Sci-Tech

  • Math is important but should it be compulsory?

    There was much discussion recently about making it compulsory for year 12 students in New South Wales, Australia to study some mathematics. Over the past ten years at least, the total proportion of students studying Year 12 math has remained stable at around 80 percent, but the trend around the country has been for students studying math to take lower levels of math. The problem of declining math skills is complex and its solution will not be easy, quick or as straightforward as making math compulsory. At the very least the solution will require qualified math teachers in all math classrooms, an engaging curriculum that has clear relevance to the multitude of pathways that students might pursue, including trades and business as well as science, and clear statements from colleges and universities detailing the essential prerequisites that students require for their programs.

  • Coastal areas must adapt to sea-level rise and storm surges or suffer massive damage

    A new study presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila, and Lagos.

  • New software obfuscation system a cryptography game changer

    A team of researchers has designed a system to encrypt software so that it only allows someone to use a program as intended while preventing any deciphering of the code behind it. This is known in computer science as “software obfuscation,” and it is the first time it has been accomplished. Previously developed techniques for obfuscation presented only a “speed bump,” forcing an attacker to spend some effort, perhaps a few days, trying to reverse-engineer the software. The new system puts up an “iron wall,” making it impossible for an adversary to reverse-engineer the software without solving mathematical problems that take hundreds of years to work out on today’s computers — a game-change in the field of cryptography.

  • U.S. Navy probes exam cheating at school for nuclear power reactor operator

    Yet another military service is facing allegations of exam-cheating. Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force launched a probe into a cheating scandal involving about 100 officersat Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, who are responsible for maintaining and operating land-based nuclear missiles. Now the U.S. Navy is investigating about one-fifth of its trainers at the school for naval nuclear power reactor operators in Charleston, South Carolina. The sailors are accused of cheating on written tests required to obtain certification as instructors at the nuclear propulsion school.

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  • Social networking makes us smarter now, but more stupid in the long run

    Does improved connectivity to other people through social networks makes us smarter or more stupid? Some say that connectivity allows us acquire information from other people as well as by direct experience. Many pundits say that in the Internet era, in which we have access to a diversity of information, humankind will learn to make more informed decisions. Others, however, suggest having so much information at our fingertips will limit our ability for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. Controlled tests show that both arguments are correct – but on different tike scales: Being able to copy from other people in vast networks means analytical responses rapidly spread – but only by making it easy and commonplace for people to reach analytical response without engaging analytical processing. The researchers conclude that this tendency to copy without thinking “can explain why increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first.”

  • New state-of-the-art cybersecurity resource available to software developers

    Cybercrime is booming; it is an estimated $100 billion industry in the United States and shows no signs of slowing down. Attackers have an arsenal of weapons at their disposal, including social engineering — or phishing — penetrating weak security protocols and exploiting software vulnerabilities that can serve as an “open window” into an organization’s IT environment. Closing those windows requires effective and accessible tools to identify and root out software vulnerabilities. Supported by a $23.4 million grant from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the Software Assurance Marketplace, or SWAMP, provides a state-of-the-art facility that serves as an open resource for software developers, software assurance tool developers, and software researchers who wish to collaborate and improve software assurance activities in a safe, secure environment.

  • Quake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • Florida mulling banning school collection of students’ biometric information

    Some school districts in Florida, including Polk County and Pinellas County, are using scanners to collect fingerprints and hands, eyes, and voice characteristics from students. Pinellas County school district allows students to use palm scans instead of cash to pay for meals in the cafeteria. The collection of students’ biometric information has alarmed many parents who are concerned that students’ identity or personal records may be stolen or sold to private companies. Florida state legislators are debating a proposal which would stop school districts from collecting biometric information from students.

  • DARPA makes agency-sponsored software, publications available to R&D community

    DARPA has invested in many programs that sponsor fundamental and applied research in areas of computer science, programs which have led to new advances in theory as well as practical software. The R&D community has asked about the availability of results, and now DARPA has responded by creating the DARPA Open Catalog, a place for organizing and sharing those results in the form of software, publications, data, and experimental details. The Web site aims to encourage communities interested in DARPA research to build off the agency’s work, starting with big data.

  • New research on ocean conditions to aid Navy planners

    The Office of Naval Research Global (ONR Global) announced last week a grant to the University of Melbourne which will provide new insights into ocean conditions — crucial information for Navy planners involved in tactical and strategic decision-making. The goal of the effort is to provide the best information possible on the environmental, or battlefield, conditions, so that tactical and strategic decisions can be properly made.

  • Protecting cities from floods cheaper than post-flood damage repairs

    Researchers say that global warming is here to stay, and thus it is time to start making plans for dealing with the inevitable flooding which will occur as ocean levels rise as a result of warmer water and melting snow and ice. Approximately a billion people currently live in areas which are most at risk — low-lying coastal areas. It is not likely that towns and cities will be moved farther inland, so other measures need to be taken. The researchers say that flood prevention strategies are well established, for example, building levees, barrier islands, etc., so it is not difficult to draw up estimates for such schemes for individual areas.

  • Total California water supplies at near-decade low

    Advisory from UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling finds California’s statewide averages of snow, surface water, and soil moisture near 10-year lows. The threat of multi-year period of unsustainable groundwater depletion imminent if drought continues. The data show particularly steep water losses between November 2011 and November 2013, the early phase of the current drought. The researchers estimate that the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins have already lost ten cubic kilometers of fresh water in each of the last two years — equivalent to virtually all of California’s urban and household water use each year.

  • Making the U.S. grid sturdier, smarter, and more secure to thwart blackouts

    In August 2003, fifty million customers throughout the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada lost power for up to two days. More than ten years later, the U.S. electric power system continues to be challenged. In the United States, 149 power outages affecting at least 50,000 customers occurred between 2000 and 2004, a number which grew to 349 between 2005 and 2009. In 2012, the prolonged power outages in New York and New Jersey caused by Hurricane Sandy once again demonstrated the system’s vulnerability. A broad, multidisciplinary effort by Georgia Tech researchers aims to revolutionize the delivery of electricity, advance the smart grid, thwart blackouts, integrate renewable energy sources, and secure utilities from cyberattacks.

  • Smartphones to help find avalanche victims

    Not a winter goes by without an avalanche incident. In the search for those buried beneath the snow, every second counts. On average, rescuers have fifteen minutes to recover victims alive. This is why an avalanche transceiver is an essential piece of kit for anyone spending significant time off-piste. These transceivers do not come cheap, however, ranging in price from 200 and over 500 euros — perhaps one reason why many walkers and skiers still do not carry one with them. Now smartphones equipped with functions of an avalanche transceiver should help locate the victims quickly.

  • "Envy-free” algorithm may help in settling disputes

    Whether it is season tickets to Green Bay Packers’ games or silver place settings, divorce and inheritance have bred protracted disputes over the assignment of belongings. Now, a trio of researchers has found a method for resolving such conflicts in an envy-free way. The envy-free algorithm may be used by negotiators in intractable political or territorial disputes. “The problem of fairly dividing a divisible good, such as cake or land, between two people probably goes back to the dawn of civilization,” write the authors.