SciTech Briefs

Virgin Atlantic restricts use of laptops

Virgin Atlantic became the third airline to restrict the use of certain laptops last week. Passengers are prohibited from boarding planes with Dell Inspirons and Latitudes, as well as Apple iBooks, PowerBooks, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros with the batteries still connected.

The news comes after Dell and Apple issued a recall on certain notebook computer batteries manufactured by Sony. The recall occurred after the discovery that the batteries could self-combust.

Instead, passengers who wish to take those computers on board will have to separate the battery from the computer during the flight. Furthermore, passengers are limited to taking a maximum of two batteries on board.
Virgin plans to lift the restriction as soon as the issue with the batteries is cleared up.

Source: Reg

Puffy planet found

Astronomers are once again debating over the properties of a planet. A question arose last week when astronomers found a new planet with a much lower density than other planets.

The object, called HAT-P-1, was found to have roughly 1.38 times the radius of Jupiter, but only half the mass. Scientists speculate that the planet has approximately one-quarter the density of water.

HAT-P-1 is one of the 200 planets found outside of our solar system. It takes approximately 4.5 Earth days to orbit its parent star.

Source: BBC

Mind-reading robot created

Rock, paper, scissors just got a high-tech twist. Scientists in Kyoto, Japan, created a robot capable of reading the minds of its competitors, and then choosing the superior weapon in under seven seconds.

A person in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine forms a rock, paper, or scissors with his hand. A machine-learning algorithm analyzes the fMRI data on changes in blood flow connected with neural activity. The decoded data are then transferred to the robot hand. The result is the ultimate rock, paper, scissors opponent.

Scientists will continue to try to improve the robots ability to sense what its opponent is thinking. As of now, it operates with 85 percent accuracy.

Source: Scientific American

Tree’s genetic code deciphered

Scientists recently discovered the genetic code for a black cottonwood tree. The discovery could lead to a new kind of tree that is better for producing wood, paper, and fuel.

The black cottonwood is a rapidly growing poplar that is in high use by the timber and paper industries. The team of researchers isolated the DNA sequence from a specimen growing along the Nisqually River in Washington state.

The ultimate goal is to produce a type of tree suited to be converted into ethanol, and then used for fuel.


Chemical warfare waged on ants

Scientists in California discovered that by altering the chemical coat on Argentine ants, they turn against each other. This is because Argentine ants, like most ants, rely upon chemical tags to determine whether another ant is of the same colony or not.

In recent history, the Argentine ant has been overpowering the native ant population in California. It is suspected that a boat from South America carried over the first colony of the Argentine ants. Today, one large supercolony spans from San Diego to San Francisco.

Scientists believe that the altering of the ants’ chemical coats could lead to a breakthrough in pest control.

Source: Associated Press

Amount of sea ice decreases

Studies released last Wednesday show signs that arctic perennial sea ice totals decreased by 14 percent between 2004 and 2005. Arctic perennial sea ice stays frozen year-round.

Some researchers believe the results are a clear sign of global warming. Scientists have been monitoring the polar ice caps via satellite since the 1970s, but this occurrence is unique because it demonstrates a decline in the amount of ice during winter as well.

Source: Reuters

Oldest American writings discovered

A stone block covered in ancient script discovered in 1999 has been declared to contain the oldest writing to be discovered in the Americas. The stone was found in southern Mexico by a crew of road builders.

The block displays writings from the Olmec civilization. The writing on the block, known as the Cascajal block, dates back nearly 3000 years. The block weighs rougly 26 pounds and contains 62 carved signs on one of its sides.

Source: Science News Online

Beetle provides idea for articifial gills

Scientists studying the behavior of beetles now believe they can find a way for humans to breathe underwater. Beetles can trap air to keep from drowning. Scientists believe that artificial gills could mimic the same trick. Most insects normally drown when submerged, but the great diving beetle Dytiscus marginalis possesses rigid hairs on its underside that repel water to the point where the hairs form a non-collapsible film of air.

The film acts in a similar way as gills, allowing air in the water to flow in and carbon dioxide in the air to diffuse out.

A likely use for this process could be to enable some machines to operate in underwater situations.

Source: [SLANT 12][SLANT 12]