photon. (Credit: University of Rochester)


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Research removes major obstacle from mass production of tiny circuits

As they eliminate tiny air bubbles that form when liquid droplets are molded into intricate circuits, a Princeton-led team is dissolving a sizable obstacle to the mass production of smaller, cheaper microchips.

Led by Stephen Chou, the Joseph C. Elgin Professor of Engineering at Princeton, the team worked to troubleshoot one form of nanoimprint lithography, a revolutionary method invented by Chou in the 1990s.

Nanoimprint uses a nanometer-scale mold to pattern computer chips and other nanostructures, and is in marked contrast to conventional methods that use beams of light, electrons or ions to carve designs onto devices.

This technique allows for the creation of circuits and devices with features that are not much longer than a billionth of a meter, or nanometer -- more than 10 times smaller than is possible in today's mass-produced chips, yet more than 10 times cheaper. Because of its unique capabilities and reasonable cost, nanoimprinting is a key solution to the future manufacturing of computer chips and a broad range of nanodevices for use in optics, magnetic data storage and biotechnology, among other disciplines.


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Prussian Blue for information storage

In the family of Prussian blue, there is a compound that can act as a switch: it is not magnetic at the outset, but it can become magnetized by the effect of light and return to its initial state by heating. Researchers of the Institute of Molecular Chemistry and Materials of Orsay (CNRS/University of Paris XI) and the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry and Molecular Materials (CNRS/University of Paris VI) showed that this change of state is due to the collective modification of the position of the atoms, induced by light.


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Bungee-Powered Backpack Can Lighten Your Load

December 30, 2006 Biologists at the University of Pennsylvania have announced details for a suspended-load ergonomic backpack that reduces the force of a backpacks load on the wearer by 86%, allowing wearers to run far more comfortably with heavy loads. The backpack was created with soldiers and emergency workers in mind and could prevent the sort of muscle and joint injuries associated with running while carrying heavy items. The backpack will also benefit schoolchildren, since heavy school bags have been linked to muscle and orthopedic injury. "For the same energetic cost, you can either carry 48 pounds in a normal backpack or 60 pounds in a suspended-load ergonomic backpack," Larry Rome, a professor in Penn's Department of Biology, said. "It is like carrying an extra 12 pounds for 'free.'"


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How to play music with barbed wire and chainsaws

Jon Rose is an Australian violinist/artist/composer who has done many cool things. here (QT link) is a clip of him playing barbed wire with a violin bow: "One aspect of the barbed wire fence that appeals to me is that it becomes very clear where the notes are - if you miss'em it's quite painful. Also the scale articulated by the barbs is extremely unorthodox and about as far as you can get from the equal tempered scale upon which most western music is played. But the tyranny of the equal tempered scale is not a subject upon which we should dwell in the middle of an Australian desert.".
And here he is conducting an orchestra made up of violinists, a drummer, a pianist and several chainsaw players. There's a lot more interesting stuff, including a MIDI bow being demonstrated on daytime TV, at this page. (Thanks Sam)


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Homer’s Ithaca possibly found

Brit­ish re­search­ers say they may have solved a cen­turies-old mys­ter­y: the lo­ca­tion of Ith­a­ca, home­land of the he­ro of Home­r’s The Od­ys­sey.

The ep­ic po­em de­scribes Ith­a­ca as the birth­place of King Ulys­ses, who wan­dered dec­ades at sea be­fore a long-awaited home­com­ing to his queen, Pe­nel­o­pe.

Up­on com­ing home to his wife Pe­nel­o­pe in Ith­a­ca, Ulys­ses slaugh­tered a group of suit­ors who had been tor­ment­ing her for years. This 1812 paint­ing of the scene is by Louis-Vincent-Léon Pal­lière.
A modern island of Ithaca ex­ists, and for cen­turies clas­si­cists have thought it was the one in the sto­ry. But there was al­ways a glitch: Hom­er as­serts that the is­land was the west­ern­most of the Io­ni­an ar­chi­pel­a­go. But the west­ern­most is­land is real­ly Ke­falo­nia, which is al­so much big­ger than the place Hom­er de­scribed.

The re­search team in­clud­ed busi­nes­man and am­a­teur ar­chae­o­lo­gist Rob­ert Bit­tle­stone, heir to a tra­di­tion be­gun by an­oth­er busi­ness­man, the fa­mous Hein­rich Schlie­man­n—dis­co­v­er­er of the ho­mer­ic city of Troy, in 1870


Desktop fabricator may kick-start home revolution

A cheap self-assembly device capable of fabricating 3D objects has been developed by US researchers. They hope the machine could kick start a revolution in home fabrication – or "rapid prototyping" – just as early computer kits sparked an explosion in home computing.

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

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France to publish UFO archive online

PARIS - The French space agency said it will publish its archive of UFO sightings and other phenomena online, but will keep the names of those who reported them off the site to protect them from pestering by space fanatics.

Jacques Arnould, an official at the National Space Studies Centre, said the French database of around 1,600 incidents would go live in late January or mid-February.

He said the CNES had been collecting statements and documents for almost 30 years to archive and study them.


Researchers use brain scans on shoppers

For the first time, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine what parts of the brain are active when people consider whether to purchase a product and to predict whether or not they ultimately choose to buy the product. The study appears in the journal Neuron and was co-authored by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University and the MIT Sloan School of Management.

This paper is the latest from the emerging field of neuroeconomics, which investigates the mental and neural processes that drive economic decision-making. The results could have a profound impact on economic theory, because the decision of whether to purchase a product is the most basic and pervasive economic behavior.

Previous imaging studies have found that separate parts of the brain are activated when people are confronted with financial gains versus financial losses. The authors of this latest study believed that distinct brain regions would be activated when people were presented with products they wish to purchase (representing a potential gain) and when they were presented with those products' prices (representing a potential loss). The researchers wanted to see if they could then use this information to predict when a person would decide to buy a product, and when they would pass it up.


The stuff of dreams

1. Dilatants - fluids that get more solid when stressed. The classic example is a mixture of cornflour and water - it's runny until you hit it when it becomes solid.

This video shows how that it possible to run across an apparently liquid pool of the stuff because your footfalls solidify it. If you stop, you sink.

I like this video better though - it shows how sound waves from a subwoofer produce interesting shapes in a dilatant. If you want to have a go yourself, try this recipe.

2. Auxetic materials - materials that get thicker when stretched. Pull them in one direction and they expand in another.

This video (.mov format) from Bolton University, UK, shows an auxetic foam in action. I like these because they are totally counter-intuitive - you just expect things to get thinner when stretched. Read more about them in a feature here or on this research page.


Liquid Lakes on Titan

The existence of oceans or lakes of liquid methane on Saturn's moon Titan was predicted more than 20 years ago. But with a dense haze preventing a closer look it has not been possible to confirm their presence. Until the Cassini flyby of July 22, 2006, that is.

Radar imaging data from the flyby, published this week in the journal Nature, provide convincing evidence for large bodies of liquid. This image, used on the journal's cover, gives a taste of what Cassini saw. Intensity in this colorized image is proportional to how much radar brightness is returned, or more specifically, the logarithm of the radar backscatter cross-section. The colors are not a representation of what the human eye would see.

The lakes, darker than the surrounding terrain, are emphasized here by tinting regions of low backscatter in blue. Radar-brighter regions are shown in tan. The strip of radar imagery is foreshortened to simulate an oblique view of the highest latitude region, seen from a point to its west.


Bush says feds can open mail without warrant

WASHINGTON — President Bush quietly has claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant.

Bush asserted the new authority Dec. 20 after signing legislation that overhauls some postal regulations. He then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to experts who have reviewed it.

A White House spokeswoman disputed claims that the move gives Bush any new powers, saying the Constitution allows such searches.

Still, the move, one year after The New York Times' disclosure of a secret program that allowed warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mail, caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

"Despite the president's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.


peek at faster Power6, Cell chips

IBM's Power6 processor will be able to exceed 5 gigahertz in a high-performance mode, and the second-generation Cell Broadband Engine processor from IBM, Sony and Toshiba will run at 6GHz, according to the program for the International Solid State Circuits Conference that begins February 11 in San Francisco.

Chipmakers have run into problems increasing chip clock speed--essentially an electronic heartbeat that synchronizes operations in a processor--because higher frequencies have led to unmanageable power consumption and waste heat.

To compensate, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have turned instead to the addition of multiple processing cores on each slice of silicon. That's effective when computers are juggling numerous tasks at the same time, but increasing the clock speed means an individual task can run faster.

The first-generation Cell Broadband Engine chip, co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, has just appeared in Sony's PlayStation 3 game console and can run at 4GHz. The second-generation chip will run at 6GHz, according to the ISSCC program. In addition, the new chip will have a dual power supply that increases memory performance--a major bottleneck in computer designs today.

For servers, IBM has said its Power6 processor, due to ship in servers in 2007, will run between 4GHz and 5GHz. But in the ISSCC program, Big Blue said the chip's clock will tick at a rate "over 5GHz in high-performance applications". In addition, the chip "consumes under 100 watts in power-sensitive applications," a power range comparable to mainstream 95-watt AMD Opteron chips and 80-watt Intel Xeon chips.


Cancer cure patented

A group of researchers claim that they are patenting a possible cure for cancer involving nothing more than sugar and short-chain fatty acid combination. [ Chemistry Biology]

The Johns Hopkins researchers cautioned that their double-punch molecule, described in the December issue of the journal Chemistry Biology, has not yet been tested on animals or humans.

Nevertheless, they believe it represents a promising new strategy for fighting the deadly disease, and have already filed an application for a U.S. patent covering this class of compounds.


Working in the COBOL mine

The most common applications sector where the integration of long-standing legacy applications is a still vital requirement is, of course, the broad reaches of the financial services community. When such an application has established itself and proved not just its capabilities but its reliability and overall efficiency to the business those businesses are loath to change it. In the finance market, "if it ain’t broke don’t fix it" is still a good maxim where changing an application, let alone conducting a rip and replace exercise just because there is a newer alternative, carries with it the significant risks that any change can induce.

One of the most important languages underpinning many such applications is COBOL and, despite its age, it remains at the heart of many business critical applications. Analysts, Gary Barnett, Research Director of Ovum (quoted here) reported in 2005 that COBOL accounted for 90 per cent of all financial transactions, and most finance companies are well aware of its importance to them. But it is also the language of many other business applications (Barnett estimates 75 per cent of transactions generally) and many enterprises may be less aware that they have it as part of their IT infrastructure.


ORNL team discovers new way to spin up pulsars

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Jan. 5, 2007 — A team of scientists using Oak Ridge National Laboratory supercomputers has discovered the first plausible explanation for a pulsar's spin that fits the observations made by astronomers. Anthony Mezzacappa of the Department of Energy lab's Physics Division and John Blondin of North Carolina State University explain their results in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Nature. According to three-dimensional simulations they performed at the Leadership Computing Facility, located at ORNL, the spin of a pulsar is determined not by the spin of the original star, but by the shock wave created when the star's massive iron core collapses.


Whoosh! Goes the Internet: International Research Team Blazes the Optical Trail with Record-Setting Molecules

PULLMAN, Wash. – The internet could soon shift into overdrive thanks to a new generation of optical molecules developed and tested by a team of researchers from Washington State University, the University of Leuven in Belgium and the Chinese Academy of Science in China.

The new materials, organic molecules known as chromophores, interact more strongly with light than any molecules ever tested. That makes them, or other molecules designed along the same principles, prime candidates for use in optical technologies such as optical switches, internet connections, optical memory systems and holograms. The molecules were synthesized by chemists in China, evaluated according to theoretical calculations by a physicist at WSU and tested for their actual optical properties by chemists in Belgium.

“To our great excitement, the molecules performed better than any other molecules ever measured,” said WSU physicist Mark Kuzyk.

The team’s findings are published in the January 1 issue of the journal Optics Letters, available online at www.opticsinfobase.org/abstract.cfm?msid=74078.



The Bill of Wrongs

I love those year-end roundups—ubiquitous annual lists of greatest films and albums and lip glosses and tractors. It's reassuring that all human information can be wrestled into bundles of 10. In that spirit, Slate proudly presents, the top 10 civil liberties nightmares of the year:

10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui

Long after it was clear the hapless Frenchman was neither the "20th hijacker" nor a key plotter in the attacks of 9/11, the government pressed to execute him as a "conspirator" in those attacks. Moussaoui's alleged participation? By failing to confess to what he may have known about the plot, which may have led the government to disrupt it, Moussaoui directly caused the deaths of thousands of people. This massive overreading of the federal conspiracy laws would be laughable were the stakes not so high. Thankfully, a jury rejected the notion that Moussaoui could be executed for the crime of merely wishing there had been a real connection between himself and 9/11.

9. Guantanamo Bay

It takes a licking but it keeps on ticking. After the Supreme Court struck down the military tribunals planned to try hundreds of detainees moldering on the base, and after the president agreed that it might be a good idea to close it down, the worst public relations fiasco since the Japanese internment camps lives on. Prisoners once deemed "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth" are either quietly released (and usually set free) or still awaiting trial. The lucky 75 to be tried there will be cheered to hear that the Pentagon has just unveiled plans to build a $125 million legal complex for the hearings. The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo's court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.


U.S. Mass Declassified Documents At Midnight

"Advocates of open government have another reason to celebrate New Year 2007: at midnight hundreds of millions of U.S. government documents that were classified more than 25 years ago got automatically declassified. Various agencies have applied for exemptions for specific documents, but nonetheless there should be a release of a number of interesting papers."

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Bungee-powered Backpack Can Lighten Your Load, Researcher Says

Science Daily — Old Saint Nick might very well be able to run from rooftop to rooftop without reindeer this year, if only he carried toys in a backpack like the one developed by biologists at the University of Pennsylvania.

In this week's edition of the journal Nature, Penn researchers have announced details for a suspended-load ergonomic backpack that reduces the force of a backpack's load on the wearer by 86%, allowing wearers to run far more comfortably with heavy loads.

While it might be useful for Santa, the backpack was created with soldiers and emergency workers in mind and could prevent the sort of muscle and joint injuries associated with running while carrying heavy items. The Penn researchers also point out that the backpack will also benefit schoolchildren, since heavy book bags have been linked to muscle and orthopedic injury.

"For the same energetic cost, you can either carry 48 pounds in a normal backpack or 60 pounds in a suspended-load ergonomic backpack," Larry Rome, a professor in Penn's Department of Biology, said. "It is like carrying an extra 12 pounds for 'free.'"

The backpack is based on a rigid frame pack, much like the type familiar to hikers everywhere; however, rather than being rigidly attached to the frame, the sack carrying the load is suspended from the frame by bungee cords.

Last year, Rome, an expert in the physics of muscle movement, introduced a power-generating backpack that converts mechanical energy from walking into as much as 7.4 watts of electricity, more than enough energy to power a number of portable electronic devices at once. His findings were published in Science.

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No Matter Their Size Black Holes 'Feed' In The Same Way

Science Daily Research by UK astronomers, published in Nature (7th December 2006) reveals that the processes at work in black holes of all sizes are the same and that supermassive black holes are simply scaled up versions of small Galactic black holes.

An accreting black hole and a binary star. (Credit: R. Hynes)

For many years astronomers have been trying to understand the similarities between stellar-mass sized Galactic black hole systems and the supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei (AGN).In particular, do they vary fundamentally in the same way, but perhaps with any characteristic timescales being scaled up in proportion to the mass of the black hole. If so, the researchers proposed, we could determine how AGN should behave on cosmological timescales by studying the brighter and much faster galactic systems.

Professor Ian McHardy, from the University of Southampton, heads up the research team whose findings are published today (along with colleagues Drs Elmar Koerding and Christian Knigge and Professor Rob Fender, and Dr Phil Uttley, currently working at the University of Amsterdam). Their observations were made using data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer and XMM Newton's X-ray Observatory.


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A Reason Why Video Games Are Hard To Give Up

Science Daily
Kids and adults will stay glued to video games this holiday season
because the fun of playing actually is rooted in fulfilling their basic
psychological needs.

Psychologists at the University of Rochester, in
collaboration with Immersyve, Inc., a virtual environment think tank,
asked 1,000 gamers what motivates them to keep playing. The results
published in the journal Motivation and Emotion this month suggest that
people enjoy video games because they find them intrinsically

"We think there's a deeper theory than the fun of
playing," says Richard M. Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the
University and lead investigator in the four new studies about gaming.
Players reported feeling best when the games produced positive
experiences and challenges that connected to what they know in the real

The research found that games can provide opportunities
for achievement, freedom, and even a connection to other players. Those
benefits trumped a shallow sense of fun, which doesn't keep players as

"It's our contention that the psychological 'pull'
of games is largely due to their capacity to engender feelings of
autonomy, competence, and relatedness," says Ryan. The researchers
believe that some video games not only motivate further play but "also
can be experienced as enhancing psychological wellness, at least
short-term," he says


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The Universe's Dark Side: New Way To Form Black Hole Uncovered

Science Daily
Nature has again thrown astronomers for a loop. Just when they thought
they understood how gamma-ray bursts formed, they have uncovered what
appears to be evidence for a new kind of cosmic explosion. These seem
to arise when a newly born black hole swallows most of the matter from
its doomed parent star.

image (B, V, and R-band) of the gamma-ray burst observed on 5 May 2006,
GRB 060505, with FORS on the VLT. The galaxy is a spiral galaxy at a
distance of 1300 million light-years. The yellow arrow shows where the
star exploded, namely in a star-forming region in one of the spiral
arms of the galaxy. (Image courtesy of European Southern Observatory)

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the
most powerful explosions in the Universe, signal the formation of a new
black hole and come in two flavours, long and short ones. In recent
years, international efforts have shown that long gamma-ray bursts are
linked with the explosive deaths of massive stars (hypernovae).

year, observations by different teams - including the GRACE and MISTICI
collaborations that use ESO's telescopes - of the afterglows of two
short gamma-ray bursts provided the first conclusive evidence that this
class of objects most likely originates from the collision of compact
objects: neutron stars or black holes.

The newly found
gamma-ray bursts, however, do not fit the picture. They instead seem to
share the properties of both the long and short classes.

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How Many Genes Does It Take To Learn? Lessons From Sea Slugs

Science Daily — Scientists analyzing the genomics of a marine snail have gotten an unprecedented look at brain mechanisms, discovering that the neural processes in even a simple sea creature are far from sluggish.http://www.sciencedaily.com/images/2006/12/061228131329.jpg


Leonid Moroz, a professor of neuroscience and zoology at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, has found that gene sequences in a simple marine snail called. (Credit: Sarah Kiewel/UF HSC News)

At any given time within just a single brain cell of sea slug known as Aplysia, more than 10,000 genes are active, according to scientists writing in Friday's (Dec. 29, 2006) edition of the journal Cell. The findings suggest that acts of learning or the progression of brain disorders do not take place in isolation - large clusters of genes within an untold amount of cells contribute to major neural events.

"For the first time we provide a genomic dissection of the memory-forming network," said Leonid Moroz, a professor of neuroscience and zoology at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. "We took advantage of this powerful model of neurobiology and identified thousands of genes operating within a single neuron. Just during any simple event related to memory formation, we expect differences in gene expression for at least 200 to 400 genes."


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The Best Web 2.0 Software of 2006

Looking back over 2006 it's clear that we've experienced one of the most remarkable growth surges in Web application history. Literally hundreds of Web sites and applications were launched this year and brought to our attention via the popular review sites like Michael Arrington's TechCrunch, Pete Cashmore's Mashable , and Emily Chang's eHub. And our very popular list of last year's Best Web 2.0 Software of 2005 was ultimately read by hundreds of thousands of readers in over a dozen languages. This makes it clear that not only is the ongoing supply of capable, online software flowing freely but that there is high-demand from the general Web populace as well.


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