Science News: A severely autistic 13-year-old boy received experimental treatment that involved the implantation of electrodes in his brain. A team of doctors led by Volker Sturm of the University Hospital of Cologne in Germany targeted several areas of the boy’s brain and found that stimulation of part of the amygdala—an area connected to emotion and memory—significantly improved his condition. Prior to beginning treatment, the boy was prone to injure himself, did not make eye contact, often woke up screaming, and couldn’t talk. After eight weeks of therapy, his autism symptoms improved, and his level of irritability changed from “severely ill” to “moderately ill.” After six months, he began to use simple words. Sturm’s team believes that the brain stimulation was directly connected to the improvement. After 44 weeks of treatment, the batteries in the device died. It took a month to get them replaced, and during that time, the boy’s condition worsened. Once new batteries were installed, he began improving again. Nevertheless, until deep brain stimulation can be studied in a larger population, the treatment remains experimental for autism and other neurological disorders.
Los Angeles Times: While Japan and several other earthquake-prone countries have already developed early warning systems, the US has been slow to follow suit. Now a group of geophysicists and seismologists has announced a plan to install such a system in Southern California, which is at risk because of the San Andreas Fault. The plan, which would cost $80 million, calls for sensors to be placed in the ground to detect the first signs of an earthquake. Because earthquakes consist of two sets of waves, the system could send out a warning via computers and cellphones when the first waves—called P waves—hit, so that people and businesses would have a few seconds to prepare for the slower moving but potentially more damaging S waves.
Science: The US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Science Advisory Committee has issued its recommendations for funding nuclear physics research in the face of budget cuts. Charged with weighing the relative importance of three facilities, the committee settled on shutting down the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. RHIC, as its name suggests, collides heavy nuclei to produce quark–gluon plasmas. Although RHIC has been key in developing scientific understanding of those substances, its ability to study them has been overshadowed by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The two facilities that NSAC recommended to continue funding are the recently upgraded Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, and the planned Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University. CEBAF collides electrons with protons and neutrons to study the particles’ internal construction, and FRIB will study exotic nuclei created in supernovas.
Nature: Understanding the bacterial ecology of the sky is an exciting new frontier for natural history, says Noah Fierer of the University of Colorado Boulder. According to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about 20% of the particles found in the upper troposphere consist of bacteria. Researchers at Georgia Tech looked at air samples collected by NASA some 10 km above various bodies of water and the continental US. Despite the harsh environment, including arid winds and UV rays, 314 different types of bacteria were found to thrive there. Although their role is not yet certain, bacteria may seed clouds in the upper atmosphere where there are fewer dust particles, and thus they could influence weather and climate.