Future Think (June 6, 2008)
(Top Posts - Science - 060608)

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Articles linked to in this post:

 o Why Men Have Breasts

 o IBM aims to cool chips with water

 o New Way To Think About Earth's First Cells

 o Plan for quake 'warning system'

 o Discovery Channel Bets on Planet Green

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June 6, 2008

Why Men Have Breasts
  http://www.livescience.com/history/080606-hn-manzeer.html
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Excerpts:

...

They have them because men start out
as women.

As much as men hate to hear this, the
human fetal blueprint is initially female.
We all begin as a ball of cells that quickly
differentiates into various body parts.

At five weeks of gestation, the fetus sports
a neural tube that eventually becomes the
spine, but other than that, we all look like
a wad of chewing gum. Then at six weeks'
gestation, the outlines of eyes, arms, legs
and a face (and let's not mention the tail
that also shows up for a while) appear.

It's not until about week six that the fetus
also begins to takes on the biological
accoutrements of gender.

If the fetus has a Y chromosome, testoster-
one will turn the buds for sexual organs
into testes. Once in operation, those testes
will pump out even more testosterone and,
voila, a penis appears.

Female fetuses aren't swayed by testosterone
and so they stick with the fallback blueprint
that calls for ovaries and a vagina.

But the developmental secret here is that
breasts and nipples are already in place be-
fore testosterone shows its hand and starts
shaping cells into male organs.

In other words, men have breasts and nipples
because they already had them before they
became male.

But then why didn't evolution opt to remove
those seemingly useless female parts?

Because evolution doesn't simply wipe out
unnecessary physical bits and pieces. Those
parts have to be a burden, or be in the way
of survival and reproduction for evolution
to take notice. Since there's no real caloric
cost to men having boobs, evolution has no
impetus to erase them.

In fact, men's breasts are a good lesson in
the higgledy-piggledy way that evolution
works. Natural selection chooses for and
against body parts, but there is no master
plan that aims for the perfect creature.

Men have boobs, women get facial hair, and
we all stand in front of the mirror asking,
"Why?"

Each person is, in fact, a Rube Goldberg sort
of organism pieced together by biology and
made up of good parts, bad parts and parts
that are inconsequential.

...

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June 6, 2008

IBM aims to cool chips with water

A network of tiny pipes of water
could be used to cool next-generation
PC chips, researchers at IBM have said.
  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7439406.stm
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Excerpts:

Graphic:  http://tinyurl.com/4vo3zk

Scientists at the firm have shown off a
prototype device layered with thousands
of "hair-width" cooling arteries.

They believe it could be a solution to the
increasing amount of heat pumped out by
chips as they become smaller and more
densely packed with components.

The technology was demonstrated in IBM's
3D chips, where circuits are stacked one
on top of the other.

Laying chips vertically, instead of side by
side, reduces the distance data has to travel,
enhancing performance and saving critical
space.

...

Cool running

Heat is seen as one of the major hurdles of
producing ever smaller and quicker chips.

It is the by-product of the movement of
electrons through the tiny wires connecting
the millions of components on a modern
processor.

As more and more components are packed
on to chips - Intel recently launched a pro-
cessor with two billion transistors, for
example - the problems become worse.

As a result, researchers around the world
are engaged in a search for the most efficient
way to take the heat off the chip industry.

For example, in 2007, US researchers built
tiny wind engines that created a "breeze"
made up of charged particles, or ions, to
cool computer chips.

But the problems are exacerbated in the
multi-storey chips which IBM, as well as
others, believe offer "one of the most pro-
mising approaches" for building future
processors.

Each 4cm sq sandwich is just 1mm thick
but pumps out close to 1kilowatt - 10
times that generated by a hotplate.

Conventional cooling techniques such as
fans and heat sinks do not work as well
with the 3D technology, particularly as
heat has to be drawn away from between
the individual chips.

To get around this, researchers piped water
through sealed tubes just 50 microns (mil-
lionths of a metre) in diameter, between
individual layers. Water is much more effi-
cient than air at absorbing heat and so even
with tiny amounts of liquid flowing through
the system the researchers saw a significant
effect.

The idea of pumping liquids around com-
puters is not entirely new. Early mainframe
computers had water pumped around them.

...

IBM has said its water-cooling technology
could be in products within five years.

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June 6, 2008

New Way To Think About Earth's First Cells
  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080604140959.htm
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Excerpts:

A team of researchers at Harvard University
have modeled in the laboratory a primitive
cell, or protocell, that is capable of building,
copying and containing DNA.

Since there are no physical records of what
the first primitive cells on Earth looked like,
or how they grew and divided, the research
team's protocell project offers a useful way
to learn about how Earth's earliest cells
may have interacted with their environment
approximately 3.5 billion years ago.

The protocell's fatty acid membrane allows
chemical compounds, including the build-
ing blocks of DNA, to enter into the cell
without the assistance of the protein chan-
nels and pumps required by today's highly
developed cell membranes. Also unlike
modern cells, the protocell does not use
enzymes for copying its DNA.

...

Some scientists have proposed that ancient
hydrothermal vents may have been sites
where prebiotic molecules--molecules
made before the origin of life, such as fatty
acids and amino acids--were formed.

When fatty acids are in an aqueous environ-
ment, they spontaneously arrange so that
their hydrophilic, or water-loving, "heads"
interact with the surrounding water mole-
cules and their hydrophobic, or water-fear-
ing, "tails" are shielded from the water,
resulting in the formation of tiny spheres
of fatty acids called micelles.

Depending upon chemical concentrations
and the pH of their environment, micelles
can convert into layered membrane sheets
or enclosed vesicles. Researchers com-
monly use vesicles to model the cellular
membranes of protocells.

When the team started its work, the re-
searchers were not sure that the building
blocks required for copying the protocell's
genetic material would be able to enter the
cell. "By showing that this can happen, and
indeed happen quite efficiently, we have
come a little closer to our goal of making
a functional protocell that, in the right en-
vironment, is able to grow and divide on
its own."

...

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June 5, 2008

Plan for quake 'warning system'

Nasa scientists have said they could be on
the verge of a breakthrough in their efforts
to forecast earthquakes.
  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7435324.stm
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Excerpts:

Researchers say they have found a close
link between electrical disturbances on
the edge of our atmosphere and impending
quakes on the ground below.

Just such a signal was spotted in the days
leading up to the recent devastating event
in China.

They have teamed up with experts in the
UK to investigate a possible space-based
early warning system.

Many in the scientific community remain
deeply sceptical about whether such signals
are indeed indicators of an approaching
earthquake.

...

Despite years of searching for earthquake
precursors, there is currently no method to
reliably predict the time of a future earth-
quake. Yet, most scientists agree that some
form of early warning system could save
tens of thousands of lives.

The ionosphere is distinguished from other
layers of Earth's atmosphere because it is
electrically charged through exposure to
solar radiation.

On a significant number of occasions, satel-
lites have picked up disturbances in this part
of the atmosphere 100-600km above areas
that have later been hit by earthquakes.

One of the most important of these is a fluc-
tuation in the density of electrons and other
electrically-charged particles in the iono-
sphere.

...

Early warning

One study looked at over 100 earthquakes
with magnitudes of 5.0 or larger in Taiwan
over several decades. The researchers found
that almost all of the earthquakes down to
a depth of about 35km were preceded by
distinct electrical disturbances in the iono-
sphere.

...

Though full details have yet to be released,
the BBC understands that scientists also
observed a "huge" signal in the ionosphere
before the Magnitude 7.8 earthquake in
China on 12 May.

...

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June 4, 2008

Discovery Channel Bets on Planet Green

Seekingalpha.com:  http://tinyurl.com/48f48t
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Excerpts:

Discovery ... is going where no company has
gone before, betting that green programming
will mean big green for its bottom line.

Today, Discovery launches Planet Green,
replacing its home network with the first
24/7 network dedicated to environmentally-
friendly programming.

The new buzz word is "eco-tainment" and the
company that gave us the highly-rated "Planet
Earth" series is betting it'll be in high demand.

...

Discovery has snagged some big names who
are passionate about the environment to pro-
duce and star in shows ... Planet Green is also
cashing in on the fact that big companies want
to be associated with an eco-friendly message.

General Motors (GM) is a lead advertiser and
partner for "branded entertainment." ... can
branded entertainment work when the channel
is combining an auto giant and a green mes-
sage?

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