SciTech Briefs

Credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor Credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor

Baboons learn pre-reading skills

A team of French scientists announced last week that they have managed to teach six Guinea baboons (Papio papio) pre-reading — the ability to differentiate English words from non-English words. After six weeks of training, the baboons were consistently choosing four-letter English words displayed to them on a computer among an array of 7,832 four-letter non-words. They averaged 75 percent correct, with some scoring as high as 90 percent.

“It’s not just memorizing,” said team researcher Jonathan Grainger. “It’s picking up what we call these statistical regularities: Certain letter combinations appear more frequently in words than in non-words.”

Source: Reuters, Los Angeles Times

Supercomputer simulates universe

A group of researchers, led by Jean-Michel Alimi at the Laboratoire Univers et Théorie in Paris, has performed the first ever computer simulation of the structuring of the observable universe. The simulation spans from the Big Bang to the present day, and its completion marks the first of three phases of the group’s larger project, dubbed “Deus: full universe run.” Two more runs will be completed by late May, with scientists expecting the simulations to provide support for other scientific endeavors to map out the universe.

The tests were performed on France’s CURIE, one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. CURIE’s 92,000 CPUs are capable of two petaflops — 2 quadrillion operations a second.

Source: Science Daily

Team builds first quantum network

Scientists at the Max Plank Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, have created the world’s first quantum network. The prototype features two single-atom “nodes” connected by a 21-meter-long fiber optic cable, with each node capable of both sending and receiving information. A single photon traveling through the cable relays the state of one quantum node to the other.

Typical electrical bits can only represent digital 0s or 1s at any given time. On the other hand, qubits — the computational bits that drive quantum information technologies — can represent 0s and 1s at the same time, a phenomenon known as superposition. Paired with quantum entanglement — another property that keeps two correlated quantum atoms in sync, even over vast distances — superposition would make a quantum network faster, more secure, and much more scalable than existing network infrastructures today.

Source: Nature, Time, Scientific American

Canadian mint opens app contest

The Royal Canadian Mint has announced the MintChip Challenge, a competition for software developers to create innovative mobile apps demonstrating the potential uses of MintChip. MintChip is a virtual e-currency fully backed by the Canadian government, making it the first digital currency to be fully backed by any government.

“As part of its research and development efforts, the mint has developed MintChip, which could be characterized as an evolution of physical money with the added benefits of being electronic,” said Canadian Mint CEO Ian Bennett.

The e-currency technology, which is more of a system or protocol than a physical item, allows its users to pay for low-cost items on the internet or physically with apps on their smartphones. Like other digital currencies such as BitCoin, MintChip relies on advanced cryptographic hashing techniques to provide security and anonymity for its users.

Source: PC Magazine, Popular Science, Forbes

Engineered stem cells fight off HIV

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have demonstrated for the first time that stem cells can be genetically engineered to attack HIV-infected cells in living organisms.

Expanding on previous research showing that the technique was possible, the team implanted living mice with human thymus tissue containing genetically engineered T-cell receptor molecules from cells that help fend off infection. Over the course of six weeks, the researchers discovered that the number of CD4 “helper” T-cells — which become depleted as a result of HIV infection — increased, while levels of HIV in the mice’s blood decreased.

Source: Science Daily

Apple addresses Flashback malware

Apple has released a security update that removes most variants of the OS X trojan Flashback, though critics claim the company was too slow in releasing the patch. The trojan, first detected April 3 and believed to have infected up to 600,000 Macs, works by exploiting a vulnerability in the Java software framework in order to send users’ private information to unauthorized remote servers.

While the OS X platform has typically been lauded for being “virus-free,” a recent popularity surge in Apple’s Macbook and iMac models has given hackers more incentive to target the platform.

Source: The Washington Post