The White House Frontiers Conference is TODAY!

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❝ President Obama will host the White House Frontiers Conference, a national convening co-hosted with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to explore the future of innovation here and around the world. The convening will include topics inspired by the November issue of WIRED, which will be guest-edited by the President on the theme of “Frontiers.” The conference will focus on building U.S. capacity in science, technology, and innovation, and the new technologies, challenges, and goals that will continue to shape the 21st century and beyond.

Listen and learn, watch and learn, participate. A pretty good beginning.

Looks like exercise turns white fat into brown — that’s a good thing!

❝ Exercise may aid in weight control and help to fend off diabetes by improving the ability of fat cells to burn calories, a new study reports. It may do this in part by boosting levels of a hormone called irisin, which is produced during exercise and which may help to turn ordinary white fat into much more metabolically active brown fat…

❝ Irisin…entered the scientific literature in 2012 after researchers from Harvard and other universities published a study in Nature that showed the previously unknown hormone was created in working muscles in mice. From there, it would enter the bloodstream and migrate to other tissues, particularly to fat, where it would jump-start a series of biochemical processes that caused some of the fat cells, normally white, to turn brown.

Brown fat, which is actually brown in color, burns calories. It also is known to contribute to improved insulin and blood sugar control, lessening the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Most babies, including human infants, are plump with brown fat, but we humans lose most of our brown fat as we grow up. By the time we are adults, we usually retain very little brown fat.

❝ In the 2012 study, the researchers reported that if they injected irisin into living mice, it not only turned some white fat into brown fat, it apparently also prevented the rodents from becoming obese, even on a high-fat, high-calorie diet.

But in the years since, some scientists have questioned whether irisin affects fat cells in people to the same extent as it seems to in mice — and even whether the hormone exists in people at all.

❝ A study published last year in Cell Metabolism by the same group of researchers who had conducted the first irisin study, however, does seem to have established that irisin is produced in humans. They found some irisin in sedentary people, but the levels were much higher in those who exercise often

❝ So for the new study, which was published in August in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers at the University of Florida turned to white fat tissue from women who had undergone breast reduction surgery at the university hospital (with permission) and also to a very small amount of brown fat from people who had had surgery to treat kidney cancer. Most of our meager stores of brown fat cluster around our kidneys.

The researchers, who had previously studied irisin’s effects in mice, had a form of the human hormone available and now set out to marinate the fat cells with it, using three different dosages…

❝ The results strongly indicate that irisin nudges human white fat to become brown and also suppresses the formation of new white fat, says Li-Jun Yang, a professor of hematopathology at the University of Florida and senior author of the study (which was funded by the scientists themselves). It also seems to promote the formation of bone…

But these were living cells, not living bodies, and the effects of irisin in actual people still need to be established, she says, especially since many studies have shown that exercise rarely results in significant weight loss. Scientists also do not know what types of exercise lead to the greatest production of irisin or what amount of irisin might be ideal for health purposes…

❝ But even now, the science related to irisin is compelling enough, she says, that “my advice is, exercise as much as you can. We know it’s healthy and now we’re beginning to understand better why.”

RTFA for the details. Nothing unsurprising if you’ve read along from earlier studies. I blogged about the original study, hopes, conjecture. And I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Yang.

All 2016 American Nobel laureates are immigrants

❝ In a year in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is proposing a crackdown on immigration, all six of the 2016 American Nobel laureates announced to date are immigrants.

“I think the resounding message that should go out all around the world is that science is global,” Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, one of three laureates in chemistry…Stoddart, born in Scotland, credited American openness with bringing top scientists to the country. He added, however, that the American scientific establishment will only remain strong “as long as we don’t enter an era where we turn our back on immigration.”

Stoddart said the United States should be “welcoming people from all over the world, including the Middle East…”

❝ Duncan Haldane, the English Princeton University researcher who won the prize for physics, described the immigration process as a “bureaucratic nightmare for many people” in an interview with The Hill.

The prize in physics was awarded to three British immigrants, Haldane, David Thouless of Yale University and Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University.

❝ Despite procedural challenges, the scientists believe the American educational system will continue attracting researchers from all over the world…

Haldane said top scientists come to the United States because of its research-friendly funding system.

“There’s a tradition of funding very fundamental research without regard for it being ‘useful,’” said Haldane.

❝ The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Oliver Hart of Harvard University and Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, British and Finnish immigrants, respectively.

I wonder if Trump sheeple follow their master’s contempt for reading and facts. He says he learns everything from watching TV – mostly Fox News. Facts about American immigrants get scant coverage in the world of “fair and balanced” sophistry.

Photo gems from the Moon


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From October 2007 to June 2009, Japan’s SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer) mission orbited the moon. The mission consisted of three spacecraft. The largest was better known by the nickname the public had chosen for it: Kaguya, honoring a lunar princess of Japanese legend.

During its expedition, the SELENE mission returned a wealth of scientific information from its polar orbit, such as the most detailed map of the moon’s gravity field ever obtained up until that time.

The Kaguya spacecraft also carried cameras, including one with a pair of 2.2 megapixel HDTV sensors that captured the first high-definition video from the moon. Thanks to this clear-eyed video camera, many of Kaguya’s images — especially the shots showing the Earth rising and setting at the lunar horizon — are moving in both senses of the word.

Now the Japanese space agency, JAXA, has publicly released the entire data set from Kaguya’s HDTV cameras. The iconic views are all there…plus some gems that haven’t been widely seen before.

Click through to the blog post and follow any other links along the way. Entertaining, beautiful.

I’m a Doctor. If I Drop Food on the Kitchen Floor, I Still Eat It

❝ You may have read or heard about the study debunking the five-second rule. It said that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it.

Our continued focus on this threat has long baffled me. Why are we so worried about the floor? So many other things are more dangerous than that.

❝ There’s no magic period of time that prevents transmission. But even though I know bacteria can accumulate in less than five seconds, I will still eat food that has fallen on my kitchen floor. Why? Because my kitchen floor isn’t really that dirty.

❝ Our metric shouldn’t be whether there are more than zero bacteria on the floor. It should be how many bacteria are on the floor compared with other household surfaces. And in that respect, there are so many places in your house that pose more of a concern than the floor.

❝ Perhaps no one in the United States has spent more time investigating the occurrence of bacteria on public surfaces than Charles Gerba. He’s a professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona, and he has published many papers on the subject.

In 1998, he and his colleagues investigated how well cleaning products could reduce coliform bacteria counts on household surfaces. As part of that research, they measured various locations in the house before any cleaning.

They found that the kitchen floor was likely to harbor, on average, about three colonies per square inch of coliform bacteria (2.75 to be exact). So there are some. But here’s the thing — that’s cleaner than both the refrigerator handle (5.37 colonies per square inch) and the kitchen counter (5.75 colonies per square inch).

We spend so much time worrying about what food might have picked up from the floor, but we don’t worry about touching the refrigerator. We also don’t seem as worried about food that touches the counter. But the counter is just as dirty, if not dirtier.

Educational, informative, often humorous, RTFA. Reason prevails. That alone makes this a standout.

4-foot-long Titanosaur footprints found in the Gobi desert


Professor Shinobu Ishigaki lies next to the footprintAFP/Getty Images

One of the largest ever dinosaur footprints has been found by a joint expedition of Japanese and Mongolian researchers in the Gobi desert.

The giant print measures 106cm (42in) long and 77cm (30in) wide, according to AFP. It is thought to have belonged to a titanosaur, a group of giant, long-necked herbivores. Researchers said the creature may have been more than 30 meters (98ft) long and 20 meters (66ft) tall.

The print was discovered in August in a geologic layer formed between 70 million and 90 million years ago by researchers from Okayama University of Science and the Mongolian Academy of Science…

The print is a cast from sand that flowed into dents left by the creature’s enormous footprint. Its discovery could help scientists understand how titanosaurs walked.

In 2014, a titanosaur skeleton was discovered in Argentina and was dubbed the largest dinosaur ever discovered. A replica of the dinosaur, which has yet to be named, is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It weighed about 70 tons and its skeleton is 37 meters (122ft) long.

I would love to be convinced of the possibility of viewing prehistoric times via some sort of time warp. Scientists would line up for primary source accuracy.

Inside the world’s largest particle accelerator

…You can see scientists try to make space for a giant 360 degree camera-ball while they’re hard at work helping uncover the origins of the universe: the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) unveiled two new panoramic videos today of the Large Hadron Collider — you know, the same giant underground machine that found evidence of the Higgs boson back in 2012.

Both videos were taken during the Large Hadron Collider’s first long shutdown in 2013. During this time, called “consolidation,” crews performed accelerator element maintenance that’d help it run at a higher energy once they turned it back on in 2015. And that it did — at almost twice the energy as before, its proton beams colliding at an energy of 13 TeV (teraelectronvolts).

Ah, yes. Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress made damned certain we never built anything like this in our god-fearing nation.

Teleportation — the next generation moves closer

❝ Chinese and Canadian scientists say they have successfully carried out a form of teleportation across an entire city.

The two teams working independently have teleported near-identical versions of tiny particles called photons through cables across Calgary in Canada and Hefei in Anhui province.

The forms of teleported photons were destroyed in one laboratory and recreated in another more than 8km apart in the two cities through optical fibre.

Similar experiments have been carried out before, but only within the same laboratory.

❝ A physicist not involved in either of the studies said the research was a step forward in the development of a “quantum internet”, a futuristic particle-based information system that could be much more secure than existing forms of digital data.

Quantum networks make eavesdropping almost impossible because the particles used cannot be observed without being altered…

❝ Teleportation, the foundation for such a network, has largely been the realm of science fiction, and other scientists say the research is still a very long way from teleporting people or objects.

But in his commentary on the research in the scientific journal Nature Photonics, French physicist Frederic Grosshans said the two experiments clearly showed that teleportation across metropolitan distances was technologically feasible.

❝ The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Calgary and their papers were published in the journal on Monday, 19 September.

There are differences in approach between the two groups of researchers. RTFA for details – and a pleasant nudge to your imagination, eh?

Global air pollution is worse than you ever thought it was


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The World Health Organization — which has previously found that indoor and outdoor air pollution killed a shocking 7 million people globally in 2012 — released a new analysis Tuesday underscoring the extent of the risk, which seems to grow worse and worse the more we learn about how damaging tiny airborne particles can be to our health.

Most strikingly, the new report, which combines local data with a global model to determine the extent of deadly air pollution across the planet even in places where there are no instruments recording it, finds that 92 percent of people suffer under pollution levels that are worse than WHO standards (as of 2014). The vast majority of deaths are in developing countries. The document calls air pollution the “largest environmental risk factor.”

Of greatest concern is a form of pollution called PM2.5, referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The global health agency believes that a concentration greater than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these fine particles in the air qualifies as dangerous. The great risk is that the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, travel into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream…

The new report credits air pollution with “about one in every nine deaths annually…”

In general, developed nations such as the United States have managed to clean their air substantially in recent years, but WHO has found that in developing countries the burden remains quite high. A previous report from earlier this year from the agency found that the Indian capital city of Delhi had annually averaged PM2.5 levels of 122, or more than 12 times the safe level…

In other words, Air pollution is improving in rich countries, but it’s still getting worse in most developing countries.