New York Times: Two Iranian nuclear scientists were attacked yesterday in Tehran by bombs attached to their cars. Majid Shahriari, a professor of nuclear engineering at Shahid Beheshti University, was killed. He was involved in a major project with Iran’s nuclear agency, according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear program. Fereydoon Abbasi, who was wounded, is a senior scientist in the Ministry of Defense. Salehi, who blamed Israel and the US for the attacks, appeared to issue a warning when he said, “The patience of the Iranian people has its limits. If our patience runs out, you will suffer the consequences.”
Guardian: The annual United Nations climate change conference kicked off Monday in Cancún, Mexico, and will continue through 10 December. Although a new global climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol does not yet appear to be on the horizon, it is possible the negotiators from 193 countries will make progress on other issues such as adaptation to global warming and stopping deforestation. As the Guardian’s Michael Jacobs points out, rather than counting on an international agreement as a prerequisite for global action on climate change, individual countries need to make domestic economic commitments that they believe they can meet before signing a treaty. China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and Indonesia are among the countries that have already begun to commit themselves to individual action.
New Scientist: Robots have been “taught” a variety of skills, from mapping their surroundings to picking up cumbersome objects, but not, interestingly, to read. Now a roboticist at the University of Oxford, Ingmar Posner, and colleagues are attempting to do just that. Although optical character recognition software already exists, the difficulty is in getting the robot to recognize text and be able to pick out text in a cluttered environment. So, the team developed text-spotting software. The work was presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Taipei, Taiwan, last month.
Globe and Mail: The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics announced on Monday that it had received a donation of CAN$4 million from the Bank of Montreal Financial Group. The donation will fund a chair named after Isaac Newton. The Perimeter Institute, which is based in Waterloo, Ontario, was itself founded 10 years ago with help from industry—in the form of CAN$100 million in seed money from Mike Lazaridis of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. Four additional chairs are planned and will be named after Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell.
Nature: Researchers at Harvard Medical School believe they are a step closer to reversing the aging process after rejuvenating worn-out organs in elderly mice. They found that premature aging can be reversed by reactivating an enzyme—telomerase—that protects the tips of chromosomes. It is possible that normal human aging could be slowed by reawakening the enzyme in cells where it has stopped working, according to Ronald DePinho, a cancer geneticist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the new study. “This has implications for thinking about telomerase as a serious anti-aging intervention,” he said.
New York Times: Some of the most productive renewable energy fields in the world are located near El Centro, California, a little more than 100 miles east of San Diego. And because California requires utilities to meet quotas for shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, San Diego Gas and Electric has spent seven years and $100 million trying to start work on a 117-mile high-voltage line to transport that energy to consumers. Although the line won approval from the US Forest Service, the federal Bureau of Land Management, and the State of California, neighbors and wilderness advocates have filed lawsuits challenging those decisions because they believe that the transmission line may also be used to transport electricity from a plant in Mexico that burns natural gas and that it could ruin the fragile wilderness of the area, writes Matthew Wald for the New York Times.
Daily Mail: For the first time, an oxygen atmosphere has been discovered on a world other than Earth—on Saturn’s second-largest moon, Rhea. In March NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew though the moon’s outer atmosphere, scooping up and identifying molecules in situ. Published in Science, the findings reveal an extremely thin atmosphere with an oxygen density about 5 trillion times less than that of Earth. The paper’s authors speculate that the atmosphere is sustained by high-energy particles bombarding the moon’s icy surface and kicking up atoms, molecules, and ions.
New Scientist: Microsoft is developing a way to create temporary bumps, ridges, and other textural features on a touchscreen, writes Paul Marks for New Scientist. The tactile touchscreen works by using a layer of shape-memory plastic to distort the surface of the screen when different wavelengths of ultraviolet light strike the screen’s pixels from beneath. Large table-sized computing displays such as Microsoft’s Surface are the target application, rather than phones or tablets. “Creating well-defined bumps on a touch surface is in many ways the holy grail of text entry on touch devices because it would enable touch typing at much faster speeds than on touchscreens today,” says Patrick Baudisch, a display interaction expert at the University of Potsdam in Germany.
Space.com: Lockheed Martin is proposing a manned mission to the far side of the Moon, perhaps as early as 2016, using its Orion spacecraft under development. The company says the endeavor would be good preparation for future trips to an asteroid or to Mars—both stated goals of President Obama. During the Moon mission, human astronauts, who would remain in orbit, would send robotic rovers to the surface to gather rock specimens from the South Pole–Aitken basin and to deploy a radio telescope array on the far side.
Washington Post: The man who invented the digital camera didn’t really know anything about photography; nor had he ever even mentioned to his wife that he was the inventor. Last week, however, Steve Sasson was one of four people awarded the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Obama—for his invention while working for Kodak in the late 1970s. Monica Hesse of the Washington Post writes an entertaining profile of this quirky, 60-year-old inventor from Upstate New York.