Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cuomo’s and Christie’s Shifts on Ebola Are Criticized as Politics, Not Science

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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Indian prime minister claims genetic science existed in ancient times

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Hindu nationalists have long propagated their belief that many discoveries of modern science and technology were known to the people of ancient India. But now for the first time an Indian prime minister has endorsed these claims, maintaining that cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics were practiced thousands of years ago.

As proof, Narendra Modi gave the examples of the warrior Karna from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata and of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time,” the prime minister told a gathering of doctors and other professionals at a hospital in Mumbai on Saturday. “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”

Narendra Modi delivers his address in New Delhi.
Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Modi went on: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

While much of Modi’s speech was devoted to how to improve healthcare facilities in modern India, he also dwelt on ancient India’s “capabilities” in several fields.

“There must be many areas in which our ancestors made big contributions,” he said. “Some of these are well recognised. If we talk about space science, our ancestors had, at some point, displayed great strengths in space science. What people like Aryabhata had said centuries ago is being recognised by science today. What I mean to say is that we are a country which had these capabilities. We need to regain these.”

This is not the first time that Modi has publicly articulated such ideas. But he did so earlier as chief minister of Gujarat state, and not as prime minister. He also wrote the foreword to a book for school students in Gujarat which maintains, among other things, that the Hindu God Rama flew the first aeroplane and that stem cell technology was known in ancient India.

Modi’s claims at the Mumbai hospital initially went unreported in the Indian media, except on the website

But on Monday night Headlines Today TV talk show host Karan Thapar focused on it in his primetime programme, with opposition politicians criticising Modi. The speech has also been posted on the prime minister’s official website. No Indian scientist has come forward as yet to challenge him.

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Is ‘Leaning In’ The Only Formula For Women’s Success In Science?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


Caltech biochemical engineer Frances Arnold was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2013.

Jason Reed/Reuters/Landov

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Jason Reed/Reuters/Landov

Caltech biochemical engineer Frances Arnold was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2013.

Caltech biochemical engineer Frances Arnold was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama in 2013.

Jason Reed/Reuters/Landov

Don’t wait to be invited or encouraged to make a career in science, engineering or technology, Frances Arnold advises the young women she teaches at the California Institute of Technology. If you’re a scientist, she says, you should know how to solve a problem.

“Bemoaning your fate is not going to solve the problem,” she says. “One has to move forward.”

An award-winning biochemical engineer, and professor and researcher at Caltech for 28 years, Arnold grew up in Pittsburgh and studied engineering at Princeton University only a few years after the college began admitting women. Her father helped build one of the world’s first commercial nuclear reactors; when Arnold got her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley she, too, had big ambitions from the start.

Changing Lives Of Women

This story is part of NPR’s series The Changing Lives of Women.

“I wanted to rewrite the code of life, to make new molecular machines that would solve human problems,” she says. So she moved to Caltech, a small, but well-funded research institute, where she now heads the biotechnology center and says anything is possible.

Sure, she faced roadblocks along the way.

“I’m sure that there are people who are skeptical that a woman can do this job as well as a man,” Arnold says, adding, “I am blissfully unaware of such people — and have been gifted with the ability to ignore them completely.” She advises other women in fields dominated by men to do the same.

Arnold’s female students at Caltech say she’s a god. But they don’t all agree with her “lean-in” philosophy.

Nikki Peck is getting a Ph.D. in bioengineering. Her parents are both science teachers. She spent her weekends growing up going to science museums and went on to Harvey Mudd College, which emphasizes science, engineering and math as well as liberal arts.

But at Caltech there was one guy she worked with who acted like women were inferior, Peck says, and her self-esteem took a hit. Still, the whole lean-in response that Arnold advises is not her style.

“I consider myself an introvert,” Peck says. “I have a hard time just, like, talking to people. It’s hard for me to get up the initiative to just … ‘Lean in!’ or to ‘Just do it!’ “

“I don’t know,” Peck says. “That attitude — I think it works really well for a certain type of woman. But I don’t think it works for every woman.”

So Peck figures she might not be the next big-shot academic. Instead, she’s taking a year off from her graduate work to go work for Calico, Google’s new life-extension company. She says she’s a little worried about working near a city with the nickname Man Jose, where women get good tech jobs but don’t stay in them.

Peck’s story isn’t that unusual. The pipeline of young people heading into jobs in science, technology, engineering and math is starting to widen, to diversify — more women than in decades past are getting into STEM and staying there through college, grad school and even that first job.


These days, there are about 70 male students for every 30 female students on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, Calif.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

These days, there are about 70 male students for every 30 female students on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, Calif.

These days, there are about 70 male students for every 30 female students on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, Calif.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But then they opt out.

Peck says she thinks it’s because we still haven’t figured out how women can work these high-power jobs and have families. It’s a conversation she hoped to have at a recent cupcake social for Women in Chemistry at Caltech.

Peck and her friends showed up at the event with their male colleagues, “but [other attendees] were sort of like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And then, of course, our male co-workers felt like they weren’t allowed there, so they left,” she says. “And so, I don’t know, on the one hand, that’s how we feel sometimes. But still, I don’t think the way you help out women is by pushing down men.”

These days Caltech is about 70 percent men to 30 percent women, with the number of women on the upswing.

But even with the push for more diversity, some students still feel singled out — and not in a good way.

Earlier this month, Caltech hosted a fly-in for high school seniors from groups that admissions officers say have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

You can imagine the scene, says Moraa Marwanga, a student in the International Baccalaureate program at her high school in Rockville, Md., who attended the event.

“I am one of maybe three black girls there,” Marwanga recalls, “and one of maybe 10 black people in general. … The college application process people are, like, ‘Oh you’re just going to get in everywhere. You’re black and you’re female and you like math.’ … It’s frustrating,” she says.

So don’t let it get to you, her friend Angela Umeh from Dallas advises her. It’ll be harder if you let it get to you.

Maybe that’s the best advice for women now, they say: Instead of “Lean In,” you might call that approach to obstacles, whatever they are, “Lean To The Side, And Let It Pass By.”

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Science standards evolve despite ban

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Jasmine Scott, a sixth-grader at Cheyenne’s Jessup Elementary, laughs as she listens to the sound made by the unknown material inside her box during science class at the school on Wednesday, Sept. 3. Students learned about the scientific method by making observations and forming an educated guess about the content of their boxes. Miranda Grubbs/staff

CHEYENNE – When the Wyoming Legislature adjourned in March, it left school districts in limbo.

Last-minute passage of a budget footnote prevented the State Board of Education from using or considering the Next Generation Science Standards as it worked to update state standards.

Consequently, the state board stopped its work on the science standards.

Some districts say it is hard to move forward with improving their science curricula without clear direction from the state.

But others are moving forward anyway, since local control in Wyoming allows districts to adopt standards that are more rigorous than the state’s standards.

The legislative footnote’s effect

Wyoming started its current revision process to consider new science standards in 2012.

Before this year’s legislative session, the committee reviewing the standards was considering the Next Generation Science Standards.

The final version of those standards was released in 2013. Their creation was a joint effort that started in 2011 and involved several states, a public review process and several national organizations, including the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, an independent, nonpartisan education reform organization, according to information from the standards’ website.

The standards include a focus on three dimensions of science education – practices; cross-cutting concepts, or the links between different areas of science; and core ideas.

Nationally, about 12 states and Washington, D.C., have officially adopted the standards, and several more are taking steps in that direction. Wyoming is among a few states that have rejected use of the standards.

During this year’s legislative session, a budget footnote was passed that cut all funding to review or use the Next Generation Science Standards when revising the state’s science standards.

The footnote to the budget for the Wyoming Department of Education reads that “neither the State Board of Education nor the department shall expend any amount appropriated under this section for any review or adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards … This footnote is effective immediately.”

The footnote went through several versions before it was finally adopted.

The final version was written by Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, who says her version has been misinterpreted.

Part of her goal in rewriting it was to minimize the effect of the footnote, she said.

“We shouldn’t have had a budget footnote,” she said. “My goal was to have the footnote go away.”

Throne said she had about 15 to 30 minutes to rewrite it.

“It was a House footnote,” she said. “The only debate on it was in the House, and then it went to conference committee.”

The footnote didn’t really get vetted in the Senate, she said.

“My goal was to allow the state board to use the Next Generation Science Standards as a template and then basically ‘Wyomingize’ them – tweak them to fit Wyoming better, but not to throw them out all together,” she said. “They spent two years reviewing them, and they still would go to public comment.”

The state’s current science standards are in “dire need of improvement,” she added.

“We have second-rate standards at K-12, and that makes no sense – we need to keep moving forward,” Throne said.

She said what she likes about the Next Generation Science Standards is how they build off one another.

“They start with what they should have in 12th grade and work back,” she said. “They’re cohesive standards.”

She added that she plans to seek to repeal the footnote if she is still in the Legislature during the next session.

“We kind of stopped the process dead in its tracks, and that’s not good for anybody,” Throne said.

Throne added that she isn’t sure the Legislature should be getting involved with setting educational standards.

“Is it appropriate for the state to adopt standards at all?” she said. “The Legislature is supposed to focus on the big picture.”

Members of the State Board of Education aren’t sure the Legislature should have gotten involved either.

The members voted at a meeting in July to stop all work on revising or rewriting science standards until the Legislature lifts its ban.

The motion reaffirmed the current state standards until “the prohibition on considering ALL relevant science standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards, is rescinded by the Legislature.”

But it also reminded school districts that while they have to align to state standards, they may have “more rigorous, challenging science standards” at the same time.

“The board came to the realization that if they’re going to look at all the options on the table, they needed to be all there, and the board didn’t feel that,” State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli said.

The delay means that the state won’t finish revising its science standards until after the next legislative session, which starts in January, he said.

But the state’s delay may not mean a delay in the review work districts are doing, he added.

“There was nothing in the motion to preclude the fact that they could go forward with standards on their own,” Micheli said.

Debates regarding the standards

Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, introduced the budget footnote.

He said at the time that he didn’t like the focus on evolution in the biology standards or the insistence on presenting climate change as something caused by human activity.

“The Next Generation Science Standards treats manmade climate change as settled fact, and we are the largest energy-producing state in the country, so are we going to concede that today?” he said. “The Next Generation guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution as the central organizing idea of the biological sciences.”

The Next Generation standards also only treat questions on the origins of life and the universe from a nonreligious viewpoint, he said.

But Teeters isn’t alone in these objections.

Other groups, including Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core, object to the standards.

The standards have missing foundational skills, group member Cynthia McKee said. And they offer a poor connection between the sciences and mathematical concepts.

“Probably the most alarming aspect of the science standards are their subjective treatment of controversial scientific issues, such as origins and environmental science,” she said. “Parents understand that science sometimes asks both religious and political questions, and proposed answers are opinion science.”

Students shouldn’t be “indoctrinated” on these subjects, she said. And all scientific information should be given.

But topics like evolution have been in classrooms for many years, school officials said.

The current state science standards include a section on evolution in species for students in both eighth grade and 11th grade. The standards requires that students be taught evolution and be able to apply it.

Many schools also already address topics like climate change, several school officials added.

While there are national groups that support use of the Next Generation Science Standards that have gained some members in Wyoming, there also are some Wyoming-based groups advocating for the standards.

One such group is Wyoming for Science Education.

The group’s goal is “to advocate for a process of science standards review that allows the state to look at all sources and decide what are the highest quality and best for Wyoming schools, without fear of stepping on political toes,” group member Marguerite Herman of Cheyenne said.

The state needs to be able to look “unblinkingly” at science and decide what is best for students based on fact, she said.

That’s why the group supports use of the Next Generation standards, she added.

“They are high-class, 21st century, peer-reviewed (standards) and are based on what students need to know, what industry needs students to know and an understanding of how people learn science,” Herman said. “A result is we’re teaching our students how to think like scientists.”

Problems with Wyoming’s current standards include that they offer little guidance for the lower grades, and there is no articulation – progression of subjects between grades – for standards from kindergarten through 12th grade, she said.

The Next Generation standards offer students a set of standards that have core principles, build concepts from grade to grade and promote the work of doing science instead of memorizing information, she said.

“They deal very matter-of-factly with all major science topics, they are high quality, and they are internationally benchmarked so our kids will be learning and competing on the same level as students around the world,” Herman said.

Moving forward, she said she hopes to see politics removed from the process of setting educational standards.

“The Legislature set the review process back, and our kids are the losers in the process,” Herman said.

District responses to the standards

Even if the standards aren’t adopted by the state, local control means that school districts can align their curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards, as long as those standards are more rigorous than the standards the state currently has, Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter said.

Local control also means that school districts develop their own curriculum, and teachers can be left to decide how to best meet the needs of their students, she said.

“The state standards are still the minimum,” she said. “Hopefully, they’re reaching above and beyond, especially for students going into areas that require a lot of science. It really is what is best for our students.”

About 15 school districts in Wyoming have already started aligning to, or are considering aligning to, the Next Generation standards, Herman added.

Both Laramie County School Districts 1 and 2 were in the process of revising their district science curricula when the Legislature passed its footnote and derailed the state’s review of the science standards, district administrators said.

In LCSD2, the footnote put a halt to some of the work to revise the district’s curriculum, Superintendent Jack Cozort said.

“We saw the footnote, and we slammed on the brakes,” he said.

The district did move forward with rewriting its curriculum by blending the new potential standards with what had been approved in 2008, he said.

“We knew we had to do something with our curriculum,” he said. “We couldn’t stand still because the curriculum we had was the 2008 curriculum.”

Cozort said he doesn’t see keeping to the 2008 standards as a good option.

“I can see them pulling those and trying to make them more rigorous, but there’s not a lot of rigor inside them – what you’re looking for kids to be able to do in science wasn’t there yet,” he said.

The district also already had discussed how to teach controversial topics, he said.

“Science is seeing the difference of opinions, evaluating and deciding for yourself,” Cozort said.

The district focused on building a curriculum for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, he said.

“We started finding that the same concept was taught (several times), but we had big holes where things weren’t being taught,” he said.

Some topics were moved into new grades, he said.

But the work to revise the curriculum along the lines of the Next Generation standards was at least a place for the district to start, he added.

In LCSD1, the pause on reviewing the state science standards also came while the district was trying to update parts of its science curriculum, said science curriculum coordinator Melanie Fierro.

“It does put us in a little bit of a bind,” she said. “We need to decide if we want to stay the course or move the direction that 15 other districts have taken.”

The district went into its period of review at the end of the school year not knowing how it was going to move forward, she added.

“The students are still using standards that are based on rote memorization versus learning skills associated with science and being able to actually apply the skills that they’re learning and putting the knowledge they gain to use,” she said.

The change from the state’s current standards to Next Generation standards would be a “paradigm shift,” she said.

“Students are learning the content and how to apply their knowledge relating to the content,” she said. “NGSS focuses on application of knowledge and practice of skills. It moves us from ‘this is what I know’ to ‘this is how I use what I know.’”

The standards also offer a better and more defined path for elementary students to cover multiple areas in the sciences, she said.

Practical effect of the controversy

Herman said she has heard stories from out-of-state teachers who are afraid to bring up controversial topics in science because they don’t have support.

But she said she hopes that isn’t happening in Wyoming because districts have some flexibility.

“If school boards go forward, they have the resources,” she said. “If you’re in a district without them, your hands may be tied, and you won’t have the resources.”

Adopting new science standards at the state level gives help and resources to all districts, she added.

Teaching science and leaving out the topics that some people don’t like also sends a poor message to parents and students, said Minda Berbeco with the National Center for Science Education.

Cutting out topics doesn’t give students an accurate idea of what science is, she said.

“Scientists don’t avoid uncomfortable topics,” she said.

The political debate also can have an effect on teachers, she said.

“Standards help set the guidelines for professional development and what teachers should know going into the classroom,” Berbeco said. “If you leave out a topic, they’re less likely to learn about it.”

Another strength of having science standards used by more than one state is that it makes transitions easier for students, she said.

“With the situation going on in Wyoming, because we have such a mobile population right now, one of the goals was to have common standards between states so that students who were moving would not get hodge-podge science education and could be equally prepared to enter the workforce or equally prepared to enter college,” she said. “If you have one state declaring that, ‘We’re not going to teach these standards,’ those students will be underprepared, and they’re not going to be competitive.”

Published on: Sunday, Oct 26, 2014 – 12:11:41 am MDT

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Colorado pharmacy student wins with fashionable science

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Colorado pharmacy student wins with fashionable science. 9NEWS at

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What Your Birthday Says About Your Mood And Personality, According To Science

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Astrologers and other spiritual types are typically the only people to believe in a connection between a person’s birthday and their personality. But according to a recent study, there’s scientific evidence that indeed, the season of your birth may have some impact on who you are.

Researchers from Semmelweis University in Budapest studied a sample of 366 Hungarian university students, finding that people born in the summer were more likely to experience frequent mood swings as adults. People born in the winter, however, were less likely to develop irritable personalities. Spring birthdays were more likely to yield “excessively positive” temperaments, while people born in autumn were less likely to be depressive.

“Biochemical studies have shown that the season in which you are born has an influence on certain monoamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which is detectable even in adult life,” lead researcher Xenia Gonda, an assistant professor at the university, said in a written statement. “This led us to believe that birth season may have a longer-lasting effect.”

These neurotransmitters play a role in the regulation of cognitive processes like emotion and arousal, contributing to mood, so the researchers believe they might influence the development of certain types of temperaments. But since this initial study just included a survey and didn’t follow participants over time, more research is needed to determine precisely how and to what extent there is a connection between the two factors.

“We can’t yet say anything about the mechanisms involved,” Gonda acknowledged in the statement. “What we are now looking at is to see if there are genetic markers which are related to season of birth and mood disorder.”

Of course, certain early environmental factors that are related to season — such as available food and nutrients, the mother’s level of physical activity, temperature and environmental pathogens — may also affect temperament in later life, Gonda said.

“[Around] 400 subjects is a relatively small sample size, so the findings may be chance,” Sreeram Ramagopalan, a neuroscience lecturer at Oxford University who was not involved with this study, but has studied the effects of birth season on mental disorders, told The Huffington Post. “Nevertheless, for some disorders (e.g. schizophrenia), a convincing season of birth effect has been found. Potential hypotheses to explain these findings are either maternal infections or maternal vitamin D levels, both of which are known to vary seasonally.”

“Birth season is a proxy for several environmental effects which are in action during gestation and shortly after birth,” Gonda explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “[These] periods are crucial for the development of the central nervous system.”

Here’s how the findings break down by season:

  • Summer: Higher instances of “cyclothymic temperament,” characterized by quick, frequent swings between sad and cheerful moods.
  • Spring Summer: Higher instances of “hyperthymic temperament,” a personality tendency to be overly positive.
  • Winter: Decreased likelihood of developing irritable temperament, as compared with those born at other times of the year.
  • Autumn: Significantly lower tendency towards depressive temperament than those born in winter.

It’s important to note that the study was conducted in Hungary — which has a climate of warm, dry summers and cold winters — and that seasonal differences in environmental factors may not be as important in areas closer to the equator.

At this stage, the findings shouldn’t be taken as conclusive, and further research is needed to distinguish between correlation and causality. The findings were recently presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Berlin.

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Scientific method not only for science

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Pinkston Middle School students headed for the school’s gym Thursday, but not for PE class or sports. Instead of balls, there were science projects running up and down the court as students turned out to see the science fair.

Approximately 265 students took part in this year’s science fair. Their experiments were in one of four categories: Life Science, Physical Science, Earth/Environmental Science and Technology/Engineering. Classes took turns visiting the fair throughout the day.

“The kids seem more excited this year,” said Elise Biggs, seventh-grade science teacher. “They just seem really interested this year.”

This is the third year for the science fair, according to Biggs. She said the students get their information around the second week of school. Biggs said the students spend approximately two months on their projects. Those who opt not to do a project can do an alternative project, such as oral presentations.

The projects are set up to coincide with parent-teacher conferences so the parents can come in and browse the projects for themselves. After the conferences end, the projects are taken down and the gym is cleared.

“I think it kind of piques their interest how many things apply to science,” Biggs said of the science fair. She said when students return to class after the fair, they’re still talking about the projects.

Projects can take a wide variety of forms. They range from hooking up potatoes with wires, building a hovercraft, or, in the case with one student, shooting guns.

“I tested if an air soft bullet was faster than a BB bullet,” John-Carl Laidler, 12, a seventh-grader.

Laidler said air soft bullets can be powered by electricity, battery or CO2 cartridges. He said there were several variables and that the guns could have different kinds of ammo.

“I learned more about averaging,” Laidler said. “I fired 20 shots with the air soft bullets and only three with the BB. Each time I timed it, and I could tell from sound and the timer I used, (I learned) about the time it took to hit the target I was using. I wrote them all down and averaged them up — that helped me a lot.”

One student observed the growth of inorganic material.

“It’s crystal growth in different lighting environments such as UV, normal lighting and darkness,” said seventh-grader Olivia Posey, 12. “I think it’s the temperature that affects the growth instead of the light. We find UV works the best, and that’s because it has either the highest temperature or the lowest temperature.”

Posey said she got the crystals from a kit.

Another student used household items anyone could find in the kitchen for her experiment.

“I did ‘How does the amount of baking soda change a chocolate chip cookie?’ ” said Abby Dietsche, 12. “I learned that the more baking soda (you use), the more it’s going to make the cookie crumbly and darker.”

Dietsche said she learned that the experiment is going to help her remember the scientific method — which is the goal of the fair.

“They’re learning the scientific method and how it can be applied to different situations in their world,” said science teacher Roger Fisher.

Fisher said like scientists in the outside world, they’re identifying variables, forming hypotheses and designing experiments to test their hypotheses. He said after the tests, they analyze the data and reach conclusions.

“Some found out they were wrong and that’s OK,” Fisher said. “That’s what scientists do.”

Fisher said the students will be able to apply the problem-solving skills they learn with their experiments to things that come later in life.

Biggs said these experiments just don’t help kids gain a better understanding of science, it also helps them with math and literacy.

“One of the most important things is that it causes them to think,” Biggs said. “Going through the scientific method — they can take those steps and apply them to almost everything they do. Whether it’s their school work with organization or when they see something and ask ‘why?’ This can help them figure out ‘why.’ “

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Watch: Moment Queen sends her first tweet to launch Science Museum

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The Duchess, who is patron of Action on Addiction, attended its Autumn Gala
Evening dinner and reception in London, where she was joined by comedian and
impressionist Rory Bremner

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Coils and cables: Science Museum opens information age gallery

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The sticker on the old box-like computer is torn at the corners from failed attempts at removal, but the stern warning penned on the label is still clear: “This machine is a server. Do not power down!!”

Anyone who ignored the plea would have achieved something unthinkable today: to unplug the computer would have shut down the web. Or at least its nascent form, designed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 on this black NeXT workstation.

The well worn computer is one of more than 800 objects brought together by the Science Museum for the UK’s first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communications technology. Information Age: six networks that changed our world spans 200 years of transformation, from electric telegraphy, broadcasting and telephony to satellite communications, the web and mobile voice and data networks.

To be opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday afternoon, the gallery is the first project to emerge from an ambitious masterplan to transform the museum. Next in line is the new mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid, and due to open in 2016. The museum’s medical history gallery, due in 2018, aims to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Operators on the Enfield telephone switchboard.
Photograph: Science Museum

The Information Age takes over the single largest gallery in the Science Museum, a space previously devoted to the history of shipping, the other great revolution that brought people together and made the world a smaller place. The one remaining exhibit from the older gallery is a coil from the transatlantic cable, laid in the mid-19th century, that allowed telegraphic messages to be sent between the UK and the US for the first time.

“The laying of the first transatlantic cable completely changed the game for the whole world,” said Tilly Blyth, lead curator of the gallery. “The moment you can send messages in minutes rather than weeks, you can trade in minutes; stocks and shares information can go back and forth more quickly. Previously, messages were sent by ship and took four weeks to get there.”

Electrical signals flowed down the transatlantic cable but they arrived at their destination weak from resistance. Here they met with the ingenious mirror galvanometer, perfected and patented by Lord Kelvin in 1858. It turned the signals into deflections of a mirror, which in turn moved a beam of light that shone on a scale, the way a watch face can reflect sunlight on a summer’s day.

An elliptical raised walkway surrounds the gallery, a space designed with a small town in mind, where in place of a central town hall lies the Rugby tuning coil, an extraordinary 6m-tall structure of wood and copper and once the largest transmitter in the world. “Having the coil at the heart of the gallery confounds people’s expectations of communications technology,” said Jason Holley, a director at Universal Design Studio, whose staff spent three years on the project.

The inventing process is rarely straightforward. For Alexander Graham Bell, the great Scottish innovator, the accidental discovery that his harmonic telegraph could transmit sounds, and not just a single note, put him on course for conflict with his financial backer, Gardiner Hubbard. The US financier wanted Bell to make a machine that could carry multiple morse messages at once. But Bell saw the promise of the telephone and, against Hubbard’s wishes, changed tack.

Alexander Graham Bell’s liquid transmitter, into which he spoke the immortal words ‘Mr Watson … Come here … I want to see you”. His colleague, listening at the receiving end in a nearby room, heard the words clearly.
Photograph: Science Museum

The tension did little for Bells’ hopes of marrying Hubbard’s daughter Mabel, a profoundly deaf girl he was teaching. “It put him under enormous pressure. He could only marry Mabel if he could provide her with an income, and he thought that would come from the telephone,” said John Liffen, curator of communications. In 1876 Bell was granted a patent for his invention and the two married the following year.

Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of and chair of Go On UK, a coalition of organisations that help people get online, said she hoped visitors would be inspired by the audacity and ingenuity of the inventors. “What I take from it is the scale of ambition, and if anyone can walk away from here inspired to bring a bit of that ambition back, then that’s fantastic,” she said. “What’s very important is how many women have been involved in the journey.”

The stories of key technologies in each network are told through large, semi-enclosed interactive booths. Audio dramas from the playwright Bonnie Greer reveal the emotions surrounding the use of the telephone at different times in history. With help from comedian Josie Long, a giant Tim Berners-Lee explains from an intelligent booth what happens when you click on a hyperlink.

The advent of the web alone has brought a staggering pace of change. Set against the electromechanical devices of the 19th century, the glorious muddle of valves and coils that is the BBC’s 2LO transmitter, and displays of the ZX81 and Vic20 from the 1980s, the rate of advance is breathtaking.

“We are always told we are living in this incredible period of change. For me, it’s just the latest in a series of transformations. They’ve been happening for 200 years,” said Blyth.

• Information Age: six networks that changed our world opens to the public on 25 October

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Star Trek’s sci-fi technologies: how close are they to becoming science fact?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Australian researchers have this week created a small-scale ‘tractor beam’ that can move tiny particles over a distance of 20cm in the lab.

It’s not quite on the scale of the Star Trek Enterprise’s tractor beam, which could be used to tow other spacecraft to safety, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Captain Kirk and his crew got their hands on so many cool toys, many of which have inspired whole areas of scientific research.

We don’t quite have phasers yet, but Dr Martin Cooper – who invented mobile phones – has always said that Star Trek’s communicators inspired him.

Mirror Tech takes a look at how close we are to turning sci-fi tech into science fact.



Star Trek transporter

A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands showed for the first time in May 2014 that it was possible to teleport information encoded into sub-atomic particles between two points three metres apart with 100% reliability.

Teleportation exploits the weird way ‘entangled’ particles acquire a merged identity – one instantly influencing the other no matter how far apart they are.

Albert Einstein dismissed entanglement, calling it “spooky action at a distance”, but scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that it is a real phenomenon.

Professor Ronald Hanson says nothing in the laws of physics fundamentally forbids the teleportation of large objects, including humans.

“What we are teleporting is the state of a particle,” he said. “If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.

“In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous… If it ever does happen it will be far in the future.”


For those with a fear of needles, the hypospray was the dream invention.

It used air pressure to force drugs through the skin without a jab. 

Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy was seen using one aboard the Enterprise on a weekly basis in the original series – and it could become a regular sight in present-day GP surgeries, too.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have developed their own “hypospray” that uses magnets and electrical currents to fire drugs through the skin.

Dr Ian Hunter, who runs the ­bioinstrumentation lab at MIT, says: “We are able to fire the drug out at almost the speed of sound if we need to.”

He says hypospray could even be used to inject drugs through the eye into the retina or into the inner ear.


On the Enterprise, the replicator is used to conjure up food, water, clothes and other everyday items.

Today scientists have achieved ­something similar by creating a 3D plastic printer.

Earlier this week we revealed how a US firm has developed a working plastic gun but there are many positive aspects to report.

Surgeons at Charing Cross Hospital in London have printed a plastic knee joint for a soldier shot in Iraq.

And pioneers in San Francisco have built a working plastic car.

But the best is still to come. Scientists at the University of St Andrews have “printed” stem cells.

Dr Will Shu hopes the technology could be used to create tissue to test drugs or even print organs for ­transplant use, solving the shortage of donors for good.

© 2013 Paramount Pictures


Tractor beams

This was one of the most iconic gadgets from the Star Trek franchise and was even powerful enough to trap and pull giant spaceships.

Scientists are still some way from turning science fiction into reality but they have taken the first steps towards doing so.

For several years optical tweezers – incredibly tiny laser beams capable of moving molecules – have been used by scientists in order to study DNA.

This week we heard of a team at Australian State University that had moved a tiny particle more than 20cm using just lasers.

And in January a research team at the University of St Andrews announced that they had used the first real-life tractor beam and had succeeded in pulling a string of microscopic particles using light.

Lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar says the tractor beam could have medical uses, such as separating white blood cells.

However, he says using this technique to trap a spaceship would be “out of the question” as it would result in a “massive” amount of heat.


ANOTHER popular idea from Star Trek: The Next Generation was the holodeck.

The room created 3D holograms which felt real and were used for training or where the crew could relax.

Scientists may not be able to create holograms we can touch but a team at the University of Illinois recently unveiled the first holodeck.

People wearing 3D glasses step into a virtual world mapped out across 72 screens.

With the glasses on, you can fly over the surface of Mars or even stroll around the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

Jason Leigh, director of the ­Electronic Visualisation ­Laboratory in Chicago, says: “A lot of what we create is really inspired by the science fiction that we used to watch when we were kids.”

Scientists believe the holodeck could be used to train surgeons, map crime rates and help engineers improve their designs.

Similar technology could also be used to transform your living room into a virtual reality cinema.


Geordi’s visor

Lt Commander Geordi La Forge was a popular character in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was instantly recognisable from his visor, which helped him to see even though he was blind.

It may sound far-fetched but scientists are already using similar technology.

They have developed a camera fitted to glasses that sends images to a tiny implant behind the eye.

Retired engineer Eric Selby, 70, was one of the first people to trial the technology.

He began to lose his sight as a young man and by his late 40s the hereditary condition had left him blind.

But the bionic eye means he can now see flashes of light, so can sort his socks and spot the kerb while walking.

Eric, from Coventry, says: “After the operation the doctor turned my head and I saw a flash of light. It was a hell of an experience.”

Others in the trial have even been able to identify different shapes and start to read.


The crew of the Enterprise were able to communicate with the aliens they came across thanks to their nifty universal translator.

Amazingly, a similar device is now issued to US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and south-east Asia. Speak into the Phraselator and it translates your words into the language of your choice.

It can translate to and from a language, allowing two-way conversations.

Military commanders hope it will help to break down the mistrust between locals and troops.

Clayton Millis, managing director of sales at Voxtec International, which makes the device, says: “You can speak freely off the top of your head and say what you need to say for that situation.”

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