Nature: The European Commission has proposed that funding for ITER, the international effort to build a fusion test reactor, and for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Earth-observation project be separated from the next general budget for 2014–20. The two projects would be supported via new intergovernmental organizations funded by European Union member states, with each member state required to contribute according to its gross national income. The commission argued that the arrangement would reduce the main EU budget’s exposure to the large cost overruns common with large science projects. While ITER has experienced major overruns—going from a projected €5 billion budget in 2006 to €15 billion, GMES has stayed within its budget. The proposal represents potential risk for both projects, but for GMES particularly, as it is due to begin launching its satellites in 2013. Without guaranteed funding and governance, that won’t be possible.
BBC: A colony of Caenorhabditis elegans survived for six months aboard the International Space Station, produced 12 generations of offspring, and have now returned to Earth. The millimeter-long worms were the subjects of a study, by Nathaniel Szewczyk of the University of Nottingham and colleagues, on physiologic changes caused by low-Earth-orbit conditions. An automated chamber allowed for remote observation and kept the worms alive and healthy in a liquid environment without human intervention. Automated experimental systems like this one could be used in unmanned expeditions to study the effects of interplanetary travel on physiology, with the eventual goal of finding out whether human colonization of other planets is possible.
National Post: Random number sequences are usually generated by computational algorithms, which only give the appearance of randomness, but a new technique uses a laser light pulse to create truly random numbers. Ben Sussman of Canada’s National Research Council and coworkers have found that when they shine a pulse of laser light at a diamond, the light changes as it passes through because it interacts with quantum vacuum fluctuations. What happens to the light is unknown and, fundamentally, unknowable. The measurements of the pulses of light that emerge from the diamond are therefore random in a way that nothing in our ordinary surroundings is, writes Tom Spears for Canada’s National Post. “A truly random number generator will provide impenetrable encryption for communications—be they military transmissions, secure banking, or online purchasing—that underpin the modern connected world,” said Sussman.
Guardian: Hundreds of scientific experiments are being dropped by British universities because of budget shortfalls at ISIS, one of the UK’s major research facilities, writes Ian Sample for the Guardian. Built in the early 1980s at a cost of some $625 million, ISIS is a pulsed neutron and muon source used to probe the structure and microscopic processes of condensed matter. But it currently operates at only two-thirds capacity because the UK government has balked at paying the approximately $4.5 million in electrical and other miscellaneous annual costs to keep it running. As a result, ISIS receives twice as many applications as it can accommodate, and many scientists have given up applying. “The damage to the research base in UK universities across a number of disciplines is out of all proportion to the cost saving,” said Jon Goff at the University of London. “The saving comes mainly from electricity costs, and it equates in financial value to a single research grant to one group in a university. For this we lose a third of the science. . . . This substantially affects the international competitiveness of UK research.”
Science: Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have been studying the hydrodynamics of wine swirling, done by connoisseurs to release red wine’s bouquet through mixing and oxygenation. They found that three factors determine whether the wine arcs smoothly or starts to splash: the ratio of the level of wine to the diameter of the glass, the ratio of the diameter of the glass to the width of the circular shaking, and the ratio of the centrifugal and gravitational forces acting on the wine. Their findings, which they presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s division of fluid dynamics in Baltimore, Maryland, could prove useful not only to wine tasters but also to lab technicians who swirl bacterial cultures to distribute nutrients and remove excess carbon dioxide.
Space.com: Researchers studying the black hole Cygnus X-1, which is part of a binary-star system, have reported the most detailed look yet at one of the strongest x-ray sources seen from Earth. Using data collected by the Very Large Baseline Array and other instruments, the team has calculated the distance to Cygnus X-1, the mass of the black hole, and its extreme spin. Fifteen times as massive as the Sun, the black hole spins quickly yet progresses slowly through the galaxy. From such information, the team is beginning to piece together information about the black hole’s state today and draw conclusions about its origins, writes Nola Taylor Redd for Space.com.
BBC: A radiologist at the University of Minnesota is using computed tomography (CT) to replicate antique musical instruments. Steven Sirr first got the idea to take a CT scan of a violin in 1988. Such scans, he discovered, can reveal characteristics of the wood, worm holes and cracks, and previous repairs, all of which help create an instrument’s unique sound. Teaming up with a couple of violin makers, Sirr used more than 1000 CT images to reproduce a 1704 Stradivarius violin borrowed from the US Library of Congress. Over the years, the team has scanned hundreds of instruments, including guitars, mandolins, and other violins. “The copies are amazingly similar to originals in their sound quality,” said Sirr, who hopes that the process will allow more music students to have access to high-quality instruments on a par with rare vintage pieces. The team’s findings were presented at a Radiological Society of North America conference.
Daily Mail: Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK have created a graphene-based ink and used a modified Epson printer to produce thin-film circuits, writes Ted Thornhill for the Daily Mail. To create the ink, they dissolved microscopic flakes of graphite in N-methylpyrrolidone. Although printed electronics aren’t new, the Cambridge team replaced the metal nanoparticle inks with graphene, which is lighter, cheaper, more conductive, and more stable. The flexible electronics created from such ink-jet printing could be used in touch screens, photovoltaic devices, and electronic textiles. The group describes the technique in a paper submitted to the arXiv e-print server.
New York Times: Delegates from 194 nations gathered today in Durban, South Africa, for the opening of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Topics to be discussed include the differing obligations of industrialized and developing nations, the question of who will pay to help poor nations adapt, the urgency of protecting tropical forests, the goal of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, the need to rapidly develop and deploy clean energy technology, and, most important, the future of the Kyoto Protocol, writes John Broder for the New York Times. But political problems threaten to derail the talks, according to Rajendra K. Pachauri, director of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Some of those problems can be blamed on the US, which has not shown leadership on this issue, said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, to NPR’s Richard Harris. The Obama administration is hamstrung by the current economic crisis and by Republicans’ widespread denial of human-induced climate change.
BBC: A group of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle is developing a contact lens that can project images in front of the eye through the use of an embedded pixel array. Such a device has been challenging to create because it not only requires a suitable power source and mechanical and electrical integration of its micrometer-scale components but it also must be biocompatible. In addition, the human eye usually can focus only on objects at least a few centimeters away, whereas a contact lens rests on the eye’s surface. Nevertheless, the researchers have built a single-pixel prototype device, which they have successfully tested on rabbits. In humans, such lenses could have many uses, such as to relay information from navigation systems, enhance video gaming, or alert the wearer to physiological problems like abnormal glucose levels, write Babak Parviz and colleagues in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.