Academics land £2m prizes at Zuckerberg-backed ‘science Oscars’ – Ian Sample Sunday 8 November 2015 21.00 EST

British researcher John Hardy among those to win a Breakthrough prize at ceremony hosted by Seth MacFarlane in the US

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, left, and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner

Science is starting to pay big for a small minority who land major prizes. At a ceremony in California on Sunday night, six researchers became substantially wealthier when they were handed Breakthrough prizes, set up by the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner along with some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley.

Among those honoured were Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University and Edward Boyden of MIT for developing a procedure called optogenetics – a means of turning neurons on and off using light. They took home $3m (£2m) apiece for winning the Breakthrough prize in life sciences.

The same prize winnings went to John Hardy, who studies Alzheimer’s disease at University College London; Helen Hobbs, of the University of Texas South-western medical centre, for discovering gene variants linked to cholesterol; Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig for reading Neanderthal and other ancient genomes; and Ian Agol, a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, for his work on problems that language cannot easily convey: virtual Hakenvirtual fibering conjectures and tameness.

A group of 1,300 researchers won the Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics, but the $3m will be shared among five team leaders whose experiments confirmed that ghostly subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass. The same landmark discovery won the Nobel prize in physics this year.

In keeping with Milner’s aim of raising scientists to rock star status in the eyes of the public, the Breakthrough prizes – sometimes called the Oscars of science – were handed out at a ceremony at Hangar One in Silicon Valley hosted by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Pharrell Williams was down to perform, with Russell Crowe, Hilary Swank and Lily Collins among the guest presenters. The plan for the evening, with a theme of “life in the universe”, included a live video link to the Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly on the International Space Station.

The prizes, totalling $21.9m this year – taking the total handed out to more than $160m since they were established in 2012 – are backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his partner, Priscilla Chan, Google’s Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki of 23andme, and Jack Ma of and his wife, Cathy Zhang. Unlike Nobel prizes, the Breakthrough prizes are explicitly directed at researchers who are still active in their fields.

Hardy, nicknamed Scruffy by his former colleagues – he was once crowned the worst dressed scientist in the field at a major neuroscience conference – won the prize for his discovery of genetic mutations that give rise to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and for inspiring new treatments for preventing the disease.

He said he was having bacon and eggs in his kitchen one Saturday morning when Mahlon DeLong, a US neurologist from the prize committee, called with the news of his win. “I was speechless. It was a 15-minute call that changed my life. I had to have another cup of coffee,” he said.

Hardy is the most cited Alzheimer’s researcher in Britain, and may be the most storied too. He once rang up a $1,000 bill at an Osaka karaoke bar, drinking whiskey and singing Yellow Submarine, while in the city for a conference. One tale has him travelling with a colleague and mistakenly picking up the wrong suitcase before retiring to bed. The next day, Hardy appeared in the other man’s clothes. “He said he just thought his wife had bought him some new clothes,” a former colleague, Karen Duff, told the journal Nature Medicine in 2004.

He made a major breakthrough in 1990 at Imperial College London when his team found mutations that helped to explain how amyloid plaques form in the brain. Later, he showed that tangles of a protein called tau appeared to happen as the disease progressed. It was part of a strategy to understand the order in which Alzheimer’s takes hold.

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Instagram Takes on Snapchat With Its New Video Channel – JESSI HEMPEL : 10.31.15. . 4:00 PM

Halloween is a gigantic social media smorgasbord, and few places are better to sample the delights than Instagram. Pet parades. Small children in Elsa costumes. Adults in Elsa costumes. It’s AWESOME. Which makes it the perfect holiday for Instagram to roll out its new video channel.

That’s right, Instagram is launching a video channel—a heavily curated, 24-hour deep dive into the very best videos Instagrammers post. Starting at 1pm on Saturday, Americans can pull up the app, click on the explore tab, and land in an immersive video viewer that will allow them to watch programming from all over the country. It’s like a pop-up cable network dedicated to Halloween.

It’s like a pop-up cable network dedicated to Halloween.

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Instagram Takes on Snapchat With Its New Video Channel


The latest advance in 3D printing: replacement teeth – Dominic Basulto for the Washington Post Saturday 31 October 2015 07.00 EDT

Bacteria-fighting plastic could be the future of dentistry

3D-printed teeth

This dental replica was made using a 3D printer. Researchers are now working on ways to make 3D-printed teeth resistant to bacteria. Photograph: Stratasys

The latest 3D printing innovation could change the way you think about your visit to the dentist. That’s because Dutch researchers at the University of Groningen are working on the creation of a 3D-printed tooth made of an antimicrobial plastic that kills the bacteria responsible for tooth decay on contact.

Imagine teeth that remain white and pristine over time, without all the accumulation of bacteria that cause dental problems. While the thought of having a 3D-printed tooth inside your mouth might not sound so great, is it really any worse than dealing with the constant toothache from a decaying tooth?

For the Dutch researchers, the key step in developing the bacteria-fighting tooth was being able to find the right material to put inside the 3D printer. In this case, the researchers embedded antimicrobial quaternary ammonium salts inside existing dental resin polymers. Once this mix is put into a 3D printer, it can be hardened with ultraviolet light and used to print out 3D replacement teeth.

To test the bacteria-fighting tooth in a lab environment, the researchers coated the material with human saliva and exposed it to the bacterium that causes tooth decay. The anti-bacterial tooth killed more than 99% of all bacteria and showed no signs of being harmful to human cells.

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No More Pencils, No More Books – By Will Oremus OCT. 25 2015 8:26 PM

Artificially intelligent software is replacing the textbook—and reshaping American education.

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Eighteen students file into a brightly lit classroom. Arrayed around its perimeter are 18 computers. The students take their seats, log in to their machines, and silently begin working. At a desk in the back, the instructor’s screen displays a series of spreadsheets and data visualizations to help her track each student’s progress in real time.

This isn’t a Vulcan finishing school or a scene from some Back to the Futuresequel. It’s Sheela Whelan’s pre-algebra class at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York.

The students in Whelan’s class are all using the same program, called ALEKS. But peek over their shoulders and you’ll see that each student is working on a different sort of problem. A young woman near the corner of the room is plugging her way through a basic linear equation. The young man to her left is trying to wrap his mind around a story problem involving fractions. Nearby, a more advanced student is simplifying equations that involve both variables and fractions.

At first glance, each student appears to be at a different point in the course. And that’s true, in one sense. But it’s more accurate to say that the course is literally different for each student.

Just a third of the way through the semester, a few of the most advanced students are nearly ready for the final exam. Others lag far behind. They’re all responsible for mastering the same concepts and skills. But the order in which they tackle them, and the pace at which they do so, is up to the artificially intelligent software that’s guiding them through the material and assessing their performance at every turn.


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Obama Calls for Capping Class Time Devoted to Standardized Tests By Byron Tau Updated Oct. 24, 2015 2:23 p.m. ET


Education Department to make it easier for states to satisfy federal mandates

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at Oct 24, 2015 12.23

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration announced Saturday that it was taking steps to curb the amount of time students in public schools spend preparing for and taking standardized tests, and called for Congress to follow its lead as it rewrites the nation’s federal education laws.

The Department of Education laid out new guidelines for standardized tests, eased federal rules on testing where possible and promised new commitments to states and local governments to help them revaluate their testing programs.

The administration also called on Congress to make reducing student testing a part of its reauthorization and rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law that governs federal-education policy.

The administration’s new recommendation to school districts is that testing should take up no more than 2% of classroom time. It also recommended additional transparency and parental-notification procedures.

In a weekend video announcement explaining the changes, President Barack Obama called for a holistic approach to evaluating student progress and achievement.

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AT&T and Verizon Plot Different Strategies to Develop Video Business – By THOMAS GRYTA Oct. 17, 2015 5:30 a.m. ET

Telecoms make big bet on TV and streaming services for growth as smartphone penetration approaches limits

AT&T has highlighted the shrinking role of consumer wireless. A customer at an AT&T store in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.ENLARGE

AT&T has highlighted the shrinking role of consumer wireless. A customer at an AT&T store in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News


Thomas Gryta

Oct. 17, 2015 5:30 a.m. ET

Investors will get fresh insight into old telecom’s new media strategies when Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. report quarterly results this week.

The two companies have long resembled each other—having common heritage in Alexander Graham Bell and the old Ma’ Bell monopoly—but they are on different paths to find growth in the video business.

AT&T made a bet on television with its $49 billion purchase of DirecTV in July that vaulted it to become the largest pay-TV company in the U.S. Verizon is building out a mobile video service, costing at least a few hundred million dollars, called go90 to target millennials.


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