Saturday, November 25, 2017

To address hunger effectively, first check the weather, says new study

Too little rain, or too much, is often a driver of poverty and hunger, leading to poor nutrition and food insecurity among vulnerable populations. According to a new study, rainfall patterns also provide clues on how to most effectively alleviate food insecurity.
The study, to be published November 24 in Scientific Reports, is the first to analyze on a large scale the relationship between food insecurity among smallholder farms in Africa and Asia, rainfall patterns and a range of interventions - from agricultural inputs to agricultural practices to financial supports - designed address the issue.
Smallholder farms are small farms with limited resources that depend on the family for labor and on the operation's crops for food or income. There are an estimated 460 to 500 million smallholder farms in the world, who grow 80 percent of the food consumed in low income countries.

Ancient House of the Dead Reveals Glimpse of Neolithic Civilization

This summer, the University of Reading Archaeology Field School excavated one of the most extraordinary sites we have ever had the pleasure of investigating. The site is an Early Neolithic long barrow known as "Cat's Brain" and is likely to date to around 3,800 BC. It lies in the heart of the lush Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, UK, halfway between the iconic monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury.
It has long been assumed that Neolithic long barrows are funerary monuments; often described as "houses of the dead" due to their similarity in shape to long houses. But the limited evidence for human remains from many of these monuments calls this interpretation into question, and suggests that there is still much to be learnt about them.

Scientists take step forward in understanding Parkinson's disease

Scientists at NUI Galway have taken a step forward in understanding how to make healthy brain cells survive after they are implanted into people suffering from Parkinson's disease.
The discovery could in time help with the development of new treatments for the neurodegenerative illness, which chiefly affects a person's ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability.
One potential treatment being explored by scientists is the possibility of transplanting healthy brain cells into patients to kickstart regrowth in regions of the brain where cells have died.
But so far such a therapy has not been found because implanted cells do not tend to survive.
However, researchers at Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM centre based at NUI Galway, have demonstrated that survival of the transplanted cells is dramatically improved if they are implanted within a supportive matrix made from the natural material collagen.

This material does weird things under pressure

A newly fabricated material does more than just hold up under pressure. Unlike many ordinary objects that shrink when squeezed, the metamaterial — a synthetic structure designed to exhibit properties not typically found in natural materials — expands at higher pressures.
This counterintuitive material is made up of a grid of hollow 3-D crosses — shaped like six-way pipe fittings — mere micrometers across. When surrounding pressure of air, water or some other substance increases, the crosses’ circular surfaces bow inward. Because of the way these crosses are connected with levers, that warping forces the crosses to rotate and push away from each other, causing the whole structure to expand, says study coauthor Jingyuan Qu, a physicist at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

The key to breaking down plastic may be in caterpillars’ guts

Caterpillars that nibble through polyethylene plastic cultivate a diverse community of digestive bacteria that process the plastic, researchers reported November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North America. Dousing old plastic in a similar mix of bacteria might speed the breakdown of the persistent pollutant.
Polyethylene is widely used to make plastic bags and other packaging materials, but it hangs around in landfills for decades, perhaps even centuries. Recently, scientists identified several species of caterpillars that appear to eat and digest the plastic, breaking it down.  But dumping old shopping bags into a den of caterpillars isn’t really a practical large-scale strategy for getting rid of the plastic. So to figure out the insects’ secret, researchers fed polyethylene to the larvae of pantry moths, Plodia interpunctella, and then looked at the bacteria in the caterpillars’ guts.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Science confirms you should stop and smell the roses

Is it any wonder that most happiness idioms are associated with nature? Happy as a pig in muck, happy as a clam, happy camper.
A UBC researcher says there's truth to the idea that spending time outdoors is a direct line to happiness. In fact, Holli-Anne Passmore says if people simply take time to notice the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being.
Passmore, a PhD psychology student at UBC's Okanagan campus, recently published research examining the connection between taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment and personal well-being. A recent study involved a two-week 'intervention' where participants were asked to document how nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They took a photo of the item that caught their attention and jotted down a short note about their feelings in response to it.

Can science solve Ireland’s water problem?

Ireland is back in the dock. The Environmental Protection Agency recently found waste-water facilities do not comply with EU standards in 50 of Ireland’s 185 towns and cities, and that raw and untreated sewage is discharged into the environment in 44 urban locations every day. Irish Water estimates it will cost €18 billion to rectify the issues. Meanwhile, the European Commission is taking Ireland to court over our water quality.
What if the solutions lie on our own doorstep? “Science has the potential to solve our water problems,” says Prof Fiona Regan, director of the DCU Water Institute

ENVIRONMENT The ozone hole is at its smallest size since 1988, thanks to hot air and a massive international effort

One of the layers of atmosphere that protects all life on our planet is the width of two pennies, and hangs out six to ten miles above the Earth’s in an environment that human activity made extremely hostile. Every year when winter ends and warmer weather returns to Antarctica, chemicals that we put into the air rip a hole in the layer. But this year, that hole is smaller than usual.

This week, NASA and NOAA announced that 2017’s ozone hole, at 7.6 million square miles, was the smallest since 1988.
Ozone is a molecule made of three oxygen atoms bonded together. On the ground, it can form harmful smog. But above the Earth, it acts like sunscreen, protecting life from harmful solar radiation. When elements like chlorine and bromine undergo a particular chemical reaction in clouds, ozone takes a beating.
This year it was warmer than usual in Antarctica’s lower stratosphere, with temperatures the likes of which you'd normally see over the Arctic. The odd weather pattern was not conducive to the formation of ozone-killing clouds, giving that precious layer of the atmosphere a break.
The ozone hole was first discovered in Antarctica in 1985, and quickly linked to the increased use of ozone-depleting chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s). CFC's were everywhere at the time, and were seen as a better replacement for earlier industrial chemicals. They were non-toxic to humans, non-flammable, and used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and aerosols.
Alarmed by the effect that human actions were having on the planet, nations around the world signed the Montreal Protocol just a few years later, agreeing to ban CFC’s and other ozone-depleting chemicals. The agreement went into effect in 1989; but with CFC’s long lifetime, it wasn’t until very recently that researchers—who were constantly monitoring the health of the ozone layer—were able to truly notice signs of healing.

The 10 dogmas of scientific materialism, refuted

The ten dogmas of the prevailing scientific worldview are proving to be unreliable; at least, according to the provocative insights of biologist Dr. Rubert Sheldrake in his book Science Set Free.
Dr. Sheldrake gave a brief lecture on his book at a TED talk in 2013. Unfortunately, TEDx decided to ban Dr. Sheldrake’s lecture because he dared to challenge scientific orthodoxy.
Dr. Sheldrake has no qualms about the fruits science has provided. Nevertheless, he draws a line between scientific inquiry, which consists of hypotheses, evidence and cross verification, and the prevailing scientific worldview, which states that the universe is a closed system.
The belief that all reality is material is an outdated mode of thinking embedded in Newtonian physics, which describes the world as a mechanical clock. While Newtonian physics is a great way to understand the world at a preliminary level, it’s been gutted and left for dead by advances made in quantum theory and general relativity.

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