• Caution about emerging technologies is compatible with science

    Precautionary approaches to governance of emerging technology, which call for constraints on the use of technology whose potential harms and other outcomes are highly uncertain, are often criticized for reflecting “risk panics,” but precaution can be consistent with support for science.

  • Global climate 2011-2015: hot and wild

    The World Meteorological Organization has published a detailed analysis of the global climate 2011-2015 – the hottest five-year period on record — and the increasingly visible human footprint on extreme weather and climate events with dangerous and costly impacts. The record temperatures were accompanied by rising sea levels and declines in Arctic sea-ice extent, continental glaciers, and northern hemisphere snow cover. All these climate change indicators confirmed the long-term warming trend caused by greenhouse gases.

  • Meeting global energy demands with nuclear power

    An international team of scientists suggests that we must ramp up energy production by nuclear power if we are to succeed in warding off the worst effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. The team suggests that beginning in 2020 we could achieve an annual electricity output of 20 terawatts without needing to develop carbon dioxide trapping and storage technology for the tens of billions of tons of emissions that would otherwise drive global warming to catastrophic levels.

  • Addressing the risk of an ecological breakdown

    In Surviving the 21st Century, Julian Cribb says that “Our combined actions may be leading to a gross ecological breakdown that will strike humanity harder than anything in our experience.” He adds: “Today humanity is facing ten huge existential threats, all of our own making. The good news is that we have the brains and the technologies to solve them – and to prosper from their solution. However we currently lack the collective will, the ability to co-operate, and the institutions to save ourselves. That is a worry.” He concludes: “This is absolutely a book about solutions – and opportunities. It is about hope – though a hope that is well-founded, on fact and science, not simply on belief, ignorance, or wishful thinking. It’s about understanding and facing up to the things which imperil out future, so that we can overcome them.”

  • First large-scale, citywide test of advanced radioactive threat detection system

    Field testing of more than 1,000 networked, mobile radiation sensors in Washington, D.C., yields valuable data for implementing enhanced radiation-detection networks in major U.S. cities. By getting volunteers to walk all day looking for clues, the DARPA-sponsored exercise provided the largest test yet of DARPA’s SIGMA program, which is developing networked sensors that can provide dynamic, real-time radiation detection over large urban areas.

  • Forensic technique to measure mechanical properties of evidence

    You may have seen it on CSI: The star examines hair from a crime scene and concludes its color or texture looks like the defendant’s hair, or maybe his dog’s. Case closed. But looks can be deceiving, as well as vague and subjective. In real life, the FBI is now reviewing thousands of cases involving hair comparisons going back to the 1980s because traditional identifications—often based on looks alone — have been called into question. Instead, what if investigators could precisely measure a hair’s mechanical properties — its stiffness and stickiness? Researchers say that in fact, they can.

  • Bangladesh confronting climate change head on

    Three decades ago, Bangladeshi scientists recognized that global warming would produce more destructive cyclones, heavier rain, and rising sea levels. Combined with the fact that 10 percent of the country is less than two meters above sea level, it was evident that something needed to be done to prevent future catastrophes and protect the lives of Bangladeshi citizens. A new book, which demonstrates how Bangladeshis are confronting climate change head on.

  • Increasing cost of natural hazards as climate changes

    A new comprehensive study of Australian natural hazards paints a picture of increasing heatwaves and extreme bushfires as this century progresses, but with much more uncertainty about the future of storms and rainfall. The study documents the historical record and projected change of seven natural hazards in Australia: flood; storms (including wind and hail); coastal extremes; drought; heatwave; bushfire; and frost.

  • Using hardware to fight computer viruses

    More than 317 million pieces of new malware — computer viruses, spyware, and other malicious programs — were created in 2014 alone, according to work done by Internet security teams at Symantec and Verizon. Malware is growing in complexity, with crimes such as digital extortion (a hacker steals files or locks a computer and demands a ransom for decryption keys) becoming large avenues of cyberattack. Fighting computer viruses is not just for software anymore, as researchers study how hardware can help protect computers too.

  • Energy-efficient dyke-inspection robots

    There are many dykes in the Netherlands, and their structural health must be continuously monitored. Inspecting the condition of dykes and other sea defense structures is typically a task for robots, working in a team and in a highly autonomous way. But if they move around across the dykes, perform tests, and communicate the results for six hours a day, they use a lot of energy. Introducing charging stations is not a realistic scenario. A Dutch researcher had a better idea: an innovative automatic gearbox or the robots, which uses two metal hemispheres instead of a belt drive.

  • Sensors monitor bridges’ health – and tweet the information they gather

    While bridge collapses are rare, there have been enough of them to raise concerns in some parts of the world that their condition is not sufficiently monitored. Sweden is taking a hi-tech approach to its aging infrastructure. Researchers are rigging up the country’s bridges with multiple sensors that allow early detection of wear and tear. The bridges can even tweet throughout the course of a day.

  • Record-breaking hot year may be the new normal by 2025

    The hottest year on record globally in 2015 could be just another average year by 2025 if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, according to new research. And no matter what action we take, human activities had already locked in a “new normal” for global average temperatures that would occur no later than 2040. However, while annual global average temperatures were locked in, it was still possible with immediate and strong action on carbon emissions to prevent record-breaking seasons from becoming average — at least at regional levels.

  • Drowning: Warming above 2 degrees centigrade would place many coastal cities at risk

    The first predications of coastal sea level with warming of two degrees by 2040 show an average rate of increase three times higher than the twentieth century rate of sea level rise. By 2040 with 2 degrees centigrade warming, more than 90 percent of coastal areas will experience sea level rise exceeding the global estimate of 20cm, with up to 40cm expected along the Atlantic coast.

  • Nanobionic spinach plants can detect explosives

    Spinach is no longer just a superfood: By embedding leaves with carbon nanotubes, MIT engineers have transformed spinach plants into sensors that can detect explosives and wirelessly relay that information to a handheld device similar to a smartphone. This is one of the first demonstrations of engineering electronic systems into plants, an approach that the researchers call “plant nanobionics.”

  • Natural protection: Coastal wetlands reduce cost of flood damages during hurricanes

    As communities across the Southeast United States and the Caribbean count the cost of flood and wind damage during Hurricane Matthew, a pioneering study has quantified how much protection natural coastal habitats provide during hurricanes. The study found more than $625 million in property damages were prevented during this natural catastrophe by coastal wetlands along the Northeast coast. Without wetlands, the damage bill would be much higher for Sandy and other predicted hurricanes. Where wetlands remain, the average damage reduction from Sandy was greater than 10 percent.