Sci-Tech

  • RadicalizationRadicalization and the lone wolf: what we do and don’t know

    By Anne Aly

    Even with the growing body of empirical research contributing to understanding radicalization, cases such as that of Man Haron Monis raise questions about whether individual actors, known as “lone wolves,” are terrorists, violent extremists, radicals, or simply lone gun men. Contrary to popular belief, ideology and religion play a less important role in radicalization. Current research indicates that the emotional appeal to personal identity and group solidarity are far more significant factors in radicalization. What recent lone-wolf cases — Man Haron Monis in Sydney, Canadian Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Anders Breivik in Norway, and Mohammed Merah in France — tell us is that, unlike the strategic model of terrorism as a rational choice to carry out acts of violence in the name of a cause, these modern-day lone-wolf terrorists may be more like lone gunmen than terrorists.

  • EbolaImproved protective suit for Ebola caregivers

    An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins University team, is one of the first five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease. The JHU prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa.

  • FloodsBetter forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

    Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach river banks, wash out roads and flood buildings. These events are unpredictable and difficult to forecast. Yet they will become more common as the planet warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Mountain hydrology experts are using the physics behind these events to better predict the risks.

  • First responseHelping first-response robots operate for longer periods

    Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia Lab is developing technology which will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios. One of Sandia’s new robots which showcases this technology will be demonstrated at an exposition to be held in conjunction with the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next June.

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  • STEM educationColleges, labs develop STEM core curriculum

    The success of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Engineering Technology Program to educate veterans for technical careers has inspired a statewide push to create an educational core curriculum to prepare junior college students for technical jobs at California’s national labs. The core curriculum being designed by a consortium of community colleges, national labs, and nonprofit educational institutes emphasizes a heavy focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses to prepare women, minorities, veterans, and other underserved populations for high-paying jobs as technologists.

  • TorturePublic support for torture declines as people learn the explicit details of torture techniques

    Does the American public condone torture when the goal is to prevent terrorist attacks? News headlines reporting the results of a Pew Research Center poll released on 9 December indicate more than half of Americans do. That finding, however, is not necessarily valid, says Tufts University’s Richard Eichenberg, who argues that the poll is flawed because it is based on a faulty premise. A more accurate picture of the nation’s attitude can be found in responses to polls conducted by Pew, Gallup, and other news organizations and analyzed in a 2010 report. These surveys explained in graphic detail what interrogation techniques were being judged. So while response to more general questions on the use of torture may continue to produce mixed reactions, Eichenberg says public support for torture will decline as more people become aware of the explicit details of torture techniques contained in the Senate report.

  • Hazy hajjMecca faces severe air pollution during annual pilgrimage

    Dangerously high levels of air pollutants are being released in Mecca during the hajj, the annual holy pilgrimage in which millions of Muslims on foot and in vehicles converge on the Saudi Arabian city, according to findings of a new study. “Hajj is like nothing else on the planet. You have 3 to 4 million people — a whole good-sized city — coming into an already existing city,” said one researcher. “The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists. We measured among the highest concentrations our group has ever measured in urban areas — and we’ve studied seventy-five cities around the world in the past two decades.”

  • BubblesEthnic diversity among traders makes markets less likely to suffer bubbles: Study

    Stock market bubbles have led to economic catastrophes from the Great Depression through the dot-com boom of the 1990s and up to the recent housing financial crisis. Although these episodes cause widespread financial havoc, the reasons behind economic bubbles remain unclear. A new study proposes a cause: Bubbles happen when people mindlessly trust the behavior of others, particularly when surrounded by ethnic peers. The researchers found that markets of ethnically diverse traders are much less likely to suffer bubbles. These findings could have a lasting impact on economics — and ethnic diversity.

  • EnergyNew chemical sponge would lessen the carbon footprint of oil industry

    U.K. scientists have discovered a ground-breaking technique with the potential dramatically to reduce the amount of energy used in the refinement of crude oil. The existing industrial process uses huge amounts of energy to separate and purify these gases, so the new technique has the potential to revolutionize the oil industry by significantly reducing carbon emissions and making the process more environmentally friendly.

  • Personal aerial vehiclesHelicopter steering innovation could herald new era for aerial transport

    For decades, flying cars have featured in our visions of what futuristic cities might look like. Now EU-funded researchers with the MYCOPTER project have developed a steering system that makes helicopters as easy to control as cars. While having your own personal aerial vehicle (PAV) may still be some way off, the success of the project opens up the possibility that one day flying vehicles could indeed be an integral part of the urban transportation network.

  • Ray gunsA first: U.S. Navy shipboard laser operates in Persian Gulf

    The U.S. Navy announced that a laser weapon system (LaWS) — a cutting-edge weapon that brings significant new capabilities to America’s Sailors and Marines — was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Persian Gulf. The operational demonstrations, which took place from September to November aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15), were historic not only because they showed a laser weapon working aboard a deployed U.S. Navy ship, but also because LaWS operated seamlessly with existing ship defense systems. During the tests, LaWS hit targets mounted aboard a speeding oncoming small boat, shot a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky, and destroyed other moving targets at sea.

  • California drought2012-14 California drought the worst in 1,200 years

    New research shows that the California drought of 2012-14 has been the worst in 1,200 years. California is the world’s eighth largest economy and the source of a substantial amount of U.S. produce. Surface water supply shortages there have impacts well beyond the state’s borders. The research indicates that natural climate system variability is compounded by human-caused climate change and that “hot” droughts such as the current one are likely to occur again in the future.

  • California droughtPredicting future droughts in California

    According to a new NOAA-sponsored study, natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California’s ongoing drought. A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely. The study found no conclusive evidence linking human-caused climate change and the California drought.

  • Bionic brasBionic bra one step closer

    A Bionic Bra which automatically tightens in response to breast movement is one step closer to reality with the development of a new prototype. The development of the bra is the result of findings by researchers that without the right breast support, the movement of women’s breasts during demanding physical activity – in sports, the military, first response, and more – may cause long-term damage, including numbness in the fingers caused by compression of nerves on the shoulders, as well as neck and back pain. “Unfortunately, the most supportive sports bras tend to be the most uncomfortable to wear.” Making matters worse, “research has found that 85 percent of women are wearing bras that do not fit or support their breasts correctly,” one of the researchers said.

  • SurveillanceSmaller lidars could be mounted on UAVs for underwater scans

    Bathymetric lidars — devices which employ powerful lasers to scan beneath the water’s surface — are used today primarily to map coastal waters. At nearly 600 pounds, the systems are large and heavy, and they require costly, piloted aircraft to carry them. Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) researchers have designed a new approach that could lead to bathymetric lidars that are much smaller and more efficient than the current full-size systems. The new technology would let modest-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carry bathymetric lidars, lowering costs substantially. These advanced capabilities could support a range of military uses such as anti-mine and anti-submarine intelligence and nautical charting, as well as civilian mapping tasks. In addition, the new lidar could probe forested areas to detect objects under thick canopies.