SciTech Briefs

Physicists discover 'Higgslike' subatomic particle

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, shook the world July 4 with news confirming the existence of the elusive Higgs Boson particle. Commonly referred to as the “God Particle,” its discovery marks one of the most important milestones of modern physics.

In 1964, English physicist Peter Higgs and his team theorized that the existence of such a particle would prove an invisible force field called the Higgs Field was responsible for giving objects mass. Without the Higgs Field, matter would zoom around at the speed of light; life as we know it would not exist.

Scientists maintained that while their current data resembled the theory of the God Particle, further research would be necessary to fully characterize it.

Source: The New York Times

NASA's 'Curiosity' lands on Martian surface

On Aug. 6, viewers around the world watched a live feed of mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ca., where scientists cheered as the Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars. NASA invested eight years and $2.5 billion into developing the small SUV-sized rover, dubbed ‘Curiosity,’ which will be able to explore the surface of Mars.

Over its two year mission, the rover will scale the base of a three-mile-high mountain, sending back high-definition panoramic pictures while simultaneously utilizing its robotic arm and rock-vaporizing laser to collect samples of the ground for chemical analysis.
NASA scientists hope their data will one day answer the question of whether Mars has ever been suitable for life.

Source: CNET

Tech companies compete during tablet revolution

The past decade has seen the evolution of personal computing, from desktops to laptops to tablet computers. Since Bill Gates’ Microsoft-designed Windows operating system (OS) debuted in the 1990s, Apple Inc. and Google have been developing their own OS for consumers to utilize mobile devices.

This summer, Apple and Google rolled out updates to their latest operating systems, OS X Lion and Jellybean, respectively, which highlighted the companies’ focus on touch interfaces for tablet computers.

Microsoft Windows, which is the still the dominant OS, joined the summer update frenzy by showcasing its own newly rebuilt Windows 8, which is scheduled to be available for consumers in October 2012.

Source: PC World

Solar storms kept sun busy this summer

Earth was subject to a few sun storms this summer, producing flares that sent solar particles toward the planet. On July 12, the sun released an X1.4-class solar flare — the most powerful type of flare it can emit — less than a week after releasing a slightly less powerful X1.1-class solar flare.

This flare was the strongest of the summer season and means the sun is in an active phase, expected to peak in 2013.

Solar flares are capable of traveling at speeds of up to five or six million miles per hour, reaching the earth in roughly one to three days.

Intense X-class solar flares threaten Earth, as they can interfere with satellites that control navigation, communication signals, and power system infrastructures. This causes blackouts similar to the one seen in India at the end of July.

Source: e! Science News

FDA approves drug to reduce HIV infections

In July, the FDA approved the first drug aimed at reducing the risk of sexually acquiring HIV.

The drug, marketed as Truvada, includes a daily morning and night pill as a prevention strategy for individuals with high risks of getting HIV. In clinical trials, it reduced the frequency of infection in both heterosexual and LGBT subgroups.

Although anti-HIV drugs have been used in previous years, this drug is the first to prevent HIV infection, rather than treat those who have been born to HIV-positive mothers.

Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV every year. FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the drug’s acceptance is an “important milestone in our fight against HIV.... New treatments as well as prevention methods are needed to fight the HIV epidemic in this country.”

Source: MedPage Today

Researchers find bacteria-resistant surfaces

Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. released a study in which they found new types of polymers that are resistant to bacterial attachment. Polymers are large molecules composed of repeating structural units that play an essential role in forming materials like many rubbers and plastics.

Bacteria that collect on surfaces form communities called biofilms, against which our bodies have difficulty defending. They are also resistant to conventional antibiotics. These newly identified polymers prevent the formation of biofilms and can be used to construct the surfaces of medical devices like catheters, heart valves, and prosthetic joints, protecting patients from infection.

Source: Nature Biotechnology