Sci-Tech

  • Driverless carsFBI: driverless cars could be used as bombs-on-wheels

    Whether or not a driverless car, from Google or any other company, ever makes it to market, the FBI thinks it may be a “game changing” vehicle which could dramatically change high-speed car chases so that the pursued vehicle would have an advantage over the pursuing car. An agency report also warned that such cars may be used as “lethal weapons.”

  • WaterGroundwater reservoirs are being depleted at an increasing rate

    The rate at which the Earth’s groundwater reservoirs are being depleted is constantly increasing. Annual groundwater depletion during the first decade of this century was twice as high as it was between 1960 and 2000. India, the USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China are the countries with the highest rates of groundwater depletion. About 15 percent of global groundwater consumption is not sustainable, meaning that it comes from non-renewable groundwater resources. The increased use of groundwater for irrigation also results in a rise in sea levels, with roughly one tenth of the total sea level rise during the period from 2000 to 2009 due to groundwater depletion.

  • Search and rescueA drone finds natural disaster survivors through their cell-phones

    During his semester project in Computer Science at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Jonathan Cheseaux developed a system for locating a person via his or her mobile phone with a drone. This device could be used to find victims in natural disasters.

  • Infrastructure protectionDebate in Texas over fossil fuel-based economic growth

    Texas officials tout the state’s economic growth, which is due in part to the state’s energy sector. That same energy sector puts Texas’ economy at risk in decades to come, with scientists saying that this economic growth comes at a high cost.State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush, notes that the state is projected to be several degrees warmer and experience longer and more severe droughts. The see along portions of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast has already risen up to one foot in the past century.

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  • TerrorismWhy hundreds of westerners are taking up arms in global jihad

    By Ali Mamouri

    The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are attracting many Westerners as jihadi fighters. The stereotype that these fighters are migrants who have struggled to find a place in their adopted societies is shattered upon viewing YouTube propaganda videos. The typical portrayal of a violent jihadi is as a brutal group member, wearing sinister ninja-style costumes, maintaining a lifestyle straight from the Dark Ages and determined to drag the world back there. This stereotype is far from reality. Salafism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, one that materialized the abstract concepts of Islam into an actual political system to be implemented. Salafists use modern means such as the Internet, social media and other technology. Their language embraces modern concepts of freedom, liberation and equality, which are all foreign to traditional Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Salafists also strongly oppose the traditional Islamic seminaries and institutes. They see these as one of the major barriers to Islamic awakening. Jihadi Salafism promises its followers an attractive utopia that is certain to become reality with the application of strong will and assertive action. They see their battle as a fight for humanity and for a better world where purity and authenticity prevail. In this regard, they, like other utopian movements such as particular types of socialists and communists, have a clear strategy for changing the world.

  • Disaster trainingTraining volcano scientists from around the world to predict, respond to eruptions

    Scientists and technicians who work at volcano observatories in eleven countries visited the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory earlier this month to learn techniques for monitoring active volcanoes. The International Training Program in Volcano Hazards Monitoring is designed to assist scientists from other nations in attaining self-sufficiency in monitoring volcanoes and reducing the risks from eruptions.

  • STEM educationSocioeconomic status may influence understanding of science

    When it comes to science, socioeconomic status may widen confidence gaps among the least and most educated groups in society, according to a new study. The findings show that similar levels of attention to science in newspapers and on blogs can lead to vastly different levels of factual and perceived knowledge between the two groups. Notably, frequent science blog readership among low socioeconomic-status groups actually lowered their scores on factual tests of scientific knowledge while high levels of attention to science in newspapers caused them to feel they were less knowledgeable compared to those who read less or those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Defense R&DDARPA seeks to speed new materials development process

    Military platforms — such as ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles — rely on advanced materials to make them lighter, stronger, and more resistant to stress, heat, and other harsh environmental conditions. Currently, the process for developing new materials to field in platforms frequently takes more than a decade. DARPA seeks to address this problem by developing a methodology and toolset to compress the applied material development process by at least 75 percent: from an average of ten years or longer to just two and a half years.

  • Defense R&DAs budget shrinks, DOD needs to rethink strategy to preserve U.S. technological edge

    The United States currently accounts for less than one-third of global research and development spending, and this fraction is projected to decline to 18 percent by 2050. Those statistics, together with the recognition that the United States no longer maintains superiority across all research fields, mean that DOD’s technological leadership now depends upon its ability to identify and leverage relevant research advances as they emerge from the global science and technology enterprise, says a new report from the National Research Council.

  • Arab SpringBad social policy, not ideology, is to blame for the Arab world’s downward spiral

    By Rana Jawad

    Nothing symbolizes the sorry state of Arab politics more than the rise of ISIS. The Arab world at large appears to be fast descending into a political quagmire, only a few years after the euphoria of the so-called Arab Spring. The unravelling of old dictatorships in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has opened up a Pandora’s box of sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions, old fault lines that have persisted under the heavy hand of police states for the last century.

  • Infrastructure protectionSilicon Valley braces for floods, storm surges caused by sea level rise

    A new analysis found that $36.5 billion in property and at least 145,000 California residents could be directly affected in the next thirty years from flooding caused by sea level rise. San Mateo County, home to major corporations including Facebook, Oracle, and Genentechin Palo Alto, and the low-income population of East Palo Alto, would be the most affected.

  • Infrastructure protectionEarthquake researchers get online primer for simulation method

    Researchers now have access to expert instruction for an emerging simulation method to study seismic effects on structures and to design buildings that better withstand strong earthquakes. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) is providing a primer on its NEEShub. he primer explains how to use hybrid simulations, methods that are helping researchers study the effects of earthquakes on buildings and other structures.

  • Designer toxinsConvergence of chemistry and biology raises concerns about designer toxins

    The convergence of chemistry and biology is providing major benefits to humankind, particularly in health care, alternative energy sources, and in environmental control – and when combined with other advances, particularly in nanotechnology, it is also being exploited in developing improved defensive countermeasures against chemical and biological warfare agents. This convergence, however, has also raised concerns that biotechnology could be applied to the production of new toxic chemicals, bioregulators, and toxins. A new report from OPCW says that the potential for scaling up biological processes for large scale production of chemicals of concern is still limited, but biomediated processes might still be effective for producing weaponizable quantities of toxins which are lethal to humans in microgram or lower dosage.

  • STEM educationCorrecting pipeline problems to aid STEM diversity

    Educators and policymakers have spent decades trying to recruit and retain more underrepresented minority students into the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline, to no avail: Traditionally underrepresented groups remain underrepresented. A new analysis of disappointing results in the pipeline’s output leads two Brown University biologists to suggest measures to help the flow overcome an apparent gravity.

  • In the trenchesMilitary implications of advances in brain research

    Researchers funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA) have developed a new way to visualize the complete brain in three-dimensional imaging. The breakthrough could advance the field of rapid brain imaging, allowing scientists to see in greater detail how parts of the brain interact on a cellular level and better understand those interactions throughout the brain. A former DARPA program manager recently told a policy group that “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state, a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”