Today's news

  • SurveillanceNYPD shuts down controversial Muslim surveillance program

    The New York Police Department has shut down its “Demographics Unit,” known for secretly infiltrating Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey with informers. The Muslim surveillance program, initiated under former NYPD commissioner, Raymond Kelly, is the subject of two federal lawsuits and has faced growing criticism from civil rights groups. NYPD acknowledged that in its 10-year existence, the surveillance program has not generated even a single lead.

  • BiolabsAmid controversy, Boston City council debates banning Level 4 Biolab

    Boston has long been seen as “America’s Medical Capital,” but that may soon change if the city passes a measure to ban Level 4 Biolab disease research at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory – research which includes deadly and untreatable strains that could decimate an exposed urban population in the event of an accident or terrorist activity.

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  • BiometricsMass. teachers, child-care employees to go through national background checks

    The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Early Education and Care, and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Securityannounced in March that educators and employees working in schools and childcare centers will have to go through a national background check. Teachers and other employees will have to pay for their own background checks.

  • Terrorism insuranceCongress urged to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act

    The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) is set to expire at the end of 2014 and members of Congress are urging its reinstatement before it is too late. The bill was enacted in 2002 in response to 9/11, and requires private insurers to offer terrorism coverage to individuals, with government assistance should the total payout from an event exceeds $100 million.

  • DetectionNew detection technology to help combat nuclear trafficking

    According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the greatest danger to nuclear security comes from terrorists acquiring sufficient quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to construct a crude nuclear explosive device. The IAEA also notes that most cases of illicit nuclear trafficking have involved gram-level quantities, which can be challenging to detect with most inspection methods. Special algorithm coupled with commercial X-ray scanners allows detection of small amounts of fissile materials in luggage.

  • Anthrax detectorPocket-sized anthrax detector aids global agriculture

    Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals. The bacteria can survive in harsh conditions for decades. In humans, exposure to B. anthracis may occur through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat. A credit-card-sized anthrax detection cartridge developed at Sandia National Laboratories and recently licensed to a small business makes testing safer, easier, faster, and cheaper.

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  • Public healthEbola outbreak highlights need for global surveillance strategies

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the deadly Ebola virus can cause mortality rates up to 90 percent of those individuals who contract the disease. No cure or vaccine exists for Ebola hemorrhagic fever and public health officials are concerned about further spread of the virus in the region. A comprehensive review was published yesterday examining the current state of knowledge of the deadly Ebola and Marburg virus. The review calls for improved global surveillance strategies to combat the emergence of infectious diseases such as the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has claimed the lives of 122 people in the countries of Guinea and Liberia.

  • SuperbugNew MRSA superbug discovered in Brazil

    Researchers have identified a new superbug that caused a bloodstream infection in Brazilian patients. The new superbug is part of a class of highly-resistant bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which is a major cause of hospital and community-associated infections. The superbug has also acquired high levels of resistance to vancomycin, the most common and least expensive antibiotic used to treat severe MRSA infections worldwide. The most worrisome aspect of the discovery is that genomic analyses indicated that this novel vancomycin-resistant MRSA superbug belongs to a genetic lineage that is commonly found outside hospitals (designated community-associated MRSA).

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  • WildfiresMore, bigger wildfires burning western U.S.

    Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last thirty years — a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become more severe in the coming decades, according to new research.

  • Boston MarathonReport details first-response lessons from Boston Marathon bombing

    Last Thursday, DHS released a 19-page report titled “Boston One Year Later: DHS’s Lessons Learned,” detailing three topics which were a focus of attention in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. The report discussed the “importance of partnerships,” the “need for effective and reliable communications,” and the need to further boost anti-radicalization efforts.

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  • Disaster evacuationLearning from ant colonies how to evacuate disaster zones

    An escape route mapping system based on the behavior of ant colonies could give evacuees a better chance of reaching safe harbor after a natural disaster or terrorist attack by building a map of showing the shortest routes to shelters and providing regular updates of current situations such as fires, blocked roads, or other damage via the smart phones of emergency workers and those caught up in the disaster.

  • NukesRed Team’s concepts, approach gain support

    Headed by Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Red Team aims to modernize the uranium processing procedure on a budget of $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion. Even before Red Teamdelivered its report on alternatives to the expensive Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant by the 15 April 2014 deadline, the group of experts, who come from different disciplines, had already gained support among energy officials and some members of Congress.

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  • NukesFloating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    By David L. Chandler

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • In the trenchesImproving the aerodynamic design of B61-12 bomb

    Sandia National Laboratories has finished eight days of testing a full-scale mock unit representing the aerodynamic characteristics of the B61-12 gravity bomb in a wind tunnel. The tests on the mock-up were done to establish the configuration that will deliver the necessary spin motion of the bomb during freefall and are an important milestone in the Life Extension Program to deliver a new version of the aging system, the B61-12.

  • Infrastructure protectionLong-term predictions for Miami sea level rise could be available soon

    Researchers say that Miami could know as early as 2020 how high sea levels will rise into the next century. Scientists conclude that sea level rise is one of the most certain consequences of climate change. The speed and long-term height of that rise, however, are unknown. Some researchers believe that sea level rise is accelerating, some suggest the rate is holding steady, while others say it is decelerating. Scientists say that numbers should continue to be crunched every decade, creating more certainty in long-term planning — and helping develop solutions for a changing planet.

  • SchoolsAllegations about Muslim plot to take over U.K. schools rock Britain

    Stories have emerged in Britain about what has been described as a “Trojan Horse” plot by Jihadists to take control of schools in the Birmingham area. The plot was outlined in a purported letter from one Muslim extremist in the city of Birmingham to another. The letter outlines tactics such as spreading false allegations about senior managers that they were promoting sex education or Christian prayers to Muslim children. Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials now admit the document is very likely a hoax, but the city of Birmingham has launched an investigation. The other day, Secretary of Education Michael Gove announced his office was launching its own investigation, to be headed by Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command. Leaders of the West Midland Police and the Birmingham city council harshly criticized Gove for his decision – which the Chief Constable of the West Midland Police described as “desperately unfortunate” – saying it would add nothing to the ongoing investigations, but would unnecessarily inflame the already tense inter-communal relations in the city. Leaders of the city council said Gove’s move would “inevitably” lead people to “draw unwarranted conclusions” about the allegations.

  • SuperbugsRearming penicillin for the twenty-first century

    Penicillin, one of the scientific marvels of the twentieth century, is currently losing a lot of battles it once won against bacterial infections. Scientists, however, have just reported a new approach to restoring its combat effectiveness, even against so-called “superbugs.”

  • Stealth motorcycleSilent-capable hybrid-electric military motorcycle

    Fairfax, Virginia-based Logos Technologies has received a small business innovation research (SBIR) grant from DARPA to develop a military-use hybrid-electric motorcycle with near-silent capability. The company says that when fully matured, the technology will allow small, dispersed military teams to move long distances quickly and stealthily across harsh enemy terrain.

  • CounterfeitingTiny particles could help verify goods

    By Anne Trafton

    Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting. Some 2 to 5 percent of all international trade involves counterfeit goods, according to a 2013 United Nations report. These illicit products — which include electronics, automotive and aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals, and food — can pose safety risks and cost governments and private companies hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Researchers have invented a new type of tiny, smartphone-readable particle that they believe could be deployed to help authenticate currency, electronic parts, and luxury goods, among other products. The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, contain colored stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when lit up with near-infrared light.

  • EnergyA few “problem” shale gas wells source of greenhouse gas

    High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production. The study, which is one of only a few to use a so-called “top down” approach that measures methane gas levels in the air above wells, identified seven individual well pads with high emission levels and established their stage in the shale-gas development process.

  • DisastersHow building codes save homes from cyclones, and how they don’t

    By Wendy Miller

    During Queensland’s preparations for Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman advised residents who lived in older houses (those built before 1985) to evacuate their homes as they were not likely to stand up to the storm’s destructive winds. That was the year that building regulations changed to require new houses in cyclone-prone areas to be able to withstand higher winds. But how were these regulations determined, what do they mean for modern homes, and why do regulators always seem to wait until after a severe storm before updating the codes?

  • STEM educationUSA Science & Engineering Festival

    Lockheed Martin, as part of its on-going support for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, will feature a lineup of hands-on, interactive science and technology attractions for student attendees at the upcoming USA Science & Engineering Festival, where the company will serve as founding and presenting host.