The thesaurus might equate “disabled” with synonyms like “useless” and “mutilated,” but ground-breaking runner Aimee Mullins is out to redefine the word. Defying these associations, she shows how adversity — in her case, being born without shinbones — actually opens the door for human potential.
The Navy’s first laser weapon ready for prime time.
The Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which will be used to protect vessels from drones and other small aircraft, will be deployed this summer with the USS Ponce, the technology website Ars Technica reported. LaWS accomplishes its task by causing a drone’s sensors to malfunction or, with enough energy, bursting it into flames.
“The effects are scalable,” Navy Capt. Mike Ziv, the Naval Sea Systems Command’s program manager for directed energy and electric weapons, told Armed With Science, a Department of Defense blog. “In some cases [the weapon’s effects are] reversible, and in some cases it can be used for destruction.”
In May 2013 the system successfully completed a test to target, blind, and then destroy a drone in flight from the deck of a ship, Ars Technica reported. The system, however, will not replace more traditional weapons for taking care of large targets.
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- A judge’s decision could, at least temporarily, open U.S. skies to commercial drone use.
National Transportation Safety Board Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the federal government erred when fining drone operator Raphael Pirker $10,000 for using the craft to film a commercial for the University of Virginia. Judge Geraghty said there is no enforceable regulation under current Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibiting such use, adding even more confusion to the already murky picture of what unmanned aircraft can and can’t do in American skies.
We may soon be able to obtain easy and early diagnoses of diseases by smell. This week researchers found one odour-sniffing machine was as good as a mammogram at detecting breast cancer – and many other devices capable of spotting other diseases may be on the way.
“I may sound crazy but I’m not,” writes Joanie, on an online support forum for people affected by cancer. She relates how, while her husband suffered from prostate cancer, she could smell “an odour similar to decay”. It went away with the cancer, but in 2012 she was alarmed to smell the putrid stench once again. Not long afterwards, Joanie herself was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Although many cancer sufferers and their relatives do not notice a nasty smell, Joanie’s experience is not unusual. “I’ve had numerous people writing to me about this,” says George Preti from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “I’ve had lots of notes from nurses and researchers in the area, but they’re mostly anecdotal reports.”
Throughout history, doctors have sniffed their patients’ breath, urine, stool and other bodily fluids to help with diagnoses. A 2011 review article featured “smelling notes” of dozens of diseases. Yellow fever is said to smell like a butcher’s shop, liver failure like raw fish, and typhoid like freshly baked brown bread.
What diseases smell like
|Disease||What to smell||Aroma|
|Source: Alphus D. Wilson, Manuela Baietto, “Advances in Electronic-Nose Technologies Developed for Biomedical Applications”, published in Sensors|
|Anaerobic infection||Skin, sweat||Rotten apples|
|Bladder infection||Urine||Ammonia (window cleaner)|
|Diabetes||Breath||Acetone-like (nail polish remover)|
|Liver failure||Breath||Raw fish|
|Rubella||Sweat||Freshly plucked feathers|
|Schizophrenia||Sweat||Mildly acetic (vinegar)|
|Typhoid||Skin||Freshly baked brown bread|
|Yellow Fever||Skin||Butcher’s shop|
Biological engineer Angela Belcher is genetically modifying viruses to create batteries that can be recharged thousands of times and then decay harmlessly
Katia Moskvitch: You’re making batteries using viruses—don’t they normally make us sick?
Angela Belcher: When people think of viruses, the flu often comes to mind. But there are also viruses everywhere, from in the ocean to inside the gut, that infect bacteria. Those are not harmful to humans. Viruses are basically genetic material with a protein coat. They need a host so they can use its molecular machinery to make copies of themselves.
The main virus I work with has a single strand of DNA in a protein coat and it is completely benign. It only infects a particular bacterial host—and doesn’t kill it, just slows it down as it uses the host to replicate itself.
KM: How did the idea to use viruses to grow materials for batteries first occur to you?
AB: I was inspired by how the abalone marine snail makes its hard shell using minimal organic material. It uses proteins to guide the incremental development of calcium carbonate in a geometric pattern. That gave me the idea to try to use biology to work with more than just the usual materials. A virus is a beautiful example of self-assembly of an ordered protein structure, and it’s also easy to manipulate genetically.
KM: Why do we need new types of batteries?
AB: Most of us use rechargeable batteries in our everyday lives—in cellphones, computers, hybrid cars and more. The main type on the market are lithium-ion batteries, which require highly reactive compounds to manufacture and take an environmental toll.
As we try to increase the amount of energy that can be stored and make batteries rechargeable for more cycles, not just any material will do: we need ones that are more abundant and more environmentally friendly. As you know, you can’t just throw a traditional battery away because many of the materials currently used, including cadmium and lead, can be toxic to the environment. That’s why we are focusing on rechargeable bio-batteries.
KM: How do you actually make these bio-batteries?
AB: To test if it would be possible to use a virus to grow materials for electrodes, I started with a tiny virus called the M13 bacteriophage, which has a long, tubular shape.
By inserting a specific gene, we spurred the virus to produce a protein coat that binds with compounds such as cobalt oxides and iron phosphates. The virus is long and tubular, so we were able to grow nanowires with these compounds, which we used in an electrode for a prototype lithium-ion bio-battery.
Two months ago Ezra Klein left the Washington Post to launch a new and improved media venture at Vox Media, the home of several sites including The Verge and Curbed. On Sunday night Klein revealed that the site previously referred to as “Project X” will be known as Vox.com. A short video posted on the site explained that the idea is to make the “vegetables” or “spinach” of the news world – those articles we should read but don’t – more palatable. “It’s a terrible attitude,” says Klein. “If we can’t take things that are important and meaningful in people’s lives and make them interesting, that failure is 100 percent on us as writers. That is entirely our fault.”
The accompanying article “Nine Questions About Vox” expands the vegetable metaphor to explain how the site will help readers better understand the news:
Vegetables can be cooked poorly. But they can also be roasted to perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt. It’s our job to experiment with all kinds of preparations: Feature articles, traditional news articles, Q&As, FAQs, graphics, videos (you saw the one above, right?), visualizations, and even faux-conversations like this one. It means being willing to adopt a tone that isn’t intimidating and being honest that we’re also trying to figure this stuff out. It means developing some innovative new editorial products that let us deliver contextual information more cleanly, clearly, and regularly. Our only promise is that our goal in all cases will be to move people from curiosity to understanding.
The editors also hint at a new format they’re developing to put the news in context. Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Slate, remarks, “Digital articles, at least in principle, last forever as web archives that’s something some people are taking advantage of today but we don’t think that people are really writing articles with that in mind.”
Vox.com doesn’t offer any other information on the new technology, so we’ll have to wait until it officially launches – which will happen “soon.”
The Democrats’ support for decriminalizing and taxing recreational cannabis and putting a stop to fracking sparked no debate — only cheers — at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Delegates unanimously approved the moves by voice vote on the final day of the party’s annual convention.
Although neither issue is likely to make or break the biggest contests in this election year, the breach highlighted the recurrent tensions between the liberal impulses of party loyalists and the more moderate inclinations of a Democratic governor.
Brown had warned last week of the perils of legalizing marijuana. “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
And although he has approved restrictions on fracking, an oil and gas drilling technique that environmentalists say is dangerous, the governor has also suggested it might offer California some economic opportunities. Fracking opponents heckled Brown’s otherwise well-received speech to several thousand Democrats at the convention Saturday.
The clash fit a tradition of California governors disappointing party activists. At a state Republican convention in 1991, conservatives tarred and feathered an effigy of GOP Gov. Pete Wilson in protest against a tax hike he had signed.
On Sunday, as the Democratic gathering drew to a close, it was clear the party that has achieved extraordinary dominance of America’s most populous state is nonetheless grappling with the limits of that power.
Many of the elected officials present, including Brown, hailed the results of what has effectively been one-party rule in Sacramento — new rights for immigrants in California illegally, such as wide access to driver’s licenses, and a rise in the minimum wage, for example. And while Democrats elsewhere fear a voter backlash over Obamacare, party leaders in California touted its benefits for the uninsured.
But one of the Democrats’ top goals in this election year is to regain the veto-proof supermajority they recently lost in the state Senate when two lawmakers — one indicted, one convicted — took paid leaves. Democrats are also battling to preserve their two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly.