Sci-Tech

  • Lawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • Designing the future of rail travel

    Increased traffic, congestion, security of energy supply, and climate change are just some of the many pressing issues that the EU currently faces. In order fully to tackle these challenges, the railway sector must modernize and take on a larger share of transport demand over the next few decades. EU-funded researchers have just begun work on three exciting projects that could very well determine the shape of rail travel in the coming years.

  • Strengthening increasingly unstable rail tracks

    The big chunks of rock — crushed limestone or dolomite that engineers call ballast — which keep railroad tracks in place look like a solid footing even as freight cars rumble overhead. Temperature and vibration, however, can destabilize ballast over time, keeping it from safely transferring the weight of a loaded train to the soil below, draining water, and preventing vegetation from crowding the tracks. In some states, a booming industry of mining sand for use by oil and gas drillers in hydraulic fracturing has presented a new challenge: fine grains of sand can leak from rail cars, accumulate in rail bed ballast and, during a rainstorm, turn into mushy, track-loosening mud.

  • 75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

  • Researchers hack a teleoperated surgical robot, revealing security flaws

    Real-world teleoperated robots, which are controlled by a human who may be in another physical location, are expected to become more commonplace as the technology evolves. They are ideal for situations which are dangerous for people: fighting fires in chemical plants, diffusing explosive devices or extricating earthquake victims from collapsed buildings. Researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they hacked a next generation teleoperated surgical robot — one used only for research purposes — to test how easily a malicious attack could hijack remotely controlled operations in the future and to make those systems more secure.

  • Bomb squads compete at Sandia Labs’ Robot Rodeo

    Robots are life-saving tools for the nation’s hazardous device teams, providing a buffer between danger and first responders. Beginning this past Monday, Sandia Lab hosted its ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise at Sandia National Laboratories. The five-day event – 11-15 May — offers a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help. 

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  • South Africa must start managing its retreat from the coast

    In 2015 there may remain some small uncertainties about the pace and intensity of climate change, but the inevitability of storm surges and sea level rise is not one of them. Due to the warming ocean’s thermal mass, thermal expansion, melting ice, and other complex interactions between air, land, and water, the sea level will rise significantly over the next few centuries. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, this is inevitable. African cities and coastlines, like the rest of the world, absolutely need natural coastal defenses: dunes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs, and coastal plains – but in many areas these defense would not be sufficient. In those areas, another approach should be considered: A managed retreat from the coast. In many places along the African coast such retreat is essential to minimize risk to coastal societies and maximize social and economic stability. And if planned properly, it can generate significant economic growth rather than chaos. The alternative is a grim scenario of treacherous coastline littered with rusting hulks of drowned and broken buildings, displaced coastal communities, and attendant impacts on health, food security, disaster risk management, and social and economic stability.

  • More assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Invisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • Students who take a hands-on approach to learning perform better in science

    Students who physically experience scientific concepts understand them more deeply and score better on science tests, according to a new study. Brain scans showed that students who took a hands-on approach to learning had activation in sensory and motor-related parts of the brain when they later thought about concepts such as angular momentum and torque. Activation of these brain areas was associated with better quiz performance by college physics students who participated in the research.

  • Marshes, reefs, beaches can bolster coastal resilience: NOAA

    Coastal erosion, storms, and flooding can reshape the shoreline and threaten coastal property. With approximately 350,000 houses, business, bridges, and other structures located within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline, erosion is a problem many U.S. coastal communities are addressing. Coastal flooding caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern. In 2012, just two coastal extreme weather events caused $68 billion in damages — Sandy accounted for $65 billions, and Hurricane Isaac for $3 billion. The resilience of U.S. coastal communities to storms, flooding, erosion, and other threats can be strengthened when they are protected by natural infrastructure such as marshes, reefs, and beaches, or with hybrid approaches, such as a “living shoreline” — a combination of natural habitat and built infrastructure, according to a new NOAA study.

  • Major food companies must adapt to growing global water risks

    Escalating water competition, combined with weak government regulations, increasing water pollution, and worsening climate change impacts, is creating unprecedented water security risks for the food industry. In California, an estimated half-million acres of farmland have already been fallowed by a prolonged drought, causing more than $1 billion of economic losses for the agriculture sector. Major U.S. food companies need to adopt far stronger practices to use limited global water resources more efficiently, according to a new report. The report ranks the U.S. thirty-seven largest food companies on how effectively they are managing precious freshwater supplies. While a relatively small number of firms are taking broad actions to manage water risks in their operations and supply chains — Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg, among those — most have a long way to go in using water more sustainably, the report concludes.

  • Terrorists’ personality traits indistinguishable from traits of the general population: Experts

    Social scientists and psychologists have not found a personality trait that visibly marks a potential for violent extremism, making it difficult to identify members of a group who may take up arms in support of a common cause. “As of now, there is no specific terrorist profile,” said one expert, who studies violent radicalization. “They come in all shapes and sizes.”Another experts writes that“There are no psychological characteristics or psychopathology that separate terrorists from the general population.”

  • Using UV light to separate rare earth metals

    Europium and yttrium are two rare earth metals that are commonly used in sustainable technology and high-tech applications. As these rare earth metals are difficult to mine, there is a great interest in recycling them. Researchers have discovered a method to separate europium and yttrium with UV light instead of with traditional solvents. Their findings offer new opportunities for the recycling of fluorescent lamps and low-energy light bulbs.

  • Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

    Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. The research corrects other studies which relied on records from tide gauges and satellites, records which have shown sea level rise to be slowing slightly over the past twenty years. This slowing down surprised scientists: As the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland melt and send huge amounts of water into the ocean, climate models predicted that sea level rise would accelerate, not slow down. The new research, in which researchers used data sets generated by both tidal gauges and altimetric satellites, found, however, that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. When adjustments are made for the initial error, the rate of sea level rise is not slowing down but accelerating, and the IPCC climate modelling proves right.