New York Times: Renesas Electronics, a Japanese company that produces computer chips, is to receive a $1.8 billion bailout from some of Japan’s largest manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon, Nissan, Panasonic, and Toyota. Facing tough competition from such rivals as South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and a slowing global economy, Renesas has suffered net losses and lost 35% of its market value over the past year. The company was formed in 2003 by the merger of Hitachi’s and Mitsubishi Electric’s semiconductor businesses. It later joined NEC Electronics in 2010 to create the current company. Despite investment offers from other countries, including the US, Japan has been reluctant to relinquish its control over Renesas’s advanced microcontroller chip technology, which is considered extremely important to Japanese industry.
Washington Post: Two tests, including Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), show that despite gains, US students “continue to lag behind many of their Asian counterparts in reading, math and science.” Though they outperformed “the international average,” they remained “far behind students in such places as Singapore and Hong Kong, especially in math and science.” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said that given the “large and diverse population of kids to educate” in the US, he thinks “these results show that we’re doing pretty well.” In fourth-grade math, US students trailed counterparts from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Northern Ireland, and the Flemish region of Belgium. In eighth-grade science, they trailed Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia, Russia, and Hong Kong. The results are interpreted to show that “across countries and subjects . . . students who have teachers with at least a decade of experience performed better, as did students who had teachers with high levels of career satisfaction.”
Chronicle of Higher Education: The yearly survey by NSF found that 49 010 research doctorates were granted in 2011, up 2% from 2010. About 75% of those doctorates were in science and engineering disciplines, up 4% from 2010. Although the number of humanities degrees went down by 3%, much of that decline was caused by the reclassification of doctorates-of-education as professional doctorates. Without the reclassification, the total number of research doctorates would have exceeded 50 000. Women made up 42% of the recipients of science and engineering doctorates, up from 30% in 1991. Black students increased from 4% to 6%, and Hispanic students from 3% to 6%, over that same time period. However, the proportion of new graduates who reported definite job or postdoctoral commitments was at the lowest level in 10 years.
Science: European Union ministers have agreed to a system that will provide a single path to patent protection in 25 European nations beginning in 2014. The European Patent Office currently handles patent requests for 38 nations, using each nation’s individual patent system. The new unified system will decrease the amount of work and money required to obtain a patent in Europe. The European Commission believes that the cost of a patent will drop from €36 000 ($47 000) to just €6400, and that the adoption of machine translation technology could reduce it even further. The commission hopes that the new system will make European inventors more likely to file for a patent in the EU even though the cost will still exceed that of a US patent. The new system will require patents to be filed in English, French, or German, but translation costs will be refunded to some submitters. The approval process for the new system still requires a vote of the European Parliament and a separate agreement signed by the EU nations to establish a Unified Patent Court to handle patent disputes. Spain and Italy have both filed complaints against the proposal, claiming that the language requirement unfairly favors English, French, and German.
BBC: Although the barbs on the ends of porcupine quills have long been known to be notoriously difficult to remove once they’ve pierced flesh, researchers have now found that those same barbs allow the quills to more easily penetrate the tissue in the first place. To better observe the tiny barbs on the quills’ conical black tips, the researchers colored them with a fluorescent dye. Then they experimented with both natural quills and synthetic ones, with and without barbs. The team found that barbed quills required 60–70% less force to penetrate muscle tissue than quills without barbs, writes Ella Davies for the BBC. According to Jeffrey Karp of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the porcupine quill design could have multiple medical uses, including in the design of needles that are more easily inserted and next-generation medical adhesives to replace staples or sutures. Karp and co-authors published their findings yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.