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Science News

Sand-grain-sized drum extends reach of quantum theory

Drumby Jacob Aron

The banging of a tiny drum heralds the intrusion of the weird world of quantum mechanics into our everyday experience. Though no bigger than a grain of sand, the drum is the largest object ever to have been caught obeying the uncertainty principle, a central idea in quantum theory.

As well as extending the observed reach of quantum theory, the finding could complicate the hunt for elusive gravitational waves : it suggests that the infinitesimal motion caused by these still-hypothetical ripples in spacetime could be overwhelmed by quantum effects.

The uncertainty principle says that you cannot simultaneously determine both a particle's exact position and momentum. For example, bouncing a photon off an electron will tell you where it is, but it will also change the electron's motion, creating fresh uncertainty in its speed.

This idea limits our ability to measure the properties of very small objects, such as electrons and atoms. The principle should also apply to everyday, macroscopic objects, but this has not been tested – for larger objects, the principle's effects tend to be swamped by other uncertainties in measurement, due to random noise, say.


Success comes from sticking with your monkey lover

(Image: Gerard Lacz/Rex Features)Flora Graham, editor, newscientist.com

Owl monkey lovers have plenty of reasons to stay together - just gaze into these big brown eyes and you'll start to go a bit gooey, too. But they also benefit from having more babies if they avoid breaking up.

Owl monkey relationships are paragons of monogamy and co-parenting, with both parents expending lots of effort bringing up baby. But occasionally an interloper manages to split up a couple. Male and female monkeys that are single and looking for love may attack one member of a pair and drive it away.  

By following owl monkey couples and observing such violent break-ups, researchers have discovered that having a partner evicted harms the reproductive success of the remaining mate. Monkeys with one partner produced 25 per cent more offspring per decade than those with two or more partners.

The male owl monkey's role as a hands-on dad may help explain why long-term monogamy and pair-bonding has such an impact on the animal's reproductive fitness. Males can be sure of their offspring's paternity, leading them to invest in their care. Females benefit from having someone to share the childcare.



Technology News

Instagram Asks Judge To Ditch Terms Of Service Class Action Lawsuit

Instagram cameraMichael Harper for redOrbit.com

Last December, Instagram announced they’d soon be making changes to their terms of service, allowing third party advertisers to display users’ photographs in ads, all without compensation to the user.

As these things often go, the Internet became an angry mob, calling upon one another to quit the service and pay closer attention to the terms of service documents for all social networks. One Instagrammer even went so far as to file a class action suit against the Facebook-owned company for breach of contract. Yesterday, Instagram officially asked a San Francisco federal court to throw out this suit.

According to Reuters, Instagram claims Lucy Funes, the Instagram user who brought the class action suit, could have simply deleted her account before these changes went live; therefore exempting her from the initial contract which she claimed had been breached.

Instagram announced these upcoming changes in a company blog post more than a month before the newly updated terms of service was to go into effect. This gave its angry users more than enough time to leave the service. Funes filed her suit against the photo-sharing service on December 21, weeks before the changes were set to go into effect.


Social Networking Is A Young Woman’s Game

Image Credit: Photos.comMichael Harper for redOrbit.com

Those survey crazy folks over at the Pew Internet and American Life Project are at it again, this time giving us some hard numbers on the current state of social networking in America. It might not surprise you to learn young women in urban areas are more likely to use some sort of social networking; be it Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter. According to the new survey, the main factor in determining who is on these sites is age. Those Internet-using Americans under age 50 are very likely to use some sort of social networking, especially those between the ages of 18 and 29. In fact, 83 percent of this younger group is using some sort of social network, according to this new study. Urban-dwellers are obviously more likely to use social networking, as they’re likely to have better connections to the Internet than those in rural areas. Women were also found to be overall more likely to share with one another on these sites.

The Pew Group dissected these social networks, giving a detailed list of what kind of person uses which site. For instance, according to their surveys, (1,802 phone interviews in English and Spanish of adults aged 18 and over between November 14, 2012 and December 9, 2012) 67 percent of Facebook users are 18-29 year old women. Young African-Americans living in urban areas are more likely to use Twitter; young white women under 50 with some college education were in the majority on Pinterest; young African-American and Latino women in urban areas preferred to use Instagram.



Environmental News

Are Honeybees Losing Their Way?

A combo of pesticides takes a toll on their memory and communication skills
Honeybees learn and remember the locations of flowers, but a new study shows they may be losing their way.Christy Ullrich

A single honeybee visits hundreds, sometimes thousands, of flowers a day in search of nectar and pollen. Then it must find its way back to the hive, navigating distances up to five miles (eight kilometers), and perform a "waggle dance" to tell the other bees where the flowers are.

A new study shows that long-term exposure to a combination of certain pesticides might impair the bee's ability to carry out its pollen mission.

"Any impairment in their ability to do this could have a strong effect on their survival," said Geraldine Wright, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University in England and co-author of a new study posted online February 7, 2013, in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Wright's study adds to the growing body of research that shows that the honeybee's ability to thrive is being threatened. Scientists are still researching how pesticides may be contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a rapid die-off seen in millions of honeybees throughout the world since 2006.

"Pesticides are very likely to be involved in CCD and also in the loss of other types of pollinators," Wright said.


When Resistance Is Futile: Bring In The Robots To Pull Superweeds

An illustration imagines what a weed-seeking robot could look like, armed with different tools to attack different problem plants.by Grant Gerlock

A future without weeds would be a kind of farmer utopia, but currently, herbicide-resistant "superweeds" are part of today's reality. Some researchers, though, are looking for a solution that seems ripped from science fiction: weed-seeking robots.

After years of being burned by glyphosate, the generic name for Roundup herbicide, weeds like palmer amaranth, marestail and giant ragweed are able to live long and prosper where the widely used chemical is no longer effective. That concerns Steve Young, a weed ecologist with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln's West Central Research Center in North Platte.

"Right now it's sometimes recommended that if you've got a herbicide-resistant weed population, to go out and spray more or do another application, because that will kill it, maybe," Young says.

But, Young says, more herbicide can lead to even stronger resistance and additional chemical runoff into the environment. So he and other researchers are pursuing robots as an alternative to dealing with the superweeds of the future.

Imagine fleets of small robots, constantly roaming the rows, seeking and destroying alien plant forms. Today, farmers spray herbicide on everything to kill a few weeds. Young said robots could treat each weed individually.



Medical News

Birth Control Pill The Most Accepted Form Of Contraception Among Majority Of Parents

Image Credit: Photos.comAlan McStravick for redOrbit.com

Parental acceptability is an important factor in birth control method selection for their teenage daughters. A new study, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health sought to examine parental acceptability of different forms of contraception and to explore the factors and motives that influenced the attitudes of the parents.

According to the study, parents are far more accepting of their young daughters using the birth control pill than in the utilization of any other form of contraception. This bias extended even to the use of condoms.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) determined that of the most effective contraceptive methods, the implant and the IUD were only acceptable to a small minority of parents. The implant is a matchstick-sized rod that is inserted in the arm. The IUD is a small device that is implanted into the uterus.

The random sample of parents yielded 261 parents or guardians who were taking care of a daughter between the ages of 12 and 17. These subjects were recruited from a clinical database from San Francisco General Hospital and five Kaiser Northern California clinics where their daughters had been patients.


Is the new coronavirus the next SARS?

The new virus has so far not spread widely (Image: Medical rf.com/SPL)by Debora MacKenzie

A 60-year-old man is in serious condition in hospital with the new coronavirus that was discovered in Saudi Arabia last year. Reports that he passed it onto his son have prompted comparisons between the new virus and SARS, the disease that killed 775 of the 8000 known people it infected worldwide in 2003. But how sensible are the comparisons?

What kind of disease does the virus cause, and can it spread?

The man hospitalised in Manchester, UK, late last month has severe pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus – so severe, his blood is being oxygenated outside his body. The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported on Wednesday that the man's son has now been hospitalised with the virus in Birmingham.

The first man had recently travelled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and fell ill after four days in Saudi. His son lives in the UK and had not been abroad – in fact he is the first of the 11 cases known so far who is not a resident of Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Jordan. The HPA says he probably caught the virus from his father.



Space News

Large Asteroid Makes Close Earth Approach On February 15th

Image Caption: Illustration of asteroids flying by Earth on their trajectories. Credit: NASA/JPLLee Rannals for redOrbit.com

You know the feeling of standing by a highway as an 18-wheeler rushes by, and you feel the rush of air from that vehicle slinging your hair into your face? Well, if it wasn’t for the vacuum in space, then we would hypothetically be getting that rush as asteroid 2012 DA14 makes its nail-biting, close-approach of Earth this weekend.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be skimming by Earth at just 17,000 miles away, which is closer to us than most major weather and television satellites, which sit at 22,000 miles away in geosynchronous orbit.

The 150-foot diameter asteroid will be in the eyes of every astronomer on Friday night, but for those who will not have access to view the closely approaching space rock, you can use online resources like Slooh to view it live.

Slooh, which essentially broadcasts all celestial events, will be tracking the asteroid from two professional observatory locations, including the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and in Arizona.

The asteroid’s approach is an exciting moment for researchers, offering up a very rare, up close and personal opportunity to study passing space rocks.

One scientist, Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at MIT, believes that 2012 DA14 may be feeling tremors from Earth as it floats by.


Curiosity’s ‘ChemCam’ Uses Laser To Hit On Martian Drill Tailings

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/CNES/LPGNantes/IAS/CNRS/MSSSNASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A day after NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity drilled the first sample-collection hole into a rock on Mars, the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument shot laser pulses into the fresh rock powder that the drilling generated. This scene shows a line of pits left by laser hits on the drill tailings. The view is a mosaic of images taken by the remote micro-imager in ChemCam, with color information from Curiosity’s Mast Camera.

The drilled hole, at lower center, is about 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. Curiosity drilled the hole 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep during the 182nd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Feb. 8, 2013). ChemCam repeatedly zapped several points near the hole on Sol 183 (Feb. 9, 2013) to obtain spectra providing information about composition, and then on the same sol took the images that have been combined to create this view. Marks from the laser hits are visible along a line about halfway up the image.

The site is on a patch of flat rock called “John Klein” in the “Yellowknife Bay” area of Mars’ Gale Crater.



Odd News

Mosh pit physics could aid disaster planning

Rock fans and air molecules: spot the connection? (Image: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock Magazine via Getty Images)by Lisa Grossman

Metalheads in mosh pits act like atoms in a gas. That's the conclusion of the first study of the collective motion of people at a rock concert.

The finding could add to the realism of computer-generated crowd scenes in films and games.; More importantly, it could help architects design buildings that ease the flow of chaotic crowds in an emergency.

Research into how humans behave in crowds had mostly been limited to fairly organised situations, like pedestrians forming lanes when walking on the street. But when Jesse Silverberg, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, took his girlfriend to her first heavy metal concert a few years ago, he witnessed a different and surprising form of crowd behaviour.

"I didn't want to put her in harm's way, so we stood off to the side," he says. "I'm usually in the mosh pit, but for the first time I was off to the side and watching. I was amazed at what I saw."

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