Science: Because computer software is so important in scientific studies, Lucas Joppa of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, and colleagues conducted a survey to determine the computational expertise of scientists. They chose a specific scientific domain—species distribution modeling—because of the potentially wide range of computer mastery within that field. Of the 400 scientists surveyed, the researchers found that a large percentage rely on peer recommendations when choosing software and that most trust the software without knowing how it works. Because it is important that users have the appropriate tools to conduct their research and that others be able to reproduce their results, Joppa’s group recommends that all researchers receive formal training in computational methods and that scientific software code be peer reviewed and made available along with the published research.
New Scientist: Scientists have determined that two high-energy neutrinos detected by the South Pole IceCube Neutrino Observatory originated in outer space. Since the discovery of “Bert and Ernie” last year, the IceCube collaboration has been reexamining the data gathered from May 2010 to May 2012. So far they have found 26 more neutrinos of about 50 TeV each. Because that’s twice the expected number of atmospheric neutrinos, which are produced by cosmic rays hitting Earth’s atmosphere, about half must be coming from outside the solar system, according to IceCube team member Thomas Gaisser of the University of Delaware in Newark. Another indication that the neutrinos traveled a great distance is their distribution: Neutrinos are created with a well-defined flavor—either electron, muon, or tau—but can oscillate among the three flavors as they travel through space. The fact that the three types were equally represented indicates that they came a long way. As neutrinos only weakly interact with other matter, they may be able to be used to observe phenomena that optical telescopes cannot, such as the sources of cosmic rays, dark matter and dark holes, and stellar explosions.
BBC: The UK’s Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Oxford is gaining two more space-related facilities. The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecoms (ECSAT), the European Space Agency’s first major research center in the UK, will be a center for innovation and cutting-edge research in different space and terrestrial technologies, particularly telecommunications. The Satellite Applications Catapult will develop new satellite-based products and services. Harwell already houses several major companies and organizations, including the Diamond synchrotron facility and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which builds satellite equipment. The new facilities are expected to boost the UK’s economy and strengthen the country’s presence in space.
NPR: What some consider to be the most important historical site in the US—Jamestown, Virginia—may disappear by the end of the century because of global warming. Jamestown, founded in 1607, was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. Because it sits just above sea level, it is being threatened by the rising ocean, whose surface, climate scientists say, could swell by as much as 1 meter by 2100. The area has already suffered water damage: In 2003 Hurricane Isabel flooded Jamestown’s visitor center and glass factory, where present-day glassblowers replicate Old World techniques. The National Park Service is considering its options, which could involve levees and sea walls, all of which will be expensive. As many treasures there are still buried in the ground, archaeologists are debating whether to dig up everything while they still can.
Christian Science Monitor: In the Christian Science Monitor, David Unger notes the circular paradox concerning Arctic drilling and climate change: “The region’s fossil-fuel extraction contributes to warming, which opens up drilling possibilities but also adds environmental turbulence that makes drilling so difficult.” Already, severe weather has caused several companies to shut down their drilling operations in the area. But because the Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s oil and 30% of its natural gas, it is expected that those companies will want to resume their drilling as soon as possible. Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its legal ramifications, however, oil companies have come to realize the value of adhering to higher safety standards. In light of that fact, the Obama administration released a paper Friday that urges Arctic countries to work together to balance resource extraction and environmental protection. The paper preceded this week’s meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna, Sweden, during which the members are expected to vote on an oil spill response agreement, among other issues.
Daily Mail: Although a flame has been burning in New York State for potentially thousands of years, scientists have so far been unable to determine the source of the natural gas feeding the flame. Arndt Schimmelmann of Indiana University and colleagues recently studied the rocks beneath Chestnut Ridge County Park, long assumed to be the source. What they found was that the shale layer is not hot enough to cause the rock’s carbon molecules to break down. From the size of the flame, the researchers have determined that a gas “macroseep” must be emanating from deep shale source rocks, and that there may be similar macroseeps elsewhere in the world. “If that’s true, and [if] gas is naturally produced this way in other locations, we have much more shale-gas resources than we thought,” said Schimmelmann. The group’s paper was published in the May issue of Marine and Petroleum Geology.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Thermoelectric devices convert heat into electricity, a useful trick in many fields, including power generation. However, such devices are typically expensive to make. A team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has created a composite of organic and inorganic thin films from nanocrystals and polymer material. The result is a thermoelectric material that is more efficient than its constituent parts and cheaper to make than traditional thermoelectrics.
The new material could affect not only thermoelectrics research but also polymer–nanocrystal composites that are being investigated for photovoltaics, batteries, and hydrogen storage.
Daily Mail: As humans age, the eye’s ability to distinguish colors diminishes. However, the effect goes almost unnoticed because of the brain’s ability to compensate for the loss. In a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, Sophie Wuerger of the University of Liverpool in the UK and colleagues looked at 185 people between the ages of 18 and 75, all of whom had normal color vision. They found that despite age-related yellowing of the lens of the eye, neural pathways in the brain are able to adjust so that people’s perceptions of color remain fairly constant over their lifetime.
Washington Post: At this week’s Humans to Mars Summit being held in Washington, DC, NASA officials and others are discussing the technical, scientific, and policy-related challenges involved in landing astronauts on the surface of Mars. William Gerstenmaier, John Grunsfeld, and Michael Gazarik, the NASA associate administrators for human exploration, science, and space technology, respectively, were cautiously optimistic about such a mission. There are a number of technological challenges, among them the difficulty of landing a craft on Mars’s surface because of the planet’s extremely thin atmosphere. Although NASA succeeded in landing the Curiosity rover last year, the payload was relatively small. A spaceship with astronauts would probably require a payload about 40 times heavier, according to Gazarik. Another major issue is funding, which could run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Besides NASA, a number of private entrepreneurs are also working to send humans to Mars and may help drive the technology.
New Scientist: Although quantum cryptography has been touted as a method of secure communication, it may be susceptible to eavesdropping, according to a paper published in Physical Review Letters. Quantum cryptographic techniques rely on a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics—namely, that the act of measuring quantum data disturbs the data. Therefore, any attempt by a hacker to intercept a message compromises the transmittal. However, even the best systems will always have some margin of error. Now a quantum cloner has been developed that can create copies of a quantum-encrypted message’s photons that, although not perfect, are good enough to keep the transmission error rate relatively low. Only by closely monitoring the rate of error can the counterfeits be detected.