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Preview: Kirk Smith: Science/Technology/Computing

Kirk Smith: Science/Technology/Computing

Science, technology, invention, and innovation, aeronautics, astronomy, space, biology, computers and communication, earth and ocean sciences, energy and energy conservation, mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Last Build Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 07:44:48 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2003 Kirk Smith

DNA Profiles Link Dope to Its Source

Thu, 10 Jul 2003 07:43:00 GMT

09 Jul 03

Forensic scientists in the U.S. are applying DNA fingerprinting methods to the cannabis plant. They say the technique, which is being used to create a database of DNA profiles of different marijuana plants, will help them to trace the source of any sample.

'It links everybody together: the user, the distributor, the grower,' says the database's creator, Heather Miller Coyle of the Connecticut State Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden. 'That's the real intent of it, to show it's not just one guy with a little bag of marijuana, but it's a group of people.'

A method for spotting the tiniest traces of marijuana, based on detecting DNA unique to cannabis chloroplasts, has already been developed in the UK (New Scientist print edition, 07 Aug 1999). But the profiling method, based on the same principles as DNA fingerprinting of people, can distinguish between closely related cannabis plants (Croatian Medical Journal, vol 44, p 315).

In a case awaiting trial in Connecticut, prosecutors plan to use cannabis DNA profiles to show that two apparently separate cannabis growing operations were actually linked. The two operations, in different parts of the state appeared separate until analysis of the plants revealed that some had identical DNA fingerprints, showing that the growers were sharing material. []

Mathematics: Does the Proof Stack Up?

Sun, 06 Jul 2003 16:03:28 GMT

by George Szpiro

03 Jul 03

Just under five years ago, Thomas Hales made a startling claim. In an e-mail he sent to dozens of mathematicians, Hales declared that he had used a series of computers to prove an idea that has evaded certain confirmation for 400 years. The subject of his message was Kepler's conjecture, proposed by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, which states that the densest arrangement of spheres is one in which they are stacked in a pyramid - much the same way as grocers arrange oranges.

Soon after Hales made his announcement, reports of the breakthrough appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. But today, Hales's proof remains in limbo. It has been submitted to the prestigious Annals of Mathematics, but is yet to appear in print. Those charged with checking it say that they believe the proof is correct, but are so exhausted with the verification process that they cannot definitively rule out any errors. So when Hales's manuscript finally does appear in the Annals, probably during the next year, it will carry an unusual editorial note - a statement that parts of the paper have proved impossible to check.

At the heart of this bizarre tale is the use of computers in mathematics, an issue that has split the field. [Nature]

[Also see: Flyspeck Project, aka 'A Formal Proof of Kepler']

Scientists Discover Planetary System Similar to Our Own

Sun, 06 Jul 2003 11:10:45 GMT

The image shows an impression by David A. Hardy of a possible scene from a moon orbiting the extra-solar planet in orbit around the star HD70642. Photo Credit: David A. Hardy.

Photo of Siding Spring Mountain and associated telescopes. Photo Credit: Paul Butler, Carnegie Institution of Washington.

(image) (image)

by Josh Camot

03 Jul 03

ARLINGTON, Va. An international team of scientists has discovered a planet and star that may share the same relationship as Jupiter and our Sun, the closest comparison that researchers have found since they began their search for extra-solar planets nearly a decade ago.

By analyzing light spectra collected with the 3.9-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope in Siding Spring, Australia, scientists from the United States, Australia, and Britain made precision measurements of the star HD 70642.

The telescope data reveal a wobble in the star's position, an artifact from the gravitational tug of a planet roughly twice the size of Jupiter. The star is similar in size and structure to our Sun. From the wobble of HD 70642, the team has learned that the orbit of its planet is similar to the orbit of Jupiter in both shape and distance.

The planet, a gas giant, is right where it should be if the solar system evolved like ours, suggesting that other planets may be found nearby and that the system could potentially harbor life.

The researchers, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), conduct the Anglo-Australian Planet Search (AAPS), one of the leading extra-solar planet searches in the world. [National Science Foundation]

Hacker How-To Good Summer Reading

Fri, 04 Jul 2003 07:22:31 GMT

by Michelle Delio

27 Jun 03

Stealing the Network: How to Own the Box
by Ryan Russell
Syngress, 330 pp., $49.95

Stealing The Network: How to Own the Box, a compendium of tales written by well-known hackers, is a perfect summer read. The stories are fictional. The technology and techniques described are very real.

A warning: Those who believe in the theory of 'security through obscurity' -- keeping information on hacking techniques under wraps so that fewer people might exploit them -- probably will be infuriated by this book.

Each chapter details not only the methods used to hack and counterattack, but also explains the thought processes hackers use to carry out assaults on computer systems and people.

The result is a fascinating look at the tedious and occasionally brilliant mental discipline of hacking. But it is a book that wanders close to what some might consider the ethical edge. [Wired News]