Posts by thedailyjournalist:

    Buried in a Cave or a Dolmen: Megalithic Stone Age Funeral Practices, What the Bones Say

    October 9th, 2017
    In megalithic times funeral practices reveal that even 5000 years ago socioeconomic differences were already evolving.

    The journal PLOS ONE has published a piece of research conducted by the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country and the University of Oxford and which reveals the existence of social differences 5,000 years ago

    Researcher Teresa Fernández-Crespo reveals demographic differences between the people buried in dolmens and those buried in caves: while male adults predominated in the dolmens, children and women were more common in the caves. This funerary variability is common across the continent of Europe, although “it has hardly ever been investigated systematically,” explained the researcher.

    Through this study they wanted to go further and “get to know the possible significance of the different funerary practices in a very restricted space-time sequence to see whether there could be a difference in the diet of the individuals buried in megaliths and those in caves”.

    The key is to be found in the diet, which aside from addressing a physiological need, “also constitutes cultural and social behaviour determined by various parameters. That is why we knew that through the eating patterns we could make out something about the social structure and the type of societies that had been buried in these locations”, she explained.

    One of the dolmens analysed, located in Elvillar (Araba). In the background, the Cantabria mountain ridge, where the caves included in the study are located.

    Credit: Teresa Fernández-Crespo / UPV/EHU

    The analysis has focussed on remains in the Rioja Alavesa area, which “is an unrivalled region where the caves and dolmens are very close to each other, at an average distance of 10 km. Thanks to the available dating, we have been able to distinguish the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic moments of the dolmens to be able to compare them with the sequences of the caves corresponding to that same period”.

    The work involved measuring the stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen. “These isotopes are used to try and reconstruct diet in the past. And the fact is that the composition of human bones is determined by the food consumed by the individual during approximately the last decade of his/her life, because bone tissue is gradually remodelled. That is no surprise because ‘we are what we eat’; what happens is that in the end everything we eat is gradually incorporated into our tissue,” said Fernández-Crespo.

    Different communities or socioeconomic differences?

    The results show that the diet of the individuals was based on “plants of the C3 type, such as cereals, because they were already being grown during that period, with a contribution from land-based animals, mainly domesticated ones (goats, sheep, cows). This seems to have been the general diet of both sepulchral types”. But, in actual fact, the most important discovery is the significant differences in the carbon isotope values between caves and megaliths.

    Two possible interpretations are put forward to explain this difference. “The first would be that this divergence reflects a differentiated use in certain communities that practised different funeral rites and likewise followed different subsistence economies due to the use of different farming areas: in the case of the caves, the slopes of the Cantabria mountain ridge, and in the case of the dolmens, the more open areas of the valley,” pointed out the researcher.

    With respect to the second option, “the divergences in the carbon isotope values could also have emerged within the same community, where everyone belonged to the same group in which there was economic specialisation. In other words, one sector of the population could, for example, have been more involved in grazing activities on the mountain ridge, and the other in agriculture in the valley, or there might have been socioeconomic differences that were expressed in the preferential access to more fertile areas or to certain foods. Those laid to rest in caves may have enjoyed a lower status and their access to better lands for agriculture may have been more restricted, whereas those buried in megaliths, the building of which required considerable investment in terms of work, may have had access to better lands (more open, more fertile ones, etc.)”.

    As regards the future, other channels of research are being proposed to find out “which hypothesis we should be opting for”. So an analysis of strontium and oxygen isotopes is proposed as this would enable the mobility of these populations to be assessed, “since some authors are suggesting that during the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic this region was very densely populated possibly as a result of the arrival of a foreign population. So those who are occupying one burial type or another could well be populations that came from outside,” pointed out Fernández-Crespo.

    Furthermore, research based on the sequential analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes on the dentine of teeth has been started. “If the bones are remodelled and only display the sign of the last ten years of life of the individuals, the isotopic sign of carbon and nitrogen of the moment they were formed is recorded in the teeth. This study could reveal whether the differences between the people buried in dolmens and those in caves emerge from birth onwards (two populations that are doing something different) or whether they are acquired over time, which would lead us to think that they are more linked to the status achieved by each individual,” explained Teresa Fernández-Crespo.

    Teresa Fernández-Crespo has conducted this study in the UPV/EHU’s Quaternary Training and Research Unit: Environmental Changes and the Human Footprint. Part of the study was carried out at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, of the University of Oxford, through a post-doctoral scholarship from the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community.

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    Control Virtual Reality with Your Mouth

    October 9th, 2017

    How much reality can a person control with their mouth.  It virtual reality, it might be a bit more than real life.

    Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York have developed a new technology that allows users to interact in a virtual reality environment using only mouth gestures.

    The proliferation of affordable virtual reality head-mounted displays provides users with realistic immersive visual experiences. However, head-mounted displays occlude the upper half of a user’s face and prevent facial action recognition from the entire face. To combat this issue, Binghamton University Professor of Computer Science Lijun Yin and his team created a new framework that interprets mouth gestures as a medium for interaction within virtual reality in real-time.

    Binghamton University Professor of Computer Science Lijun Yin and his team created a new framework that interprets mouth gestures as a medium for interaction within virtual reality in real-time.

    Credit: Binghamton University, State University of New York

    Yin’s team tested the application on a group of graduate students. Once a user put on a head-mounted display, they were presented with a simplistic game; the objective of the game was to guide the player’s avatar around a forest and eat as many cakes as possible. Players had to select their movement direction using head rotation, move using mouth gestures and could only eat the cake by smiling. The system was able to describe and classify the user’s mouth movements, and it achieved high correct recognition rates. The system has also been demonstrated and validated through a real-time virtual reality application.

    “We hope to make this applicable to more than one person, maybe two. Think Skype interviews and communication,” said Yin. “Imagine if it felt like you were in the same geometric space, face to face, and the computer program can efficiently depict your facial expressions and replicate them so it looks real.”

    Though the tech is still in the prototype phase, Yin believes his technology is applicable to a plethora of fields.

    “The virtual world isn’t only for entertainment. For instance, health care uses VR to help disabled patients,” said Yin. “Medical professionals or even military personal can go through training exercises that may not be possible to experience in real life. This technology allows the experience to be more realistic.”

    Students Umur Aybars Ciftci and Xing Zhang contributed to this research.

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    New Test Reveals Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in a Half Hour

    October 9th, 2017

    The discovery of antibiotics in the early part of the 20th century changed modern medicine. Simple infections that previously killed people became easy to treat. Antibiotics’ ability to stave off infections made possible routine surgeries, organ transplants, and chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer.

    But because of overuse and misuse, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. Many species of bacteria have evolved resistance to commonly used antibiotics and multidrug-resistant bacteria–so-called superbugs–have emerged, plaguing hospitals and nursing homes. Last month, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning: The world is running out of antibiotics.

    A new test developed at Caltech that identifies antibiotic-resistant bacteria in as little as 30 minutes could help turn the tide by allowing medical professionals to better choose which antibiotics to treat an infection with.

    A visualization of how the antibiotic resistance test works.

    Credit: Caltech
    A paper describing the method appears in the October 4 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

    When doctors treat patients with bacterial infections, they often skip over first-line antibiotics like methicillin or amoxicillin–drugs that bacteria are more likely to be resistant to–and go straight for stronger second-line antibiotics, like ciprofloxacin. This practice increases the chance that the treatment will be effective, but it is not ideal. That’s because the increased use of second-line antibiotics makes it more likely that bacteria also will become resistant to these stronger drugs.

    “Right now, we’re overprescribing, so we’re seeing resistance much sooner than we have to for a lot of the antibiotics that we would otherwise want to preserve for more serious situations,” says Nathan Schoepp, a Caltech graduate student and co-author of the study.

    The problem is that there has not been a quick and easy way for a doctor to know if their patient’s infection is resistant to particular antibiotics. To find out, the doctor would have to send a sample to a testing lab, and wait two to three days for an answer.

    “Therapies are driven by guidelines developed by organizations like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention without knowing what the patient actually has, because the tests are so slow,” says Rustem Ismagilov, Caltech’s Ethel Wilson Bowles and Robert Bowles Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and director of the Jacobs Institute for Molecular Engineering for Medicine. “We can change the world with a rapid test like this. We can change the way antibiotics are prescribed.”

    DNA markers show up as fluorescing dots in the test, making them easy to count. Here, the test shows a bacterial sample grew more poorly in an antibiotic solution, indicating that it does not have resistance to that antibiotic.

    Credit: Caltech/Matthew Curits

    Ismagilov, Schoepp, Caltech graduate student Travis Schlappi, who is also a co-author, and their fellow researchers aimed to develop a test that could be completed during a single visit to the doctor’s office. They focused on one of the most common types of infections in humans, urinary tract infections (UTIs), which 50 percent of women contract during their lifetimes. UTIs result in eight million doctor visits and one million ER visits each year in the United States alone.

    The researchers’ new test works like this: A sample of urine (which may contain bacteria) collected from a patient with a UTI is divided into two parts. One part is exposed to an antibiotic for 15 minutes, while the other part incubates without antibiotics. The bacteria from each sample then are broken open (lysed) to release their cellular contents, which are run through a process that combines a detection chemistry technique called digital real-time loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or dLAMP, with a device called a SlipChip (SlipChips are a previous invention of Ismagilov and his Caltech colleagues). This combination replicates specific DNA markers so they can be imaged and individually counted as discrete fluorescent spots appearing on the chip.

    The test operates on the principle that typical bacteria will replicate their DNA (in preparation for cellular division) less well in an antibiotic solution, resulting in the presence of fewer DNA markers. However, if the bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic, their DNA replication will not be hampered and the test will reveal similar numbers of DNA markers in both the treated and untreated solutions.

    When used on 54 samples of urine from patients with UTIs caused by the bacteria Escherischia coli, the test results had a 95 percent match with those obtained using the standard two-day test, which is considered the gold standard for accuracy.

    Ismagilov and Schoepp plan to begin running the test on other types of infectious bacteria to see how well it performs. They also hope to tweak the testing procedures to work with blood samples. Blood infections are more difficult to test because the bacteria are present in much lower numbers than they are in urine, but such a test could help reduce mortality from blood-borne infections, which can turn fatal if not treated quickly.

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    Ancient Fabrics Reveal Differences in Mediterranean Textiles in 1st Millennium BC

    September 27th, 2017

    Textiles represent one of the earliest human craft technologies and applied arts, and their production would have been one of the most important time, resource and labor consuming activities in the ancient past.

    In archaeological contexts, textiles are relatively rare finds, especially in Mediterranean Europe where conditions are unfavourable for organic material preservation. Many archaeological textile fragments do, however, survive in mineralised form, which forms the basis of a new study published today in Antiquity.

    Detailed analysis of several hundred textile fragments has provided, for the first time, a much more detailed definition of the textile cultures in Italy and Greece during the first half of the first millennium BC.

    Twill example from Civita Castellana, Italy, seventh century BC.

    Credit: Margarita Gleba

    According to Dr Margarita Gleba, the study’s author and researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “Luckily for us, during the Iron Age (c. 1000-400 BC) people were buried with a lot of metal goods such as personal ornaments, weapons and vessels. These metals are conducive to the preservation of textiles as the metal effectively kills off the micro-organisms which would otherwise consume the organic materials, while at the same time metal salts create casts of textile fibres, thereby preserving the textile microstructure.”

    “This is how we get such a large number of textiles, even though they only exist now in tiny fragments. Through meticulous analysis using digital and scanning electron microscopy, high performance liquid chromatography and other advanced methods we are able to determine a lot of information including the nature of the raw materials and structural features such as thread diameter, twist direction, type of weaving or binding, and thread count.”

    The technical differences suggest that during the Iron Age, textiles in Italy more closely resembled those found in Central Europe (associated with the Hallstatt culture that was prevalent in modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovenia) while the textile culture of Greece was largely connected with the Near East.

    Weft-faced tabby example from Corfu, Greece, sixth century BC.


    Credit: Artex
    Dr Gleba added, “There is overwhelming evidence for frequent contact between Italy and Greece during the first half of the first millennium BC, but this evidence shows that their textile traditions were technically, aesthetically and conceptually very different. This means that the populations in these two regions are making an active decision to clothe themselves in a certain way and it may have to do with traditions set up already in the Bronze Age.””Textiles have been and still are widely considered one of the most valuable indicators of individual and group identity. Even in societies today, we frequently form opinions of others based on the type of cloth they are wearing: tweed is associated with Irish and British country clothing, cashmere with Central Asia and silk with the Far East for example.”

    “Curiously, by Roman times, the establishment of Greek colonies in southern Italy and more general oriental influences observed in material culture of Italic populations leads towards gradual disappearance of the indigenous textile tradition. Our future research will attempt to understand the cause behind this change in textile culture.”

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    Middle Age Fattens You Up If You Do Not Increase Your Physical Activity

    September 27th, 2017

    The Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä has examined how changes in the daily step count are related to changes in the body mass index (BMI).

    During the four-year follow-up period, especially women increased their daily step count significantly. Approximately 25% of the research participants increased their step count with more than 2,000 steps, whereas approximately 19% decreased their step count during the follow-up.

    The participants were grouped into increasers, decreasers and maintainers according to the total of their steps. The changes in the groups’ BMI were compared to the changes in their step count, and the comparison of the step counts was proportioned to the time the step counter had been kept on.

    Image result for middle aged weight gain
    Credit: Wikipedia

    During the research period, there was growth in both the women’s and the men’s BMI. Almost half of the participants maintained the amount of their daily aerobic steps at the same level and approximately one-fourth increased their daily step count with over 1,000 steps during the research period.

    The test participants whose total step count grew by more than 2,000 steps during the follow-up period, maintained their BMI at the same level throughout the years. In contrast, BMI increased for those whose step count stayed at the same level or decreased.

    – The trend in physical activity looks good. International studies have shown that physical activity generally decreases along with age, but here it increased, Professor Mirja Hirvensalo states. Even though step counts in general look good, it should be noted that the amount of passive people who take less than 5,000 steps per day did not change significantly during the research period.

    The researchers remind everyone about the significance of incidental activity.

    – The steps accumulate on many instances during the day, if you give it a chance. One does not necessarily need to go for a walk every day to increase the daily step count. Instead, attention should be paid to choices in everyday life. Does every trip need to be made by car or could some of them be done by foot, or could the stairs be taken instead of the elevator, Postdoctoral Researcher Kasper Salin reminds us.

    The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study has been monitoring over 3,000 Finns regularly from 1980 onwards. One part of the study considers physical activity, and during the last two measurings it was monitored with step counters. During the four-year follow-up period, the step count data and the required background variables were gathered from a total of 1,033 participants. During the follow-up period, the examinees were from 34 to 49 years of age. The recommended daily step count for adults is 10,000 steps.

    The research was executed as a part of The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study led by professor Olli Raitakari. The study is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Cultural Foundation.

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    Researchers Develop Wearable Solar Thermoelectric Generator

    September 27th, 2017

    A recent study, led by Professor Kyoung Jin Choi in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at UNIST has introduced a new advanced energy harvesting system, capable of generating electricity by simply being attached to clothes, windows, and outer walls of a building.

    This new device is based on a temperature difference between the hot and cold sides. The temperature difference can be increased as high as 20.9 °C, which is much higher than the typical temperature differences of 1.5 to 4.1 °C of wearable thermoelectric generators driven by body heat. The research team expects that their wearable solar thermoelectric generator proposes a promising way to further improve the efficiency by raising the temperature difference.


    Credit:  UNIST
    Energy harvesting is a diverse field encompassing many technologies, which involve a process that captures small amounts of energy that would otherwise be lost as heat, light, sound, vibration, or movement. A thermoelectric generator (TEGs) refers to a device that converts waste heat energy, such as solar energy, geothermal energy, and body heat into additional electrical power.

    There has been a great increase in the study of wearable thermoelectric (TE) generators using the temperature difference between the body heat and surrounding environment. However, one of the main drawbacks of wearable TEG techniques driven by body heat was that such temperature difference is only 1 ~ 4 ℃ and this has hindered further commercialization.

    Photograph of the TE ink printed in various shapes with curves and straight lines.

    Credit: UNIST

    The research team solved this low temperature difference faced by conventional wearable TEGs by introducing a local solar absorber on a PI substrate. The solar absorber is a five-period Ti/MgF2 superlattice, in which the structure and thickness of each layer was designed for optimal absorption of sunlight. This has increased the temperature difference as high as 20.9 °C, which is the highest value of all wearable TEGs reported to date.

    “Through this study, we have secured a temperature difference with the ten-fold increase from the conventional wearable solar thermoelectric generators,” says Yeon Soo Jung in the Graduate School of Materials Science and Engineering at UNIST. “Since the output of a TE generator is proportional to the square root of the temperature difference, one can significantly increase the output with the help of this technology.”

    In this study, Professor Choi and his team designed a noble wearable solar thermoelectric generator (W-STEG) by integrating flexible BiTe-based TE legs and sub-micron thick solar absorbers on a polymide (PI) substrate. The TE legs were prepared by dispenser printing with an ink consisting of mechanically alloyed BiTe-based powders and an Sb2Te3-based sintering additive dispersed in glycerol. They report that a W-STEG comprising 10 pairs of p-n legs has an open-circuit voltage of 55.15 mV and an output power of 4.44 μW when exposed to sunlight.

    “Our new werable STEG is expected to be useful in various applications, such as in self-powered wearable electronic devices,” says Professor Choi. “It will also serve as a catalyst to further improve the future wearable electronic technology market.”

    The findings of the research have been published in the August issue of the prestigious journal Nano Energy (IF: 12.34). This work has been supported by the R&D Convergence Program of National Research Council of Science & Technology (NST) of Republic of Korea and the KIST-UNIST partnership program.

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    The Accelerating Expansion of the Universe May Not Be Real

    September 14th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    The accelerating expansion of the Universe may not be real, but could just be an apparent effect, according to new research published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new study—by a group at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand—finds the fit of Type Ia supernovae to a model universe with no dark energy to be very slightly better than the fit to the standard dark energy model.

    Dark energy is usually assumed to form roughly 70% of the present material content of the Universe. However, this mysterious quantity is essentially a place-holder for unknown physics.

    Current models of the Universe require this dark energy term to explain the observed acceleration in the rate at which the Universe is expanding. Scientists base this conclusion on measurements of the distances to supernova explosions in distant galaxies, which appear to be farther away than they should be if the Universe’s expansion were not accelerating.

    A computer-simulated image depicting one possible scenario of how light sources are distributed in the cosmic web.

    Credit: Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

    However, just how statistically significant this signature of cosmic acceleration is has been hotly debated in the past year. The previous debate pitted the standard Lambda Cold Dark Matter (ΛCDM) cosmology against an empty universe whose expansion neither accelerates nor decelerates. Both of these models though assume a simplified 100 year old cosmic expansion law—Friedmann’s equation.

    Friedmann’s equation assumes an expansion identical to that of a featureless soup, with no complicating structure. However, the present Universe actually contains a complex cosmic web of galaxy clusters in sheets and filaments that surround and thread vast empty voids.

    Prof David Wiltshire, who led the study from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, said, ”The past debate missed an essential point; if dark energy does not exist then a likely alternative is that the average expansion law does not follow Friedmann’s equation.”

    The difference in the magnitudes of supernovae in the ΛCDM and Timescape cosmologies and the magnitudes the supernovae would appear to have in an empty universe (horizontal dashed line). Both models show recent apparent acceleration following earlier deceleration. In the Timescape model this is not a real effect, however, and the curve is flatter than the ΛCDM case.

     Credit: Lawrence Dam, Asta Heinesen and David Wiltshire.

    Rather than comparing the standard ΛCDM cosmological model with an empty universe, the new study compares the fit of supernova data in ΛCDM to a different model, called the ’timescape cosmology’. This has no dark energy. Instead, clocks carried by observers in galaxies differ from the clock that best describes average expansion once the lumpiness of structure in the Universe becomes significant. Whether or not one infers accelerating expansion then depends crucially on the clock used.

    The timescape cosmology was found to give a slightly better fit to the largest supernova data catalogue than the ΛCDM cosmology. Unfortunately the statistical evidence is not yet strong enough to rule definitively in favour of one model or the other, but future missions such as the European Space Agency’s Euclid satellite will have the power to distinguish between the standard cosmology and other models, and help scientists to decide whether dark energy is real or not.

    Deciding that not only requires more data, but also better understanding properties of supernovae which currently limit the precision with which they can be used to measure distances. On that score, the new study shows significant unexpected effects which are missed if only one expansion law is applied. Consequently, even as a toy model the timescape cosmology provides a powerful tool to test our current understanding, and casts new light on our most profound cosmic questions.

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    Quantum Computers Threaten to Destroy Internet Security As We Know It

    September 14th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    The era of fully fledged quantum computers threatens to destroy internet security as we know it. Researchers are in a race against time to prepare new cryptographic techniques before the arrival of quantum computers, as cryptographers Tanja Lange (Eindhoven University of Technology) and Daniel J. Bernstein (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) describe today in the journal Nature. In their publication they analyze the options available for this so-called post-quantum cryptography.

    The expectation is that quantum computers will be built some time after 2025. Such computers make use of quantum-mechanical properties and can therefore solve some particular problems much faster than our current computers. This will be useful for calculating models for weather forecasts or developing new medicine. However, these operations also affect protection of data using RSA and ECC. With today’s technologies these systems will not be broken in a hundred years but a quantum computer will break these within days if not hours.

    TU/e professor of Cryptology Tanja Lange.


    Photo: Bart van Overbeeke
    ‘Sensitive data in the open

    Without protection a lot of sensitive information will be out in the open, even data from years back. “An attacker can record our secure communication today and break it with a quantum computer years later. All of today’s secrets will be lost,” warns Tanja Lange, professor of Cryptology at Eindhoven University of Technology. This concerns private data, bank and health records, but also state secrets. Lange saw the importance of alternative systems already back in 2006 and is busy with creating awareness and developing new systems. “Fairly recently we’re seeing an uptake of post-quantum cryptography in the security agencies, e.g., the NSA, and companies start demanding solutions.”

    Research consortium

    Lange leads the research consortium PQCRYPTO consisting of eleven universities and companies. PQCRYPTO started in 2015 with 3.9 million euro funding from the European Commission to develop new cryptographic techniques. “This might seem like a lot of money, but is a factor of 100 less than what goes into building quantum computers.” says Lange. She cautions that it is important to strengthen research in cryptography. “Bringing cryptographic techniques to the end user takes often another 15 to 20 years, after development and standardization.”

    Shor’s algorithm

    In their Nature publication Lange and Bernstein explain that a certain quantum algorithm, namely Shor’s algorithm, breaks all cryptographic techniques that are currently used to establish secure connections on the Internet. Candidates for post-quantum cryptography can roughly be categorized into two types: they are either very well understood and confidence-inspiring but require a lot of bandwidth or they are more convenient to use but provide more questionable security.

    Nature

    The publication appears in an issue of Nature with special attention to topics related to quantum computers: from different candidates of elementary building blocks of quantum computers till, e.g., the development of new algorithms. The journal invited Lange to write the article on post-quantum cryptography.

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    Marijuana Associated with Three-Fold Risk of Death from Hypertension

    August 16th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    Marijuana use is associated with a three-fold risk of death from hypertension, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

    “Steps are being taken towards legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana in the United States, and rates of recreational marijuana use may increase substantially as a result,” said lead author Barbara A Yankey, a PhD student in the School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, US. “However, there is little research on the impact of marijuana use on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality.”

    In the absence of longitudinal data on marijuana use, the researchers designed a retrospective follow-up study of NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) participants aged 20 years and above. In 2005–2006, participants were asked if they had ever used marijuana. Those who answered “yes” were considered marijuana users. Participants reported the age when they first tried marijuana and this was subtracted from their current age to calculate the duration of use.

    Information on marijuana use was merged with mortality data in 2011 from the National Centre for Health Statistics. The researchers estimated the associations of marijuana use, and duration of use, with death from hypertension, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease, controlling for cigarette use and demographic variables including sex, age, and ethnicity. Death from hypertension included multiple causes such as primary hypertension and hypertensive renal disease.

    Among a total of 1 213 participants, 34% used neither marijuana nor cigarettes, 21% used only marijuana, 20% used marijuana and smoked cigarettes, 16% used marijuana and were past-smokers, 5% were past-smokers and 4% only smoked cigarettes. The average duration of marijuana use was 11.5 years.Marijuana users had a higher risk of dying from hypertension. Compared to non-users, marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of death from hypertension and a 1.04 greater risk for each year of use. There was no association between marijuana use and death from heart disease or cerebrovascular disease.

    Ms Yankey said: “We found that marijuana users had a greater than three-fold risk of death from hypertension and the risk increased with each additional year of use.”

    Ms Yankey pointed out that there were limitations to the way marijuana use was estimated. For example, it cannot be certain that participants used marijuana continuously since they first tried it.

    She said: “Our results suggest a possible risk of hypertension mortality from marijuana use. This is not surprising since marijuana is known to have a number of effects on the cardiovascular system. Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Emergency rooms have reported cases of angina and heart attacks after marijuana use.”

    The authors stated that the cardiovascular risk associated with marijuana use may be greater than the cardiovascular risk already established for cigarette smoking.

    “We found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking,” said Ms Yankey. “This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking. However, the number of smokers in our study was small and this needs to be examined in a larger study.”

    “Needless to say, the detrimental effects of marijuana on brain function far exceed that of cigarette smoking,” she added.

    Ms Yankey said it was crucial to understand the effects of marijuana on health so that policy makers and individuals could make informed decisions.

    She said: “Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health. With the impending increase in recreational marijuana use it is important to establish whether any health benefits outweigh the potential health, social and economic risks. If marijuana use is implicated in cardiovascular diseases and deaths, then it rests on the health community and policy makers to protect the public.”

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    Nanotech Cooling Curtain Offers Alternative to Air Conditioners

    August 16th, 2017

     The Daily Journalist.

    Climate change is leading to ever higher temperatures and aridity in many areas, making efficient room cooling increasingly important. An ETH doctoral student at the Functional Materials Laboratory has developed an alternative to electrically powered air conditioning: a cooling curtain made of a porous triple-layer membrane.

    It all began with a vague idea: “We thought it would be interesting to combine opposing functions in one material,” says Mario Stucki, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory. He combined two layers of hydrophobic (water-repellent) polyurethane with a middle layer of hydrophilic (water-attracting) polymer. The resulting membrane feels dry, although it is saturated with water, and since the outer layers are covered with holes of about one micrometer in diameter, water can escape from the middle layer into the environment.
    An alternative for heat-afflicted areas

    Electricity savings at summer heat: Mario Stucki developed a new type of membrane that cools rooms.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    When Stucki realized how well the water transport works across the various layers, he came up with the idea of the cooling curtain. “Water evaporation requires a lot of energy,” he says. “Heat is extracted from the air, it cools and at the same time humidifies the surrounding area.” Conventional humidifiers work in the same way – but they need a lot of power, whereas Stucki’s system is passive. “The sunlight that falls through a window on to the curtain provides enough energy for this type of air conditioning.”

    Such curtains could be a real blessing in hot and arid regions. In 2015, people in the Arabian Peninsula endured a heatwave with temperatures of more than 50°C. Climate scientists forecast even higher temperatures and severe aridity for desert regions, which could lead to certain climate zones becoming uninhabitable. Cooling buildings and rooms is thus becoming increasingly essential, but it devours vast amounts of electricity. In the US, for example, about 15 percent of energy consumption can be attributed to air-conditioning equipment, and a huge amount of this energy comes from fossil fuels. The passive cooling curtain would be an environmentally and climate-friendly alternative.

    Further development of an earlier innovation

    Stucki attracted attention back in 2013 with his Master’s thesis at ETH Zurich, when he developed a new material for outdoor use in no time. In contrast to conventional functional textiles, it does not contain fluorine compounds, which are harmful to the environment and human health.

    His current research makes use of that invention: he functionalized his textile using placeholders, for which he mixed tiny lime stone particles into the liquid polymer, which is later processed into the textile. The lime stone particles are then removed from the solid material with hydrochloric or acetic acid, so that tiny holes are formed at the sites of the nano particles. These are necessary for the material to function and to “breathe”. The outer walls of the cooling curtain are made of this porous material in order that the middle hydrophilic layer can deliver water to the surrounding area.

    Stucki used a method developed in 2012 by ETH professor Wendelin Stark and his group to combine the different layers into one material. These layers are not glued together, as is customary in industrial processes; instead, they are placed on top of each other in a suitable solvent, whereby the outer layers dissolve slightly and connect to the middle layer. This is the only way that the researchers can ensure that the outer material of the membrane remains porous.

    Amazingly thin: the membrane is hardly thicker than a sheet of paper.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    A successful proof of concept

    Stucki was able to prove the cooling curtain’s basic functionality by experiment. He put the triple-layer membrane in a water bath and measured the water loss into the surrounding area at 30°C and 50 percent humidity (between 1.2kg and 1.7kg water per day and square meter). The researchers calculated the results based on a cubic house with a 10m wall length. At an outside temperature of 40°C and an inside temperature of 30°C, the curtain surface of 80m2 was sufficient to dissipate more heat than supplied by the sunlight, meaning the house was passively cooled.

    “We were able to show that our system fundamentally works,” says Stucki, “but to commercialize it, we still have a lot of questions to resolve.” For example, they need to determine how the material behaves microbiologically, since high temperatures and humidity form the ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Stucki says, however, that the synthetic material used for the outer layer could be replaced relatively easily with antiseptic materials; this is one of the advantages of functionalization using lime stone nano particles.

    A further challenge is to ensure that the curtain is able to evaporate water over the entire surface, which will require improvements to the water transport in the membrane. It is also still unclear how long the membrane can function stably.

    After completing his doctorate in the summer, Stuck will concentrate on commercializing fluorine-free outdoor textiles. He is currently looking for financing partners. However, he has not ruled out the possibility that the new membrane also has potential in the outdoor sector, as it is ideally suited to the regulation and removal of sweat – one of the most important properties of functional textiles.

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    Where Did Minoans and Mycenaeans Originate?

    August 16th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    For the first time, scientists have obtained and analyzed genome sequences from the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, who lived three to five thousand years ago and were Europe’s first civilized people.

    The new analysis suggests that the Minoans and Mycenaeans share a great deal of their genetic heritage, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator David Reich and colleagues report August 2 in the journal Nature. The research adds richness to our understanding of these cultures, which are mostly known from archeology and ancient literature, Reich says.

    “Who these Bronze Age peoples were — the people who lived in a world dimly remembered in the poetry of Homer — has been a great mystery,” explains Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School. “We set out to investigate the origins of these ancient civilizations.”

    The Minoans were a literate Bronze Age civilization that flourished thousands of years ago (one woman shown dancing, in a fresco fragment that dates from 1600-1450 BCE).

    Credit: Photo by Wolfgang Sauber is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Their origins have been intensely debated. Theories include migrations from various locations, including Europe and Asia Minor, and at various times before and during the Bronze Age. Both cultures were literate and had writing, but the Minoan language hasn’t been deciphered. The Mycenaean language, an early form of Greek, is part of the Indo-European language family, whose languages have been spoken across Europe and central and southern Asia since the beginning of recorded history. The identity of the Minoan language is unknown. But despite extensive archeological and linguistic research, the origins of both cultures and their relationship to each other and to other Bronze Age peoples have remained a puzzle.Reich and his colleagues’ work suggests that about three-quarters of the ancestry of both peoples derives from the first farmers of the Aegean Sea, including western Anatolia (a region that lies within modern day Turkey), Greece, and the Greek islands. But, quite different from the rest of contemporary Europe and from the first farmers of Greece, the Bronze Age Greek civilizations also derived a small part of their ancestry from populations from the Caucasus and Iran.

    The Minoans, based on the island of Crete from roughly 3100 to 1050 BCE, were a maritime people with sophisticated palaces, one of which was so large and complex that it may have been the historical basis of the myth of the Labyrinth, home of the beast called the Minotaur. The Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, 1700 to 1100 BCE, who eventually conquered the Minoans, were skilled engineers and fierce warriors. Their culture is named for Mycenae, a site with a fortified palace that was the seat of the celebrated King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

    Reich and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany and the University of Washington teamed up with Greek and Turkish archeologists and anthropologists to obtain samples from 19 Bronze Age individuals excavated from tombs and other sites throughout the Aegean. The ancient DNA, carefully extracted from bones and teeth, included 10 Minoans, four Mycenaeans, three individuals from southwest Anatolia (Turkey), an individual from Crete that dates from after the arrival of the Mycenaeans on the island, and one Neolithic sample (5,400 BCE) from the mainland that predated the emergence of the Greek civilizations. The researchers then compared and contrasted the new DNA samples with previously reported data from 332 other ancient individuals, 2,614 present-day humans, and two present-day Cretans.

    The new study also shows that the Mycenaeans have additional ancestry that is distinct from the Minoans, says Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral researcher in Reich’s lab and lead author of the study. This genetic contribution may be from people of the steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas.

    Scholars have debated whether the Indo-European language, which gave rise to Italic, Germanic, Slavic and Hindi languages, among others, spread with migrations from Anatolia or from the steppe. Previous work by Reich and colleagues supports the “steppe hypothesis.” Their latest data suggest that the speakers of this early Greek language may have formed the southern portion of the same migrations that contributed to the dispersal of other Indo-European languages, Reich says.

    “This increases the weight of evidence that Greek was derived from the same expansion of peoples,” he says.

    While the research sheds light on the origins of these ancient Greek civilizations, questions remain, notes Reich. For example, it’s still unknown when the common “eastern” ancestors of both Minoans and Mycenaeans arrived in the Aegean. And details regarding the “northern” ancestry found only in the Mycenaeans remain to be worked out, like whether that contribution came in a single rapid migration, or sporadic waves over a long period.

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    Nanotech Cooling Curtain Offers Alternative to Air Conditioners

    July 31st, 2017

    Climate change is leading to ever higher temperatures and aridity in many areas, making efficient room cooling increasingly important. An ETH doctoral student at the Functional Materials Laboratory has developed an alternative to electrically powered air conditioning: a cooling curtain made of a porous triple-layer membrane.

    It all began with a vague idea: “We thought it would be interesting to combine opposing functions in one material,” says Mario Stucki, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory. He combined two layers of hydrophobic (water-repellent) polyurethane with a middle layer of hydrophilic (water-attracting) polymer. The resulting membrane feels dry, although it is saturated with water, and since the outer layers are covered with holes of about one micrometer in diameter, water can escape from the middle layer into the environment.
    An alternative for heat-afflicted areas

    Electricity savings at summer heat: Mario Stucki developed a new type of membrane that cools rooms.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    When Stucki realized how well the water transport works across the various layers, he came up with the idea of the cooling curtain. “Water evaporation requires a lot of energy,” he says. “Heat is extracted from the air, it cools and at the same time humidifies the surrounding area.” Conventional humidifiers work in the same way – but they need a lot of power, whereas Stucki’s system is passive. “The sunlight that falls through a window on to the curtain provides enough energy for this type of air conditioning.”

    Such curtains could be a real blessing in hot and arid regions. In 2015, people in the Arabian Peninsula endured a heatwave with temperatures of more than 50°C. Climate scientists forecast even higher temperatures and severe aridity for desert regions, which could lead to certain climate zones becoming uninhabitable. Cooling buildings and rooms is thus becoming increasingly essential, but it devours vast amounts of electricity. In the US, for example, about 15 percent of energy consumption can be attributed to air-conditioning equipment, and a huge amount of this energy comes from fossil fuels. The passive cooling curtain would be an environmentally and climate-friendly alternative.

    Further development of an earlier innovation

    Stucki attracted attention back in 2013 with his Master’s thesis at ETH Zurich, when he developed a new material for outdoor use in no time. In contrast to conventional functional textiles, it does not contain fluorine compounds, which are harmful to the environment and human health.

    His current research makes use of that invention: he functionalized his textile using placeholders, for which he mixed tiny lime stone particles into the liquid polymer, which is later processed into the textile. The lime stone particles are then removed from the solid material with hydrochloric or acetic acid, so that tiny holes are formed at the sites of the nano particles. These are necessary for the material to function and to “breathe”. The outer walls of the cooling curtain are made of this porous material in order that the middle hydrophilic layer can deliver water to the surrounding area.

    Stucki used a method developed in 2012 by ETH professor Wendelin Stark and his group to combine the different layers into one material. These layers are not glued together, as is customary in industrial processes; instead, they are placed on top of each other in a suitable solvent, whereby the outer layers dissolve slightly and connect to the middle layer. This is the only way that the researchers can ensure that the outer material of the membrane remains porous.

    Amazingly thin: the membrane is hardly thicker than a sheet of paper.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    A successful proof of concept

    Stucki was able to prove the cooling curtain’s basic functionality by experiment. He put the triple-layer membrane in a water bath and measured the water loss into the surrounding area at 30°C and 50 percent humidity (between 1.2kg and 1.7kg water per day and square meter). The researchers calculated the results based on a cubic house with a 10m wall length. At an outside temperature of 40°C and an inside temperature of 30°C, the curtain surface of 80m2 was sufficient to dissipate more heat than supplied by the sunlight, meaning the house was passively cooled.

    “We were able to show that our system fundamentally works,” says Stucki, “but to commercialize it, we still have a lot of questions to resolve.” For example, they need to determine how the material behaves microbiologically, since high temperatures and humidity form the ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Stucki says, however, that the synthetic material used for the outer layer could be replaced relatively easily with antiseptic materials; this is one of the advantages of functionalization using lime stone nano particles.

    A further challenge is to ensure that the curtain is able to evaporate water over the entire surface, which will require improvements to the water transport in the membrane. It is also still unclear how long the membrane can function stably.

    After completing his doctorate in the summer, Stuck will concentrate on commercializing fluorine-free outdoor textiles. He is currently looking for financing partners. However, he has not ruled out the possibility that the new membrane also has potential in the outdoor sector, as it is ideally suited to the regulation and removal of sweat – one of the most important properties of functional textiles.

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    Closing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Increases Crime, Says New Study

    July 31st, 2017

    A new study published in the July issue of the Journal of Urban Economics finds that contrary to popular belief, medical marijuana dispensaries (MMDs) reduce crime in their immediate areas.

    In the study, titled, “Going to pot? The impact of dispensary closures on crime,” researchers Tom Y. Chang from the USC Marshall School of Business, and Mireille Jacobson from The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, examined the short-term mass closing of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles that took place in 2010.

    “Contrary to popular wisdom, we found an immediate increase in crime around dispensaries ordered to close relative to those allowed to remain open,” said Jacobson.

    Mireille Jacobson is an associate professor of Economics and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Health Care Management and Policy at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business.

    Credit: UC Irvine
    The two researchers found similar results when they examined restaurant closures.

    “The connection between restaurants and MMDs is that they both contribute to the ‘walkability score’ of a given area. Areas with higher scores have more ‘eyes upon the street’ a factor that is proven to deter some types of crime,” said Jacobson.

    The types of crime most impacted by MMD and restaurant closures were property crime and theft from vehicles. The researchers attributed this result to the fact that these types of crimes are most plausibly deterred by bystanders.

    “Our results demonstrate that the dispensaries were not the crime magnets that they were often described as, but instead reduced crime in their immediate vicinity,” said Jacobson.


    Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Laurie Avocado
    When Chang and Jacobson examined the impact of temporary restaurant closures in Los Angeles County, they found an increase in crime similar to what they found with MMDs. They also found that once a restaurant reopened, crime immediately disappeared.

    Jacobson added, “We can conclude from our research that retail businesses are effective in lowering crime, even when the retail business is a medical marijuana dispensary.”

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    Unique Wheat Discovery in Bronze Age Lunch Box

    July 31st, 2017

    Container found in the Swiss Alps leads researchers to new analysis method

    In a wooden container found in the Bernese Alps in 2012, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, together with an international research team, has discovered the remains of ancient wheat dating back to the Bronze Age. The find is significant for two reasons: Firstly, there have been very few clues to indicate how cereals were used and spread during this period. Secondly, the scientists discovered a new way for molecular identification of cereal grains in archaeological artefacts. This opens up new possibilities for research.

    At the bottom of a Bronze Age wooden vessel, researchers discovered residues of cereal grains (central dark spot). Additionally, parts of a bent rim were found, indicating that the container must have been about 10 centimetres high. More fragments, perhaps parts of the top, still need to be examined.


    © Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, Badri Redha

    Melting glaciers are increasingly revealing finds from the past. They are not always as spectacular as “Ötzi”, the glacier mummy who lived during the late-Neolithic Age, and was discovered by hikers in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. However, even less sensational discoveries of perishable materials such as fabrics, leather, wood and other plant-based remains that survive for hundreds or even thousands of years in ice, open up new perspectives on the past for archaeologists.

    A Bronze Age box

    In 2012, the ice near the Lötschenpass, at 2,690 metres in the Bernese Alps, revealed an extraordinary wooden vessel. The round container measures approx. 20 cm in diameter. The base consists of Swiss pine, the bent rim is made of willow; both sections were sewn together with splint twigs of European larch. Radiocarbon dating showed that the vessel is around 4,000 years old and thus dates back to the early Bronze Age.

    Traces found on the upper surface of the container were of particular interest to the research team, which included Jessica Hendy from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History: a microscopic examination revealed a residue of barley, spelt and emmer, including pericarp and glumes. Cereal grains are frequently found at Bronze Age cave sites. However, vessels containing grains or their residues were have never been reported before. These are of particular interest to researchers, as they provide clues as to how the cereal was used at that time.
    Traders, herders or hunters?

    The scientists can only guess the story behind the box found at the Lötschenpass. They know that some alpine valleys in the area were settled during the Bronze Age. A large number of Early Bronze age graves in neighbouring Valais show that the valley was not only settled but people imported goods from north and south of the Alps. The vessel could be linked with either trading connections or seasonal movements from lowland areas to upland pastures as part of the pastoral economy. Hunting could also explain the requirement to access such rocky and glaciated areas of the high Alps.

    Francesco Carrer from Newcastle University said: “This evidence sheds new light on life in prehistoric alpine communities, and on their relationship with the extreme high altitudes. People travelling across the alpine passes were carrying food for their journey, like current hikers do. This new research contributed to understanding which food they considered the most suitable for their trips across the Alps.”

    Substances similar to modern-day whole grain products

    The scientists actually expected to find milk residues in the vessel, for example a porridge type meal. They therefore performed a molecular analysis on the discovery. They did not find any evidence of milk but instead discovered alkylresorcinols, which are found in modern-day whole grain products.

    André Colonese of the University of York, lead author of the study, states, “These phenolic lipids have never been reported before in an archaeological artefact, but are abundant in the bran of wheat and rye cereals. One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants. There are only a few and they do not preserve very well in ancient artefacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study. It really is very exciting.”

    The new method opens up possibilities for discovering how Bronze Age people actually used cereals. As a next step, the scientists plan to look for these biomarkers in ancient ceramic artefacts.

    “Detecting a molecular marker for cereals also has widespread implications for studying early farming. It enables us to piece together when and where this important food crop spread through Europe,” adds Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

    The study conducted on the Bronze Age box involved collaboration between the University of York, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, the University of Basel, the University of Copenhagen, Newcastle University and the University of Oxford.

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    Ancient Skulls Shed Light On Migration Into The Roman Empire

    July 10th, 2017

    Skeletal evidence shows that, hundreds of years after the Roman Republic conquered most of the Mediterranean world, coastal communities in what is now south and central Italy still bore distinct physical differences to one another – though the same could not be said of the area around Rome itself.

    Using state-of-the-art forensic techniques, anthropologists from North Carolina State University and California State University, Sacramento examined skulls from three imperial Roman cemeteries: 27 skulls from Isola Sacra, on the coast of central Italy; 26 from Velia, on the coast of southern Italy; and 20 from Castel Malnome, on the outskirts of the city of Rome. The remains at the cemeteries in both Isola Sacra and Velia belonged to middle-class merchants and tradesmen, while those from Castel Malnome belonged to manual laborers. All of the remains date from between the first and third centuries A.D.”

    This is a map showing the locations of the three imperial Roman cemeteries in relation to modern day Rome and Naples.

    Credit: Samantha Hens, California State University, Sacramento

    The researchers took measurements of 25 specific points on each skull using a “digitizer,” which is basically an electronic stylus that records the coordinates of each point. This data allowed them to perform shape analysis on the skulls, relying on “geometric morphometrics” — a field of study that characterizes and assesses biological forms.

    “We found that there were significant cranial differences between the coastal communities, even though they had comparable populations in terms of class and employment,” says Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.”We think this is likely due to the fact that the area around Velia had a large Greek population, rather than an indigenous one,” says Samantha Hens, a professor of biological anthropology at Sacramento State and lead author of the paper.

    A student uses a digitizer to record geometric morphometric sites on a skull.

    Credit: NC State University

    In addition, the skulls from Castel Malnome had more in common with both coastal sites than the coastal sites had with each other.

    “This likely highlights the heterogeneity of the population near Rome, and the influx of freed slaves and low-paid workers needed for manual labor in that area,” Hens says.

    “Researchers have used many techniques — from linguistics to dental remains – to shed light on how various peoples moved through the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire,” Ross says. “But this is the first study we know of in which anyone has used geometric morphometrics to evaluate imperial Roman remains.

    “That’s important because geometric morphometrics offers several advantages,” Ross says. “It includes all geometric information in three-dimensional space rather than statistical space, it provides more biological information, and it allows for pictorial visualization rather than just lists of measurements.”

    “The patterns of similarities and differences that we see help us to reconstruct past population relationships,” Hens says. “Additionally, these methods allow us to identify where the shape change is occurring on the skull, for example, in the face, or braincase, which gives us a view into what these people actually looked like.”

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    Boomers Having More Extramarital Sex Than Gen-X Or Millennials

    July 10th, 2017

    America’s generation gap is surfacing in a surprising statistic: rates of extramarital sex.

    Older Americans are cheating on their spouses more than their younger counterparts, with 20 percent of married Americans over age 55 reporting they’ve engaged in extramarital sex. Just 14 percent of those under age 55 say they’ve cheated, according to Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies.

    Credit: Pixabay

    The Institute for Family Studies on July 5, 2017, published Wolfinger’s research brief “America’s New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex,” which is based on analysis of data from the General Social Survey.

    Wolfinger found that while the overall number of Americans who report having sex outside of marriage has held relatively steady at approximately 16 percent over the past 30 years, that trend has obscured a startling age-related difference

    Nicholas H. Wolfinger is a professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies. .

    Credit:  University of Utah

    Rates of extramarital sex by age have diverged since 2000, with increased cheating reported by people in their 50s and 60s, Wolfinger said. Most of these respondents were married between 20 years and 30 years.

    But there may be more going on than lengthy marriages and midlife crises, he added. These older Americans also came of age in the wake of the sexual revolution and, over the course of their lifetimes, have had more sex partners compared to younger Americans.

    Also, while a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of extramarital sex, attitudes have softened, particularly among older survey respondents.

    Wolfinger observes that the General Social Survey asks respondents about extramarital sex, not explicitly adultery. This raises the possibility that the data reflect rising participation in polyamory or “ethical nonmonogamy,” extramarital relationships conducted with the active permission of one’s spouse.

    “No matter how many polyamorists there are today, old-fashioned adultery seems to have risen among older Americans,” Wolfinger said. And the consequences are plain.

    “Even as overall divorce rates have fallen in recent decades, there has been a startling surge in ‘grey divorce’ among the middle-aged,” he said. “Part of that story seems to be a corresponding increase in midlife adultery, which seems to be both the cause and the consequence of a failing marriage. The declining rates of extramarital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage. But the seeds sown by the sexual revolution continue to bear unanticipated fruit among older Americans.”

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    Veterans Receive DARPA’s Revolutionary Prosthetic Luke Arm

    July 10th, 2017

    A coordinated effort between DARPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs delivered a revolutionary prosthetic arm system to veterans living with amputation.

    Credit: DARPAAt a ceremony in New York on June 30th, two veterans living with arm amputations became the first recipients of a new generation of prosthetic limb that promises them unprecedented, near-natural arm and hand motion. The modular, battery-powered arms, designed and developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), represent the most significant advance in upper extremity prosthetics in more than a century.

    The prosthetic “LUKE” arm system—which stands for “Life Under Kinetic Evolution” but is also a passing reference to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars fame, who was endowed with a futuristic bionic arm—enables dexterous arm and hand movement through a simple, intuitive control system. The system allows users to control multiple joints simultaneously and a variety of grips and grip forces by means of wireless signals generated by sensors worn on the feet or via other easy-to-use controllers.

    Years of testing and optimization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) led to clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and creation of a commercial-scale manufacturer, Mobius Bionics of Manchester, N.H. More than 100 people living with amputation were involved in initial studies, which led to a product whose natural size, weight, and shape provides unparalleled comfort and ease of use.

    At today’s ceremony, held at the VA’s New York Harbor Health Care System Manhattan campus, VA Secretary David Shulkin presented LUKE arms to Fred Downs and Artie McAuley. Downs is a prosthetics consultant for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and retired Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer for the Veterans Health Administration who lost his left arm above the elbow during the Vietnam War. McAuley is an Army veteran whose arm was amputated as the result of an accident while stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. He went without a prosthesis for years because earlier-generation devices did not work well for individuals whose loss extended all the way up to the shoulder.

    “DARPA’s mission within the Defense Department is to make seminal investments in advanced technologies that can have outsized impacts on national security and help those who have stepped up to serve our nation,” said Justin Sanchez, Director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, who manages the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program that developed the LUKE system.

    “It has been an honor to work side by side with the VA to bring this life-changing technology from concept to capability.” Compared to other commercially available prosthetic arms, the LUKE system has a fully functional, articulated shoulder joint, which offers unprecedented mobility and quality of life even for individuals with total arm loss.

    DARPA’s work on prosthetic arms continues today through a range of programs, including one that is providing users a natural sense of touch by means of signals transmitted from mechanical hands directly to the brain, and another that is using signals from the brain’s motor cortex to directly control a robotic limb.

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    Meet The Most Nimble Fingered Robot Ever Built, Dexner 2

    June 14th, 2017

    Grabbing the awkwardly shaped items that people pick up in their day-to-day lives is a slippery task for robots. Irregularly shaped items such as shoes, spray bottles, open boxes, even rubber duckies are easy for people to grab and pick up, but robots struggle with knowing where to apply a grip.

    dexnet 2.0 robot grabbing a rubber duck

    Credit:
    In a significant step toward overcoming this problem, roboticists at UC Berkeley have a built a robot that can pick up and move unfamiliar, real-world objects with a 99 percent success rate.
    Watch Dexner 2, in Action

    Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg, postdoctoral researcher Jeff Mahler and the Laboratory for Automation Science and Engineering (AUTOLAB) created the robot, called DexNet 2.0. DexNet 2.0’s high grasping success rate means that this technology could soon be applied in industry, with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and the supply chain.

    DexNet 2.0 gained its highly accurate dexterity through a process called deep learning. The researchers built a vast database of three-dimensional shapes — 6.7 million data points in total — that a neural network uses to learn grasps that will pick up and move objects with irregular shapes. The neural network was then connected to a 3D sensor and a robotic arm. When an object is placed in front of DexNet 2.0, it quickly studies the shape and selects a grasp that will successfully pick up and move the object 99 percent of the time. DexNet 2.0 is also three times faster than its previous version.

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    Cultural Shifts Of An Ancient Society Examined Through The Subtleties Of Its Everyday People

    June 14th, 2017

    Who are you? A parent? An artist? A veteran? There are lots of different aspects of identity, and it takes more than just one to make you you. Ancient people were just as complex, but until recently, archaeologists didn’t have a clear way to capture all the nuances of human identities from the past outside of broader labels like gender and social status.

    Individual people are an important part of the bigger human puzzle, because their unique actions accumulate to power cultural changes. Understanding them in detail gives researchers better insight into shifts that take place over generations, says Kelly Knudson.

    Snuffing paraphernalia found in the tomb of a spiritual leader.

    Credit: Constantino Torres

    Knudson is a professor with Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of its Center for Bioarchaeological Research.

    Together with Christina Torres-Rouff of the University of California Merced, Knudson has created a new model that brings together multiple lines of investigation to understand ancient lives on a microscale through the clues left behind in the grave.

    A forum paper outlining the model and its application, “Integrating Identities: An Innovative Bioarchaeological and Biogeochemical Approach to Analyzing the Multiplicity of Identities in the Mortuary Record,” will be published in the June edition of Current Anthropology.

    “One of the things I’m excited about is our ability to simultaneously study large populations over many generations and the very intimate details of individual lives in the past,” Knudson says.

    If tombs could talk

    Termed a “contextualized multiscalar bioarchaeological approach,” this model explores individual identity using a mix of biological and cultural data from grave sites. The authors used it to investigate northern Chilean society during an environmental and political shift from the Middle Horizon (AD 500 – 1100) to the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1100 – 1400). Details examined included:

    Cranial characteristics, which helped determine genetic relatedness at the population level.

    Modified head shapes, which demonstrated community identities, as skull shape was culturally dictated in the Andes.

    Isotopic analyses, which revealed individuals’ geographic origins and whether they moved during their lifetimes.

    Grave goods and construction, which shed light on how people were perceived and remembered by others.

    The relationships these features had to an individual’s sex, which expanded on understandings of social identity.

    In a comparison of two Middle Horizon-era cemeteries, the researchers found that even though the burial populations were related, they identified differently; one was much more cosmopolitan than the other, with the grave goods from distant regions like Bolivia and Argentina.

    Similarly, even individual graves from the same cemetery advertised unique identities. A detailed look at three neighboring tombs revealed three very different, though nearly contemporary, lives. Using their innovative blend of methods, Knudson and Torres-Rouff were able to piece together the identities of a wealthy young tradesman, a middle-aged spiritual leader and a young woman who spun colorful textiles.

    This is a photo of San Pedro de Atacama, the region where the archaeological sites are located.

    Credit: Christina Torres-Rouff

    These graves stood in sharp contrast to graves from the Late Intermediate Period. Analysis of a burial from this time revealed a herdsman who, although honored by his community with a rare circular stone arrangement over his tomb, was buried with only a few, locally made items.

    Knudson and Torres-Rouff argue that as Andean society transitioned from the Middle Horizon to the Late Intermediate Period, they moved the emphasis from individual identity to community identity and from foreign connections to local isolation, likely as a response to the time’s characteristic uncertainty due to widespread drought.

    “I was surprised to find that people hunkered down and stayed put rather than moving to better regions where it wasn’t so dry,” Knudson says. “I expected to see environmental refugees, but we didn’t see that at all.”

    Knowing how people were impacted by a changing climate 1,000 years ago informs not only our understanding of ancient people, but of ourselves as well. Society’s response to today’s challenges happens one person at a time; with this new model, we have the tools to see how that process works and how everyday lives shape history.

    “I think this long-term perspective is one of bioarchaeologists’ very valuable contributions to the past and present,” Knudson adds.

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    Professor Refutes Groupthink, Proving That Wisdom of Crowds Can Prevail

    June 14th, 2017

    Anyone following forecasting polls leading up to the 2016 election likely believed Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States. Although this opinion was the consensus among most political-opinion leaders and media, something clearly went wrong with these prediction tools.

    Though it may never be known for certain the reasons for the discrepancy between public perception and the electoral reality, new findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Centola may offer a clue: the wisdom of a crowd is in the network.

    Groups in which everyone has equal influence made better predictions than groups in which a single individual was deemed an opinion leader.

    Centola network
    Credit: University of Pennsylvania
    The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. Thus, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

    That is true — as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

    But Centola, an associate professor in Penn’s Annenberg School for Communicationand School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite. When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter. Centola, along with Ph.D. candidate Joshua Becker and recent Ph.D. graduate Devon Brackbill, published the findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” said Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

    Damon Centola

    Credit: University of Pennsylvania

    “In egalitarian networks,” he said, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgements. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

    An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

    “On average,” he said, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

    The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who were placed into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

    In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

    Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

    “Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola said, “only for being accurate.”

    Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

    “In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola said, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

    In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

    “Thus,” Centola said, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

    “The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

    These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making and organizational design.

    For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

    He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

    Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola said it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

    “It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he said. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

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