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Science | The Guardian



Latest Science news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice



Published: Mon, 20 Feb 2017 09:17:48 GMT2017-02-20T09:17:48Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017
 



GM 'surrogate hens' could lay eggs of rare chicken breeds, scientists say

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 17:24:52 GMT2017-02-17T17:24:52Z

Radical plan to maintain diversity of gene pool proposes use of genetically modified chickens as surrogate mothers

The Rumpless Game is squawky and, as its name suggests, lacks a tail, while the Burmese Bantam, has fantastically flared leg feathers and a head like a feather duster. But the true value of rare chicken breeds, according to a team of scientists working to save them from obsolescence, is not their decorative crests and plumage, but the diversity they bring to the chicken gene pool.

In a radical plan to preserve rare varieties such as the Nankin, Scots Dumpy and Sicilian Buttercup, scientists at the the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have bred genetically modified chickens designed to act as surrogates that would be capable of laying eggs from any rare breed.

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Robot monitors in homes of elderly people can predict falls, says study

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 18:30:49 GMT2017-02-17T18:30:49Z

In future, sensor networks could interpret movement data and contact relatives or support staff when a person is at risk

Robotic movement sensing systems in the homes of elderly people can predict with a high level of accuracy when a person is at high risk of having a fall and send warnings to support workers or relatives, say researchers

The US study, carried out in a senior housing centre in Missouri, found that telltale signs, including a sudden decline in walking speed, were linked to an 86% chance of having a fall within the next three weeks. Elderly residents who were monitored by the system, which allowed clinicians to intervene before injuries occurred, were able to live independently for 1.8 years longer than those without the technology.

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Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 15:00:06 GMT2017-02-16T15:00:06Z

Scientist leading ‘de-extinction’ effort says Harvard team could create hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo in two years

The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.

Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the “de-extinction” effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.

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Zealandia – pieces finally falling together for continent we didn't know we had

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 03:44:29 GMT2017-02-17T03:44:29Z

The landmass – about two-thirds the size of Australia – of which 94% is under water, is a step closer to being recognised, scientists say

Zealandia – a new continent submerged in the southwest Pacific – is a step closer to being recognised, the authors of a new scientific paper claim.

A paper published in GSA Today, the journal of the Geological Society of America, contends that the vast, continuous expanse of continental crust, which centres on New Zealand, is distinct enough to constitute a separate continent.

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'We are rewriting the textbooks': first dives to Amazon coral reef stun scientists

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:00:12 GMT2017-02-17T14:00:12Z

Scientists have discovered the river reef is far bigger, and more important, than first thought – a biodiversity hotspot on a par with the Great Barrier Reef. Now they face a race to protect it from big oil

There is a flickering, bright glimmer of sky as the two-person submarine descends beneath the muddy equatorial waters to a place no human has ever seen – a vast, complex coral reef at the mouth of the world’s greatest river.

Thirty metres under the murky plume of the sediment-heavy Amazon, the sub enters a darker, richer world. A school of curious remora fish approaches the two-tonne machine. Crabs and starfish loom in its eerie lights. A metre-long amberjack swims past, then a two-metre ray.

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Antibiotics, not surgery, could treat appendicitis in children, study suggests

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 05:01:01 GMT2017-02-17T05:01:01Z

Appendix removal is the most common emergency surgery in children, but researchers say that antibiotics might offer a less-invasive alternative

Antibiotics could be an effective alternative to surgery for treating children with appendicitis, research suggests.

According to the NHS, appendicitis affects an estimated one in 13 people at some point in their life, with appendix removal the most common reason for emergency surgery in children.

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Lab notes: what a mammoth week for science!

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:11:46 GMT2017-02-17T14:11:46Z

Yes it’s a big story in more ways than one – a team of Harvard scientists say that scientists say they are on the brink of being able to create a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo. There are lots of technical and ethical concerns to address before we actually have real, live mammoths (or mammophants, as they’re being called by some) but the idea of “de-extinctifying” something that’s been gone for 4,000 years is pretty exciting. This isn’t the only genetic engineering story in town this week, though, as a major US report out this week has prepared ground for genetic modification of human embryos, eggs and sperm to prevent people passing serious medical conditions to their children. Again, there’s along way to go, but as gene editing technology is moving fast, it’s vital that we have these ethical discussions now. A man who certainly was pondering vital questions ahead of his time was Winston Churchill, a copy of whose essay Are We Alone in the Universe? was recently unearthed in a US college. Pondering the possibility of alien life, Churchill shows the keen grasp of science that was one of the hallmarks of his premiership. Also looking to the future were two pieces of neuroscience research out this week. The first is a trial of a portable brain-scanning helmet, which could benefit stroke victims and those felled by head injuries on the sports pitch or battlefield by providing a rapid assessment of their condition. The second is a study which suggests that brain scans could identify babies most at risk of developing autism, raising hopes for earlier care and interventions for those affected. And finally, appendix removal is the most common emergency surgery in children, but researchers say that antibiotics might offer a less-invasive alternative. It wouldn’t be right in all cases, and more studies need to be done to assess safety, but it’s a future possibility that might help some children avoid the risks and trauma of surgery.

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Pooping in space: suit could help Nasa astronauts boldly go when duty calls

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 21:14:27 GMT2017-02-15T21:14:27Z

The Space Poop Challenge sought designs for a system that could collect human waste for up to six days, routing it away from the body without the use of hands

Astronauts wear adult diapers under their suits in case they need to pee or poop on spacewalks, but what happens if there’s an emergency and they have to stay in their suit for several days? That was the question Nasa posed to members of the public in its Space Poop Challenge, and the winners of the contest have just been announced.

Related: Black hole and distant sun locked in slow-motion dance of death

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Poison tales: the chemistry of crime fiction – Science Weekly podcast

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 14:38:52 GMT2017-02-15T14:38:52Z

Nicola Davis sits down with Dr Kathryn Harkup to discuss a shared love of crime fiction and the chemistry contained within their poisonous plots

Subscribe & Review on iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast, and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

The long and brutal marriage between crime fiction and poison has taken a leading role in some of the world’s best loved whodunnits. But how much truth is there to these tales of arsenic, strychnine and other cunning concoctions? And why do so many the genre’s best-loved authors turn to poison for their plots?

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'Draconian' Trump gag on scientists could affect legislation, experts warn

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 17:34:13 GMT2017-02-16T17:34:13Z

‘Oppressive’ approach to federal agency communications could result in misinformation on climate change, former presidential science advisers said

Two former US science advisers have warned against restrictions on scientists’ freedom to speak out on contentious issues like climate change, which they say could result in laws being made on the basis of false evidence.

Related: Trump's likely science adviser calls climate scientists 'glassy-eyed cult'

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Churchill essay on the possibility of alien life discovered in US college

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:00:18 GMT2017-02-15T18:00:18Z

Winston Churchill’s essay Are We Alone in the Universe? was penned the year before he became prime minister, and reveals his keen interest in science

It might never have seen the light of day. Lost and long forgotten, the unpublished essay by Winston Churchill was penned a year before he became Britain’s prime minister. The matter to which he applied his great mind? Not politics, not the battlefield, but the existence of alien life.

The 11-page article was probably intended for the now defunct Sunday newspaper the News of the World, but for reasons unknown the essay remained with his publisher and only recently resurfaced at the US National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Missouri.

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Brain scans could identify babies most at risk of developing autism, study shows

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:00:18 GMT2017-02-15T18:00:18Z

Images revealed which infants would go on to have an autism diagnosis, raising hopes for earlier care and interventions for those affected

Babies who are most at risk of developing autism as toddlers have been identified from brain scans in the first year of life.

The images helped doctors spot which of a group of children who were already at risk because of autism in the family would later be diagnosed with the condition.

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Vitamin D 'proved to cut risk of colds and flu'

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 23:30:25 GMT2017-02-15T23:30:25Z

Move would also save NHS money, argue authors of major study that shows vitamin D can reduce risk of respiratory infections

Adding vitamin D to food would significantly cut NHS costs, say the authors of a major global study that shows it can reduce the risk of colds, flu and other dangerous infections such as pneumonia.

A government advisory committee on nutrition has already warned of the low levels of the so-called “sunshine vitamin” in the UK population and recommended food fortification as a possible course of action. In the US, for example, milk is fortified with vitamin D.

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Trump's likely science adviser calls climate scientists 'glassy-eyed cult'

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:13:33 GMT2017-02-15T13:13:33Z

William Happer, frontrunner for job of providing mainstream scientific opinion to officials, backs crackdown on federal scientists’ freedom to speak out

The man tipped as frontrunner for the role of science adviser to Donald Trump has described climate scientists as “a glassy-eyed cult” in the throes of a form of collective madness.

William Happer, an eminent physicist at Princeton University, met Trump last month to discuss the post and says that if he were offered the job he would take it. Happer is highly regarded in the academic community, but many would view his appointment as a further blow to the prospects of concerted international action on climate change.

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Black bones, gangrene and weeping: the unwelcome return of scurvy

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 10:59:56 GMT2017-02-16T10:59:56Z

With cases of scurvy appearing in Sydney and Zimbabwe, Jonathan Lamb looks at the history of a disease that was once thought to belong to the past

When doctors and patients realised that scurvy had reappeared, in separate outbreaks in Zimbabwe and Sydney recently, they were stunned. “I couldn’t believe it,” Penelope Jackson, one of the Sydney victims, recalled, “I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, scurvy hasn’t been around for centuries’.”

Shame followed, as it often does with scurvy. “Does scurvy just affect developing countries?” asked Newsweek 24 of the Bulawayo emergency in Zimbabwe. “I couldn’t believe you could be obese and malnourished,” said Jackson. “We have sent a team to attend to it,” the Bulawayo city council curtly announced, by way of a plenary reply to such questions about the disease.

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India launches record-breaking 104 satellites from single rocket

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 11:45:17 GMT2017-02-15T11:45:17Z

Indian PM Narendra Modi hails ‘exceptional achievement’ that overtakes Russian record of 37 in single launch

India’s space agency has announced the successful launch of a record-breaking 104 nano satellites into orbit, all onboard a single rocket.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said the milestone launch, from the Sriharikota space centre in the country’s south, overtook the 2014 Russian record of 37 satellites in a single launch.

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Welcome home, Lonesome George: giant tortoise returns to Galapagos

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 08:30:05 GMT2017-02-17T08:30:05Z

After almost five years with taxidermists in New York, Lonesome George has returned home. He may be dead, but his legacy is very much alive

Lonesome George is back in Galapagos.

Following the death of the celebrity tortoise in June 2012, his remains were sent to New York to be preserved by expert taxidermists. With the support of the Galapagos Conservancy, the last Pinta tortoise was the star of a highly successful exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014. Today, he flies back to the Galapagos Archipelago after almost five years on his whirlwind taxidermy tour.

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Dinosaur embryos reveal remarkable secrets of life – and extinction

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-02-15T08:00:06Z

A new study shows many dinosaurs may have taken many months to hatch from their eggs, leaving them vulnerable to sudden environmental changes

Cut a tree trunk in half and you can count the rings to reveal the age. Slower growth in winter (when conditions are poor) means a thin and relatively dark line appears and this marks the end of a season. You might be surprised to know that we can do something similar with the bones of many animals including dinosaurs. Cut a big bone from the thigh in half and there are similar rings to count, laid down for the same reason (growth slowing) and that can also, give or take, mark down the number of years the animal has been alive. This is all well and good, but of little help when the owner is less than a year old, and clearly impossible to apply to embryos. Incredibly however, there is an even more specific and detailed measure for single days that is laid down in the teeth.

These tiny indicators are called Von Ebner lines and they actually reflect daily growth and changes in mineralisation of teeth as they develop. We can see these in modern reptiles like crocodiles but also in dinosaurs. Although very rare, we do have fossil embryos of a number of dinosaurs and a new study by Erickson et al., has cut into the tiny teeth of these specimens and looked at the Von Ebner lines to count the number of days that they were in the egg (coupled with an estimate of when teeth first start growing) with some remarkable findings.

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'Obviously the threat is there': Chris Hadfield on the danger of asteroid strikes

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 07:00:36 GMT2017-02-14T07:00:36Z

As June 30th is annouced as Asteroid Day 2017, astronaut Hadfield explains why we should take the possibility of collisions with celestial rocks seriously

  • Watch the Asteroid Day press conference live here at 13.30GMT

“The Earth gets hit by 50 tonnes of meteorites a day. That’s more than most people think. Normally they are small little grains and burn up but once in a while they are big rocks,” says astronaut Chris Hadfield, who launched himself to stardom by singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station.

“Occasionally they go over an inhabited part of the world and we see a shooting star. Or they get close to the ground like Chelyabinsk and they do damage. So obviously the threat is there. Obviously,” he says.

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Did you solve it? The mystery of Portia's caskets

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 17:00:19 GMT2017-02-13T17:00:19Z

The answer to today’s Shakespearean logic puzzle

Earlier today I set you the following Puzzle, from Raymond Smullyan’s What is the name of this book?

Beautiful Portia has three caskets: one gold, one silver and one lead. Inside one of them is her portrait. Her father’s will has determined that any suitor must choose the casket with the portrait in order to win her hand in marriage.

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Hidden Figures is a groundbreaking book. But the film? Not so much

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 07:50:07 GMT2017-02-13T07:50:07Z

Has Hollywood’s need for the feel-good factor done Margot Shetterley’s book – and the history of Nasa’s black women mathematicians – a disservice?

In the opening scenes of Hidden Figures, released in the UK on Friday, we are introduced to Dorothy Vaughan – played with verve and wit by Octavia Spencer – as a pair of legs sticking out from under the bonnet of a broken-down car. One detail immediately stands out: Vaughan’s legs are light beige and shiny. She is wearing stockings that don’t match her skin tone, presumably because that was all that was available to her.

Related: Hidden figures: the history of Nasa’s black female scientists

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Can you solve it? The mystery of Portia's caskets

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 07:20:07 GMT2017-02-13T07:20:07Z

A Shakespearean riddle in memory of peerless puzzler Raymond Smullyan, who died last week age 97

UPDATE: The answers and explanation are now posted here

“Why should I be worried about dying? It’s not going to happen in my lifetime!”

So said Raymond Smullyan, the American mathematician, philosopher and prolific writer of logic puzzles, who died a week ago aged 97.

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All eyes are on Sir Mark Walport, the new supremo of UK science

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 14:15:26 GMT2017-02-09T14:15:26Z

Now we know the identity of the chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, the science community will be anxiously watching his first steps

The establishment of the £6bn umbrella organisation for UK science funding, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has provoked debate across the research community since it was first mooted. Brainchild of a review by Sir Paul Nurse, UKRI will create what is in effect a new ‘super’ research council, sitting above the seven existing councils, and rolling in Innovate UK and Research England (the research arm of the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

The vision behind UKRI has not found favour in all quarters of British science. Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society, has been particularly vocal in his opposition to UKRI, fearing the disruption it will bring, at exactly the same time as Brexit is generating wider uncertainties for research funding. Others fear a creeping bureaucratisation and loss of autonomy across the existing funding bodies, with their individual chief executives ceding status and influence to their new UKRI boss.

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No wildlife charity campaigns to save parasites. But they should

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 09:00:18 GMT2017-02-09T09:00:18Z

We tend to think of parasites as harmful, itchy, nasty, creepy crawlies. But these strange, beautiful creatures have many uses – and they need our help

Until very recently, the skies of North America played host to one of the largest birds on earth: the Californian condor (Gymnogyps californianus). Weighing in at 12 kg with a wingspan of three metres, these remarkable birds were almost lost to us until efforts were made in 1987 to round up the last remaining 27 individuals of the species for captive breeding efforts at San Diego Zoo.

However, these birds were not alone. Nestled amongst their feathers was another species on the brink of extinction: the Californian condor louse (Colpocephalum californici). Regrettably, within weeks of entering San Diego Zoo for conservation efforts, a species went extinct. When an animal is taken into captivity to prevent its extinction zookeepers are quick to treat each individual with anti-parasitic drugs. The condor louse became a victim of this all too common practice.

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Another NHS crisis looms – an inability to analyse data

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 15:21:00 GMT2017-02-08T15:21:00Z

The opportunity to use data to improve health and social care is being hampered by a lack of personnel with skills in data science

Public institutions such as the National Health Service increasingly want—and are expected—to base their actions on nationally agreed standards, rather than anecdote. The collection and analysis of data, when done responsibly and in a trusted manner, has the potential to improve treatment and improve the social and economic value of healthcare.

However, the goal of using data to improve the NHS and social care is hampered by a talent gap – a lack of personnel with data analytical skills – that stands in the way of uncovering the rich insights that reside in the NHS’ own data. The NHS is not unique among institutions that are struggling to identify, hire and retain people with data science skills and the ability to apply these.

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Giant winged Transylvanian predators could have eaten dinosaurs | Elsa Panciroli

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 08:00:01 GMT2017-02-08T08:00:01Z

Welcome to the Cretaceous Romanian island of Hațeg, once populated by lifeforms stranger than anything imagined by Lovecraft or Giger

What makes ancient, extinct animals so compelling is that they are often beyond anything we can imagine. Many of them have no comparison among the lifeforms surviving on earth today. They reached unsurpassed sizes, or were chimeric half-and-halfs. Others had alien skeletons with bodily projections and elongations that stretch credulity. There are few creatures that embody the strangeness of the extinct quite like azhdarchids.

Pronounced az-dar-kid, these giant reptiles were named after the azhdar of Iranian mythology: huge lizards with wings that populated Persian epics. Real life azhdarchids were actually pterosaurs, the group of flying reptiles most commonly recognised in the form of the head-crested Pteranodon; much beloved of scientifically dubious film and television.

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Scientists to repeat 19th-century ship's crossing of polar ice cap

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 00:01:22 GMT2017-02-20T00:01:22Z

Ambitious Mosaic expedition will study weather patterns and life in melt ponds from vessel drifting with the ice current

In 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen embarked on a mission of extraordinary boldness and ingenuity. He planned to become the first person to reach the north pole by allowing his wooden vessel, the Fram, to be engulfed by sea ice and pulled across the polar cap on an ice current.

Ultimately, Nansen ended up abandoning the Fram and skiing hundreds of miles to a British base after he realised he was not on course to hit the pole, but the ship made it across the ice cap intact and the expedition resulted in groundbreaking scientific discoveries about the Arctic and weather patterns.

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'Science for the people': researchers challenge Trump outside US conference

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 22:37:33 GMT2017-02-19T22:37:33Z

Scientists rally in Boston amid alarm over president’s views and fears for the future of the EPA, as ecologist likens current struggle to Galileo’s

Hundreds of scientists rallied in Boston on Sunday to protest what they call the “direct attack” of Donald Trump and Republicans on research, scientific institutions and facts themselves, as a community reckons, and argues, with a new era of American politics.

Gathering in Boston’s Copley Square, outside the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), several scientists gave speeches to a crowd holding signs shaped like beakers and reading “Stand up for science”. The speeches reflected a sea change in the culture of many labs and universities, where many researchers long maintained that good scientific work could speak for itself.

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SpaceX rocket blasts off from historic NASA launchpad – video

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 16:07:06 GMT2017-02-19T16:07:06Z

SpaceX successfully launches a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida on Sunday on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The rocket takes off from a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center that has seen off some of Nasa’s most famous missions, but has gone unused since the agency retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011

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SpaceX launches and lands Falcon rocket from historic spaceport

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 15:22:58 GMT2017-02-19T15:22:58Z

Rocket launches from pad that was home to some of Nasa’s best-known missions – then booster gracefully returns to Earth

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that marks a new era of private spaceflight at one of Nasa’s most storied bases.

A Falcon 9 rocket took off at about 9.40am eastern from the Kennedy Space Center, off the coast of central Florida, from a launchpad that has seen off some of Nasa’s most famous missions but has gone unused since the agency retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

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Manchester lab's drug tests may have been manipulated

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 15:20:01 GMT2017-02-19T15:20:01Z

Two employees of Randox Testing Services arrested, with 484 police inquiries based on toxicology results under review

Hundreds of drug tests may have been manipulated by staff at a forensics lab, with almost 500 police investigations under review.

Two employees of Randox Testing Services (RTS), which analyses blood, saliva and hair samples on behalf of police forces, have been arrested by Greater Manchester police.

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Adam Silver says Kyrie Irving's flat-Earth theory is a comment on fake news

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 13:50:29 GMT2017-02-19T13:50:29Z

  • Cleveland Cavaliers guard made comments on Road Trippin’ podcast
  • NBA commissioner also discusses how travel ban would affect league

It’s perhaps a sign of a placid NBA All-Star weekend when the biggest issue the commissioner Adam Silver had to address is whether Kyrie Irving actually believes the Earth is flat.

The Cleveland Cavaliers guard sparked debate on Friday when comments he made on a podcast started circulating. “If you really think about it from the landscape of the way we travel, the way we move, and the fact that – can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets,” said Irving on the Road Trippin’ podcast.

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SpaceX cancels Falcon rocket launch seconds before liftoff

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 17:01:13 GMT2017-02-18T17:01:13Z

Countdown at Kennedy Space Center halted with just 13 seconds remaining over a ‘slightly odd’ thrust control problem, delaying launch until Sunday

SpaceX scrubbed a planned launch on Saturday from Kennedy Space Center, citing a “slightly odd” thrust control problem and delaying the return to service for a historic launchpad at the Florida spaceport.

“All systems go, except the movement trace of an upper stage engine steering hydraulic piston was slightly odd,” CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter. “If this is the only issue, flight would be fine, but need to make sure that it isn’t symptomatic of a more significant upstream root cause.”

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Bill Gates warns tens of millions could be killed by bio-terrorism

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 14:00:03 GMT2017-02-18T14:00:03Z

Microsoft founder and philanthropist tells Munich security conference genetic engineering could be terrorist weapon

A chilling warning that tens of millions of people could be killed by bio-terrorism was delivered at the Munich security conference by the world’s richest man, Bill Gates

Gates, who has spent much of the last 20 years funding a global health campaign, said: “We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril.”

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Life forms that could be 50,000 years old found in caves in Mexico

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 01:52:32 GMT2017-02-18T01:52:32Z

The bizarre, ancient microbes and viruses found living in crystals in extremely punishing conditions deep in an abandoned lead and zinc mine

In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old.

The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, in Mexico’s northern Chihuahua state, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese, said Penelope Boston, head of Nasa’s Astrobiology Institute.

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Apra says companies must factor climate risks into business outlook

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 07:24:29 GMT2017-02-17T07:24:29Z

Climate change threatens the financial system and companies should no longer view it as a future problem, regulator warns

Australia’s financial regulator has warned that climate change poses a material risk to the entire financial system, and has urged companies to start adapting.

Geoff Summerhayes, from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, says it is unsafe for companies to ignore the risks of climate change just because there is some uncertainty, or “even some controversy”, about the policy outlook.

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Portable brain-scanning helmet could be future for rapid brain injury assessments

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 19:00:11 GMT2017-02-16T19:00:11Z

Stroke victims and those felled by head injuries on the sports pitch or battlefield could benefit from a new wearable scanner currently being tested

A transportable brain-scanning helmet that could be used for rapid brain injury assessments of stroke victims and those felled on the sports pitch or battlefield is being tested by US scientists.

The wearable device, known as the PET helmet, is a miniaturised version of the hospital positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, a doughnut-shaped machine which occupies the volume of a small room.

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Mystery of how the turtle's neck evolved may be solved by 150m-year-old fossil

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 14:00:04 GMT2017-02-16T14:00:04Z

Examination of a fossilised turtle suggests the way modern animals withdraw both head and neck into their shells might be linked to capturing prey

It sounds like a tale worthy of Kipling, but how the turtle got its neck is a mystery that might have been solved by science.

Researchers say fresh examination of a fossilised turtle, thought to have lived around 150 million years ago, suggests that ability of turtles to withdraw their neck and head into their shells might have evolved as it allowed them to rapidly shoot their head forward to snap up prey.

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3D-printed prosthetic limbs: the next revolution in medicine

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 06:59:01 GMT2017-02-19T06:59:01Z

As 3D printing continues to transform manufacturing, doctors are hoping it could also help the 30 million people worldwide in need of artificial limbs and braces

John Nhial was barely a teenager when he was grabbed by a Sudanese guerrilla army and forced to become a child soldier. He spent four years fighting, blasting away on guns almost too heavy to hold, until one day the inevitable happened: he was seriously injured, treading on a landmine while he was on morning patrol.

“I stepped on it and it exploded,” he recalled. “It threw me up and down again – and then I tried to look for my leg and found that there was no foot.”

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Trump’s fragile male ego craves the dangerous drug of adulation | Joan Smith

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 18:49:09 GMT2017-02-19T18:49:09Z

The president’s hyped-up behaviour at his Florida rally was an alarming display of his neediness. Maybe he should have his own theme park

Therapy has never been so expensive. At the weekend, it cost American taxpayers millions of dollars to fly Donald Trump down to Florida so he could hold a session with thousands of adoring fans after another trying week in the White House. At a cost of roughly $3m per trip, it would have been cheaper to hire Dr Freud but, sadly, aides who tried to contact him discovered he has been dead since 1939.

Instead, the 45th president of the US invited on stage a man who later revealed he has a 6ft cardboard model of his hero and talks to it every day.

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Time Travel: A History by James Gleick review – from mechanical to mental

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 07:30:02 GMT2017-02-19T07:30:02Z

This roving study of our enduring fascination with time travel covers well trodden ground but finds the concept constantly evolving

Are we trapped in the present, free to move in space yet unable to travel in the fourth dimension? Or is there a chance, a glimmer of a possibility, that the past and future could unfurl to our physical experience at will? Despite the punchline being apparent from the off – lest we forget, such journeys are impossible – James Gleick’s latest offering sets out to question the questions, probing how the idea of time travel emerged, gripped our imaginations and shaped our society.

Our relationship with the slippery concept of time is far from static: technology continues to shape our view, even now

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Alex Barakan obituary

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 11:55:10 GMT2017-02-19T11:55:10Z

As a young man, after an initial interest in Freudian psychoanalysis, my friend Alex Barakan, who has died aged 99, went on to develop his own style of therapeutic psychology.

Whether as a client or friend, it was the quality of his listening that was so striking and which was so appreciated by the hundreds of people he helped throughout his long life.

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Frozen lakes end the winter with an 'ice tsunami'

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 21:30:14 GMT2017-02-16T21:30:14Z

If the winds are strong enough and sustained, the spring can deliver ice shove or ice heave at the edge of lakes in the north of the globe

In late February, the winter ice may start to melt. When that happens, frozen lakes can send spectacular slow-motion waves of crushed ice cascading over the shoreline onto the land. These waves are sometimes called “ice tsunamis” but, to meteorologists, they are “ice shove” or “ice heave”.

Specific conditions are needed to produce ice heave. There must be large cracks in the lake ice, which must be separated from the shore, so that it becomes several free-floating sheets. This only occurs when a thaw starts. Then there needs to be a powerful wind blowing in the direction of the shore for at least 12 hours.

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Gemini the celestial twins

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 21:30:17 GMT2017-02-12T21:30:17Z

A look at the stars that make up the constellation of Gemini, including Castor, a tight binary, and Pollux, an orange giant

The evening star, Venus, reaches its peak brilliance at magnitude -4.6 this week. Obvious in Britain’s SW sky at nightfall, it sets in the W at 21:30. Mars, to its left and higher and now pulling away, is a good deal fainter at mag 1.2.

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Daniel Dennett: ‘I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics’

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:02 GMT2017-02-12T09:00:02Z

Truth has long been a key concern for the American philosopher. He’s in the UK to discuss his latest book on consciousness, but there’s just no escaping Trump…

I meet Daniel Dennett, the great American rationalist, on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, as good a day as any to contemplate the fragility of civilisation in face of overwhelming technological change, a topic he examines in his latest book.

Dennett is a singular figure in American culture: a white-haired, white-bearded 74-year-old philosopher whose work has mined the questions that erupt at the places where science, technology and consciousness meet. His subject is the brain and how it creates meaning and what our brains will make of a future that includes AI and robots. He’s in London with his wife, Susan, to mark the publication of his latest book – From Bacteria to Bach and Back – and I find him in a rented flat in Notting Hill, scowling at his laptop. “I was about to send a tweet,” he says. “Something like, ‘Republican senators are in an enviable position. How often does anybody get a real opportunity to become a national hero? Who’s going to step up and enter the pages of history?’”

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Antibiotic abuse: the nightmare scenario

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 06:59:00 GMT2017-02-12T06:59:00Z

A new radio drama by Val McDermid highlights the worrying prospect of antibiotic resistance becoming a global epidemic

Imagine a world in which even the slightest scratch could be lethal. Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, and organ transplants are no longer possible. Even simple surgery is too risky to contemplate, while epidemics triggered by deadly bacteria have left our health services helpless.

It is science fiction, of course – but only just. According to many doctors and scientists, the rise of antibiotic resistance across the planet could soon make this grim scenario a reality. And if it does, humans will have to face up to challenges that would once have seemed unthinkable. The question is: when – and how – might this horrific medical ordeal unfold for the human race?

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Cliff falls leave fossils on the beach below

Sat, 11 Feb 2017 05:30:07 GMT2017-02-11T05:30:07Z

Charmouth Beach, Dorset This section of the Jurassic Coast is one of the most active landslip sites in Europe

It is fossiling weather – wet and stormy with a strong tide and choppy sea. The cliffs above Charmouth Beach are running with water and the top of Black Venn is masked by fog. Trickles of soil and small stones dribble down the dark cliff face.

This section of the Jurassic Coast is one of the most active landslip sites in Europe. One section has slipped in the past few days, sliding a great chunk of clayey rock and mud on to the shingle below. The sea is already dragging the fall away, the waves sucking into its soft base and pulling it out into Lyme Bay where the water divides: pinkish-grey inshore and leaden slate far out in the English Channel.

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Nasa's Jupiter flyby is a confidence booster

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 21:30:33 GMT2017-02-09T21:30:33Z

Following last year’s computer glitch, Juno has successfully gathered data on the composition of the planet’s atmosphere

Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has skimmed past Jupiter’s north and south pole, returning data on the giant planet and its atmosphere.

The flyby took place on 2 February at 12:57 GMT. Travelling at 129,000mph relative to the planet, the solar powered spacecraft made its close approach over Jupiter’s north pole before skirting the planet and exiting over the south pole. At closest approach, Juno was 2,670 miles above the cloud tops.

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Exhibition offers extensive insight into London's history thrown up by Crossrail

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 20:43:55 GMT2017-02-08T20:43:55Z

Tunnel, at the the Museum of London Docklands, showcases the archaeological treasures unearthed during the digging of the Crossrail project

From reindeer bones gnawed by wolves at Old Oak Common 68,000 years ago to victims of the Black Death, a vulgar Victorian chamber pot and 13,000 Crosse & Blackwell marmalade and pickle jars – the longest slice of the capital’s history ever excavated lies exposed in a new exhibition at the Museum of London.

The Crossrail tunnel, which will hold the 73-mile new Elizabeth line that is due to open in 2018, is the largest engineering project in Europe and it has given archaeologists a unique slit trench across the capital’s history. The oldest objects shaped by a Londoner are flakes chipped from a flint axe 8,000 years ago, found in north Woolwich.

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John Beetlestone obituary

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 17:30:09 GMT2017-02-08T17:30:09Z

My father, John Beetlestone, who has died aged 84, was an extraordinary man who founded a museum and had three careers.

Born within the sound of Bow bells in London, John was the only child of Albert Beetlestone, a clerk for British Rail, and his wife, Ivy (nee Spencer). The family was driven out of London by doodlebugs during the second world war and he was brought up in Norwich, attending Thetford grammar school.

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Churchill’s scientific papers reveal an even greater politician than we thought | Graham Farmelo

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:12:45 GMT2017-02-16T13:12:45Z

From alien life to foreseeing the nuclear age, Churchill’s essays reveal a dazzling scope of inquiry that would be unimaginable on the part of western leaders today

Surprising stories about Winston Churchill just keep on coming. He has long been praised for his courage, wisdom, eloquence and many other qualities, but people have been amazed to learn this week that he was also a scientific visionary.

The revelation comes from the US National Churchill Museum in Missouri, where the astrophysicist Mario Livio uncovered Churchill’s “lost” 1939 essay about the possible existence of alien life, titled Are We Alone in the Universe? It demonstrates a remarkably high level of scientific literacy and far-sightedness, Livio points out. Yet this is only part of a much bigger story, too long neglected. Churchill had a long career as a topical science writer and he appreciated the importance of new breakthroughs to the development of civilisation better than any other leading western political leader of the past century.

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Climate change doubled the likelihood of the NSW heatwave – let’s be clear, this is not natural

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 03:31:30 GMT2017-02-16T03:31:30Z

Rapid warming trend sees heat records in Australia outnumber cold records by 12 to one over the past decade

The heatwave that engulfed southeastern Australia at the end of last week has seen heat records continue to tumble.

On Saturday 11 February, as New South Wales suffered through the heatwave’s peak, temperatures soared to 47℃ in Richmond, 50km northwest of Sydney, while 87 bushfires raged across the state, amid catastrophic fire conditions.

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Soon we'll be able to spot diseases like cancer before we even feel sick

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 09:09:47 GMT2017-02-15T09:09:47Z

Within five years nanotechnology will examine bodily fluids for tiny bioparticles that reveal signs of cancer – helping to stop disease before it progresses

The sooner a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be well managed or cured. The challenge to finding a disease early is that most of us don’t seek treatment until we have symptoms, which means the disease has already progressed.

But breakthroughs in nanobiotechnology techniques mean that in five years we will be able to examine and filter bodily fluids for tiny bioparticles that reveal signs of disease like cancer before we have any symptoms, letting us know immediately if we should consult a doctor.

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Why is he ignoring me? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Eleanor Morgan

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-02-15T08:00:06Z

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Most of us can probably recall a time when we’ve either been ignored or have been the ignorer. In the second instance, perhaps we’ve avoided replying to someone because we’re cross with them and can’t be bothered to “get into it”. Perhaps we’ve forgotten to reply for so long that it feels too weird. In a romantic situation, perhaps we’ve decided that we want to break up with someone, but haven’t worked out how to do it (otherwise known as being a coward). Perhaps we felt pressured – and felt like the other person was demanding too much from us.

Related: Breaking up is hard to do. But procrastinating doesn't make it easier | Zach Stafford

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Why the sublime violence of volcanoes will never lie dormant

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:51:17 GMT2017-02-13T14:51:17Z

A new exhibition shows how scientists have tried to understand the mayhem of volcanoes, and how artists have embraced their sheer terror

Art and science merge in a colossal mushroom cloud of ash in an illustration from William Hamilton’s 1779 supplement to his book Campi Phlegraei. We see a vast plume of white and grey dust hanging high above Mount Vesuvius in broad daylight. Blue sky and sea enclose the eruption in a frozen calm. The cloud suggests the solidity and weight of thousands of tons of incinerated stone, suspended impossibly in the air.

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How good journalists can face down fake newsmongers | John Naughton

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 06:59:00 GMT2017-02-12T06:59:00Z

The mainstream media can fight back against the poisoning of our public sphere by giving people narratives they can understand

Let us pause for a moment to mourn the passing of Hans Rosling , one of the most gifted and humane educators of our age. He was professor of global health at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute and became famous when he gave a spectacular TED talk in 2006 using global data to show how the world had changed during the 20th century. Rosling specialised in devising striking ways of visualising statistical data and in using computers to provide animations showing, for example, how child mortality, family income and so on changed over time. But what probably clinched his fame was the way he talked his audience through the evolving worldview with a manic energy reminiscent of Newsnight’s Peter Snow and his general election night “swingometer”.

Rosling’s untimely death (from cancer) seems particularly poignant at this moment in our history, because he was such a fervent believer in the idea that we could find illumination, if not salvation, in facts. In that respect, he reminded me of the late David MacKay, another gentle polymath, who was for a time the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. At a lecture following the publication of his book, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, he was assailed by an angry environmentalist who asked him why he was “so hostile” to wind power. MacKay smiled sweetly and replied: “I’m not hostile to anything. I’m just in favour of arithmetic.”

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NASA's ISS crew throw American football in space to honour Super Bowl – video

Sat, 04 Feb 2017 16:43:59 GMT2017-02-04T16:43:59Z

Astronauts throw an American football on the International Space Station on Saturday to mark the upcoming Super Bowl LI on Sunday. Footage shows an astronaut throwing ‘the longest Hail Mary pass ever’, as they claim the ball travels 564,664 yards

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Spacewalks and moon landings: Nasa archive photos up for auction

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 11:55:29 GMT2017-01-31T11:55:29Z

A set of photographic prints from Nasa’s archives – selected by Barbara Hitchcock and Peter Riva and approved by several of the astronauts – that include the first moon landing, are up for auction in New York. Originally part of a 1985 Smithsonian Institution exhibition, Sightseeing: A Space Panorama, many of the photos had never before been published by the space agency, and are the only known Cibachrome prints made from original Nasa positives

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Tim Peake set for return mission to International Space Station – video

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 16:17:06 GMT2017-01-26T16:17:06Z

British astronaut Tim Peake announces his plan to return to the International Space Station with the European Space Agency. Speaking at the Science Museum in London on Thursday, Peake says it is ‘only natural’ to want to return for a second time with his classmates from 2009 for a second mission

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SpaceX successfully launches and lands first rocket since explosion – video

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 02:19:28 GMT2017-01-15T02:19:28Z

SpaceX lands its first rocket since a previous attempt in September 2016 exploded before takeoff. The Falcon 9 rocket took approximately nine minutes to return to earth after launch, landing on a barge in the Pacific south of Vandenberg, California to the obvious delight of SpaceX employees

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What is thundersnow? – video explainer

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:50:34 GMT2017-01-12T15:50:34Z

Thundersnow is a rare weather phenomenon which looks set to make an appearance in the UK over the next couple of days. It occurs when the air closest to the ground is warm enough to rise and form a thunderstorm, but still cool enough that it’s able to freeze into snow. The results are brighter, but quieter, than we’ve come to expect from our usual doses of thunder and lightning

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Press paws: point-of-view camera reveals polar bears in action – video

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:26:44 GMT2017-01-10T16:26:44Z

Scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) attached a camera to a female polar’s neck to study behaviour, hunting and feeding rates. The camera was intended to capture polar bears’ daily activities and help researchers better understand how they respond to declining levels in sea ice. The footage was uploaded to the USGS Facebook page on Monday but was filmed in April 2016

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History fan finds medieval settlement after spending his life savings on Welsh field – video

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 18:15:06 GMT2017-01-03T18:15:06Z

Stuart Wilson, 37, describes the discovery of what could be the lost city of Trellech after spending his life savings of £32,000 on buying a field in South Wales. Although he has a degree in archaeology Wilson had been working in a toll booth before taking the gamble on the plot of land, which he was convinced marked the site of an ancient settlement

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The Earth in 2016, as seen from space – in pictures

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 17:17:24 GMT2016-12-29T17:17:24Z

Throughout 2016, astronauts aboard the International Space Station recorded the ever-changing face of the Earth and its environment. Here are a selection of their best photographs

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John Glenn, former astronaut and US senator – video obituary

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 22:23:22 GMT2016-12-08T22:23:22Z

Former astronaut and US senator John Glenn has died aged 95 in Ohio on Thursday. Glenn was the third US astronaut in space and the first of them to get into orbit. He then spent 24 years as a Democratic senator from Ohio and briefly made a run for president in 1984

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Total recall: the people who never forget

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 06:00:09 GMT2017-02-08T06:00:09Z

An extremely rare condition may transform our understanding of memory

If you ask Jill Price to remember any day of her life, she can come up with an answer in a heartbeat. What was she doing on 29 August 1980? “It was a Friday, I went to Palm Springs with my friends, twins, Nina and Michelle, and their family for Labour Day weekend,” she says. “And before we went to Palm Springs, we went to get them bikini waxes. They were screaming through the whole thing.” Price was 14 years and eight months old.

What about the third time she drove a car? “The third time I drove a car was January 10 1981. Saturday. Teen Auto. That’s where we used to get our driving lessons from.” She was 15 years and two weeks old.

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‘Poor little snowflake’ – the defining insult of 2016

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:02:20 GMT2016-11-28T15:02:20Z

The term ‘snowflake’ has been thrown around with abandon in the wake of Brexit and the US election, usually to express generic disdain for young people. How can we neutralise its power – and is it a bad metaphor anyway?Between the immediate aftermath of Brexit and the US presidential election, one insult began to seem inescapable, mostly lobbed from the right to the left: “snowflake.” Independent MEP Janice Atkinson, who was expelled from Ukip over allegations of expenses fraud, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post decrying the “wet, teary and quite frankly ludicrous outpouring of grief emails” she had received post-referendum as “snowflake nonsense”. The far-right news site Breitbart, whose executive chairman Stephen Bannon is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist, threw it around with abandon, using it as a scattershot insult against journalists, celebrities and millennials who objected to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric; its UK site used it last week to criticise a proposed “class liberation officer” at an Oxford college who would provide more support for working-class students.On an episode of his long-running podcast in August, Bret Easton Ellis discussed the criticism of a lascivious LA Weekly story about the pop star Sky Ferreira with a furious riposte to what he calls “little snowflake justice warriors”: “Oh, little snowflakes, when did you all become grandmothers and society matrons, clutching your pearls in horror at someone who has an opinion about something, a way of expressing themselves that’s not the mirror image of yours, you snivelling little weak-ass narcissists?” Continue reading...[...]


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From ‘overlearning’ to going barefoot: how to learn better

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:18:30 GMT2017-01-31T17:18:30Z

Forget practising for hours on end or cramming the night before an exam. Here are some pointers to help you get top results

The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again”, might need rewriting. Because, according to new research, even if you do succeed, you should still try, try again. “Overlearning”, scientists say, could be the key to remembering what you have learned.

In a study of 183 volunteers, participants were asked to spot the orientation of a pattern in an image. It is a task that took eight 20-minute rounds of training to master. Some volunteers, however, were asked to carry on for a further 16 20-minute blocks to “overlearn” before being moved on to another task. When tested the next day, they had retained the ability better than those who had mastered it and then stopped learning.

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Did you solve it? Complete the equation 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2016

Mon, 04 Jan 2016 17:00:16 GMT2016-01-04T17:00:16Z

The countdown conundrum cracked: how to solve it and my pick of your best solutions

Earlier today I set you the following puzzles. Fill in the blanks so that these equations make arithmetical sense:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2016, and

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A neuroscientist explains: magnetic resonance imaging - podcast

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 06:00:01 GMT2017-02-19T06:00:01Z

Dr Daniel Glaser explores the history and science behind a well known method of brain imaging, including a trip for producer Max into an MRI scanner

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This week, Observer Magazine columnist and neuroscientist Dr Daniel Glaser delves into the world of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). How does it work? Where did it come from? And what can it tell us about the intricacies of the human brain? Visiting Dr Martina Callaghan at University College London’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, producer Max also finds out first hand what an MRI scan entails.

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The ugly truth: unattractive friends make you look better

Sun, 02 Oct 2016 15:00:00 GMT2016-10-02T15:00:00Z

Finally, scientists have tackled ‘the ugly friend effect’. If you don’t know what that is, it might be bad news ...

Name: The ugly friend.

Age: Approximately 45,000 years old, dating to the period when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals first started hanging out.

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Is emergent quantum mechanics grounded in classical physics? - Science Weekly podcast

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 15:32:15 GMT2017-02-09T15:32:15Z

Does strange quantum behaviour emerge from run-of-the-mill classical physics? If so, what does this tell us about the fundamental nature of reality?

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The 20th century was a golden one for science. Big bang cosmology, the unravelling of the genetic code of life, and of course Einstein’s general theory of relativity. But it also saw the birth of quantum mechanics – a description of the world on a subatomic level – and unlike many of the other great achievements of the century, the weird world of quantum physics remains as mysterious today as it was a century ago. But what if strange quantum behaviour emerged from familiar, classical physics? How would this alter our view of the quantum world? And, more importantly, what would it tell us about the fundamental nature of reality?

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How to get ahead in the office – with help from Team GB’s psychologists

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 06:00:33 GMT2016-10-10T06:00:33Z

Dr Chris Shambrook and his colleagues have helped turn Britain’s rowing team into a medal factory. Could the same methods help you win gold at work?

Be it a pool table in the office, beers on Friday or a nap room, the business world is constantly searching for the next psychological nudge to improve performance. Now, managers are turning to sports psychology to find the answers. This is the thinking behind Performance Fest, a corporate away day set up by PlanetK2, a group of Team GB psychologists.

The day’s events ranged from Brazilian drumming to dance choreography to martial arts sessions. I sat down with Dr Chris Shambrook, a sports psychologist who has worked with the British rowing team for five consecutive Olympic Games (a team that won three gold medals and two silvers at Rio 2016). Here, he explains the lessons that businesses can learn from great athletes.

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