• The sound and the fury: Inside the mystery of the Havana embassy

    More than a year after American diplomats began to suffer strange, concussion-like symptoms in Cuba, a U.S. investigation is no closer to determining how they were hurt or by whom, and the FBI and CIA are at odds over the case. A ProPublica investigation reveals the many layers to the mystery — and the political maneuvering that is reshaping U.S.-Cuba relations.

  • Distinguishing harmless bacteria from pathogens

    Bacteria underpins much of our world, acting behind the scenes to affect the health and behavior of animals and plants. They help produce food, provide oxygen, and even reshape the environment through a vast array of biological processes. They come in a phenomenal number of strains—many still unknown—and thrive in different ecological and environmental niches all over the world. But while their diverse behaviors make them essential to life, bacteria can also be deadly. This threat only grows as greater global travel brings people into contact with new places, foods, and animals, dramatically increasing the chances of exposure to dangerous microbial species known as pathogens.

  • Spotting IEDs from a safe distance

    Landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and other homemade bombs struck 6,461 people worldwide in 2015, killing at least 1,672. Survivors are often left with devastating injuries. In a study published in BMJ Open, 70 percent of people hit by IEDS in Afghanistan required multiple amputations. These homemade bombs are often hidden—nestled in bushes, buried underground, or sometimes stuffed inside other objects. To keep soldiers away from these deadly weapons, researchers are developing technology that can spot explosive hazards precisely and from a safe distance.

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • Epigenetic technology to help in fight against WMD proliferation

    Intelligence officers in the field, in trying to determine the presence or use of WMDs, would benefit from being able to check the epigenetic markers of an individual who may have come into contact with WMDs, read a history of any time he has been exposed to threat agents, and start piecing together a chain of evidence right there in the field, in real time. The epigenome is biology’s record keeper. Though DNA does not change over a single lifetime, a person’s environment may leave marks on the DNA that modify how that individual’s genes are expressed. DARPA’s new Epigenetic CHaracterization and Observation (ECHO) program aims to build a field-deployable platform technology that quickly reads someone’s epigenome.

  • Scientists call for better global and local control of mercury

    Mercury is a complex, multifaceted contaminant which can take many different forms. It is poisonous to humans and wildlife and damaging to the environment. Currently, around two thirds of the mercury entering the environment comes from current or legacy human sources including mining, industrial activities, coal combustion and incinerators, with the remaining originating from natural sources. A special issue addressing the most up-to-date science on the fate and effects of mercury has now been published in the journal Ambio.

  • Massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost hold significant implications for human health

    Researchers have discovered permafrost in the northern hemisphere stores massive amounts of natural mercury, a finding with significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide. The scientists measured mercury concentrations in permafrost cores from Alaska and estimated how much mercury has been trapped in permafrost north of the equator since the last Ice Age. Their study reveals northern permafrost soils are the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, storing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean and the atmosphere combined.

  • Confirmation: Assad has been using chemical weapons from stocks he pledged to relinquish in 2013

    Labs performing scientific analysis for the UN chemical weapons watchdog have confirmed that the Assad regime has continued to use chemical weapons against Sunni civilians in Syria – chemical munitions from stocks which the regime was supposed to have relinquished in 2013. The analysis also concluded that it would have been virtually impossible for the anti-regime rebels to carry out a coordinated, large-scale chemical strikes with poisonous munitions, even if they had been able to steal the chemicals from the government’s stockpile.

  • New radiation detectors developed at Sandia used for New START inspections

    Sandia National Laboratories designed, tested, and delivered new radiation detection equipment for monitoring under the New START Treaty. Defense Threat Reduction Agency inspectors recently used this equipment for the first time in Russia for a New START inspection. New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is a treaty between the United States and Russia that, among other limits, reduces the deployed nuclear warheads on both sides to 1,550 by 5 February. These limits will be maintained for as long as the treaty remains in force. The treaty includes regular on-site inspections of warheads and delivery systems.

  • Making production of high explosives cheaper, safer

    Scientists from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found a solution to a significant challenge in making high-energy explosives. They safely improved the overall chemical yield derived from diaminoglyoxime, known as DAG, and significantly increased the amount of material made per reaction.

  • The man who knew too much

    In November 2006, on orders of Vladimir Putin, Russian operatives used radioactive material to poison and kill Alexandr Litvinenko, a former KGB colleague who had turned a fierce critic of the Russian leader, and who was living with his family in London. Yesterday, the British government froze the assets of the two Russian agents – one of them has been awarded a medal by Putin, and is now a leading member of United Russia, Putin’s political party, in the Russian parliament. Ten years later, in November 2016, a leading British nuclear forensic scientist – who was part of the 2006 investigation and who was instrumental in tying the nuclear material used in the killing to the two Russian agents — was found dead in his home, after returning from an academic research trip to Russia. It was the 14th Russia-related killing on British soil since 2006. The number of individuals with inside knowledge of the Putin regime and its practices — and who have met an untimely end in mysterious circumstances — is growing, and British lawmakers urge the government to show more resolve in investigating this string of killings.

  • Radioactivity from oil, gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

    More than seven years after Pennsylvania officials requested that the disposal of radium-laden fracking wastewater into surface waters be restricted, a new study finds. The contamination is coming from the disposal of conventional, or non-fracked, oil and gas wastewater, which, under current state regulations, can still be treated and discharged to local streams.

  • Draft U.S. document confirms Russian plans for “Doomsday” weapon

    Some two years ago, Western intelligence and military experts scrambled to make sense of a strange new Russian weapon whose designs were glimpsed briefly in a mysterious report on Russian state TV. The weapon was a nuclear-capable underwater drone that would be launched from a submarine. The description accompanying a picture of the drone said such vehicles or weapons would be pilotless and capable of attacking enemies and creating “zones of extensive radioactive contamination unfit for military, economic or other activity for a long period of time.” Now, for the first time there are public indications that U.S. intelligence have not only confirmed Russian intentions for the weapon, but are also trying to figure out how to respond to it.

  • Thorium reactors could dispose of large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium

    Scientists are developing a technology enabling the construction of high-temperature, gas-cool, low-power reactors with thorium fuel. The scientists propose to burn weapons-grade plutonium in these units, converting it into power and thermal energy. Thermal energy generated at thorium reactors may be used in hydrogen industrial production. The technology also makes it possible to desalinate water. 

  • Checking chemical detectors’ sensitivity to chemicals

    The Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD) has become an important defense tool on battlefields and in war-torn cities over the last few years. About the size and shape of a VHS tape or a hardcover bestselling novel, JCADs sound an alarm and begin to light up if nerve agents such as sarin or blister agents such as mustard gas are present. The detectors are already designed to withstand intense environments and repeated use. But when the Department of Defense wanted a way to check the devices’ sensitivity to chemicals over time, a measurement team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was called in to provide a cost-effective solution.