Sci-Tech

  • Building a better lie detector

    The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), announced the other day the winner of its first public challenge contest, Investigating Novel Statistical Techniques to Identify Neurophysiological Correlates of Trustworthiness (INSTINCT). The winning solution, JEDI MIND — Joint Estimation of Deception Intent via Multisource Integration of Neuropsychological Discriminators — uses a combination of innovative statistical techniques to improve predictions approximately 15 percent over the baseline analysis.

  • Reliance on BP, feeble regulations make U.S. partially culpable in Deepwater Horizon oil spill

    A recent ruling by a federal judge that BP was “grossly negligent” in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico placed the majority of blame on the multinational oil and gas company. Although not on trial in this case, the federal government was also culpable in the largest oil spill in U.S. history, according to a new paper. Based on reports from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, the Chief Council’s Report and other government documents, the report’s authors determined that the government’s reliance on market-based accountability mechanisms and its failure to implement a regulatory process based on a mutually agreed upon set of robust standards and voluntary information disclosure led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

  • Snake-inspired robots show how sidewinders conquer sandy slopes

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    The amazing ability of sidewinder snakes to quickly climb sandy slopes was once something biologists only vaguely understood and roboticists only dreamed of replicating. By studying the snakes in a unique bed of inclined sand and using a snake-like robot to test ideas spawned by observing the real animals, both biologists and roboticists have now gained long-sought insights.

  • As sea level rises, coastal communities brace for more frequent, destructive tidal flooding

    Today, many coastal communities are seeing more frequent flooding during high tides. As sea level rises higher over the next fifteen to thirty years, tidal flooding is expected to occur more often, cause more disruption, and even render some areas unusable — all within the time frame of a typical home mortgage. An analysis of fifty-two tide gauges in communities stretching from Portland, Maine to Freeport, Texas shows that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades, with significant implications for property, infrastructure, and daily life in affected areas. The report warns that given the substantial and nearly ubiquitous rise in the frequency of floods at these fifty-two locations, many other communities along the East and Gulf Coasts will need to brace for similar changes.

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  • Fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal

    Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true — zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply. Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics have not penciled out. Fusion power designs aren’t cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.

  • U.S. Navy unveils autonomous swarmboats to “swarm” hostile vessels

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    As autonomy and unmanned systems grow in importance for naval operations, officials at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced the other day a technological breakthrough that will allow any unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to not only protect Navy ships, but also, for the first time, autonomously “swarm” offensively on hostile vessels. The first-of-its-kind technology — successfully demonstrated over two weeks in August on the James River in Virginia — allows unmanned Navy vessels to overwhelm an adversary.

  • Mopping up toxic fire-fighting chemicals

    Australian scientists have come up with the solution to a world-wide pollution problem — how to mop up the toxic residues left after the use of special foams to fight fires. The technology uses a modified clay to soak up potential cancer-causing substances in the foam used by fire fighters, defense facilities, and airports worldwide to suppress fires.

  • Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East?

    For at least a decade, attempts to understand why some young Muslims living in Western countries turn to violence in the name of religion have raised questions about Western foreign policy in the Middle East. Many blame the United States’ foreign policy. The Islamic State uses anger and grievance against Western intervention as a powerful recruiting tool. There is some truth to the argument that anger at foreign policy and the West’s engagement with the Arab world is at the heart of Muslim anger, as well as a driver of radicalization among Muslim youth, but the current state of affairs in the Middle East is not simply an outcome of Western intervention and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Western foreign policy in the region has no doubt influenced the current situation, but the conditions for the spread of militant Islamism have come from attempts to deal with the crisis within: a crisis that is as much political in nature as it is religious.

  • Research powerhouses team up to develop climate models for energy applications

    Eight national laboratories, four academic institutions, and one private-sector company are partnering in the Climate Modeling for Energy, or ACME, project, designed to accelerate the development and application of fully coupled, state-of-the-science Earth system models for scientific and energy applications. The project will focus initially on three climate-change science drivers and corresponding questions to be answered during the project’s initial phase.

  • California communities running out of water

    Since January, a number of California communities in the Central Valley have been experiencing such extreme drought that they have been placed on a “critical water systems” list — a ranking indicating that the areas could run completely dry within sixty days. Many of these areas have had wells dried up since July.

  • New cyber initiative to put Israel’s Beer-Sheva region on the world’s cyber map

    Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a central component of the new CyberSpark initiative, an ecosystem with all the components which will allow it to attain a position of global leadership in the cyber field. The CyberSpark initiative is the only complex of its type in the world – a government-academic-industry partnership which includes Fortune 500 companies and cyber-incubators, academic researchers and educational facilities, as well as national government and security agencies. The CyberSpark Industry Initiative will serve as a coordinating body for joint cyber industry activities with government agencies, the Israel Defense Force (IDF), and academia.

  • Better planetary vital signs should replace 2° C warming goal as targets for climate action

    As climate instability increases across the planet, limiting global surface air temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to an average of 2° C (3.6° F) has become a popular metric for success in the public eye. Two researchers argue, however, that the goal is a misleading one. Though it is a relatively tangible concept to appreciate, the standard does not correlate well to prescribed government actions such as limiting fossil fuel use or establishing carbon markets. “Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature — which has stalled since 1998 and is poorly coupled to entities that governments and companies can control directly,” the researchers say.

  • Sensor network will track down illegal bomb-making

    Terrorists can manufacture bombs with relative ease, few aids, and easily accessible materials such as synthetic fertilizer. Security forces do not always succeed in preventing the attacks and tracking down illegal workshops in time. Bomb manufacturing, however, leaves its traces. A network of different sensors will detect illicit production of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Traces on doorknobs, in sewage, or in the air will be detected by the sensors and the data will be fused in a command center.

  • California agriculture faces greatest water loss ever seen

    California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and nearly a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. Across the nation, consumers regularly buy several crops grown almost entirely in California, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives, and figs. Researchers show that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but the nation’s produce basket may come up dry in the future if it continues to treat those reserves like an unlimited savings account.

  • California crippling drought linked to climate change: Scientists

    The extreme atmospheric conditions associated with California’s crippling drought are far more likely to occur under today’s global warming conditions than in the climate that existed before humans emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases. Researchers used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean that diverted storms away from California was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.