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Science

The Science of 4th of July Fireworks

StartsWithABang writes: There are few things as closely associated with American independence as our willingness and eagerness to celebrate with fiery explosions. I refer, of course, to the unique spectacle of fireworks, first developed nearly a millennium ago halfway across the world. But these displays don't happen by themselves; there's an intricate art and science required to deliver the shows we all expect. So what's the science behind fireworks? Here's the physics (and a little chemistry) behind their height, size, shape, color and sound, just in time for July 4th!
Space

Rocket Labs Picks New Zealand For Its Launch Site 41 41

schwit1 writes: The small sat rocket company Rocket Labs has chosen a location in New Zealand as its future launch site. Bloomberg reports: "The company didn't specify how much it was investing in the site, which is due to be completed in the fourth quarter. New Zealand, which has been used in the past by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, is considered a prime location because rockets launched from that deep in the Southern hemisphere can reach a wide range of Earth orbits. Rocket Lab's remote site on the Kaitorete Spit in the Canterbury region also means it has less air and sea traffic, which translates into more frequent launches and economies of scale, the company said. It also will no longer compete for airspace with the U.S. government." Rocket Labs will have to actually launch something to really make the competition heat up. This announcement, however, illustrates that in the long run, the United States has some significant disadvantages as a spaceport location.
Microsoft

Microsoft Research Open Sources WorldWide Telescope 18 18

kfogel writes: Microsoft Research has open sourced WorldWide Telescope, releasing it under the MIT license and donating the code to the .NET Foundation. The code is up on GitHub at github.com/WorldWideTelescope, and there are demos and more details at WorldWideTelescope.org. Go forth and explore!
Medicine

The Epidemic May be Over, But Liberia Has New Ebola Cases 11 11

Three new cases of Ebola have been reported in Liberia. Reuters reports that despite the declared end to the Ebola outbreak in that country in May, the medical community is speculating that a cluster of infectious carriers somehow survived longer than was previously believed possible, or that there is a previously unknown means of transmission. Health officials "were monitoring 175 people believed to have come into contact with the three cases, though none had yet exhibited symptoms of the disease." The report notes that "A U.S. military operation aimed at helping Liberia's government counter the outbreak has mostly withdrawn. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a U.S. health body, said it was working with local authorities to study the origin of the cases and stop the virus spreading."
Businesses

Depression: The Secret Struggle Startup Founders Won't Talk About 167 167

mattydread23 writes: In May, Cambrian Genomics CEO Austen Heinz committed suicide. The news stunned friends and family, and sparked a conversation about the growing problem of depression among startup founders. Some estimates say 30% of startup founders suffer from depression, but many are reluctant to talk about their struggle for fear of alienating investors and employees. This feature by Business Insider includes conversations with a friend of Heinz, plus many investors and other startup founders who are starting to talk about the problem and figure out how to make things better.
Space

First Human Colonies Should Be Among Venus' Clouds 237 237

StartsWithABang writes: When we talk about humans existing on worlds other than Earth, the first choice of a planet to do so on is usually Mars, a world that may have been extremely Earth-like for the first billion years of our Solar System or so. Perhaps, with enough ingenuity and resources, we could terraform it to be more like Earth is today. But the most Earth-like conditions in the Solar System don't occur on the surface of Mars, but rather in the high altitudes of Venus' atmosphere, some 50-65 km up. Despite its harsh conditions, this may be the best location for the first human colonies, for a myriad of good, scientific reasons. NASA proposed something similar last year and released a report on the subject.
Education

Pew Survey Documents Gaps Between Public and Scientists 239 239

PvtVoid writes: A new Pew Research Study documents an alarming gap between public perception of scientific issues and the opinions of the scientists themselves, as measured by a poll of AAAS scientists. Even worse, the gap is partisan, with clear differences between Republicans and Democrats, and between conservatives and liberals. For example, while 98% of AAAS members agree with the statement that "Human beings and other living things have evolved over time", only 21% of conservatives agree, compared with 54% of liberals. Global warming, similarly, shows an ideological gap: 98% of AAAS scientists agreed with the statement that "the Earth is getting warmer mostly due to human activity", compared with 21% of conservatives and 54% of liberals. Encouragingly, almost everybody thinks childhood vaccines should be required (86% of AAAS members, 65% of conservatives, and 74% of liberals.) Go here for an interactive view of the data.
NASA

NASA To Waste $150 Million On SLS Engine That Will Be Used Once 138 138

schwit1 writes: NASA's safety panel has noticed that NASA's SLS program either plans to spend $150 million human-rating a rocket engine it will only use once, or will fly a manned mission without human-rating that engine.

"The Block 1 SLS is the 'basic model,' sporting a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), renamed the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) for SLS. The current plan calls for this [interim] stage to be used on [the unmanned] Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) and [manned] Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), prior to moving to the [Exploration Upper Stage] — also to be built by Boeing — that will become the workhorse for SLS. However, using the [interim upper stage] on a crewed mission will require it to be human rated. It is likely NASA will also need to fly the [Exploration Upper Stage] on an unmanned mission to validate the new stage ahead of human missions. This has been presenting NASA with a headache for some time, although it took the recent ASAP meeting to finally confirm those concerns to the public."

NASA doesn't have the funds to human-rate it, and even if they get those funds, human-rating it will likely cause SLS's schedule to slip even more, something NASA fears because they expect the commercial manned ships to be flying sooner and with increasing capability. The contrast — a delayed and unflown and very expensive SLS vs a flying and inexpensive commercial effort — will not do SLS good politically. However, if they are going to insist (properly I think) that SpaceX and Boeing human-rate their capsules and rockets, then NASA is going to have to hold the SLS to the same standard.
The Almighty Buck

Scientist Union's Talks Stall Over Pay 80 80

HughPickens.com writes: The Sacramento Bee reports that the labor contract between California's state government and the 2,800 employees represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists expired this week, spotlighting yet again the long-running feud over whether the tiny union's members should earn as much as their peers in federal and local governments and private industry. "It's a challenge to keep people motivated," says Rita Hypnarowski. "We talk about retaining the best and the brightest, but I can see that's not going to happen." A recent survey by the Brown administration found that the total compensation for half of state-employed chemists is less than $8,985 per month ($5,715 in salary, plus $3,270 in benefit costs). That's 33 percent less than the median total compensation for federal chemists, nearly 13 percent less than the midpoint for local-government chemists and almost 6 percent below the private sector.

Members of the union perform a wide variety of tasks, everything from fighting food-borne illnesses to mopping up the Refugio State Beach oil spill. For example, Cassandra McQuaid left a job last year at the Department of Public Health's state-of-the-art Richmond laboratories where she tracked foodborne illnesses. It's the kind of vital, behind-the-scenes work that goes unnoticed until an E. coli outbreak makes headlines and local health officials need a crack team of scientists to unravel how it happened. "It really came down to money," says McQuaid. "I just couldn't live in the Bay Area on a state salary."
Space

What If You Could See Asteroids In the Night Sky? 54 54

An anonymous reader writes: As part of Asteroid Day a 360-degree video rendering the night sky with the population of near-earth asteroids included has been created by 'Astronogamer' Scott Manley. The video shows how the Earth flies through a cloud of asteroids on its journey around the sun, and yet we've only discovered about 1% of the near earth asteroid population.
Earth

Asteroid Day On June 30 Aims To Raise Awareness of Collision Risks 76 76

benonemusic writes: International organizers--including Queen's Brian May, an astrophysicist--have organized the world's first Asteroid Day on June 30, as a means to raise awareness for future collision risks and encourage actions to minimize the threats from such events. "If we can track the trajectories of asteroids and monitor their movement in our solar system, then we can know if they are on a path to impact Earth," former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart told the organizers of Asteroid Day in a statement. "If we find them early enough, we can move them out of Earth's orbit, thus preventing any kind of major natural disaster."
Biotech

Creating Bacterial "Fight Clubs" To Discover New Drugs 30 30

Science_afficionado writes: Vanderbilt chemists have shown that creating bacterial 'fight clubs' is an effective way to discover natural biomolecules with the properties required for new drugs. They have demonstrated the method by using it to discover a new class of antibiotic with anti-cancer properties. From the Vanderbilt website: "That is the conclusion of a team of Vanderbilt chemists who have been exploring ways to get bacteria to produce biologically active chemicals which they normally hold in reserve. These compounds are called secondary metabolites. They are designed to protect their bacterial host and attack its enemies, so they often have the right kind of activity to serve as the basis for effective new drugs. In fact, many antibiotics and anticancer compounds in clinical use are either secondary metabolites or their derivatives."
Transportation

Airplane Coatings Help Recoup Fuel Efficiency Lost To Bug Splatter 116 116

MTorrice writes: When bugs hit the wings of oncoming airplanes, they create a problem. Their blood, called hemolymph, sticks to an airplane's wings, disrupting the smooth airflow over them and reducing the aircraft's fuel efficiency. To fight the problem, NASA is working on developing a coating that could help aircraft repel bug remains during flight. After experimenting with almost 200 different formulations, researchers recently flight-tested a few promising candidates. Results showed that they could reduce the amount of stuck bug guts on the wings by up to 40%. With further optimization, NASA says such coatings could allow planes to use 5% less fuel.
Space

The Underfunded, Disorganized Plan To Save Earth From the Next Giant Asteroid 88 88

New submitter citadrianne sends a story about the beginnings of our asteroid defense efforts, and how initial concern over an asteroid strike wasn't sustained long enough to establish consistent funding: Until a few decades ago, the powers that be didn't take the threat of asteroids very seriously. This changed on March 23, 1989, when an asteroid 300 meters in diameter called 1989FC passed within half a million miles of Earth. As the New York Times put it, "In cosmic terms, it was a close call." After this arguably close brush with total annihilation, Congress asked NASA to prepare a report on the threat posed by asteroids. The 1992 document, "The Spaceguard Survey: Report of the NASA International Near-Earth-Object Detection Workshop," was, suffice it to say, rather bleak.

If a large NEO were to hit Earth, the report said, its denizens could look forward to acid rain, firestorms, and an impact winter induced by dust being thrown miles into the stratosphere. ... After reports from the National Research Council made it clear that meeting the discovery requirement outlined in the Congressional mandate was impossible given the lack of program funding, NEOO got a tenfold budget increase from 2009 to 2014. Yet it still faces a number of difficulties. A program audit released last September described the NEOO program as a one-man operation that is poorly integrated and lacking in objectives and oversight.
Medicine

Pass the Doritos, Scientists Develop Computer Game Targeted At Healthy Choices 81 81

MojoKid writes: Psychologists at the University of Exeter and Cardiff University have published a study that demonstrates how a simple computer game can help people lose weight. Participants in the study who played the specialized game lost and average of 1.5 pounds in the first seven days, and 4.5 pounds after six months. They also reduced their daily caloric consumption by 220 calories. Dr. Natalia Lawrence led the team of researchers that developed the computer game for the study. It was designed to train people to resist unhealthy food snack foods through a "stop versus go" process. Participants sat in front of a Pentium 3 PC running Matlab software on a 17-inch monitor. They were then instructed to press certain keys when images of things like fruits and clothes would appear, indicating a "go." But for images of calorie-dense foods (chips and cake, for example) they were instructed not to do anything, indicating a "stop" action.
Government

Despite Regulatory Nod, Cheap Ebola Test Still Undeployed 24 24

According to an article in Nature, the researchers who developed an inexpensive, reliable field test for the Ebola virus are frustrated by the delay they've seen in actually having that test deployed. Known as the Corgenix test after the company which developed it, this diagnostic tool "could not replace lab confirmation, but it would allow workers to identify infected people and isolate them faster, greatly reducing the spread of disease," according to infectious-diseases physician Nahid Bhadelia. However, though it's been approved both by the US FDA (for emergency use) and the World Health Organization, its practical use has been hampered by country-level regulations. Just why is unclear; the test seems to be at least as effective as other typical tests, and in some ways better. One concern was that the test might fail to detect the virus in some cases of Ebola. But the independent field-validation1 (in Sierra Leone) shows that the kit was as sensitive at catching cases as the gold-standard comparison — a real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test that amplifies and detects genetic sequences that are specific to Ebola in blood and other bodily fluids.
Biotech

Genetic Rescue Efforts Could Help Coral Shrug Off Warmer Oceans 133 133

The Washington Post reports that research published last week in the journal Science indicates that coral reefs may be less vulnerable to ocean temperature changes than has been widely believed, especially given human intervention. A slice: Some corals already have the genes needed to adapt to higher ocean temperatures, and researchers expect those genes will naturally migrate and mix with corals under stress over time ... And that process could potentially be sped up artificially. ... Giving coral evolution a boost isn't an entirely new concept. Some scientists have already suggested genetically modifying corals through artificial breeding, or doing the same for the tiny microbes that live inside corals and are essential to reef growth.
Space

Why Didn't Voyager Visit Pluto? 98 98

Flash Modin writes: NASA built the twin Voyager spacecraft for a rare planetary alignment that put Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune within reach at once. Originally, Voyager 1 was programmed to see Pluto in 1986, but managers targeted Saturn's planet-like moon Titan instead. That choice made Pluto impossible by vaulting Voyager 1 from the orbital plane. Interestingly, Voyager 2, which couldn't reach Pluto, made the case for New Horizons by revealing Neptune's moon Triton as a kidnapped Pluto. "I'm very glad that they chose not to go to Pluto in 1986," says New Horizons head Alan Stern. "We'll do a better job at Pluto with modern instruments than they would have, and they did a much better job at Saturn..."
Social Networks

Are We Too Quick To Act On Social Media Outrage? 371 371

RedK writes: Connie St-Louis, on June 8th, reported on apparently sexist remarks made by Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize winning scientist, during an event organised for women in sciences. This led to the man's dismissal from his stations, all in such urgency that he did not even have time to present his side, nor was his side ever offered any weight. A leaked report a few days later suggests that the remarks were taken out of context. Further digging shows that the accuser has distorted the truth in many cases it seems. This is not the first time that people may have jumped the gun too soon on petty issues and ruined great events or careers.
Science

The Physics of Lexus's Hoverboard 36 36

benonemusic writes: Lexus' hoverboard may never become commercially available, but is it scientifically feasible? You'd need to place a superconducting material in a magnetic field powerful enough to support the board and the rider. Steve Gourlay of Lawrence Berkeley Lab's Superconductor Magnet Group provides insights, including the possibility that Lexus put some very strong rare-earth magnets underneath the sidewalk in the video.