Researchers create transistor seven atoms wide

It’s no small feat — big-time computer components are going microscopic.

Australian scientists have developed a transistor consisting of just seven atoms, and the innovation could lead to more processing power in a smaller package, reports the BBC.

The transistor — which acts as a switch on a computer chip — was made by swapping seven atoms of a silicon crystal for phosphorous atoms and is part of a larger plan by the research team to create a solid-state quantum computer.

While it is not the smallest transistor ever created — two teams have made transistors using only a single atom — it is still one-sixth the size of transistors used in modern-day computer chips.

If an entire chip can be made using the new transistor, the research team predicts that the components on future chips could be up to 100 times smaller than those on current processors.

Who needs RFID chips? You’ll be able to have your iPad added via intramuscular injection – communicating with your eyes via wifi.

The Sun may be entering a million-degree cloud of interstellar gas – but don’t worry!

Scientists…suggest that the ribbon of enhanced emissions of energetic neutral atoms, discovered last year by the NASA Small Explorer satellite IBEX, could be explained by a geometric effect coming up because of the approach of the Sun to the boundary between the Local Cloud of interstellar gas and another cloud of a very hot gas called the Local Bubble. If this hypothesis is correct, IBEX is catching matter from a hot neighboring interstellar cloud, which the Sun might enter in a hundred years.

First full-sky maps of the emissions of energetic neutral atoms (ENA), obtained last year by IBEX, showed a surprising arc-like feature called the Ribbon. This astonishing discovery was later announced by NASA as one of the most important findings in space exploration made in 2009….In a paper recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, a Polish-US team of scientists…offers a different explanation. “We observe the Ribbon,” says Professor Stan Grzedzielski “because the Sun is approaching a boundary between our Local Cloud of interstellar gas and another cloud of a very hot and turbulent gas…”

The team of Polish and US scientists suggests that the Ribbon ENA are born by electrical charge exchange between the atoms which “evaporate” from the Local Interstellar Cloud into the nearby Local Bubble of a very hot and fully ionized gas. The Local Bubble is probably a remnant of a series of supernova explosions that occurred a few million years ago and thus is not only very hot (at least million degree Kelvin), but also turbulent. The protons in the Local Bubble nearby to the boundary with the Local Cloud snatch electrons from the neutral atoms and run away in all directions, some of them reaching IBEX…

The model developed by the Polish-US team suggests that the boundary between the Local Cloud and the Local Bubble might be not within a few light years from the Sun, as it was believed earlier, but within just a thousand of astronomical units, a thousand-fold closer. This might mean that the Solar System could enter the million-degree Local Bubble cloud as early as the next century.

“Nothing unusual, the Sun frequently traverses various clouds of interstellar gas during its galactic journey,” comments Grzedzielski. Such clouds are of very low density, much lower than the best vacuum obtained in Earth labs. Once in, the heliosphere will reform and may shrink a little, the level of cosmic radiation entering the magnetosphere may rise a bit, but nothing more. “Perhaps future generations will have to learn how to better harden their space hardware against stronger radiation,” suggests Grzedzielski.

Phew! Had me worried for a minute.

Although it might be fun to forward this to some of the Armageddon types. Revelations and all that.

Carnivorous sponge and a minnow with fangs lead new species


And then there’s Phallus Drewsii

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists – scientists responsible for species exploration and classification – announce the top 10 new species described in 2009.

On the list are a minnow with fangs, golden orb spider and carnivorous sponge. The top 10 new species also include a deep-sea worm that when threatened releases green luminescent “bombs,” a sea slug that eats insects, a flat-faced frogfish with an unusual psychedelic pattern, and a two-inch mushroom that was the subject of a “Bluff the Listener” segment on the National Public Radio quiz show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Rounding out the top 10 list are a banded knifefish, a charismatic plant that produces insect-trapping pitchers the size of an American football, and an edible yam that uncharacteristically sports multiple lobes instead of just one.

The top 10 new species come from around the world, including Africa, Indonesia, Madagascar, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States and Uruguay. The announcement of the top 10 new species list coincides with International Day of Biodiversity being marked May 22 by the United Nations.

Here’s a gallery of these glorious critters. Don’t let them overwhelm your curiosity.

Obama offers Congress another way to slice pork

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

President Barack Obama is sending a proposal to Congress that would make it quicker and easier to trim wasteful costs from U.S. congressional spending bills.

The “Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010” would enable the president to submit a package of cuts, or “rescissions,” to Congress after lawmakers pass the various appropriations bills that fund federal programs every year…

His proposal, which requires congressional approval, would give Obama and his successors a stronger hand in cutting items they do not support from spending bills.

The White House said the proposal differs from a line-item veto in which a president unilaterally cuts specific provisions from a spending bill. The Supreme Court has rejected a presidential line-item veto as unconstitutional.

Under Obama’s proposal, Congress would have to look at the president’s slate of suggested cuts as a package and, without making any amendments, give them an up-or-down vote within a specific period of time.

This would speed up the process used by presidents to reduce special provisions, commonly called “earmarks” or “pork,” that lawmakers add to spending bills, making them more expensive…

But with congressional elections in November and voters increasingly nervous over record spending deficits, the proposal is likely to find allies on Capitol Hill.

Overdue.

Frankly, I’d favor a line-item veto, as well. I think it could be written into law well enough to satisfy our 19th Century Supreme Court.

Should vegetarians enforce a matching diet on their pets?


Do you make your pets dress like you?

This week is National Vegetarian Week in the UK, the annual celebration of all things vegetarian. Taking the veggie option has never been easier for people, but what about vegetarian pets?

Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent polemic Eating Animals makes much of the contrast between our love for our pets and our complacency at the horrors of the factory farm and the abattoir. That contradiction is no more keenly felt than by the vegetarian dog or cat owner, supporting the meat industry they abhor every time they stock up on pet food.

Of course, I should say the vegetarian owner of a cat or dog. Even my preternaturally clever Border collie, Charlie – a dog perfectly capable of expressing disdain – doesn’t have the intelligence to base his culinary choices on a critique of the industrialised system of meat production. So is it ethical to impose a vegetarian diet on your pet? And for a start, is it healthy?

The health issue is simpler for dogs than cats, as dogs in the wild are omnivores whereas cats are obligate ‘true’ carnivores, getting all of their nutrition from meat…

No doubt this talk of a vegetarian dog will have many people apoplectic with righteous indignation that it’s “not natural”. They’d do well to consider whether there was anything “natural” about conventional pet food.

We’re not vegetarians nor do we endorse or comply with philosophical calls for that particular lifestyle. So, our dogs needn’t worry about either their dog food or the people food they frequently sample being altered from the course of evolution to date. That being the operative portion of my own attitude towards diet.

I consider nutrition to be best when [a] it reflects what we ate as we evolved as a species – and [b] whatever modern science informs us is useful and healthy. We advanced as a species as omnivores, eating just about anything we could catch, find, kill or uncover beneath a rock – as long as it didn’t kill us and provided sufficient energy to make it through a cold night in a cave.

Israel offered to sell apartheid South Africa nuclear weapons


Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, and P W Botha of apartheid South Africa

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted…

RTFA. Once again, the truth will out.

Israel’s willingness to support one of the most violent, racist governments since Hitler’s Germany is something that most scholars of international policy already know about. It’s only our government that lies about the fact – and the gullible who believe the lies.

Only the 3rd time in 62 years, guest skips out on Meet the Press

After a tough two days following his sweeping Republican Senate primary victory in Kentucky, Rand Paul canceled on Meet the Press.

“He committed on Wednesday and is now wanting to cancel,” the show’s Executive Producer Betsy Fischer tells First Read. “We are hoping he will reconsider and keep his commitment.”

His campaign told the show he’s “exhausted.” Paul agreed to do the show on Wednesday before backing out late Friday afternoon.

Fischer said Paul is only the third major guest in 62 years to have canceled on the show. The other two were Louis Farrakhan (1996) and Saudi Prince Bandar (2003).

Solid company.