Category: News Posts

This Supercomputer Comes In As The Fifth Fastest Machine In The World

The top two spots on the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers have both been captured by the US.

The last time the country was in a similar position was three years ago.

The fastest machine – Titan, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee – is an upgrade of Jaguar, the system which held the top spot in 2009.

The supercomputer will be used to help develop more energy-efficient engines for vehicles, model climate change and research biofuels.

It can also be rented to third-parties, and is operated as part of the US Department of Energy’s network of research labs.

The Top 500 list of supercomputers was published by Hans Muer, professor of computer science at Mannheim, who has been keeping track of developments since 1986.

It was released at the SC12 supercomputing conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.




Mixed processors

Titan leapfrogged the previous champion IBM’s Sequoia – which is used to carry out simulations to help extend the life of nuclear weapons – thanks to its mix of central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU) technologies.

According to the Linpack benchmark it operates at 17.59 petaflop/sec – the equivalent of 17,590 trillion calculations per second.

The benchmark measures real-world performance – but in theory the machine can boost that to a “peak performance” of more than 20 petaflop/sec.

To achieve this the device has been fitted with 18,688 Tesla K20x GPU modules made by Nvidia to work alongside its pre-existing CPUs.

Traditionally supercomputers relied only on CPUs.

CPU cores are designed to handle between one and a few streams of instructions at speed, but are not efficient at carrying out many at once.

That makes them well suited for complex tasks in which the answer to one calculation is used to work out the next.

GPU cores are typically slower at carrying out individual calculations, but make up for this by being able to carry out many at the same time.

This makes them best suited for “parallellisable jobs” – processes that can be broken down into several parts that are then run simultaneously.

Mixing CPUs and GPUs together allows the most appropriate core to carry out each process. Nvidia said that in most instances its GPUs now carried out about 90% of Titan’s workload.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Neutron Star Smash-Up Produces Gravitational Waves And Light In Unprecedented Stellar Show​

The 2015 detection of gravitational waves – ripples in the very fabric of space and time – was one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in a century.

But because it was caused by two black holes merging, the event was all but invisible, detectable indirectly via the LIGO facility.

Now a team of scientists has announced the fifth detection of gravitational waves, but there’s a groundbreaking difference this time around.

The ripples were caused by the collision of two neutron stars, meaning the event was accompanied by light, radio, and other electromagnetic signals for the first time.

First predicted by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago, gravitational waves are caused by cosmic cataclysms like the collision of two black holes, but because of the immense distance.




By the time they reach us here on Earth the distortions are occurring on the subatomic scale.

To observe waves that tiny, LIGO beams lasers down a 4-km (2.5-mi) long tunnel and measures how gravitational waves might warp the beam as they wash over our local corner of spacetime.

That delicate process is effective at confirming the phenomenon, but still somewhat indirect.

This is the first time that the collision of two neutron stars has been detected, and this is the closest and most precisely located gravitational wave signal we’ve received,” says Susan Scott, the Leader of the General Relativity Theory and Data Analysis Group at Australian National University (ANU), which played a key role in the observation.

It is also the loudest gravitational wave signal we’ve detected.

The collision occurred in a galaxy called NGC 4993, which lies about 130 million light-years away – that might sound far, but it’s much closer than previous observations, which occurred at distances of billions of light-years.

As well as producing gravitational waves, the neutron stars’ collision sent a host of electromagnetic signals sweeping across the universe, including a short gamma ray burst, X-rays, light and radio waves.

These were picked up by observatories all over the world, helping pinpoint the source.

ANU was among those, using SkyMapper and the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, to observe the brightness and color of the light signals given off.

Along with learning more about gravitational waves, the discovery can teach astronomers about neutron stars.

Created when larger stars collapse, neutron stars are relatively tiny – only about 10 km (6.2 mi) wide – and incredibly dense, with very strong magnetic fields. Other than that, not a whole lot is known about them.

With this discovery we have the opportunity to learn so much more about neutron stars, which have been quite a mystery to us,” says Scott.

Unlike black holes, neutron star collisions emit other signals such as gamma rays, light and radio waves so astronomers around the world were able to observe the event through telescopes. This is an amazing time to be a scientist.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Are Fidget Toys Legitimately Good For Your Brain?

Fidget” isn’t exactly a word with the most positive of connotations. For many of us, it recalls veiled childhood threats of “stop fidgeting or,” and then the promised removal of something we value more highly than fidgeting.

Type “stop” into Google’s search box and “stop fidget” is one of the first recommendations its autocomplete feature presents you with.

But fidgeting, like beloved 1990s TV properties, is making a comeback.

Last year, the creators of Fidget Cube a Kickstarter desk toy allowing users to click, roll, flip, glide, spin and assorted fidgety verbs set out to raise $15,000 to make their product a reality.

They wound up raking in $6,465,690 from 154,926 backers.

Fidget Cube has inevitably been followed by a number of other crowdfunding campaigns designed to appeal to the twitchy fingers of those who supported it.




One was a fidget pen called Think Ink, which combines a titanium pen exterior with a number of tactile elements for distracted fingers to play with. It made more than quadruple its funding target.

I made this for my daughter,” co-founder Kent Lyon said.

She had just started a new job, which she nervous about, and started noticing that she was fidgeting a whole lot. Whether it was clicking her pen or playing with her hair, she found that she couldn’t stop doing something with her hands.” Lyon gave Think Ink the subtitle “Fidget to focus.

But is this really a thing — or is the idea that a distracting toy can actually help us just a pseudoscientific marketing ploy?

It’s tempting to bust out the klaxons at the breaking news that a fidget toy purveyor thinks fidget toys increase productivity.

However, it just may be correct.

Research has shown that even small repetitive activities can increase the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain in a way that increases our ability to focus and pay attention.

Even if the fidget you are carrying out involves minimal concentration fidgeting with a pen, chewing gum, or doodling on a piece of paper this type of multitasking can positively impact the outcome of a particular task.

This is especially noticeable when dealing with children with ADHD, as Purdue University professor Sydney Zentall has noted in her work.

According to Zentall, while failure to stay on task can reduce work speed and production, there is no evidence that most “distractions” increase errors among children with ADHD.

Surprisingly, she said, these kind of fidget distractions “may actually help the child perform in the classroom, especially when tasks are long and tedious.

That is, off-task looking may provide ‘doses’ of environmental stimulation that the child needs.

There is even evidence that fidgeting can have a positive impact on people’s physical health.

Examinations regarding the physical benefits of fidgeting are relatively few and far between, but a 2008 study tracked daily movements for a group of slim and overweight women, and discovered that the slimmer group tended to fidget more.

If the obese women adopted the activity patterns of the lean women,” the authors of the study noted, they might burn an extra 300 calories per day.

Sure, you’re never going to match a five-mile run by playing with your Fidget Cube, but the findings suggest that every little bit helps.

Ultimately, we’re still still a long way from the makers of fidget-focused desk toys being able to make explicit medical claims for their devices — but it seems that there is real scientific evidence to suggest that fidgeting has an important role to play in our lives.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

According To Researchers, Global Carbon Emissions Rising Again After Brief Plateau

For three years in a row, the world’s carbon emissions were virtually stable — holding steady after decades of growth.

But now they’re on the rise again, which is bad news for efforts to fight climate change, according to a team of researchers who have released a new study on the topic.

Seventy-six scientists from around the world contributed to the Global Carbon Project, or GCP, which released its annual “Carbon Budget” yesterday.

The budget estimates that total global carbon emissions from fossil fuels and industrial sources will rise by 2 percent in 2017.

There’s a fair amount of uncertainty in that projection, with possible values from .8 percent to 3 percent — but the researchers are confident it represents an overall rise, fueled in part by changes in the Chinese economy.




The anticipated change is a “big rise,” lead author Corinne Le Quéré tells NPR. “And this is contrary to what is needed in order to tackle climate change.

It’s a shift from the more hopeful findings from the last few years. From 2014 to 2016, according to the GCP analysis, the rate of emissions was basically flat.

Scientists agree that a reduction in carbon emissions is necessary to keep the global warming at 2 degrees Celsius or less, the target established by the global accord on climate change.

That level of climate change is still projected to have a range of damaging effects, including devastation for some island nations — but it will be far from the worse-case scenario projected if emissions continue to rise.

The increase in carbon emissions is not distributed evenly around the world.

The U.S. and the countries of the European Union, which once generated nearly all of the world’s fossil-fuel and industrial carbon emissions, now contribute less than half of the world’s cumulative emissions.

Their contributions are expected to continue to fall in 2017, albeit at a lower rate than they had previously been falling.

Annual Global Fossil Fuel And Cement Emissions
Total global emissions from fossil fuels and cement production (which the Global Climate Project analyzes to quantify industrial carbon output) have been rising, in general, for decades. The pace had slowed to a near standstill over the last three years. This year, however, researchers anticipate a 2 percent rise in the annual release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industry.

Emissions from China, India and the rest of the world, however, are projected to show marked increase in 2017.

The result is “an emissions tug-of-war,” as the CICERO Center for International Climate Research put it in a press release.

That makes it hard to tell what’s going to happen next, because the trend is “so fragile,” as Le Quéré told NPR yesterday.

It’s the difference between emissions rising in parts of the world and decreasing in other parts of the world,” she says. Overall? “Frankly, it could really go either way.

And it’s crucial for that upward trend to start moving down, and quickly, she says.

She points to already-evident consequences of global warming: warmer oceans that can fuel more powerful storms and rising sea levels that cause more devastating coastal surge damage.

In order to tackle climate change emissions you have to go down to almost zero” emissions, she says. “The faster we do it, the more we limit the risks from climate change.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Are We Still Using Electroconvulsive Therapy?

The idea of treating a psychiatric illness by passing a jolt of electricity through the brain was one of the most controversial in 20th Century medicine.

So why are we still using a procedure described by its critics as barbaric and ineffective?

Sixty-four-year-old John Wattie says his breakdown in the late 1990s was triggered by the collapse of his marriage and stress at work.

We had a nice house and a nice lifestyle, but it was all just crumbling away. My depression was starting to overwhelm me. I lost control, I became violent,” he explains.

John likens the feeling to being in a hole, a hole he could not get out of despite courses of pills and talking therapies.




But now, he says, all of that has changed thanks to what is one of the least understood treatments in psychiatry – electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

“Before ECT I was the walking dead. I had no interest in life, I just wanted to disappear. After ECT I felt like there was a way out of it. I felt dramatically better.

The use of electricity to treat mental illness started out as an experiment. In the 1930s psychiatrists noticed some heavily distressed patients would suddenly improve after an epileptic fit.

Passing a strong electric current through the brain could trigger a similar seizure and – they hoped – a similar response.

By the 1960s it was being widely used to treat a variety of conditions, notably severe depression.

But as the old mental asylums closed down and aggressive physical interventions like lobotomies fell out of favour, so too did electroshock treatment, as ECT was previously known.

The infamous ECT scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest cemented the idea in the public’s mind of a brutal treatment, although by the time the film was released in 1975 it was very rarely given without a general anaesthetic.

Perhaps more significantly, new anti-depressant drugs introduced in the 1970-80s gave doctors new ways to treat long-term mental illness.

But for a group of the most severely depressed patients, ECT has remained one of the last options on the table when other therapies have failed.

Annually in the UK around 4,000 patients, of which John is one, still undergo ECT.

It’s not intuitive that causing seizures can be good for depression but it’s long been determined that ECT is effective,” says Professor Ian Reid at the University of Aberdeen, who heads up the team treating John.

In the 75 years since ECT was first used scientists have argued about why and how it might work. The latest theories build on the idea of hyperconnectivity.

This new concept in psychiatry suggests parts of the brain can start to transmit signals in a dysfunctional way, overloading the system and leading to conditions from depression to autism.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Neptune’s Moon: Triton

We don’t know with what beverage William Lassell may have celebrated his discovery of Neptune’s moon, Triton, but beer made it possible.

Lassell was one of 19th century England’s grand amateur astronomers, using the fortune he made in the brewery business to finance his telescopes.

He spotted Triton on 10 October 1846 — just 17 days after a Berlin observatory discovered Neptune.

Curiously, a week before he found the satellite, Lassell thought he saw a ring around the planet. That turned out to be a distortion caused by his telescope.

But when NASA’s Voyager 2 visited Neptune in 1989, it revealed that the gas giant does have rings, though they’re far too faint for Lassell to have seen them.

Since Neptune was named for the Roman god of the sea, its moons were named for various lesser sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.




Triton (not to be confused with Saturn’s moon, Titan), is far and away the largest of Neptune’s satellites. Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper (for whom the Kuiper Belt was named) found Neptune’s third-largest moon, Nereid, in 1949.

He missed Proteus, the second-largest, because it’s too dark and too close to Neptune for telescopes of that era.

Proteus is a slightly non-spherical moon, and it is thought to be right at the limit of how massive an object can be before its gravity pulls it into a sphere.

Proteus and five other moons had to wait for Voyager 2 to make themselves known. All six are among the darker objects found in the solar system.

Astronomers using improved ground-based telescopes found more satellites in 2002 and 2003, bringing the known total to 13.

Voyager 2 revealed fascinating details about Triton. Part of its surface resembles the rind of a cantaloupe.

Ice volcanoes spout what is probably a mixture of liquid nitrogen, methane and dust, which instantly freezes and then snows back down to the surface.

One Voyager 2 image shows a frosty plume shooting 8 km (5 miles) into the sky and drifting 140 km (87 miles) downwind.

Triton’s icy surface reflects so much of what little sunlight reaches it that the moon is one of the coldest objects in the solar system, about -400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 degrees Celsius).

Triton is the only large moon in the solar system that circles its planet in a direction opposite to the planet’s rotation (a retrograde orbit), which suggests that it may once have been an independent object that Neptune captured.

The disruptive effect this would have had on other satellites could help to explain why Nereid has the most eccentric orbit of any known moon it’s almost seven times as far from Neptune at one end of its orbit as at the other end.

Neptune’s gravity acts as a drag on the counter-orbiting Triton, slowing it down and making it drop closer and closer to the planet.

Millions of years from now, Triton will come close enough for gravitational forces to break it apart possibly forming a ring around Neptune bright enough for Lassell to have seen with his telescope.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Found Out That Wounds Sustained At Night Heal Twice As Slowly Injuries Sustained At Daytime

Body clocks cause wounds such as cuts and burns sustained during the day to heal around 60 percent faster than those sustained at night, scientists have discovered in a finding that has implications for surgery and wound-healing medicines.

In a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday, the scientists showed for the first time how our internal body clocks regulate wound healing by skin cells, and optimize healing during the day.

Burns that happened at night took an average of 60 percent longer to heal than burns that occurred during the day, the scientists found.

Night-time burns – sustained between 8pm to 8am – were 95 percent healed after an average of 28 days, compared with only 17 days if the burn happened between 8am and 8pm.




Body clocks – known as circadian rhythms – regulate almost every cell in the body, driving 24-hour cycles in many processes such as sleeping, hormone secretion and metabolism.

The key to accelerated daytime wound healing, the scientists found, was that skin cells moved more rapidly to repair the wound and there was also more collagen – the main structural protein in skin – deposited around the wound site.

This is the first time that the circadian clock within individual skin cells has been shown to determine how effectively they respond to injuries,” said John O‘Neill, who co-led the research at Britain’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

We consistently see about a two-fold difference in wound healing speed between the body clock’s day and night. It may be that our bodies have evolved to heal fastest during the day when injuries are more likely to occur.

Treatment of wounds costs health services worldwide billions of dollars a year – in Britain’s National Health Service alone, the costs are estimated around 5 billion pounds ($6.56 billion) a year.

Experts say this is partly due to a lack of effective drugs to speed up wound closure.

John Blaikley, a clinician scientist from Britain’s University of Manchester, said these new insights into the circadian factors important in skin repair should help the search for better wound-healing drugs.

It could also help doctors improve outcomes by changing what time of day surgery is carried out, or when medicines are given, he said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Aluminum Foil Can Actually Improve Your Wireless Signal

If you’ve ever thought of resorting to aluminum foil to redirect your home’s poor WiFi signal, it turns out you’re not actually that far off the mark.

EurekAlert reported today that researchers at Dartmouth College have discovered that 3D printed signal reflectors, consisting of a thin layer of metal and plastic, can drastically and cheaply improve the wireless signal around a home.

These experiments were based off the idea of using an aluminum soda can behind a router in order to direct the signal away from deadening walls and other obstructions.




The team was able to analyze a space and create a custom reflector that would optimize the WiFi signal in that room.

They then fed their data into a custom program called WiPrint that designed an optimal plastic reflector and created it using a 3D printer.

The last step is to cover the object in aluminum foil and place it on the router. You can see a demonstration in the video below.

This solution solves multiple problems with WiFi signals. First of all, it’s inexpensive; if you have access to a 3D printer, it will only run you about $35.

Directional antennas cost a lot more than that. Second, it allows you control over your WiFi signal, which has more benefits than you think.

Not only does it make sure you have signal in the rooms you need it in, but it allows you to cut off signal where you don’t. This improves physical security, ensuring neighbors can’t access your network.

The next step for the team is to figure out how to design reflectors that are made of a different material than 3D printed plastic.

The idea is to eventually create an object that can actually change shape if the room’s layout changes.

This may not expand the coverage area of your router, but it will ensure that you’ll get stronger signal in the areas you need it most.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Does Music Really Help You Concentrate?

Many people listen to music while they’re carrying out a task, whether they’re studying for an exam, driving a vehicle or even reading a book. Many of these people argue that background music helps them focus.

Why, though? When you think about it, that doesn’t make much sense. Why would having two things to concentrate on make you more focused, not less?

Some people even go so far as to say that not having music on is more distracting. So what’s going on there?

It’s not clear why the brain likes music so much in the first place, although it clearly does. Interestingly, there’s a specific spectrum of musical properties that the brain prefers.

Experiments by Maria Witek and colleagues reveal that there needs to be a medium level of syncopation in music to elicit a pleasure response and associated body movement in individuals.




What this means in plain English is: music needs to be funky, but not too funky, for people to like it enough to make them want to dance.

Your own experience will probably back this up. Simple, monotonous beats, like listening to a metronome, aren’t really entertaining. They have low levels of syncopation and certainly don’t make you want to dance.

In contrast, chaotic and unpredictable music, like free jazz, has high levels of syncopation, can be extremely off-putting and rarely, if ever, entices people to dance.

Why would music help us concentrate, though? One argument is to do with attention.

For all its amazing abilities, the brain hasn’t really evolved to take in abstract information or spend prolonged periods thinking about one thing.

We seem to have two attention systems: a conscious one that enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant.

The unconscious one is simpler, more fundamental, and linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning. It also operates faster.

So when you hear a noise when you’re alone at home, you’re paying attention to it long before you’re able to work out what it might have been. You can’t help it.

However, it’s not just a matter of providing any old background noise to keep distractions at bay.

A lot of companies have tried using pink noise – a less invasive version of white noise – broadcasting it around the workplace to reduce distractions and boost productivity.

But views on the effectiveness of this approach are mixed at best.

While the nature and style of the music can cause specific responses in the brain, some studies suggest that it really is down to personal preference.

Music you like increases focus, while music you don’t impedes it. Given the extreme variation in musical preferences from person to person, exposing your workforce or classroom to a single type of music would obviously end up with mixed results.

Music also has a big impact on mood – truly bleak music could sap your enthusiasm for your task. Something else to look out for is music with catchy lyrics.

Musical pieces without words might be better working companions, as human speech and vocalization is something our brains pay particular attention to.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The World’s First Temperature Control Ceramic Mug

Two years ago, Ember launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to build a mug that keeps hot drinks hot and iced drinks cool. Contributors gave the company nearly $362,000.

Fast-forward and the five-year-old startup has now raised just north of $24 million altogether, including a $13 million Series C round that it quietly closed last week.

The individual investors supporting the company are undoubtedly encouraged by the progress it has been making since showing off its early product to the public.




For one thing, Starbucks began selling the mugs in its stores across most of the U.S. and online for $149.95 back in November.

The Westlake Village, Ca.-startup also sells its mugs on Amazon, where 186 customers have now assigned them a collective 3.5 stars out of five.

Altogether, the company, whose mugs also can be purchased at its site, says it has sold more than 20,000 mugs so far.

It has also inspired at least one new player, a company in Salt Lake City that recently turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for its own heated smart mug, called The Jül.

Ember isn’t breaking out who joined its most recent financing, though it has said in the past that its investors include StubHub CEO Scott Cutler, eBay chief product officer RJ Pitman, singers Demi Lovato and Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers, and Robert Brunner, chief designer of Beats by Dre and the former head of design at Apple.

According to L.A. Biz, the company plans to use some of that fresh capital to expand its product set, including building a temperature-controlled baby bottle, chilled water bottles and dinner plates that can be made to stay warm.

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Pass it on: Popular Science