Cloak of invisibility may hold possible use for U.S. Military

Scientists on Monday announced the invention of a heat shield that derives its design from cloaking devices that diffuse light.

The team, lead by Sebastien Guenneau of the University of Aix-Marseille and colleagues at the French national research council, say they have devised a mathematical model that allows for the cloaking of heat energy.

The study, which is published in a paper in the journal Optics Express on Monday, finds that heat may act very similar to light. By controlling how heat flows around an object, scientists say they are able to better shield objects.

“Heat isn’t a wave – it simply diffuses from hot to cold regions,” said Mr. Guenneau. “The mathematics and physics at play are much different. For instance, a wave can travel long distances with little attenuation, whereas temperature usually diffuses over smaller distances.”

Thus far, the heat shield has little practical use. The study has yet to produce a prototype capable of diffusing the heat energy of a human, although scientists say that a working model is likely within a few years.

The experiment reportedly focused on diffusing the heat energy on a micro-level. By controlling how heat flows, the paper’s authors intend to build materials that keep electronics cool or concentrate heat for solar power generation. The team noted that the tests revealed that the heat shield would keep components cool, which is of big interest to the electronic industry, which spends millions of dollars just trying to keep servers from overheating.

The process, which has been dubbed thermal cloaking, comes as scientists earlier this year announced successful attempts to fully clock object by distorting light waves.

It remains unclear whether the military has any interest in the technology. Military officials would likely use the technology to create more stealth armor, allowing soldiers to patrol areas without facing detection from infrared lenses.

Currently the military is able to use infrared technology to locate enemies and help track movement. Putting up an invisible shield would allow complete freedom and the upper hand to whoever has the cloak. Adaptiv technology, developed by BAE Systems, has already used this technology as a test-run on military tanks.

The study comes as a team at Cornell University earlier this year, working with the support of DARPA, announced that they managed to hide an event for 40 picoseconds by altering the speed of light beams, similar to those used for data transmission. The experiment is thought to be the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, leading to speculation that cloaking devices are closer than previously thought.

The team of scientists are now working to develop prototypes of their thermal cloaks for microelectronics, which they expect to have ready within the next few months.


New plastic could assist soldiers on the battlefield, iphones

A new type of plastic reportedly ‘bleeds’ when damaged and then heals like human skin, leading to speculation that it could be adopted by soldiers on the battlefield.

The plastic, which has the ability to heal itself when damaged, could ultimately be used by everything from airplanes to protective gear on the battlefield. Critical structural parts in aircraft might warn of damage by turning red along cracks so that engineers could decide whether to shine the light and heal the damage or undertake a complete replacement of the component. And there could be a range of applications in battlefield weapons systems.

Scientists working on the project say the plastic is able to “heal” itself by building tiny molecular bridges inside in response to damage. The plastic begins the process of repairing itself when exposed to light, according to scientists.

“Mother Nature has endowed all kinds of biological systems with the ability to repair themselves,” says Professor Marek W. Urban of the University of Southern Mississippi, a lead researcher. “Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes.”

It remains unclear exactly how long it will take for the plastics to hit the marketplace. While many of the details are industry-guarded secrets, each step forward brings companies closer to creating a new generation of products that retain their integrity indefinitely.

Previous attempts to create a self-healing plastic have thus far relied on capsules that break open when compromised, releasing chemicals from which the material is made. Earlier this year in Europe, Nissan released prototypes of an iPhone case with self-healing technology.

That said, unlike previous prototypes, this plastic can heal itself over and over again. The material also is more environmentally friendly than many other plastics, with the process for producing the plastic water-based, rather than relying on potentially toxic ingredients.


Messenger spacecraft unearths secrets of Mercury's core

The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft finished its primary mission to orbit and examine the planet Mercury for one Earth-year last Saturday,  according to the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“Messenger successfully wrapped up a year-long campaign to perform the first complete reconnaissance of the geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment of the solar system’s innermost planet,” the Messenger team noted in a statement released Wednesday.

“Six plus years of cruise operations, capped by a year of nearly flawless orbital operations, with an additional year of scientific return ahead in the harsh environment at 0.3 astronomical units (27,886,766 miles) from the Sun,” said Messenger Mission Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in a statement.

Mr. Finnegan expressed his amazement at what the mission “achieved with a 1,000 kg satellite, designed, built, and launched in less than four years for a total mission cost of less than $450 million.”

In a statement released Wednesday, astronomers working on the mission revealed stunning details about Mercury’s landscape and core, the latest discovery to shake the astronomy community.

“The first year of Messenger orbital observations has revealed many surprises,” said Messenger Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“From Mercury’s extraordinarily dynamic magnetosphere and exosphere to the unexpectedly volatile-rich composition of its surface and interior, our inner planetary neighbor is now seen to be very different from what we imagined just a few years ago. The number and diversity of new findings being presented this week to the scientific community in papers and presentations provide a striking measure of how much we have learned to date,” Mr. Solomon added.

Messenger’s Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) was able to create the first-ever accurate topographic model of the planet’s northern hemisphere. The topographic model reveals an array of elevations that are much smaller than that of Mars or the Moon, according to Messenger Co-investigator Maria  Zuber, author of one of the studies published in Science Express.

Astronomers also discovered that Mercury’s core is massive for the planet’s size, approximately 85 percent of the planetary radius, far larger than earlier estimates. Scientists also believe that Mercury’s core is liquid to a certain degree. Scientists cite faint dynamical motions and examinations of the magnetic field that imply an active core dynamo as evidence against the theory that Mercury has a solid core.

Scientists know that Mercury is rich in sulfur at the surface and has a massive iron core — so massive, in fact, that they wondered if Mercury had once been a much larger planet whose outer layers were stripped off, perhaps by a major impact.

“Messenger’s observations of the gravity field have let us peer inside Mercury and get the first good look at its largest component — the core,” said Steven Hauck, an associate professor of planetary geodynamics at Case Western Reserve University and a coauthor of one of the studies.

The team noted that the discovery would likely force scientists to rethink how the planet was formed in the early days of the solar system.

“The structure certainly is different from that of Earth, which has a metallic, liquid outer core sitting above a solid inner core. Mercury appears to have a solid silicate crust and mantle overlying a solid, iron sulfide outer core layer, a deeper liquid core layer, and possibly a solid inner core,” Mr. Huack added.

Astronomers involved with the mission are excited about the second year of the spacecraft’s mission.

“The second year of orbital operations will not be a simple continuation of the primary mission,” said Messenger Project Scientist Ralph McNutt, of the APL.

“Extended mission themes will include more comprehensive measurement of the magnetosphere and exosphere during a period of more active Sun, greater focus on observations at low spacecraft altitudes, and a greater variety of targeted observations,” Mr. McNutt added.

The two studies will both appear in the March 23 issue of the journal Science.

clinton Science

New study wants you to avoid red meat like Bill Clinton

The latest study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) says, that like Bill Clinton, you should avoid red meat at all costs. Researchers at HSPH found a link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. The researchers, however, note that you do not have to swear off other sources of protein such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes. Mr. Clinton, as a vegan, eats no meat, dairy, eggs and barely any oil.

Former President Clinton, once an avid consumer of red meat, is now a vegan. “The good news is, my husband loves to eat and enjoys it,” former First Lady Hillary Clinton said in an interview with The New York Times in the early 1990s. “The bad news is, he loves to eat, even when things are not always right for him,” she added.

Mr. Clinton’s love of red meat was lampooned by a “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring actor Phil Hartman, in which Mr. Hartman entered a McDonald’s as the president-elect and sampled people’s burgers and fries as he made conversation with them.

Although Mr. Clinton first started dieting in 1993 at Ms. Clinton’s request, CNN reports, the former president did not swear off red meat until after he had left the Oval Office. In 2004, as he journeyed to New Orleans, Mr. Clinton started experiencing chest pains and, within days, underwent a quadruple bypass surgery to revitalize blood flow to his heart. “I was lucky I did not die of a heart attack,” Mr. Clinton posited to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in August 2011.

“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies,” said the study’s lead author An Pan, a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH, in a HSPH press release.

Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, and his colleagues examined 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for as many as 22 years and 83,644 women in the Nurses’ Health Study for as many as 28 years who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancers when the study began. Using questionnaires, the researchers examined the participants’ diets every four years.

In total, 23,926 deaths were documented in the two studies. Nearly 6,000 participants died from CVD and nearly 9,500 died from cancer. Researchers found that regular consumption of red meat (namely processed red meat) was connected with increased mortality risk. A participant who ate one daily serving of unprocessed red meat had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, while a participant who ate one daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, had a 20 percent increased risk of mortality.

As far as the specific causes of mortality are concerned, the comparable increases in risk were 18 percent and 21 percent for CVD and 10 percent and 16 percent for cancer. The researchers took into account chronic disease risk factors such as age, body mass index, physical activity, family history of heart disease, or major cancers.

“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” said Mr. Hu. “On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality,” he added. If this is the case, Mr. Clinton and others, who choose a diet that is free of red meat, stand a better chance of living longer.

Why is red meat so bad for you? The researchers posit that red meat contains ingredients that have been linked to increased risk of CVD and cancer. Ingredients such as heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites, and some carcinogens are listed by the researchers.

However, Mr. Clinton and others, who have replaced red meat with different types of proteins, can lower their risk of mortality. Researchers argue that replacing one serving of total red meat with one serving of a healthy protein source was linked to a lower mortality risk: 7 percent for fish, 14 percent for poultry, 19 percent for nuts, 10 percent for legumes, 10 percent for low-fat dairy products, and 14 percent for whole grains. The researchers calculated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women could have been prevented at the end of the follow-up if all the participants had eaten less than 0.5 servings per day of red meat.

The HSPH study was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute. The study, Red Meat Consumption and Mortality,  will be published online in Archives of Internal Medicine on March 12, 2012.

Business NONE

Coca-Cola, Pepsi respond to Proposition 65

Coke and Pepsi announced Friday that they plan on asking their manufactures to make changes to their manufacturing processes in order to reduce the amount of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) in the caramel color. Reuters reports that in January, 4-MI was added to the list of chemicals that are addressed in California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement of 1986.

According to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Proposition 65 states that, “No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.”

In a statement, obtained by Reuters, PepsiCo spokeswoman Gina Anderson said, “Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns.”

The Coca-Cola Company released the following statement about efforts to reduce the amount of 4-MEI in the caramel:

Extensive media coverage has been devoted in the past few days to some misconceptions about caramel and The Coca-Cola Company’s beverages.  We want to set the record straight, and be absolutely clear:

The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Company is not changing the world-famous formula for our Coca-Cola beverages. Over the years, we have updated our manufacturing processes from time to time, but never altered our Secret Formula.

We have asked our caramel manufacturers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI in the caramel, but that will have no effect on the formula or on the great-tasting, high-quality products that consumers expect from us. These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola.  

Our commitment to the highest quality and safety of our great brands remains our top priority. And we will continue to rely on sound, evidence-based science to ensure that our products are safe.


Global warming claims Kiribati as first victim

Global warming may have claimed its first victim.

The island nation of Kiribati is reportedly considering abandoning the island in favor of moving its populace to Fiji.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told the Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6, 000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. The president said the move would ensure the survival of his island’s culture and it would provide residents with a better chance of surviving a possible rise in sea level.

“We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” said Mr. Tong. “It wouldn’t be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won’t be a matter of choice. It’s basically going to be a matter of survival.”

The island nation faces the threat of being swallowed by the sea. The island nation is just a few feet above sea level, leaving it exposed to rising sea levels that could occur over the course of just a few decades.

Speaking Friday, Mr. Tong noted that a number of villages across the island chain have already had to relocate in an effort to avoid finding themselves engulfed by the ocean.

Fiji, home to about 850,000 people, is nearly 1,400 miles south of Kiribati. It remains unclear whether the governing body of Fiji will approve the deal. Mr. Tong said he is currently awaiting full parliamentary approval for the land purchase, which he noted could come as early as April. Following approval, he will formally discuss the plan with Fijian officials.

Kiribati, which was known as the Gilbert Islands when it was a British colony, has been an independent nation since 1979. The island nation has come to the forefront on the debate over global warming and climate change