Sci-Tech

  • Dynamic atolls give hope that Pacific Islands can defy sea rise

    It is widely predicted that low-lying coral reef islands will drown as a result of sea-level rise, leaving their populations as environmental refugees. New evidence, however, now suggests that these small islands will be more resilient to sea-level rise than we thought. The new findings suggest that, rather than being passive lumps of rock that will be swamped by rising seas and eroded by storms, the islands are dynamic structures that can move and even grow in response to changing seas. Although the islands may survive into the future, the changes could still affect issues like fresh water and agriculture, potentially making life on these islands much more difficult than it is today.

  • “Dressed” laser aims at clouds to induce rain, lightning

    The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” may one day be obsolete if researchers further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning. The researchers work on surround the beam with a second beam to act as an energy reservoir, sustaining the central beam to greater distances than previously possible. The secondary “dress” beam refuels and helps prevent the dissipation of the high-intensity primary beam. Gaining control over the length of a filament would allow the creation of the conditions needed for a rainstorm from afar. People could thus artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse.

  • Mass. 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.

  • New 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.

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  • Pocket-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.

  • More, 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.

  • Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    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.

  • Allegations 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.

  • Silent-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.

  • Tiny particles could help verify goods

    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.

  • A 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.

  • USA 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.

  • West Point wins Cyber Defense Exercise, launches Army Cyber Institute

    The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has won the annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) which brought together senior cadets from the five service academies for a 4-day battle to test their cybersecurity skills against the National Security Agency’s (NSA) top information assurance professionals. West Point’s win comes just as the academy announced plans for its Army Cyber Institute(ACI), intended to develop elite cyber troops for the Pentagon.

  • U.S. Navy's laser weapon ready for summer deployment

    Navy engineers are making final adjustments to a laser weapon prototype which will be the first of its kind to deploy aboard a ship late this summer. The prototype, an improved version of the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), will be installed on USS Ponce for at-sea testing in the Persian Gulf. Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter what they call asymmetric threats, including unmanned and light aircraft and small attack boats that could be used to deny U.S. forces access to certain areas. High-energy lasers offer an affordable and safe way to target these threats at the speed of light with extreme precision and an unlimited magazine.

  • Evaluating English-language jihadist magazine “Inspire”

    In a recent in-depth analysis of Inspire magazine, researchers applied the information, motivation, and behavioral skills model (IMB) of behavior change, an empirically tested and widely applied model, and found that the online English-language jihadist publication created in Yemen used religious arguments, terroristic propaganda, and quotes from prominent American figures as tools to radicalize and recruit Western terrorists and promote a do-it-yourself approach to terrorism.