Category Archives: Research

Meet the hard drive that will outlast our race

Scientists at University of Southampton in England have demonstrated a way of storing masses of data for so long, that it could be used to save some sort of hello for aliens visiting the planet after our race has moved on in one way or another.

By using nanostructured glas, the scientists have experimentally stored data, that, once the process is perfected, allows 360 TB/disk data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

“We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan,” Jingyu Zhang from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), and head of the project, said.

The group’s supervisor, Professor Peter Kazansky, said it a little more gusto:

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race. This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

No points for guessing which of the two is more used to talking to the media…


New Voyager readings shows edge of Solar System is ‘wrinkly’

Photo by: FlyingSinger

The spacecraft Voyager 1’s latest measurements of conditions on the edge of our solar system are causing frowns in the scientific community.

Voyager 1 is currently more than 11 billion miles from Earth – a distance that puts it right on the edge of our solar system…another way of thinking of if is that it’s about as far away from us now as Whitney Houston should have tried to get from Bobby Brown back in the 80s-90s.

Sidestep over, the interesting thing about the latest measurements is that they seem to disprove not one, not two, but three theories that scientists have had about the conditions in the border regions between our system and interstellar space.

it was previously thought that there was a clearly defined border between the two regions of space. Once the Voyager spacecraft crossed that border, three things were going to happen: The sun’s solar winds would become still; galactic cosmic rays would bombard Voyager from every angle; and the direction of the dominant magnetic field would change significantly because it would be coming from interstellar space, not the sun.

Except that hasn’t happened.

Instead the readings seem to show that conditions have changed back and forth, with magnetic field and solar wind readings soaring and falling several times, as Voyager 1 has traversed several zones, or ‘wrinkles’ in the border.

“The jumps indicate multiple crossings of a boundary unlike anything observed previously,” a team of scientists working on the data said to the magazine Science

Are stock traders going to back away from the speed of light?

High-frequency trading (HFT), where technical tools and computer algorithms are used to trade stocks at a speed that is, well, simply put, ‘silly fast’ might have seen its heyday, according to a piece in Advanced Trading.

Basically, the problem with HFT can be boiled down to this: it buys and sells stocks at a ridiculous rate, reacting instantly to sometimes minuscule changes in market prices, creating little bits of profit, but the speed means that computers are basically running the show, and they can screw up. Big time. Space Odyssey 2001-like big time.

Bloomberg Business week put it like this:

“According to estimates from Rosenblatt Securities, as much as two-thirds of all stock trades in the U.S. from 2008 to 2011 were executed by high-frequency firms; today it’s about half. In 2009, high-frequency traders moved about 3.25 billion shares a day. In 2012, it was 1.6 billion a day. Speed traders aren’t just trading fewer shares, they’re making less money on each trade. Average profits have fallen from about a tenth of a penny per share to a twentieth of a penny.”

So, lower profits, less trades (still stupidly many). Add the fact that law makers are looking at ways of taxing these trades (a really hard job) and we might have seen the end of HFT….or at least until someone in the market invents a computer-like warp drive and then they’ll be at it again.

What I mean is that markets today are a breeding ground for new technology and innovation that used to happen in places like MIT or NASA, so don’t be surprised if someone figures out that the answer isn’t to slow down, but speed up to a pace where no-one else can keep up.

Couple unearth anciet skeleton in backyard during construction – state charges them $5000 for doing so

A Canadian couple unearthed a skeleton in their backyard while installing a new fence on their property.

The couple first thought that the skeleton, believed to be around 400 years old, was a bunch of animal bones, but when it became clear that they were human remains, they called in the police to investigate.

The skeleton, located near Blue Water Bridge, once a part of the Ojibwa trade network, has experts theorizing she was a member of the merchants, a hunting, gathering and fishing society.

The couple, who could theoretically have said nothing of the remains and just kept digging, have been charged $5000 by the Ontario state government, as their land now has to be assessed by a professional archaeologist.

“I did the right thing by her and this is what’s happening,” Nicole Sauve, one of the couple in question, said.

Crowdsourced project lets you send ‘message in a bottle’ to aliens

A new crowd-funded METI, or Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, project is set to begin this week.

The project uses a refurbished radio telescope in California to broadcast signals to space, hoping that extraterrestrial intelligences might listen in.

And the project, named Lone Signal, is looking for you. If you have an internet connection, that is. If so, you’ll be able to pen your own message, or even send a photo, to the Universe and Lone Signal will beam it into space.

To bein with all messages sent through Lone Star’s network will be transmitted to a star system called Gliese 526, which is located about 17.6 light-years from Earth.

The reason is that Gliese 526 is a good candidate for harboring life, having been identified in the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems, according to Lone Signal chief science officer Jacob Haqq-Misra.

To find out more, visit Lone Signal’s website here.

Everybody’s doing it: India makes killer robots a priority

Hot on the heels of a recent UN conference on the legalities of what I guess can be described as ‘Toddler Terminators’ (wobbly, unsophisticated killer robots), India recently announced that the country was going to make the development of robotic soldiers a priority.

As the Times of India reported:

“Under the project being undertaken by DRDO (Defence R&D organisation), robots would be developed with very high level of intelligence to enable them to differentiate between a threat and a friend.”

Of course, in this case that means the ability to recognise a Pakistani passport…

Some say that India have already developed sophisticated killer robots. Don’t believe me? Look here.

Or let’s go straight to the tape:

GROVER goes to Greeland to look at ice

Photo: NASA

NASA have sent GROVER on an autonomous mission to Greenland to look at ice sheet that covers more or less all of the massive island.

GROVER is short for ‘Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research’. In simple terms it’s a solar-powered robot car equipped with powerful radar-equipment. The idea is that GROVER will drive around and measure how thick the ice sheet is in various spots. Over time, the data collected will give scientists a clearer picture of the ebbs and flows in the ice sheet, and through that a better understanding on how global warming is affecting the interior of Greenland.

GROVER is currently ambling around Greenland on a trial run.

I haven’t read too much about this project, but I have to admit that the idea of using a solar-powered robot in a region where the sun more or less disappears for six months at a time strikes me as odd….

Unwelcome GMO wheat wanders onto Oregon farm

Genetically engineered wheat has been found growing on a field in Oregon. That, in its own right, might not be considered earth shattering news. For that you need the extra ingredients: the wheat in questions wasn’t planted by the farmer, and the wheat has never been approved for commercial planting.

Biotech company Monsanto, who is believed to be the company that developed the wheat in question, ended its Oregon field trials of GMO wheat in 2001, so it’s a bit of a mystery how the wheat was still found there, more than ten years later.

“Further testing by USDA laboratories indicate the presence of the same genetically engineered GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. APHIS launched a formal investigation after being notified by an Oregon State University scientist that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants,” the USDA said in a statement.

3D printed food to end world hunger?

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy there’s a scene where Arthur Dent almost gets everybody blown to piece by asking the spaceship he’s on to make him a cup of tea, using the on-board food synthesizer.

And it would seem that it’s an idea that isn’t so far-fetched after all. The synthesizer, that is, not the getting blown up in space. Although, you could probably try that in the near future as well – just imagine one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Spaceships straying over North Korea…

And it’s not only in outer space that the synthesized food could prove a hit and provide sustenance. Actually, if the science and technology currently being tested by Systems & Materials Research Corporation proves successful, it could become a weapon in the fight against world hunger.

Systems & Materials Research Corporation recently won a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a universal food synthesizer.

The grant has been given to test if the system would be able to feed astronauts on long flights to other planets, including a mission to Mars.

“Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life. The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years,” Anjan Contractor from Systems & Materials Research Corporation says.

His long-term goal is to see the system in every kitchen, feeding people by printing out customized, nutritionally sound meals on what is essentially a 3D printer.

So far his team has released a few details about the project, including a video showing what must be the coolest way ever to make a chocolate biscuit:

50-foot electromagnet ready to go on cross-country romp

Muon g-2 ring, a name that has a ring (sorry) of Star Trek, captain’s log, in orbit around some otherworldly structure or another.

And in some ways that’s not far off.

Actually, the Muon g-2 is a 50-foot electromagnet that’s about to go on a veeery slow trek across the US.

It will be going from New York to its new home in Fermilab in Batavia.

In total, it’s a 3,2000 mile trek, and due to the magnet being so ‘soft skinned’ that even a tilt by as little as a few degrees will destroy it, the average speed will be at just about 10mph, on the back of a special designed truck and on a barge.

The trip will cost between $2 million and $3 million, compared to the $30 million it would cost to build a new magnet on site at Batavia…the name makes it sound like it belongs in cartoons…speaking of which, am I the only one envisioning the magnet switching on during transport – hopefully outside a shop that sells pots and pans?