Where liquids flow uphill and solids pass through each other

Think like a Neanderthal
The strange inner lives of our closest relatives
DOOMSDAY VIRUS
Why scientists engineered killer flu

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When the earth moves in mysterious ways

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U.S. Army RDECOM and eCYBERMISSION Purdue University Center for America Northern Virginia Technology Council The Scripps Foundation for Science and the Environment 3M Johns Hopkins University/ Whiting School of Engineering Center for Biotechnology Education at Johns Hopkins University Aldebaran-Robotics Project lead The Way (PlTW)

CONTENTS
News

Volume 213 No 2847 This issue online newscientist.com/issue/2847

News
4 UPFRONT Farm animals without the antibiotics. Doctor who linked MMR to autism sues his critics. The rising cost of natural disasters THIS WEEK Pitfalls of DNA evidence. Antarctica's

6
State of the
universe
Black strings, singularities and the death of eternity

6

wandering lakes caught in the act. Exercise without the sweat. Life began with a splash of TNA. Nano "ear" could listen in on cells 8 SPECIAL REPORT: DOOMSDAY VIRUS The risk of creating killer flu 14 IN 8RIEF The future's bright for warmer lizards. Worm-eating plants. Budgies can catch a yawn. Tiny wires won't go quantum

On the cover

Technology
6 State of the universe Black strings, singularities 17 Wristband talks to smart homes. Learn a language and translate the web. Gangster face recognition. BitCoin resurrection

30
superstuff

The world of

and the death of eternity 26 Think like a Neanderthal The strange inner lives 8 of our closest relatives Doomsday virus

Aperture
22 Sounding out the sky

Where liquids flow uphill and solids pass through each other

Cover image
JULIAN PACAUD

The creation of killer flu 34 Out-of-place quakes When the earth moves in mysterious ways 42 Creative sparks You don't need a brain to create a masterpiece

Opinion
24 Antarctic legacy Science was the one thing Scott got right says Anil Ananthaswamy 25 One minute with ... lsak Gerson Meetthe founder of the new religion of information 26 Think like a Neanderthal The strange inner lives of our closest relatives 28 LETTERS Mars and back. Climate loss

Features

42
Creative sparks
You don't need a brain to create a masterpiece

Features
30 The world of superstuff (see above left) 34 Out-of-place quakes When the earth 38 42 moves in mysterious ways Feeling the future Can the future really influence the present? Creative sparks (see left)

CultureLab
46 Paradox of nothing There's a lot to it 47 Algorithms around us Capturing how they shape our world. PLUS:Medical prose 48 Artful operations Plastic surgery portraits. PLUS:Hyperpolyglots

Coming next week ...

Regulars
3 EDITORIAL How did potentially lethal flu slip through the safety net? 28 ENIGMA 56 FEEDBACK Making the blind see 57 THE LAST WORD Cliffhanger, solved 50 JOBS & CAREERS

a

Forbidden reactions
Reed Business Information

Chemistry they said could never happen

School for scanners
Brain science enters the classroom

14January 20121 NewScientist 11

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A very holey safety net
Research into lethal flu should not have got so far without scrutiny
PHYSICS lost its innocence on 16 July 1945, when researchers involved in the Manhattan Project witnessed the first detonation of an atomic bomb. Years later, Robert Oppenheimer recalled that he was haunted by a verse from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." Ron Fouchier and Yoshihiro Kawaoka haven't yet revealed their thoughts on learning that they had created flu viruses that could potentially kill tens of millions of people (see page 8). But with opinion divided on the wisdom of running the experiments, biology may have crossed a similar line. The circumstances are very different, of course. Oppenheimer and his colleagues were trying to defeat tyranny. Fouchier and Kawaoka were motivated by a desire for knowledge that they argue will make the world safer. The trouble is that in the wrong hands, or if handled carelessly, these viruses may be just as dangerous as a nuclear bomb. Fouchier and Kawaoka believe that understanding how the deadly H5Nl virus can become easily transmissible between people is crucial knowledge. Others argue that the experiments don't mimic what might happen in nature, and that the risks outweigh any benefits, But what is done is done. The question now is, what can be learned from this episode? First and foremost we must ask how it came to this. The research was first reported at a conference last September, yet the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB)was not asked for its opinion until later, as two papers describing the work to serve as a springboard for action, but has simply gathered dust. Before the framework, New Scientist flagged up a grant to Kawaoka which eventually paid for his flu experiments in an article on the pros and cons of such research (14 October 2006, p 20), The US National Institutes of Health, which funded Fouchier's and Kawaoka's work, says that the US government will now develop a policy to" augment existing approaches" to evaluating such research - though it has not said what this means in practice. Better late than never. But it is important not to overreact. As we warned more than five years ago, some security specialists see bioterrorists under every bed. If their views were to dominate, important research would become tangled in red tape. The reality is that a vanishingly small number of projects present such dilemmas. But those that do need to be flagged up earlier in the game and subjected to scrutiny. The scientists involved must also accept that others can legitimately question whether everything that can be done should be done, lest they follow in Oppenheimer's deadly footsteps .•
It was supposed

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"In the wrong hands, or if handled carelessly, these viruses could be as deadly as a nuclear bomb"
neared publication. The board has now recommended that key details should be withheld from these papers - though whether that will be enough to neutralise any danger is debatable. While no one doubts the researchers' good intentions, one has to ask how the work progressed so far without a wider debate. In 2007, NSABB drew up a framework for proactively weighing up the risks and benefits of experiments that might provide a recipe for bioterror.

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In the beginning ...
THE term "big bang" was famously coined as a term of abuse, During a radio interview in 1949, cosmologist Fred Hoyle was pouring scorn on the idea that the universe simply popped into existence when he unwittingly invented a catchy name for the theory that eventually won out. The big bang is now part of the furniture of modern cosmology, but Hoyle's unease has not gone away, Many physicists have been fighting a rearguard action against it for decades, largely because of its theological overtones. If you have an instant of creation, don't you need a creator? Cosmologists thought they had a workaround. Over the years, they have tried on several different models of the universe that dodge the need for a beginning while still requiring a big bang. But recent research has shot them full of holes (see page 6).lt now seems certain that the universe did have a beginning. Without an escape clause, physicists and philosophers must finally answer a problem that has been nagging at them for the best part of 50 years: how do you get a universe, complete with the laws of physics, out of nothing (see page 46)? •
14 January 20121 NewScientist 13

UPFRONT

If it ain't sick, don't cure it
PREVENTION not always better is than cure. The USFood and Drug Administration has finally moved to restrict the farmyard use of antibiotics to prevent livestock illness over concerns that they may generate antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But the announcement covers such a small subset of drugs that campaigners fear the superbug threat will remain. The FDA'sapparently encouraging announcement last week will lead to severe restrictions on the farmyard use of cephalosporin antibiotics. But campaigners claim that these antibiotics account for only 0.2 per cent of antibiotic use on farms, and have accused the FDAof quietly withdrawing proposals dating from 1977 to tackle the wider use of tetracycline and penicillin antibiotics. "Numerous organisations have recognised that use of antibiotics in agriculture poses risks to human health," says Avinash kar, a San Francisco-based lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which initiated legal action last year to try to force the FDAto phase out the growth promoters. Europe did so a decade ago. "The cephalosporin announcement is a small step in the right direction, but it's very far from the finishing line." The FDAsays it revoked the 1977 proposals to focus on voluntary reforms within the industry. "Our action should not be interpreted as a sign that the FDAno longer has safety concerns about the use of medically important antibiotics in [livestock]," said an FDAspokeswoman.

Dark mappers
WE MAY not know what dark matter is, but we can still put it to work. The largest map of dark matter ever made is one of several new ones that are helping to nail the properties of the equally mysterious dark energy, which drives the universe's expansion. A group led by Catherine Heymans ofthe University of Edinburgh, UK, presented the huge map at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Austin, Texas, this week. Dark matter makes up 83 per cent of the universe's matter, but is invisible, so its presence must be inferred from its gravitational influence. This works because clumps of

smeared in telescope images. Heymans's team used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope to observe 10 million galaxies and build a map of dark matter spanning 10 billion light years. Meanwhile Melanie Simet at the University of Chicago and colleagues reported at the AAS meeting how they used a similar technique to create a dark matter map that included the absolute distance to the galaxy clusters. As the features in these maps are shaped by dark energy, they can be used to illuminate its properties too.

Sudoku is solved
SUDOKU'S fiendishness has been tamed. We now know the minimum starting numbers, or clues, needed in a Sudoku puzzle grid for it to have only one solution. The fewer clues there are in the 9 by 9 starting grid of a puzzle, the harder it is to complete, as there are more squares to fill. But too few clues, and the puzzle no longer has a unique solution. To understand why this is, imagine the extreme - a starting grid with just a single square filled in. This could clearly correspond

to many different answers. To find the minimum number of starting clues required, a team lead by Gary McGuire at University College Dublin, Ireland, turned to software that checks a completed Sudoku grid, looking for alternative puzzles buried within it. Nearly 50,000 single-solution rz-clue puzzles had already been found, so the researchers focused on finding a 16-clue one. It took the whole of 2011 to test all possibilities, and the team found none with a unique solution. This implies the minimum must be 17-

I'll drink to that
TOASTyour health by not drinking alcohol for two days a week, says a report by British MPs. "The evidence we received suggests that people should be advised to take at least two drinkfree days a week," said Andrew Miller, chairman ofthe crossparty House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The booze break gives the liver a chance to regenerate, advice echoed in the US by the National

"The largest map of dark matter ever made is also helping to nail the properties of dark energy"
dark matter distort the space-time around them. Light from distant galaxies passing through those regions also gets warped, making the galaxies appear streaked and
41 NewScientist 114 January 2012

For daily news stories, visit newscientist.com/news

60 SECONDS

Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The UK government's current recommendations imply that people can safely drink every day ifthey remain within recommended limits. Nick She ron, a liver specialist at the University of Southampton, UK, supports the idea of giving the liver a weekly break, but says an annual "liver holiday" of four to six weeks is more likely to heal liver damage. He says the benefit of a weekly break is more psychological because it proves to people that they can regularly manage without alcohol, and avoids escalation of intake.

Carryon tracking
THERE'S no reason to stop. Two of the objections to "fracking" for shale gas have been blown out of proportion, say British geologists. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, chemicals and sand into shale deposits 2 kilometres underground to release natural gas. It has been accused of contaminating water and causing minor earthquakes. "We think the risk is pretty low," said Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey on Tuesday. Research on contamination is scarce but what

little there is suggests fracking is not to blame. There is little reason to believe gas liberated 2 kilometres down could work its way into water deposits that are less than 50 metres deep. Likewise for the chemicals. Fracking does cause

Life in the deep
The deepest hydrothermal vents yet found have been discovered in a rift in the Caribbean seafloor. At a depth of 5000 metres, they are 800 metres deeper than any vents found so far. They are home to a new species of shrimp (Nature Communicatians, 001: 10.1038/ncomms1636).

"There is little reason to believe gas liberated 2 kilometres down can get into water deposits"
minor quakes but they are comparable to those caused by coal mining, and originate much deeper so have all but dissipated by the time they reach the surface.

Probe's downfall
As New Scientist went to press, Russia's hobbled Phobos-Grunt Mars probe - marooned in Earth orbit since November -looked destined to fall back to Earth on 15 january. Where was not clear but fragments totalling 200 kilograms could survive to reach the surface. Mission controllers think

MMR-scare lawsuit
ANDREW WAKEFIELD,the doctor who proposed the longdiscredited link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is to sue for damages following accusations that his research was fraudulent. Wakefield's MMR-autism claims were undermined in 2010 when The Lancet retracted his original study. He was banned from practising as a doctor by the UK General Medical Council. Wakefield is now suing journalist Brian Deer for articles he wrote in the BM! last year claiming that Wakefield manipulated and falsified data and diagnoses. He is also suing the journal's editor, the journal itself and its publishers. Wakefield's suit challenges Deer's allegations that in some children, symptoms of autism began before they had their MMR shots. It also states that allegations that three of nine children reported as having regressive autism didn't actually have autism, are false. Finally, the suit challenges statements by Deer in interviews, in which the journalist accused Wakefield of embarking on a "campaign oflies" and of trying to "work out a nice little living ... at the expense of autistic children".

Spiralling cost of natural disaster
$380 billion. That's how much natural disasters cost the global economy in 2011, making it the costliest year on record. The toll was driven by the earthquakes that struck New Zealand in February and japan in March. Munich Re, one of the world's biggest reinsurance companies, has compiled data on the cost of natural disasters since 1980. It shows that the japanese quake was the costliest disaster of all time, with losses of $210 billion - not including the nuclear incident at Fukushima. More broadly, the figures reveal a clear rise in the financial losses associated with natural disasters overthe past 30 years (see graph). The number of earthquakes has remained stable since 1980 but their economic cost is rising - a reminder that quake risk should be recognised by town planners, say Munich Re. In contrast. the number of weather-related events like floods and drought is rising. Evidence suggests this is linked to climate change, particularly in the case of extreme temperatures and rainfall, says Peter Stott of the UK Met Office in Exeter. The cost of extreme temperatures, fires and droughts has remained stable, the Munich Re findings show, butfloods and storms cost us more today than they did 30 years ago.

the craft's toxic fuels will burn up safely since they are contained in easily melted aluminium tanks.

Patchy memory
Adults aged 76 on average with mild cognitive impairment performed better on memory tests after wearing nicotine patches for six months. Such patches can have side effects, says Paul Newman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, so should only be used for cognitive purposes with medical supervision (Neurology, 001: 10.1212/WNL.Ob013e31823efcbb).

Baby's wake-up call
Hearing a baby cry makes adults more alertthan hearing distressed grown-ups. Fortyvolunteers playing a fast-reaction game called "Whacka-mole" scored highest on the game if they had heard babies crying beforehand (Acta Paediatrica, 001: 1O.1111/j.1651-2227.2011.02554.x).

Natural disasters are more frequent than 30 years ago - and are costing us more Earthquake, tsunami, volcano

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Quake accelerator
A japanese particle accelerator damaged in the March 2011 earthquake is setto resume operation after extensive repairs. The accelerator, part of the japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex in Tokai, is used to generate neutrinos and might one day probe faster-than-light physics.

1980

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14 January 20121 NewScientist 15

THIS WEEK HAWKINGS 70TH

Death of the eternal cosmos
From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning
Lisa Grossman

YOU could call them the worst birthday presents ever. At the meeting of minds convened last week to honour Stephen Hawking's 70th birthday-loftily titled "State of the Universe" -two bold proposals posed serious threats to our existing understanding of the cosmos. One shows that a problematic object called a naked singularity is a lot more likely to exist than previously assumed (see "Black strings expose the naked singularity", right). The other

"space-time can't possibly be eternal in the past. There must be some kind of boundary"
suggests that the universe is not eternal, resurrecting the thorny question of how to kick-start the cosmos without the hand of a supernatural creator. While many of us may be OK with the idea ofthe big bang simply starting everything, physicists, including Hawking, tend to shy away from cosmic genesis. "Apoint of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God," Hawking told the meeting, at the University of Cambridge, in a pre-recorded speech. For a while it looked like it might be possible to dodge this problem, by relying on models such as an eternally inflating or cyclic universe, both of which seemed to continue infinitely in the past as well as the future.
61 NewScientist 114 January 2012

Perhaps surprisingly, these were also both compatible with the big bang, the idea that the universe most likely burst forth from an extremely dense, hot state about 13.7billion years ago. However, as cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin ofTufts University in Boston explained last week, that hope has been gradually fading and may now be dead. He showed that all these theories still demand a beginning. His first target was eternal inflation. Proposed by Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981, inflation says that in the few slivers of a second after the big bang, the universe doubled in size thousands of times before settling into the calmer expansion we see today. This helped to explain why parts of the universe so distant that they could never have communicated with each other look the same. Eternal inflation is essentially an expansion of Guth's idea, and says that the universe grows at this breakneck pace forever, by constantly giving birth to smaller "bubble" universes within an ever-expanding multiverse, each of which goes through its own initial period of inflation. Crucially, some versions of eternal inflation applied to time as well as space, with the bubbles forming both backwards and forwards in time (see diagram, right). But in 2003, a team including Vilenkin and Guth considered what eternal inflation would mean for the Hubble constant, which describes mathematically the expansion of the universe.

Before the big bang
Inseveral models of our universe, the big bang is not the beginning. But even these models don't stretch back intrue infinity- there is still a "start of everything"

MULTIVERSE MODEL

OUR UNIVERSE

'START OF 'EVERYTHING

In this section • Doomsday virus: the risk of creating killer flu, page 8 • Life began with a splash of TNA, page 10 • Learn a language and translate the web, page 18

They found that the equations didn't work (Physical Review Letters, DOl: io.noj/physrevlett. 90.151301). "You can't construct a space-time with this property," says Vilenkin. It turns out that the constant has a lower limit that prevents inflation in both time directions. "It can't possibly be eternal in the past," says Vilenkin. "There must be some kind of boundary." Not everyone subscribes to eternal inflation, however, so the idea of an eternal universe still had a foothold. Another option is a cyclic universe, in which the big bang is not really the beginning but more of a bounce back following a previous collapsed universe. The universe goes through infinite cycles of big bangs and crunches with no

specific beginning. Cyclic universes have an "irresistible poetic charm and bring to mind the Phoenix", says Vilenkin, quoting Georges Lernaitre, an "IT SEEMSvery rude to come to astronomer who died in 1966. Yet someone's party and tell him that he when he looked at what this would lost a bet again," said cosmologist Luis mean for the universe's disorder, Lehner of the Perimeter Institute in again the figures didn't add up. Ontario, Canada. Lehner did it anyway. Disorder increases with He was speaking at a meeting to time. So following each cycle, celebrate Stephen Hawking's 70th the universe must get more and birthday. The bet in question was over more disordered. But if there has whether a point of infinite density and already been an infinite number space-time curvature, known as a of cycles, the universe we inhabit singularity and usually found at the now should be in a state of centre of a black hole, can also exist in maximum disorder. Such a a naked form without its black hole. At universe would be uniformly a singularity, all our existing physical lukewarm and featureless, laws go out the window. This doesn't and definitely lacking such normally matter because the black complicated beings as stars, hole that surrounds the singularity is planets and physicists - nothing ringed by a one-way membrane called like the one we see around us. an event horizon, which lets light and One way around that is to information in, but not out. That propose that the universe just means the singularity cannot affect gets bigger with every cycle. anything beyond the event horizon. Then the amount of disorder Near a naked singularity, however, per volume doesn't increase, things would become bewildering as so needn't reach the maximum. we would no longer be able to predict But Vilenkin found that this the fate of anything in its line of sight. scenario falls prey to the same "It might not actually do anything mathematical argument as nasty, but we have lost predictive eternal inflation: if your universe power," says Lehner. "I couldn't tell keeps getting bigger, it must have you if this glass would be sitting on started somewhere. the table tomorrow." Vilenkin's final strike is an In 1991, Hawking bet Kip Thorne attack on a third, lesser-known and John Preskill of the California proposal that the cosmos existed Institute of Technology in Pasadena eternally in a static state called the that all singularities are clothed. Six cosmic egg. This finally" cracked" years later he lost, when situations to create the big bang, leading to the expanding universe we see "A naked singularity today. Late last year Vilenkin and might not do anything graduate student Audrey Mithani nasty, but it would mean showed that the egg could not we lose predictive power" have existed forever after all, as quantum instabilities would force emerged where naked singularities it to collapse after a finite amount can exist, although they are unstable oftime (arxiv.org/abs/rno.qoofi). and vanish or retreat behind an event If it cracked instead, leading to the horizon with the tiniest perturbation. big bang, then this must have Lehner has now proposed another happened before it collapsedsituation where naked singularities and therefore also after a finite might exist: in the extra dimensions amount of time. proposed by string theory. The rub is "This is also not a good that this time, they aren't unusual. candidate for a beginningless To understand why, think of universe," Vilenkin concludes. "All black holes as points in the four the evidence we have says that the dimensions we experience - three universe had a beginning." •

Black strings expose the naked singularity
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of space and one of time. These become "black strings" when extended into a fifth dimension of space (see diagram, above). Black strings are unstable and break up into smaller black holes like a stream of water splitting into droplets. Lehner showed that at the point where a smaller black hole pinches off from the stream, the black hole's radius is zero, which means its density is infinite. In other words, it is a naked singularity. Lehner showed this will happen any time you have a black string. Thorne, the beneficiary of the bet, was in the audience and said the study was "beautiful work". Of course this comes with a big caveat: we only need to worry about these naked singularities if the universe has five dimensions - something that isn't yet clear. String theory suggests there are at least five dimensions, but cosmologists without a stake in the bet might hope that it is proved wrong. Otherwise they will have their work cut out explaining the laws of physics at a naked singularity. Lisa Grossman.

14 January 20121 NewScientist 17

SPECIAL REPORT I FLU PANDEMIC

ONE SL P UP COULD SPELL D SASTER
Have we engineered a future pandemic, asks Peter Aldhous
AFTERa hard day at the lab, a biologist travels home on the subway. Later that evening his muscles start to ache and he notices that he is running a fever. This is no ordinary bout of flu, though. The virus behind these symptoms is a highly transmissible variant of deadly HSN1 bird flu, and already people who shared his subway car have been exposed. It could now travel quickly around the world. This is the alarming scenario that researchers are trying to prevent, now that two groups have brewed up variants ofHSN1 that can spread between ferrets merely breathing the same air. "1918 flu would look like nothing if this really got loose," warns D. A. Henderson ofthe University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who led the fight to eradicate smallpox. "This is really serious." In September, New Scientist reported that Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, had found that just five mutations in two genes were enough to make a lethal variant ofHSN1 with the ability to transmit readily between mammals - the missing factor that has so far kept down the number of people infected with HSNl. A second team, led byYoshihiro Kawaoka of the Universi ty of Wisconsin-Madison, has made a subtly different virus with similar characteristics. Debate is swirling over whether the experiments should have been carried out in the first place (see Editorial, page 3), but one thing is clear: there is little room for complacency about the risks posed by naturally occurring HSN1 viruses, which might acquire similar mutations (see "The monster in the henhouse" right).
81 NewScientist 114January 2012

For daily news stories. visit newscientist.com/news

However, the studies hit the headlines when it emerged that advisers to the US government had asked Science and Nature, the journals planning to publish the work, to withhold key details to avoid providing a blueprint for would-be bioterrorists. That risk needs to be taken seriously. But prior experience suggests that accidental viral releases pose a more immediate threat. In the wake of the 2003 outbreak of SARS,some lab staff were accidently infected by the SARScoronavirus in Singapore, Taiwan and China. In the most serious incident, the virus spread beyond a research institute in Beijing, and the mother of one of the researchers died. And in 1977, a mild strain ofH1N1 flu was isolated in northern China, near the Russian border, and later spread worldwide. The virus almost certainly came from a deep-frozen lab sample, says Robert Webster of St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, who was involved in analysing the virus. Avoiding a repeat performance wi th the new HSN1 viruses is a top priority. We don't know for sure that the viruses would behave the same way in people as in ferrets, but the assumption has to be that they do. If so, any release could lead to a devastating pandemic. "We have to be concerned to keep this thing locked down," says Webster. What "locked down" means depends on who you ask, however. The highest level of containment for biological agents, known as BSL-4, demands stringent and expensive measures to prevent accidental releases. "I can't think of another infectious agent that deserves BSL-4 more than this one," says David Relrnan of Stanford University in California, who sits on the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the panel that suggested the papers should be censored. However, demanding BSL-4 would mean that most ofthe world's leading flu virologists would have to scale up their labs or move elsewhere. On the Erasmus Medical Centre's website, Pouchier's team summarises the "BSL-3 plus" procedures used in its experiments. Webster and other flu researchers argue that it is important for top

Should work on H5Nl require the highest biosecurity level possible (left)?

virologists to have access to the viruses, as we need to understand the mutations that could turn HSN1 into a mass killer. "The information we can obtain is really invaluable to make public health decisions," says Daniel Perez, a flu researcher at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Others question that assumption. Relman notes that there are likely to be multiple combinations of mutations that make wild HSN1 contagious in people, and asks whether the gains of studying these particular viruses in terms of improved surveillance for pandemic strains outweigh the risks of accidental release. Before further research goes ahead, discussions need to take place on who should be able to work on the new viruses, and under what circumstances. Involving the nations most threatened by HSN1, such as China, will be crucial, as those who are excluded may be more likely to try and create similar viruses themselves. With the viruses sitting in Pouchier's and Kawaoka's labs, the clock is ticking. "We can't spend years coming to a conclusion on this," says Michael Osterholm, who heads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "We have got to have a plan for moving forward." •

The monster in the henhouse
Fears may keep us from stopping natural killer, says Debora MacKenzie
IN A few weeks, the world's top two scientific journals will publish work that shows how HSNl bird flu could - perhaps - mutate to become a doomsday virus, going pandemic and killing millions of people. The research was done to help us stop it doing that. But the only way that will happen is if we mount a concerted global effort to watch for these dangerous mutations in HSN1, which is now endemic in poultry in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Egypt, and widespread elsewhere. Doomsday isn't upon us yet. however. The new work doesn't show whatthe modified virus will do in humans, says Richard Webby, a flu virologist at Stjude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Moreover, a virus with only some of the required mutations might not survive well in the wild, making the fully evolved killer unlikely to emerge, at least without a lab's help (see main story). But with vast amounts of HSNl in the world, "nature has time and numbers on its side", says Andrew Read at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Now we know mutations that can be dangerous, we can watch for them in poultry, where the virus is actively evolving. If the mutations show up, says Webby, "we kill lots of chickens". For this to work, though, we need to look for HSN1. Yet "we have reduced surveillance", says juan Lubroth at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. "Resources for global and national intelligence have fallen, and this is of grave concern." Some key countries are wary of international surveillance. In 2007, Indonesia stopped exporting HSNl samples, protesting that it was supplying a rich vaccine industry for little return. China shares few samples, even though human deaths reveal its silent spread in the country's vaccinated birds. Tortuous negotiations at the World Health Organization resulted in a deal in April last year in which countries agreed to share viruses if they were involved in the research and resulting benefits. The WHO is worried that the restrictions a US government committee has requested on the publication of the new work will send the wrong message. "It could potentially slow the sharing of viruses," says Keiji Fukuda, head of flu at the WHO. "We hope that by the time the papers are published, we will have rules in place to allow legitimate scientists full access to the information," says Tony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is leading the debate. What these will be remains to be seen. 14 january 20121 NewScientist 19

THIS WEEK

Life's origins in the hodge-podge world
Michael Marshall TAKEnote, DNA and RNA: it's not all about you. Life on Earth may have begun with a splash ofTNA, a different kind of genetic molecule altogether. That is not to say that TNA will dethrone RNA entirely as the original molecule of life. Instead, it looks like the very first life forms may have used a mix of these and other nucleic acids for genetic material. Bar some viruses, most life forms around today use DNA to store genetic information and RNA to execute the instructions encoded by that DNA. However, researchers studying the origins of life have long thought that RNA was the first genetic material. According to this "RNA world" "It looks like the very first hypothesis, the earliest forms of life forms may have used life used RNA for everything, with a mix of TN A, RNA and other nucleic acids" little or no help from DNA. A key piece of evidence for the enzyme that, like RNA, could RNAworld (New Scientist, 13August control a chemical reaction. 2011, P 32) is that the molecule is a Chaput thinks TNA probably jack of all trades. It can both store was not the original genetic genetic information and act as an enzyme. Now it seems that TNAmaterial, though - if only because a chemical relative of RNA - can the chemistry of early Earth was perform one of RNA's critical so messy that TNA would not have actions, suggesting it might have arisen on its own. Rather, many been just as capable. different molecules probably Whatever happened at the formed in a genetic hodge-podge. dawn oflife, TNA is not found in "The most likely scenario is that nature today. However, its sugar nature sampled lots of different backbone has a key advantage over those of RNA and DNA, says John Chaput of Arizona State University in Tempe. Where RNA uses ribose and DNA deoxyribose, TNA uses threose. That makes it the smallest molecule of the three, and could mean it forms more easily. To see ifTNA could have done the work of RNA, Chaput and his colleagues took a variety ofTNAs and evolved them in the presence of a protein. After three generations, a TNA turned up that could bind to the protein and had a complex, folded threedimensional shape like an enzyme (Nature Chemistry, DOl: 10.1038/nchem.1241). These are features needed to make a TNA

things," says Chaput. That scenario is in line with a recent study by Nobel prizewinner Jack Szostak of Harvard University and colleagues. The team created mosaic nucleic acids that were half DNA, half RNA. Like Chaput's TNA, some ofthese could bind to target molecules (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOl: 10.1073/pnas.1107113108). However, there are problems

Candidates for life's first molecules
DNA RNAare not the only genetic molecules out there. Others have advantages that suggest and they too might have helped get life started billionsof years ago RNA DNA TNA PNA GNA BACKBONE Ribose (sugar) Threose (sugar) Peptide Glycerol POINTS INFAVOUR SEENINNATURE ,/ Canstore genetic information and execute the orders inthat information ,/
It It It

Deoxyribose (sugar)

Found inall lifeforms on Earth; embodies the genetic code of life Mayact as an enzyme to execute the genetic code; simple, stable structure Formsa double helix likeDNA(stable); long PNAmolecules can be made under conditions similarto prebiotic Earth, even at temperatures of 100°C Formsa double helix likeDNA(stable); has the simplest structure of all

with the hodge-podge world hypothesis. For one thing, there is no trace ofTNA or its synthetic cousins (see table) in modern organisms. By contrast, RNA, like DNA, is essential to life today and there is evidence to suggest that it came about before proteins. For another, although TNA looks simpler than RNA, we can't be sure it was easier to make some 4 billion years ago. As John Sutherland of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, points out, no one has actually made it under the conditions that existed on Earth before life began. "Looks might be deceptive," he says. We still know very little about what TNA can do, says Chaput, because the technology to evolve the molecules in the lab is so new. The research, he says, is just getting going .•

10 1NewScientist 114January 2012

For daily news stories. visit newscientist.com/news

Hormone can mimic effects of a good workout
NO SWEAT required. A hormone that surges during exercise may confer some of the benefits of a workout, when levels are artificially boosted. The hormone is identical in mice and humans and promotes the development of a type of enerqyburning fat - a discovery that could be key to treating obesity and diabetes. A protein known as PGC1·alpha med iates many of the benefits of exercise, such as resistance to metabolic diseases. To find out more. a team from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, analysed factors secreted by muscle and regulated by PGCl·alpha. One of these factors turned out to be a new hormone which had gone unnoticed because it is hidden within a complex molecule. Further study showed that levels of that hormone jumped in mice and humans after bouts of exercise. When the hormone was added to mouse subcutaneous white fat cells at an early stage of development, it made the cells more likely to become "beige" fat cells. These, like brown fat, are equipped to burn body fuel to generate heat. "The hormone carries a message from muscle to fat tissue," says lead author Pontus Bostrom. Bruce Spiegelman, director of the lab, named the hormone irisin after the Greek messenger goddess Iris. Mice eating a hiqh-fat diet that were given the gene for irisin burned

more energy and had lower body weight than mice receiving a placebo (Nature. 001: 10.10381 naturelO777). Speculating about applications for a hormone that mimics the effect of exercise is easy. but explaining its existence is "a little trickier". says Bostrom. Why would exercise put in motion events that ultimately produce fat cells that expend energy more easily than they conserve it? Jan Nedergaard. who studies brown fat at the Wenner·Gren Institute at Stockholm University. Sweden, says that irisin "could be of interest for all obesity- related issues" but was also perplexed by its origins. Bostrom and colleagues speculate that it may be down to shivering. If the muscle contractions of shivering cause the body to produce irisin. which then influences the development of brown fat that generates heat, the hormone may have evolved to help stave off hypothermia. Tiffany O'Callaghan •

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14 January 20121 NewScientist III

THIS WEEK

Leaping DNA could hurt court cases
Linda Geddes A WOMAN is found strangled and partially burned in her house. DNA matching her ex-partnerwho claims he hasn't seen her for several months - is lifted from her pyjamas. The man claims his DNA must have got there via their child's clothing or toys. Would you believe him? Read on before reaching your decision. The conviction last week of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of Stephen Lawrence in the UK in 1993 has thrown the forensic analysis of so-called "touch" evidence into the spotlight. The case hinged on tiny fragments of blood, hair and fibres found on Dobson's clothes. The defence team argued that the fragments, which were fewer in number than would be needed to fill a teaspoon, could have got there by contamination. The forensic scientists who testified Jamieson of the Forensic Institute in Glasgow, UK. "The finding of someone's DNA implies their presence. But presence is not a necessary consequence of finding someone's DNA." Mariya Goray of Victoria Police Forensic Service Centre in Australia and her colleagues reenacted several scenarios loosely based on real events in which DNA from a defendant was found on a victim's clothes or a murder weapon, and where the defence argued that it could have got there indirectly. Mimicking the scenario

described in the intro, Goray asked a volunteer to handle a child's vest and wooden toy for 1minute before these objects were rubbed against the front of a lab coat, which represented pyjamas. They found that enough of the volunteer's DNA transferred to clearly identify him (Legal Medicine, DOl: 10.1016/ j.legalmed.zon.oq.ooo). In a separate study, Goray and colleagues illustrated how easily DNA can transfer within and between items from a crime scene during transport to the lab, in a study involving objects such as used cigarette butts and bloodied knives (Forensic Science International Genetics, DOl: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2011.03.013). "There is a distinct possibility for the misinterpretation of a res ult

"Finding a person's DNA implies their presence, but presence is not a necessary consequence of that find"
dismissed such contamination as highly unlikely. Although there was additional evidence against Dobson and Norris that helped to secure their conviction, several new studies illustrate that contamination is an issue that should be given more consideration than suggested by the prosecution. The research shows the need for caution when interpreting touch evidence particularly as it becomes used more widely. "Police are increasingly trying to find these invisible stains, because so far as they're concerned, DNA is a very costeffective crime-solver," says Allan
121 NewScientist 114 January 2012

that could impact negatively on the criminal investigation," says Goray. Problems may also arise when evidence or bodies are examined on supposedly clean laboratory surfaces. Thorsten Schwark at the University Hospital of SchleswigHolstein in Kiel, Germany, and his colleagues swabbed the shoulders and buttocks of six cadavers after they had rested on autopsy tables. They found that four of them were contaminated with DNA from bodies that had previously rested on the table - in two cases with DNA from more than one person (Forensic Science International, DOl: 10.1016/ j.forsciint.zon.oq.ooti). "This may seriously influence the interpretation of trace analysis results taken during autopsies," says Nicole von Wurmb-Schwark who was also involved in the work. For example, fragments of DNA from previous autopsies could mask or confuse DNA profiles from genuine assailants. Peter Gill, former principal scientist at the UK's Forensic Science Service, now at Oslo University in Norway, says scientists should not dismiss the possibility of contamination, particularly where tiny amounts of DNA are concerned. "DNA is ubiquitous," he says. "There are lots of examples where inadvertent transfer of DNA has happened. The problem is these evidence items are often kept in plastic bags and if you have got heavily bloodstained items, for example, then DNA is going to transfer across items." That's not to say touch evidence shouldn't be used to help solve crimes, but jurors need to be presented with information about its limitations or wrongful convictions may ensue, while other convictions may fail or be overturned on appeal. "I think that when we're dealing with very low levels of DNA we need to report that a DNA profile matches, but as to how and when it got there we just don't know," says Gill. •

For daily news stories, visit newscientist.com/news

Gold nano 'ears' set to listen in on cells
MOVE over microphones, nanophones have arrived. A gold sphere just 60 nanometres in diameter is the most sensitive listening device ever created, paving the way for soundtracks to formerly silent movies of bacteria and other single-celled organisms. Alexander Ohlinger at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich (LMU), Germany, and colleagues suspended gold nanoparticles in a drop of water. They trapped one sphere in a laser beam and then fired rapid pulses of light from a second laser at others a few micrometres away. The pulses heated the nanoparticles, which disturbed the water around them, generating pressure, or sound, waves. The single laser-trapped nanoparticle then began to jiggle back and forth, as ifit were reacting to the sound waves. To make sure the jiggling was not due simply to the random motion of water molecules, the researchers varied the frequency of the sound waves. The trapped particle matched the frequency every time, and the direction of its movement lined up with the sound waves' direction, providing further evidence that it was reacting to the waves (Physical Review Letters, DOl: 10.1103/ physrevlett.iox.oixior). The tiny microphone picked up sounds down to some minus 60 decibels - a level one-millionth of that detectable by the human ear. That makes it more sensitive than any other listening device, says team member Andrey Lutich, also at LMU. "We could not find any other sound detector capable of detecting acoustic waves with such a high sensitivity," he says. The technique could one day let us listen in on the tiniest living structures, including cells and viruses, according to the team. Changhuei Yang of the California Institute ofTechnology in Pasadena, who was not a member of the team, agrees. He says living cells have been seen vibrating under the microscope, but no one has yet set up a microphone to record their sounds. "It would be interesting to try to build upon the technology along this direction," he says. DOing that could also tell us more about the mechanical properties of cells and how they

change as a result of disease. In 2008, researchers led by YongKeun Park and Monica Diez-Silva of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that red blood cells vibrated less when they were infected with the malaria parasite, apparently because the infection made the cells stiffer than normal

(Proceedings ojthe National Academy ojSciences, DOl: 1O.1073/pnas.080610010S). The gold-nanoparticle technique might eventually allow us to probe such changes, Yang says: "The novelty of the technology holds promise that it can open new ground." David Shiga.

Antarctic lakes go wandering over ice sheets
RIVERSand mountains can move given enough time, but they don't normally move half a kilometre every year. Yet that is exactly what is happening to a bizarre group of Antarctic lakes. And the lakes seem to be moving far faster than the ice shelf on which they sit. The 11 lakes are on the edge of the George VI ice shelf, a banana-shaped sheet of floating ice sandwiched

between the Antarctic Peninsula and Alexander Island. They were first spotted in the 1970s but it was only last year that their wanderlust was identified. Douglas MacAyeal at the University of Chicago gave undergraduate interns the "boring" job of digitising a series of satellite photographs of Antarctic lakes. One student, Claire LaBarbera, noticed that the lakes moved, relative to features on land, from year to year. "I thought, what a nice curiosity;' MacAyeal says. Then he took a closer look and realised that the lakes were moving five to 10 times faster than the ice shelf,

and in a different

direction.

channel, its outer edges buckle into a series of crests and troughs. The lakes sit in the troughs. The ice shelf pushes into Alexander Island at an oblique angle, so the end of each trough tracks along the coast, dragging its lake with it. Standing water on ice shelves is often a sign that they are close to collapse as the water can widen existing cracks in the ice. But Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University in the UK thinks that the George VI ice shelf isn't likely to collapse anytime soon, as it is stabilised by the rocky sides of the channel. Michael Marshall. 14 January 20121 NewScientist 113

"We found a beautiful curiosity that probably exists nowhere else in the world," he says (Geophysical Research Letters, 001: 1O.1029/2011GL049970). MacAyeal thinks the explanation lies in the unusual location ofthe George VI ice shelf, trapped as it is in a narrow channel between Alexander Island and the Antarctic mainland. As the ice sheet squeezes through the

"The lakes were moving five to 10 times faster than the ice shelf, and in a different direction"

IN BRIEF
Budgies find yawns irresistible too
BUDGIES agree: a yawn is a difficult thing to resist. The highly social birds are the latest animals to join the contagious yawning club. Many animals yawn, but only humans and a few other primates are known to trigger cascades of yawns around a group. Andrew Gallup at Binghamton University in New York watched 21budgies over IS days and counted their yawns - a wide open beak and slightly closed eyes, followed by a brief stretch of the neck. Each bird yawned one to three times an hour, but was more likely to do so if their neighbour had just yawned (Behavioural Processes, DOl: 10.1016/j.beproc.2011.12.012). It's the first good evidence for contagious yawning in a nonprimate, says Gallup. Unpublished work shows their yawns are more contagious after a sudden loud noise, suggesting yawning might help coordinate group alertness in the face of a threat.

Test on mother detects her fetus's sex at five weeks
A NON-INVASIVE method of detecting a fetus's sex as early as five weeks into pregnancy has been developed. Knowing the sex of a fetus is important when the mother is a carrier of an X-chromosome gene that can cause a disease such as muscular dystrophy. In this case, a female fetus will be free of the gene or be a carrier, but a male has a SOper cent risk of inheriting the disease. In these cases, parents may choose to abort the pregnancy or undergo further, invasive testing, which carries a small risk of miscarriage. Currently in the UK, for example, women can choose

invasive testing at 11 weeks, or wait longer for ultrasound identification of sex. Attempts to analyse fetal DNA in the mother's blood for markers of the male-only Y chromosome can give inaccurate results if not enough DNA is available. To tackle this problem, Hyun Mee Ryu and colleagues at Cheil General Hospital and Women's Healthcare Center in Seoul, South Korea, measured changes on the PDE9A gene that occur in the blood of a pregnant woman. They then worked out the amount of PDE9A changes that were needed to ensure enough fetal DNA was present to accurately identify whether a Y chromosome was present. In 203 women, the combination of tests faultlessly detected gender as early as five weeks into pregnancy (The FASEBJournal, DOl: 10.1096/fj.11-191429).

Leaves of death trap and eat worms
A GRUESOME end awaits worms that stray too close to one scrawny Brazilian plant.Philcoxia minensis is the first carnivorous plant found to trap and devour prey in the soil with the help of sticky leaves thrust below the surface. Rafael Silva Oliveira of the State University of Camp in as in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and colleagues confirmed the plant's taste for meat by growing it in soil filled with nematode worms containing the rare isotope, nitrogen-IS. By analysing the leaves they thought snared the nematodes, Oliveira's team showed that they rapidly absorbed the isotope, confirming the worms as a food source (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOl: 1O.1073/pnas.1114199109).

MS damage reversed with young blood
A FOUNTAIN of youthful cells reverses the damage found in diseases like multiple sclerosis, a study in mice reveals. Nerve cells lose their electrically insulating myelin sheath as MS develops. New myelin-generating cells can be produced from stem cells, but the process loses efficiency with age. Julia Ruckh at the University of Cambridge, and colleagues, have
141 NewScientist 114January 2012

found a way to reverse the agerelated efficiency loss. They linked the bloodstreams of young mice to old mice with myelin damage. Exposure to youthful blood reactivated stem cells in the old mice, boosting myelin generation. White blood cells called macrophages from the young mice gathered at the sites of myelin damage. Macrophages engulf and destroy pathogens

and debris, including destroyed myelin (Cell Stem Cell, DOl: 1O.1016/j.stem.2011.11.019) "We know this debris inhibits regeneration, so clearing it up is important," says team member Amy Wagers of Harvard University. Neil Scolding at the University of Bristol, UK, who was not involved in the new work, says reactivating ageing stem cells may be a more realistic approach for treating MS than transplanting stem cells from a donor.

For new stories every day, visit newscientist.com/news

Milky Way brims with planets
IF YOURmind boggles at the billions and billions of stars in our galaxy, read on: every star may harbour a planet, giving us billions and billions of those too. About 700 extrasolar planets have been found in the Milky Way, a small number compared with the number of stars present. To find out whether such planets are truly rare or just hard to find, Arnaud Cassan of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, and colleagues turned to gravitational microlensing, in which one star focuses the light from a more distant star. The technique can reveal planets orbiting the nearer star if it is up to 20,000 light years from Earth, much farther than other techniques. The researchers studied six years of microlensing data and estimated that extrasolar planets are the rule rather than the exception, with each star in the galaxy hosting an average of 1.6 planets (Nature, 001: 10.1038/nature10684). Meanwhile, William Welsh of San Diego State University in California and colleagues studied 750 stars observed by NASA'sKepler satellite. They reckon several million planets in our galaxy orbit two stars, like the Star Wars planet Tatooine (Nature, 001: 10.1038/nature10768). "The more carefully we look, the more [planets] we find," says Welsh.

Thinnest silicon-chip wires refuse to go quantum
NOT everything is weird at the nanoscale: wires just a few atoms wide can display ordinary electrical properties. That bodes well for conventional computers but could be bad news for hopedfor, super-fast quantum ones. It's getting harder for chipmakers to stick to Moore's law, which holds that the density of transistors a normal chip holds will double about every two years. This is because the resistance of a chip's metal interconnects soars as they thin. Quantum effects can also disrupt ordinary electrical properties because of the wave behaviour of electrons. Now, Michelle Simmons of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues have taken a silicon chip and etched into it channels to act as wires just 1.5nanometres wide that conducted electricity nearly as well as the interconnects in conventional microprocessors. The trick was to fill the channels with phosphorus, whose electrons moved freely to conduct electricity. When the team built wires of different lengths, they followed the non-quantum Ohm's law, which states that a wire's resistance increases in step with its length (Science, DOl: 10.1126/ sctenre.iztqjrq). One explanation is that the high density of electrons caused them to scatter off each other, destroying their delicate quantum state. The result is a boon for evertinier computing devices. It might also be good news for quantum computers, as they require nanoscale wires. However, the lack of quantum behaviour also cools hopes for this technology.

The future's bright for warmer lizards
WHEN the heat is on, lizards become smarter - potentially giving them a competitive edge as the world warms. Previous research has shown that scincid lizards (Bassiana duperreyi) grow larger if their eggs are incubated at higher temperatures. Joshua Amiel and colleagues at the University of Sydney, Australia, wanted to see if bigger lizards also make better learners, so they incubated nine eggs in cold conditions - 8.5 to 23.5 °C_ and 12in warm conditions= ia.g to 29.5 "C. Once hatched, the lizards were put in plastic containers equipped with two hideouts, one blocked off with Plexiglass and the other fully accessible. The researchers, playing predators, scared the lizards by touching their tails with a paintbrush and recorded where the lizards went. After 16 trials, five of the nine cold-incubated lizards still headed for the inaccessible hideout. Just one of the 12warm-incubated lizards made the same mistake (Biology Letters, DOl: 10.10g8/ rsb!'2011.1161). "Climate change might not be so bad for these guys," says Arnie!.

Laser shone in eye tracks retina cells
THE cone cells that help give us our colourful view of the world have been recorded growing in real-time in a living person's eye. Cone cells in the retina each carry a stack of membranous discs: as they grow they shed older discs and generate new ones. An imbalance in the process can lead to blindness. RaviJonnal and colleagues at Indiana University in Bluorninqton have found a way to measure cone-cell growth by reflecting part of a laser beam off the cells within the eye of a healthy volunteer. Another part of the laser beam is reflected off a mirror a set distance away. When the two beams recombine, the pattern of interference allows the team to work out the position of each disc in the cone cell. Taking measurements over several hours allowed [onnal's team to track each disc, revealing that the cells grow at roughly 150 nanometres each hour (Biomedical Optics Express, 001: 1O.1364/boe.3.000104). Fred Fitzke of University College London is impressed. "This could lead to major advances in preventing the progress of some of the leading causes of blindness," he says.

14 January 20121 NewScientist 115

TECHNOLOGY

For more technology

stories. visit newscientist.com/technology

the temperature to change, the system sets the temperature to a default level. When users do press the hot or cold buttons, the temperature is changed to suit the majority of people in the room. This can be achieved by opening and closing windows, or activating the air conditioning. Environmental sensors outside the building let the system predict

"A three-week trial saw a 24 per cent reduction in energy usage because less air conditioning was used"
the likely temperature change inside a room if the windows were to be opened. Using the room's motion sensor data from the previous week, the system's software also predicts when the room will next be occupied, and by whom. This is used to bring the room up to a pleasant temperature before people arrive. A three-week trial saw a 24 per cent reduction in energy usage because less airconditioning was needed to keep all occupants comfortable. WristQue is still at an early stage and its design is likely to change as the team continues testing. The team plans for the finished system to include location information and extra controls, such as a slider to control lighting levels and sensors to allow users to control nearby electronic devices. Paradiso's team has also developed a virtual building that lets users explore sensor read-outs around them (see "Bubbles and flames"). "It will know who you are, where you are, and will have pointing sensors to let you interact with displays," says Paradiso. This type of unobtrusive body-worn device will be "instrumental" in interacting with the next generation of smart homes, says Sumi Helal of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who works in smart homes and pervasive computing. "Wristbands will have a major role to play in the future," he says .•
14 January 20121 NewScientist 117

Talkto the wrist
A wristband that lets you interact with smart buildings will make sure you're always comfortable indoors
Niall Firth

SWELTERINGin the office while your colleague shivers under layers of extra clothing? Just register your discomfort by tapping a button on your wrist and let the room do the rest. That's one of the ideas behind WristQue, a project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that aims to create a low-power wristband device that works with sensors embedded in buildings to monitor how you feel and continually adjust the lighting and temperature to keep you happy. WristQue is the key to controlling "the immersive world of interactive media that will one day surround us", says Joe Paradiso, director of the Responsive Environments Group at MIT's Media Lab, who is working with colleagues to design it. Each 3D-printed, plastic WristQue band will contain a microprocessor and will be packed with environmental sensors to

detect changes in temperature, humidity and light. It will be fitted with a chip that uses ultrawide band radio signals to pinpoint the user's location and will be able to communicate wirelessly with sensors fitted in smart buildings. WristQue is designed to be simple and unobtrusive, says Paradiso. It will only have three buttons - two of which will allow users to indicate they are either too warm or too cold. The third will activate gestural controls, so users can interact with any

devices nearby, such as televisions or computers. "People can gesture with Kinect but it doesn't know who you are - we're thinking of a device that can do that, but without distracting you like a PDA," says Paradiso. So far, the team has developed and tested the climate control parts of the device in the Media Lab building. This is fitted with motion sensors, which detect whether the room is occupied. If someone is present, but hasn't specified whether they would like

Bubbles and flames
THE sheer amount of data created in smart buildings packed with sensors can be a challenge to wade through. To help visualise it all. Joe Paradiso and his team at Mlrs Media Lab (see main story) have developed Doppellab, which uses a video-game graphics engine to present sensor data - such as that produced by the team's WristQue device - in a 3D model of a building. Users can explore this virtually. and flickering flames of different colours represent room temperatures. while bubble shapes show changes in sound levels. Users' tweets can be read and even conversations are streamed scrambled and anonymised - as people pass embedded microphones. just to show what the tech can do.

TECHNOLOGY

Learn a language, translate the web
Free online lessons aim to turn willing students into a commercial translating juggernaut
JimGiles

LUIS VON AHN claims he can translate Wikipedia - all 2 billion words ofit - from English into Spanish in just 80 hours. What's more, he will not have to pay anyone to do the work. His secret weapon is Duolingo, a free language tutorial website that doubles as a paid-for translation service. The deal is that users get to learn a language while simultaneously helping to translate website content. "The crazy thing about this method is that it works," says von Ahn, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is not the first time von Ahn has recycled user input in this way. His reCAPTCHA system, which many web sites employ when signing up new members, displays snippets of distorted text

to confound the automated software used by spammers. Unbeknownst to many users, however, the text that they are deciphering is material that the computers used in bookdigitisation projects have tried and failed to understand. The system was bought by Google in 2009 for an undisclosed sum and is now used in the company's book-scanning project. On the surface, Duolingo, which opened its doors to testers last month, looks like any other language tutorial system. Users receive lessons in either Spanish or German and then practise on their own. Tasks include translating written sentences and rating the accuracy of translations

"Will website owners be prepared to pay for a service performed by learners?"

made by others. The lessons combine standard content with material pulled from web pages written in the language the user is learning. After the web material has been translated it is slotted into an English-language version of the original web page, which is built up sentence by sentence as learners plough through Duolingo worksheets. Learners inevitably make mistakes, so the system ensures a number of people work on and check each sentence before declaring the translation correct.

It also routes complex sentences to more advanced learners and provides tools, such as easy access to language dictionaries, to aid in translation. But will website owners be prepared to pay for a service performed by students? Pricing has not yet been set but von Ahn insists Duolingo can match professional translators for quality - a claim that has attracted some scepticism. "Anything that relies solely on learners will limit the number of experts who will participate," says

Software could spot face-changing criminals
CRIMINALS who go under the knife in an effort to evade capture might want to consider an alternative disguise, thanks to a new technique for matching faces before and after plastic surgery. Typical facial-recognition software can be thrown off by even minor changes in the lighting and position of an unaltered face. Post-surgical matching is even harder for obvious reasons, says Kevin Bowyer, a 1B 1 NewScientist

computer scientist at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, whose team developed the new system: "If someone has plastic surgery, they're trying to change the appearance of one or more parts of their face." As a result, existing software's success rate can be cut in half when trying to match before and after photos gathered from plastic surgery websites. Bowyer's colleague, Gaurav Aggarwal, realised that matching individual facial features rather than whole faces could be more successful. Aggarwal was inspired by a facialrecognition technique called sparse representation, which matches an image of a face by comparing it with

combinations

of individual features

from faces already recorded in a database. If the closest matching combination turns outto be made up of features mostly drawn from one person in the database, it is a good bet to say the target image is also of that person. But if the best match combines features pulled from images of many different people then the system has failed to identify the new face. However, to function properly sparse representation requires multiple images of each person in the database, so it does not work with pairs of before and after surgery pictures alone. The new system does. It uses two databases: a general one

114

January 2012

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stories. visit newscientist.com/technology

Mark Chatow, vice-president at Servio, a San Francisco-based company that offers translation and content-generation services. Chatow says that Duolingo will work fine for simple sentences, but notes that some material requires a grasp of nuanced meanings, which learners will struggle with. Nuance is a particularly common problem in Chinese-to-English translations, he adds. Idiomatic expressions, the bane of automated translation services, may also cause problems. Google,

for example, translates the Spanish idiom "nunca llueve a gusto de todos" as "it never rains to everyone's taste", whereas a professional translator would provide something like "you can't please everyone". It remains to be seen whether Duolingo's learners can do as good a job. Also uncertain is the speed at which translations can be completed, which obviously depends on the number of language students using the software. Von Ahn estimates that it would take a million students to translate Wikipedia in 80 hours, while 100,000 learners would take five weeks. However, language tutorials are already popular - more than 5 million people in the US alone have paid for language-learning softwareand von Ahn says there are already 200,000 people on the waiting list for Duolingo. To keep the translations flowing, users will also have to find the learning process "mildly addictive", says Philip Resnik at the University of Maryland in College Park. In tests, New Scientist found the site easy to use and its reward system of points and stars compelling. Students can also compete against their friends. "Given von Ahn's record I imagine he'll be successful," says Resnik. •

full of random faces, and another containing all of the "before" pictures - akin to police mugs hots. When a target "after" picture is analysed, a composite picture as similar as possible is created from the features of people in the general database. All of the "before" pictures go through the same process. If the composite picture created using the "after" picture matches closely with any of the composite pictures derived from the "before" pictures, the two are declared a match. The team found that while surgery changes the appearance of a face, many individual features stay the same, and matching based on the

nose or eyes alone was actually more accurate than some existing wholeface techniques. Combining the matches of all facial features gave the team a 78 per cent success rate when comparing pre- and post-surgical photos. They presented their work this week at the Workshop on the Applications of Computer Vision in Breckenridge, Colorado. "They're on the right track;' says Christopher Solomon of Vision Metric. a company based at the University of Kent UK, which provides facial 10 software to police. He says the new approach could help police uncover disguised criminals but is unlikely to ever be totally accurate. JacobAron • 14 January 20121 NewScientist 119

TECHNOLOGY
Loud-mouthed Wi-Fi devices use sound to connect
THE warbling sound of the dial-up modem could soon make a comeback - but it won't take us back to an era of superslow internet access. Instead, Intel is proposing that bleeping audio tones could make connecting devices to Wi-Fi routers easier. The aim, revealed in a US patent application last week, is to avoid the hassle people face when trying to connect wireless-capable devices like TVs and speakers to a router.

Bitcoin rises again
The online currency's software could secure e-voting and foil censorship
their votes - into a Bitcoin address. IT HAS been a rocky year for Bitcoin, Sending a tiny fraction of a bitcoin the online peer-to-peer currency, with a small transaction - to that address the exchange rate soaring from a few cents to over $30 per coin before would allow the holderofthat listto store it in the public record without crashing after a string of thefts, hacks and other setbacks. Coins have since revealing its contents. When they later publish the message for verification, regained a value of around $5. But it anyone can repeat the conversion to is becoming clear that the software a Bitcoin address and confirm its age could prove at least as useful as the currency itself, underpinning a number by checking the public record. Faking Bitcoin's public record would of important new technologies. First, it could be used as a form of be very difficult as you'd need more "carbon dating" for digital information - computing power than the rest of the Bitcoin network combined - a feature something that would make electronic voting more secure. This is possible "The currency's software because of the way Bitcoin records could 'carbon date' digital transactions, saysJeremy Clark, a information, preventing computer scientist at Carleton votes from being changed" University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. An individual's bitcoins are registered to one or more addresses, that ensures the currency's security. The pair have used their method, which are alphanumeric sequences known as CommitCoin, to close a that serve as the user's identity on loophole in a voting system they the P2P network. When a transaction takes place, it is broadcast on the helped develop. In the Scantegrity system, voters receive a confirmation network, effectively creating a public record. The coded address keeps the code from the list that is user's identity anonymous. cryptographically linked to their selected candidate and can be used Clark and his colleague Aleksander Essex at the University of Waterloo, to check on the election website that also in Ontario, realised they could their vote is counted. convert a message - for example, a list Now, if an unscrupulous election of codes that securely link voters to official tries to change votes they would
201 NewScientist 114January 2012

People currently have to key the unique eight-digit 10 code displayed in a TV's set-up menu or printed on the back of speakers into the router, ensuring that it only talks to those devices. Butthis is time-consuming and difficult for people with impaired vision to do. Intel's idea, hatched at its applications lab in Portland, Oregon, is to replace the manual process with an automated communication built-in loudspeakers, audio scheme. Using Wi-Fi-capable

be outed, because the code used to record the vote would change, and would not match up with the BitCoin network entry. "CommitCoin allows you to not trust anyone," says Clark. "It plugs that gap," says Steve Schneider, who researches electronic voting systems at the University of Surrey, UK.He points outthat, although such systems aren't yet widely used, it is important that all security problems are resolved before they replace traditional voting methods. Another system, Namecoin, could be used to circumvent internet censorship. Launched last year, it uses modified Bitcoin software to provide decentralised domain names for websites. When you enter an address like newscientist.com into a browser, it consults a domain name system (ONS) server to find the site's numerical address. ONSservers are centrally controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers; Namecoin offers a P2P alternative. This allows owners of "bit" domains to get around ONS restrictions such as those proposed in the US Stop Online Piracy Act, which if passed into law would see copyright-infringing sites struck from the ONSrecord. Jacob Aron •

gadgets would emit a unique series of sounds to a Wi-Fi router equipped with a microphone. "The unauthorised wireless device audibly emits a uniquely identifying secret code;' say inventors Marc Meylemans and Gary Martz in their patent (US 2011/0277023). The router hears the code, verifies the device type and then automatically enrols it into the wireless network. The sounds emitted could varyinstead of bleeps they could be coded clicks or even music, the pair write. It cou Id even speak the code with a voice synthesiser for the visually impaired. If the system proves to be secure - the sound shouldn't be audible through walls, for instance -Intel says it could form part of a future variant of Wi-Fi Protected Setup, the standard enrolment software used by all Wi-Fi device makers. Paul Marks.

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OPINION

Antarctic hero
Scott's reputation as an explorer has taken a battering in recent years, but he deserves reappraisal for his dedication to science, says Anil Ananthaswamy
OF ALLthe hills I have climbed, the one I remember most vividly is Observation hill in Antarctica, a mound of volcanic rock a mere 250 metres high. It was December 2007 and the summer sky was a clear, deep blue. From the summit I could see the frozen McMurdo sound and the sprawling McMurdo Station, the US base on the Antarctic coast. In the other direction lay the Ross ice shelf, a glistening expanse of white that stretched interminably towards the horizon, beyond which lay the South Pole. Near the summit stood a large wooden cross erected in 1913, on which were etched the names of five explorers: "Capt. R. F. Scott, Dr E. A. Wilson, Capt. 1. E. G. Oates, Lt. H. R. Bowers, Petty Officer E. Evans ... who died on their return from the pole March 1912". Below it was the last line of Tennyson's poem Ulysses: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." Scott's team reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912,100 years ago next week, only to find that Roald Amundsen had got there first. Despondent, Scott pondered the bleak return trip in his diary: "Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it." They couldn't. Evans died on 17 February, weakened by a fall into a crevasse. Oates walked out of his tent into a blizzard on 16 March and was never seen again. Scott, Bowers and Wilson froze to death in their tent two weeks later. They were just 18 kilometres from a depot full of fuel and food, and just 240 kilometres from McMurdo. When a search party reached
241 NewScientist 114January 2012

Scott's tent in November, they geographic exploration. From Ross Island, the site of McMurdo found the three dead men, their diaries - and about 15 kilograms of station today, Scott's men mounted an expedition to the rocks. Had the geological samples magnetic South Pole. They didn't slowed down the team? Had reach it, but were the first to scale Scott endangered his men in a the Transantarctic mountains misguided pursuit of science? and glimpse the immense East Such charges have been levelled Antarctic sheet. at Scott, among others, to undermine his reputation as Science became even more of an obsession during Scott's fatal a heroic leader of men (New second expedition, Terra Nova Scientist, 1 October 2011, p 30). Scott got a lot of things wrong, (1910-1913). In the winter 0f1911 three members of his teamthe pursuit of science wasn't one Wilson, Bowers and Apsley of them. Science was an integral part of his Antarctic expeditions. "Captain Scott got a lot His first, Discovery (1901-1904), of things wrong but the was as much about charting the pursuit of science wasn't magnetic properties ofthe one of them" Antarctic region as it was about

Cherry-Garrard - undertook a near-suicidal mission to find a rookery of emperor penguins. The trio trekked in almost complete darkness, often sledging in knee-deep snow and repeatedly falling into crevasses. Their sleeping bags would freeze solid, and they spent hours making them pliant enough to sleep in. All this for a few penguin eggs. Emperor penguins were thought to be primitive birds. The idea was to collect embryos and see if any vestiges of reptilian ancestry could be discerned in the various stages of development. If so, it would link reptiles to birds and make a strong case for Darwin's theory of evolution. Sadly, the men only collected three eggs and returned frostbitten, battered and bruised. "This journey had beggared our language: no words could express its horror," wrote Cherry-Garrard in his aptly titled memoir The Worst Journey in the World. Cherry-Garrard never fully recovered, but Bowers and Wilson rebounded to join Scott on the illfated race to the pole. Even when they discovered that they had lost, the men did not forget the scientific aims of their expedition. By early February they had reached Beardmore glacier. But instead of pressing on to the Ross ice shelf, they stopped to study a nearby moraine. Wilson sketched exposed rock formations despite his snow blindness. Scott wrote about "perpendicular cliffs of Beacon sandstone, weathering rapidly and carrying veritable coal seams." Then they loaded up with fossils and rocks. Would they have

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made it back to the depot had they not slowed down for science? We'll never know. But the fossils turned out to be precious. They gave scientists a glimpse into Antarctica's past, and set in motion the spirit of scientific enquiry that is still inspired by the continent today. As Francis Spufford notes in The Antarctic, his anthology of writings about the frozen continent, "carrying [the rocks 1 along was, perversely, among the most forward-looking things Scott ever did. It anticipated the coming time when scientists, not explorers, would be Antarctica's defining inhabitants; when understanding, not surviving, would be the most pressing human business there." Today, the scope of Antarctic science is deep and broad. Ice cores drilled from its ice sheets are giving us a glimpse of our past - and our possible future in a warming world. From Observation hill you can watch the launch of NASA's 300-metrehigh long-duration balloons, which carry z-tonne telescopes to the edge of the atmosphere. At the South Pole you find scientific instruments galore, from radio telescopes studying the afterglow of the big bang to IceCube, which monitors a cubic kilometre of ice for neutrinos from outer space (New Scientist, 19 April 2008, p 34). Elsewhere researchers are studying sub-glacial lakes to glaciers, biology to weather. In stories of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration, when the pursuit of personal glory and national pride fuelled expeditions, Scott often comes out as second best: Amundsen was the explorer par excellence and Ernest Shackleton the brave, natural leader. But it is Scott's legacy of scientific study that has left the most enduring mark on Antarctica. The cross on Observation hill is a poignant reminder .• Anil Ananthaswamy is a consultant for

One minute with ...

Isak Gerson
The spiritual leader of the world's newest religion, Kopimism, explains why he thinks copying information is holy
Tell me about this new religion. Kopimism. It was founded about 15 months ago. We believe that information is holy and that the act of copying is holy. Why make a religion out of file-sharing? We see ourselves as a religious group, so a church seemed like a good way of organising ourselves. Was it hard to become an official religion? We have had this faith for several years and one day we thought why not try and get it registered? It was quite difficult. The authorities were quite dogmatic with their formalities. It took us three tries and more than a yearto get recognised. What criteria do you have to meet to become an official religion? The law states that to be a religion you have to be an organisation that practises moments of prayer or meditation in your rituals. What are the Kopimist rituals? We have a part of our religious practices where we worship the value of information by copying it. You call this "kopyacting". Doyou actually meet up in a building. like a church. to undertake these rituals? We do meet up, but it doesn't have to be in a physical room. It could be on a server or a web page too. Do certain symbols have special significance in Kopimism? Yes.There is the "kopirni" logo, which is a Kwritten inside a pyramid, a symbol used online to show you want to be copied. But there are also symbols that represent and encourage copying, for example, "CTRL+ V" and "CTRL+C". Why is information. and sharing it. so important to you? Information is the building block of everything around me and everything I believe in. Copying it is a way of multiplying the value of information. PROFILE Isak Gerson is a philosophy student at Uppsala University, Sweden. Together with Gustav Nipe - a member of Sweden's Pirate party - and others he has founded the Church of Kopimism, which last week was recognised as a religion by the Swedish government

What's your stance on illegal file-sharing? Ithink that the copyright laws are very problematic, and at least need to be rewritten. Iwould suggest getting rid of most of them. How many church members are there? Around 3000. To join you just have to read our values and if you agree with them, then you can register on our website, at kopimistsamfundet.se Isthere a deity associated with Kopimism? No, there isn't. Does Kopimism have anything to say about the afterlife? Not really. As a religion we are not so focused on humans. It could be a digital afterlife. Information doesn't really have a life. I guess it can be forgotten, but as long as it is copied it won't be. Interview by Alison George

New Scientist
14 January 20121 NewScientist 125

OPINION THE BIG IDEA

The inner Neanderthal
What would have made them laugh? Or cry? Did they love home more than we do? Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge reveal the real Neanderthals
A NEANDERTHAL walks into a bar and says ... well, not a lot, probably. Certainly he or she could never have delivered a full-blown joke of the type modern humans would recognise because a joke hinges on surprise juxtapositions of unexpected or impossible events. Cognitively, it requires quite an advanced theory of mind to put oneself in the position of one or more of the actors in that joke - and enough working memory (the ability to actively hold information in your mind and use it in various ways). So does that mean our Neanderthal had no sense of humour? No: humans also recognise the physical humour used to mitigate painful episodes - tripping, hitting our heads and so on - which does not depend on language or symbols. So while we could have sat down with Neanderthals and enjoyed the slapstick ofThe Three Stooges or Lee Evans, the verbal complexities of Twelfth Night would have been lost on them. Humour is just one aspect of Neanderthal life we have been plotting for some years in our mission to make sense of their cognitive life. So what was it like to be a Neanderthal? Did they feel the same way we do? Did they fall in love? Have a bad day? Palaeoanthropologists now know a great deal about these ice-age Europeans who flourished between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago. We know, for example, that Neanderthals shared about 99.84 per cent of their DNA with us, and that we and they PROFILE Thomas Wynn is a professor of anthropology and Frederick L. Coolidge is a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. For the past decade they have worked on the evolution of cognition. Their new book is How to Think Like o Neondertol (Oxford University Press, 2012) evolved separately for several hundred thousand years. We also know Neanderthal brains were a bit larger than ours and were shaped a bit differently. And we know where they lived, what they ate and how they got it. Skeletal evidence shows that Neanderthal men, women and children led very strenuous lives, preoccupied with hunting large mammals. They often made tactical use of terrain features to gain as much advantage as possible, but administered the coup de grace with thrusting spears. Based on their choice of stone for tools, we know they almost never travelled outside small home territories that were rarely over 1000 square kilometres. The Neanderthal style of hunting often resulted in injuries, and the victims were often nursed back to health by others. But few would have survived serious lower body injuries, since individuals who could not walk might well have been abandoned. It looks as if Neanderthals had well-developed way-finding and tactical abilities, and empathy for group members, but also that they made pragmatic decisions when necessary. Looking closely at the choices Neanderthals made when they manufactured and used tools shows that they organised their technical activities much as artisans, such as blacksmiths, organise their production. Like blacksmiths, they relied on "expert" cognition, a form of observational learning and practice acquired through apprenticeship that relies heavily on long-term procedural memory. The only obvious difference between Neanderthal technical thinking and ours lay in innovation. Although Neanderthals invented the practice of hafting stone points onto spears, this was one of very few innovations over several hundred thousand years. Active invention relies on thinking by analogy and a good amount of working memory, implying

"Cognitive differences may have played a big role in seeing off Neanderthals"
they may have had a reduced capacity in these respects. Neanderthals may have relied more heavily than we do on well-learned procedures of expert cognition. As for the neighbourhood, the size and distribution of archaeological sites shows that Neanderthals spent their lives mostly in small groups of five to 10 individuals. Several such groups would come together briefly after especially successful hunts, suggesting that Neanderthals also belonged to larger communities but that they seldom made

261 NewScientist 114January 2012

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Living in small groups, Neanderthals lacked the modern human ability to deal with strangers psychologist Leda Cosmides, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Another was an ability to judge the value of one commodity in terms of another, what anthropologist Alan Page Fiske at the University of California, Los Angeles, calls the "market pricing" ability. Both are key reasoning skills that evolved to allow interaction with acquaintances and strangers, neither of which was a regular feature of Neanderthal home life. There are good circumstantial reasons for thinking that Neanderthals had language, with words and some kind of syntax; some of their technology and hunting tactics would have been difficult to learn and execute without it. Moreover, Neanderthal brains had a well-developed Broca's area, and their DNA includes the FOXP2 gene carried by modern humans, which is involved in speech production. Unfortunately, none of this reveals anything specific about Neanderthal language. It could have been very or only slightly different, we just don't know. Having any sort oflanguage could also have exposed Neanderthals to problems modern humans face, such as schizophrenia, says one theory which puts the disease down to coordination problems between the brain's left and right hemispheres. But while Neanderthals would have had a variety of personality types, just as we do, their way oflife would have selected for an average profile quite different from ours. Io or Joe Neanderthal would have been pragmatic, capable of leaving group members behind if necessary, and stoical, to deal with frequent injuries and lengthy convalescence. He or she had to be risk tolerant for hunting large beasts close up; they needed sympathy and empathy in their care ofthe injured and dead; and yet were neophobic, dogmatic and xenophobic. So we could have recognised and interacted with Neanderthals, but we would have noticed these significant cognitive differences. They would have been better at well-learned, expert cognition than modern humans, but not as good at the development of novel solutions. They were adept at intimate, small-scale social cognition, but lacked the cognitive tools to interact with acquaintances and strangers, including the extensive use of symbols. In the final count, when Neanderthals and modern humans found themselves competing across the European landscape 30,000 years ago, those cognitive differences may well have been decisive in seeing offthe Neanderthals .•
14 January 20121 NewScientist 127

contact with people outside those groupings. Many Neanderthal sites have rare pieces of high-quality stone from more distant sources (more than 100 kilometres), but not enough to indicate trade or even regular contact with other communities. A more likely scenario is that an adolescent boy or girl carried the material with them when they attached themselves to a new community. The small size of Neanderthal territories would have made some form of "marrying out" essential. We can also assume that Neanderthals had some form of marriage because pair-bonding between men and women, and joint provisioning for their offspring, had been a feature of hom in in social life for over a million years. They also protected corpses by covering

them with rocks or placing them in shallow pits, suggesting the kinds of intimate, embodied social and cognitive interaction typical of our own family life. But the Neanderthals' short lifespan -few lived past 35 - meant that other features of our more recent social past were absent: elders, for example, were rare. And they almost certainly lacked the cognitive abilities for dealing with strangers that evolved in modern humans, who lived in larger groups numbering in the scores and belonged to larger communities in the hundreds or more. They also established and maintained contacts with distant groups. One cognitive ability that evolved in modern humans as a result was the" cheater detection" ability described by evolutionary

OPINION LETTERS
One-way ticket
From Euan Semple SpaceX founder Elon Musk may send a million people to Mars, but it won't be to Mars and back (17 December 2011, p 45). It is the "and back" that gives NASA a headache, and adds all the zeros to mission costs. A suicide mission to Mars is fairly straightforward, and I have even heard an American geologist volunteer for the trip. I do not believe, however, that the US would condone such a mission. Another country with different standards might, but I still think crewed travel to Mars will never happen. Going to the moon was relatively easy and misled everyone about the challenges of interplanetary travel. Clare, South Australia From John Hirst I can see many problems with Musk's call to colonise Mars. The first is that there is no real appetite in the general populace to leave Earth. Cosmic radiation is also a really tough nut to crack for long-term survival. There are countless other issues, of course. It is highly likely that without any medical or supply backups the first such mission would fail. The moon, on the other hand, is close enough for emergencies to be dealt with by supply missions. Let's try for a base there first, to see if that is achievable. Just imagine a regular

Lost decade
From Tim Gore, Oxfam climate change adviser The outcome ofthe United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, was indeed a deal which offers little for the poorest people already struggling at the sharp end of climate change (17 December 2011, p 8). On the plus side, governments shunned voluntary pledges of action and turned decisively towards legal commitments. The Kyoto protocol is to continue as the foundation of global efforts to fight climate change led by the European Union, though without key nations such as Japan, Russia and Canada. Most significantly, negotiations will be launched to conclude a wider legal agreement for all countries by 2015, to take effect from 2020. The world, however, needs to act much sooner. A real risk of such a to-year timeout is that nothing more than the emission cuts pledged in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, will be seen, which puts the world on track to a temperature rise of 4°C due to global warming. Vulnerable people also need to be given sufficient resources as soon as possible to help them adapt to rising temperatures. In Durban the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations cut emissions and adapt to climate change was defined, but no progress was made in identifying new funds. To turn the tide, a coalition of countries must step up and leave behind those who wish to drag the world in the wrong direction. Oxford, UK

TV broadcast from the first colonists: that would really fire up enthusiasm down here on Earth. Such colonisation would be one of the most difficult and challenging things humankind will ever attempt. Some would say it is also the most important thing for our ultimate survival. It is time for us to make the first leap, but it has to be a global effort. Poole, Dorset, UK

phenomena (GTP), by which players of video games sometimes react to the world as they would to a gaming environment (24/31 December 2011, p 76). We would like to point out that the negative reaction by garners was not to our study, but to how it was reported by the UK national press, with particularly sensationalist and misleading stories, such as that in the Daily Mail. The feedback we have received from garners who read our published paper is almost all positive. The other source of criticism in many news reports about our work concerned its small sample of garners, drawn from just one country. Although our initial work was a qualitative interview study with Swedish garners, we are now one year into a three-year research project and have amassed a large GTP database from thousands of garners around the world. Early analysis suggests GTP are commonplace, and that some GTP appear to be very similar among players of particular games. Nottingham, UK

Read my lips
From Quintin Davis An interesting feature of language diversity not identified by David Robson (10 December 2011, p 34) is that languages in hot countries tend to use sounds typical of a wide open mouth, whereas in cold countries the language is more conducive to the use of almost closed lips. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK From Duncan Cameron Robson believes languages that develop in isolation become complex, and that when languages interface with others they become simpler. While most modern Latin languages have lost what he calls the "complex" Latin rules on noun endings, another "complex" language - spoken over a large part ofthe globe as a second

Enigma Number 1680

Do magic
SUSAN DENHAM

I have constructed a 3 x 3 magic square - that is, it contains nine different whole numbers and each row, column and main diagonal has the same sum. But my numbers are in a base other than 10 and I have used letters for the higher"digits",

namely A for 10, B for 11,Cfor 12, and so on, as far as necessary. The result is that one of the entries in my square now reads as "DO" (the letters 0 and 0) and the bottom row of the square, when read right across, makes the word "MAGIC". In decimal notation, (a) What base was Iworking in? (b) What is the sum of each row?

WIN £15 will be awarded to the sender of the first correct

answer opened on Wednesday 7 March. The Editor's decision is final. Please send entries to Enigma 1680, New Scientist Lacon House, 84 Theobald's Road, London WClX 8NS, or to enigma@newscientist.com (please include your postal address). Answer to 1673 Just one: The lowest and highest of the six numbers are 143 and 937 The winner Matt Lodge of Exeter, Devon, UK

Good reaction
From Mark Griffiths, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University Your article "Game of life" featured our research into game transfer

281 NewScientist 114 January 2012

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language - has not, namely Russian. Russia is host to many indigenous ethnic minorities who use the Russian nominal case system of six noun endings and three genders without difficulty, as do millions of others in the many other countries where Russian is commonly used as a second language. As it happens, Russians find Latin easy to learn. Brighton, East Sussex, UK The editor writes: • Gary Lupyan, who conducted the research, points out that Russia's educational system may have slowed down language change by only teaching "correct" grammar - essentially weeding out any simplifications that may start to enter the language.

Free to choose
From Robert Harding The theories described in Robert Adler's article on the multiverse (26 November 2011, p 43) have consequences for the usual "que sera sera" argument that free will is an illusion. This implicitly assumes a single causal thread running from the initial conditions at the start of the universe, and so we have no real freedom to choose. But if quantum physicist David Deutsch and others are right, and the parallel worlds of the multiverse are "as real as dinosaurs", then it is que pod ria ser, sera - whatever could be, will be, or perhaps even is. Even more so ifthe level 1multiverse, with its parallel universes separated by vast distances, is equated to the level 3 multiverse, in which the other universes reflect all possible quantum outcomes. Therefore, when any of us has to make a choice, the multiverse doesn't care - in its book that has all been taken care of. What is different is the way we follow our own personal thread of consciousness. Is this free will (still an illusion) but not as we knew it? If a moral interpretation is needed, you could say that making a "good" choice transfers your consciousness to a nicer universe, but a "bad" choice takes you to another place. Readers may wish to assign names to these universes, according to religious beliefs. Cambridge, UK

It would only move on when the

green turtle became jealous. Brisbane, Australia

Not nothing
From John Davies Dave Howells in his letter defines "nothing" as unconsciousness, a bit like a virtual container that is empty (10 December 2011, p 33). But his container, his mind, contains the anatomy, the memories, the skills and experience that make up him. Ifhe is anaesthetised, or falls asleep, these become parts of a switched-off machine that can be turned on again. Ifthat were not so, and his unconscious mind was empty and contained nothing, how could he wake up again? Lancaster, UK

as religion or received wisdom. Science stories in the mass media are usually brief and resultcentred, and science journalism with more depth is followed by a small minority. Schools could teach how grown-up science really works, and why it is the most reliable method of acquiring information. Promoting such an addition to curricula would not be politically easy, but it could be an important step towards more science-based decision-making. Tammela, Finland

In defence of...
From Ian Gilbert You reported US defence funding of research into reprogrammable nanoparticle antibiotics (3 December 2011, p 5), saying: "As with GPS and the internet, this might benefit the military initially, but eventually become a model for mainstream medication." New Scientist is to be commended for recognising that what matters are the research results, not the funding source. Washington DC, US

Bills ahoy
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Understand science
From Helena Telkiinranta Your analysis ofthe hurdles to overcome anti-science was excellent (29 October 2011, p 42). There is one more challenge, though. Most people, including many politicians, do not really know how science works. When we hear the word "science", we think about doubleblinding, statistical significance and peer review. It is easy to forget that most people have never heard of these. And if you don't understand how information has been obtained, it is only reasonable that you don't consider it more reliable than other sources, such

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For the record
• 'The oil maze" and 'Tapping into history", which appeared in the Statoil branded articles in the UK editions of 3 and 10 December 2011, should have referred readers to energyrealities.org and not to a similarly named website. • Anna Wilkinson, quoted in the tortoise cognition feature (24/31 December 2011, p44), is now atthe University of Lincoln, UK. Letters should be sent to: Letters to the Editor, New Scientist. 84 Theobald's Road, London WClX 8NS

From Geoffrey Withington You reported proposals to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping (17December 2011, p 20). The rimdriven thrusters, polymer coatings and air-cavity systems mentioned will all increase costs. In 40 years, the only things the shipping companies have spent money on have been navigational aids, bow/stern/tunnel thrusters for docking, stabilisers and antipirate safe rooms. Naval architects are going to have their work cut out incorporating expensive green technology in the vessels of parsimonious owners. Bridge, Kent, UK

Green with envy
From Chris Ryan Further to Dan Lufkin's letter about massaging fish (17 December 2011, p 31), I worked at a large aquarium where part of my job was to swim with the fish. The clown triggerfish would always come up and sit in my hand while I scratched the back of its head, to the delight of visitors.

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14 January 20121 NewScientist 129

301 NewScientist 114January 2012

COVER STORY

The word of superstuff
Welcome to a place where liquids flow uphill and solids pass through one another. Michael Brooks is your guide
deliverance from our energy crisis and perhaps even unveil the ultimate nature of the universe. Welcome to the world of superstuff. This world is a cold one. It only exists within a few degrees of absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible. Though you might think very little would happen in such a frozen place, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a wild, almost surreal world, worthy of Lewis Carroll. One way to cross its threshold is to cool liquid helium to just above 2 kelvin. The first thing you might notice is that you can set the helium rotating, and it will just keep on spinning. That's because it is now a "superfluid", a liquid state with no viscosity. Another interesting property of a superfluid is that it will flow up the walls of its container. Lift a bucketful of superfluid helium out of a vat of the stuff, and it will flow up the sides of the bucket, over the lip and down the outside, rejoining the fluid it was taken from. Though fascinating to watch, such gravitydefying antics are perhaps not terribly useful. Offar more practical value are the strange thermal properties of superfluid helium. Take a normal liquid out of the refrigerator and you find it warms up. With a superfluid, though, the usual rules no longer apply. Researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, use this property to help accelerate beams of protons. They pipe 120 tonnes of superfluid helium around the accelerator's >
14 January 20121 NewScientist 131

F

OR centuries, con artists have convinced the masses that it is possible to defy gravity or walk through walls. Victorian audiences gasped at tricks ofievitation involving crinolined ladies hovering over tables. Even before then, fraudsters and deluded inventors were proudly displaying perpetual-motion machines that could do impossible things, such as make liquids flow uphill without consuming energy. Today, magicians still make solid rings pass through each other and become interlinked - or so it appears. But these are all cheap tricks compared with what the real world has to offer. Cool a piece of metal or a bucket of helium to near absolute zero and, in the right conditions, you will see the metal levitating above a magnet, liquid helium flowing up the walls of its container or solids passing through each other. "We love to observe these phenomena in the lab," says Ed Hinds of Imperial College, London. This weirdness is not mere entertainment, though. From these strange phenomena we can tease out all of chemistry and biology, find

27- kilometre circumference to cool the thousands of magnets that guide the particle beams. Normal liquid helium would warm up considerably if used in this way, but the extraordinary thermal properties of the superfluid version means its temperature rises by less than 0.1 kelvin for every kilometre ofthe beam ring. Without superfluids, it would have been impossible to build the machine that many physicists hope will reveal the innermost secrets of the universe's forces and building blocks. The LHC magnets have super-properties themselves. They are made from the superfluid's solid cousin, the superconductor. At temperatures approaching zero kelvin, many metals lose all resistance to electricity. This is not just a gradual reduction in resistance, but a dramatic drop at a specific temperature. It happens at a different temperature for each metal, and it unleashes a powerful phenomenon. For a start, very little power is needed to make superconductors carry huge currents, which means they can generate intense magnetic fields - hence their presence at the LHe. And just as a superfluid set rotating will keep rotating forever, so an electric current in a su perconducting circuit will never fade away. That makes superconductors ideal for transporting energy, or storing it. The cables used to transmit electricity from generators to homes lose around 10 per cent of the energy they carry as heat, due to their electrical resistance. Superconducting cables would lose none. Storing energy in a superconductor could be an even more attractive prospect. Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or wave power generate energy at an unpredictable rate. If superconductors could be used to store excess power these sources happen to produce when demand is low, the world's energy problems would be vastly reduced. We are already putting superconductors to work. In China and Japan, experimental trains

use another feature of the superconducting world: the Meissner effect. Release a piece of superconductor above a magnet and it will hover above it rather than fall. That's because the magnet induces currents in the superconductor that create their own magnetic field in opposition to the magnet's field. The mutual repulsion keeps the superconductor in the air. Put a train atop a superconductor and you have the basis of a levitating, friction-free transport system. Such "maglev" trains do not use metal superconductors because it is too expensive to keep metals cooled to a few kelvin; instead they use ceramics that can superconduct at much higher temperatures, which makes them much easier and cheaper to cool using liquid nitrogen.

A tale of two particles
These are strange behaviours indeed, so what explains them? Both superfluidity and superconductivity are products ofthe quantum world. Imagine you have two identical particles, and you swap their positions. The physical system looks exactly the same, and responds to an experiment exactly as before. However, quantum theory records the swap by multiplying their quantum state by a "phase factor". Switching the particles again brings in the phase factor a second time, but the particles are in their original position and so everything returns to its original state. "Since switching the particles twice brings you back to where you were, multiplying by this phase twice must do nothing at all," says John Baez at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. This means that squaring the phase must give 1, which in turn means that the phase itself can be equal to 1 or -1. This is more than a mathematical trick: it leads nature to divide into two. According to quantum mechanics, a particle can exist in many places at once and move in more than one direction at a time. Last century, theorists

"From these strange phenomena we can tease out all of chemistry and biology, find deliverance from the energy crisis and unveil the nature of the universe"

showed that the physical properties of a quantum object depend on summing together all these possibilities to give the probability of finding the object in a certain state. There are two outcomes of such a sum, one where the phase factor is 1and one where it is -1. These numbers represent two types of particles, known as bosons and fermions. The difference between them becomes clear at low temperatures. That is because when you take away all thermal energy, as you do near absolute zero, there aren't many different energy states available. The only possibilities to put into quantum theory's equations come from swapping the positions of the particles. Swapping bosons introduces a phase change of 1. Using the equations to work out the physical properties ofbosons, you find that their states add together in a straightforward way, and that this means there is a high probability of finding indistinguishable bosons in the same quantum state. Simply put, bosons like to socialise. In 1924, Albert Einstein and Satyendra Bose suggested that at low enough temperatures, the body of indistinguishable bosons would effectively coalesce together into what looks and behaves like a single object, now known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEe. Helium atoms are bosons, and their formation into a BECis what gives rise to superfluidity. You can think of the helium BEC as a giant atom in its lowest possible quantum energy state. Its strange properties derive from this. The lack of viscosity , for instance, comes from the fact that there is a huge gap in energy between this lowest state and the next energy state. Viscosity is just the dissipation of energy due to friction, but since the BEC is in its lowest state already, there is no way for it to lose energy - and thus it has no viscosity. Only by adding lots of energy can you break a liquid out of the superfluid state. If you physically lift a portion of the superatom, it acquires more gravitational potential energy than the rest. This is not a sustainable equilibrium for the superfluid. Instead, the superfluid will flow up and out of its container to pull itself all back to one place. Superconductors are also BECs. Here, though, there is a complication because electrons, the particles responsible for electrical conduction, are fermions. Fermions are loners. Swap them around and, as with swapping your left and right hand, things don't quite look the same. Mathematically, this action introduces a phase change of -1 into the equation that describes

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their properties. The upshot is that when it comes to summing up all the states, you get zero. There is zero probability offinding them in the same quantum state. We should be glad of this: it is the reason for our existence. The whole of chemistry stems from this principle that identical fermions cannot be in the same quantum state. It forces an atom's electrons to occupy positions further and further away from the nucleus. This leaves them with only a weak attraction to the protons at the centre, and thus free to engage in bonding and other chemical activities. Without that minus sign introduced as electrons swap positions, there would be no stars, planets or life. So how do the electrons in superconductors form into BECs? In 1956, Leon Cooper showed how electrons moving through a metal can bind together in pairs and acquire the characteristics of a boson. If all the electrons in a metal crystal form into such Cooper pairs, these bosons will come together to form, as in superfluid helium, one giant particle - a BEe. The main consequence of this is a total lack of electrical resistance. In normal metals, resistance arises from electrons bumping into the metal ions bouncing around. But once a metal becomes a superconductor, the electronpair condensate is in its lowest possible state.

'Lift a bucketful of superfluid helium out of a vat and it will flow up the bucket's sides, over the lip and down the outside, rejoining the fluid it was taken from"

That means it cannot dissipate energy and, once the Cooper pairs are made to flow in an electrical current, they simply keep flowing. The only way to disturb superconductivity without raising the temperature is to add energy another way, for example by applying a sufficiently strong magnetic field. Though superfluids and superconductors are bizarre enough, they are notthe limit of the quantum world's weirdness, it seems. "There is yet another level of complexity," says Ed Hinds. That complexity comes into play below 1kelvin and at more than 25 times Earth's atmospheric pressure, when helium becomes a solid. This form of helium plays havoc with our notions of solidity. Get the conditions right and you can make solids pass

EXTREMESUPERATOMS
Superfluids, superconductors and supersolids owe their bizarre behaviour to the formation of a sort of superatom inside them, known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEq. But might it be possible to create such a state outside of a liquid or solid? It took researchers many years, but in 1995 a team at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology finally succeeded in coaxing a gas of rubidium into a BEC,its lowest possible quantum state. The breakthrough won team leaders Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell, together with Wolfgang Ketterle at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 2001 Nobel prize for physics. When Wieman and Cornell made their condensate, their lab briefly became home to the coldest place in the universe, just 20 nanokelvin above absolute zero. It wasn't the only BECin the cosmos, though, even discounting superfluid or superconductor experiments that might have been taking place at exactly the same time. Last year the Chandra X-ray telescope discovered that the core of a neutron star called Cassiopeia A, which lies 11,000 light years away from Earth, is a superfluid. One teaspoon of neutron star material weighs six billion tonnes and the intense pressure from the outer layers is enough to squeeze the core into a BEC Yet, despite the name, the core of a neutron star isn't exclusively made of neutrons; it contains a portion of protons too, which also form a BEC You can think of this as a superfluid or, because the protons carry electrical charge, a superconductor.

through each other like ghosts walking through walls. Such an effect was first observed in 2004 by Moses Chan and Eunseong Kim at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. They set up solid helium in a vat that could rapidly rotate back and forth, inducing oscillations in the solid helium. They observed a resonant vibrational frequency which they interpreted as indicating that there were two solids in the vat, which were passing through each other. Admittedly the two solids do not fit our usual definitions. One was made up of "vacancies", created when helium atoms shake free of the lattice that forms solid helium. The gaps left behind have all the properties of a real particle - they are so like real particles, in fact, that their quantum states can lock together to form a BEe. The solid helium is also a BEC,and it is these two condensates that pass through each other. Chan and Kim's observation is still somewhat controversial; some researchers think there is a more prosaic explanation to do with deformations and defects in the helium lattice. "There is a lot of activity, several theory notions and experiments of interest, but no real agreement," says Robert Hallock of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Nonetheless, even the fact that it might be possible to create solids that aren't really solid shows just how odd superstuff can get. And it's all because the world has a fundamental distinction at its heart. Everything, from human beings to weird lowtemperature phenomena like liquids that defy gravity, stems from the fact that there are two kinds of particles: those that like to socialise, and those that don't. Sound familiar? Perhaps the quantum world isn't that different from us after all .•
Michael Brooks is a consultant of science (Profile) 14 January 20121 NewScientist 133 for New Scientist

His latest book is Free Radicals: The secret anarchy

Roaming clusters of seismic energy could explain how large earthquakes occur where we least expect them, says Ferris [abr

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EATRICE MAGNANI spends her days navigating the Mississippi river in a US Army Corps of Engineers vessel thattows an airgun and a hydrophone. "It's kind of a Mark Twain thing," she says. Every 7 seconds, the airgun pops, expelling a bubble of pressurised air into the sediments beneath the river bed. Magnani uses the pressure and timing of the reflected waves to create a picture of what lies beneath the Mississippi's murky waters. In a geologically quiet continental interior such as the US Midwest, sediments of different ages should be stacked in layers as neat as those of a Black Forest gateau. Under the Mississippi, however, they are not - in places, they are broken or folded in on themselves. "Something must have deformed them after they were deposited," says Magnani, a seismologist at

the University of Memphis, Tennessee. Something like a huge earthquake. Exactly 200 years ago, between 16 December 1811 and 7 February 1812, a series of four massive quakes ripped through the Mississippi embayment, a low-lying, sediment-filled basin stretching from the Gulf of Mexico northwards to Cairo, Illinois. Centred on the town of New Madrid in present-day Missouri, the quakes measured around magnitude 7 on modern scales, and possibly as much as magnitude 8. In the last of them, the Mississippi river flowed backwards, the riverbanks spewed sand, and Reelfoot Lake - today a popular hunting and fishing preserve in north-west Tennessee - formed as the ground opened to swallow displaced water. That, on the face of it, is rather unexpected. New Madrid lies far from typical arenas of

341 NewScientist 114January 2012

WATERWORKS
Could "intraplate" earthquakes far from tectonic plate boundaries be the work of wind and weather? John Costa in of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg thinks so. He champions a controversial idea called hydroseismicity. Beneath your feet. water from the atmosphere and from rivers, lakes and streams seeps into whatever spaces it can find in the porous earth, including geological fractures and faults. Rapid changes in the water table, caused for instance by a hurricane, can suddenly change the fluid pressure in these faults - and that might trigger earthquakes. Costain thinks that hurricane Camille, which hit the Gulf coast of the United States in August 1969, caused two earthquakes that hit Virginia later that year, affecting the same area in which 2011's magnitude S.8 quake struck (Seismological Research Letters, vol 79, p 578). Like much about intraplate earthquakes, hydroseismicity is still far from textbook science, but evidence that the weather influences tectonic movement is increasing. Over millions of years, monsoons have eroded so much earth that they have sped up the anticlockwise rotation of the Indian plate (Earth and Planetary Science Letters, The serenity of Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee belies a violent birth vol 304, p 503). Changes in sea level also seem to influence the incidence of earthquakes on the Easter microplate in the southern Pacific (Philosophical Transactions of the

major seismic upheaval, where one of Earth's tectonic plates meets another. But the earthquakes there were no unique occurrence. In 1556, the most deadly earthquake on record occurred in Shaanxi province in China's northern interior, again nowhere near a plate boundary. Some Soo,ooo people were killed as, according to a contemporary report, "mountains and rivers changed places". On 23 August last year, a magnitude 5.S quake struck with an epicentre near Mineral, Virginia. There were no deaths but the incident caused chaos and confusion up and down the US east coast. Earthquakes have struck the interiors of India and Australia in the recent past as well. These "intraplate" earthquakes have long been a mystery. "They are the last frontier for plate tectonics," says Magnani. What we are

finding out now, though, is giving us pause for thought. It might be that it's not just San Francisco and Los Angeles that are susceptible to significant earthquakes, but New York, Sydney and perhaps even London too. Should we be worried? Earth's tectonic plates are the jigsaw-like pieces of its rocky outermost layers, and drift about on more viscous material below. Where plates meet, they move against one another and push each other up and down. Along the San Andreas fault in California, the North American and Pacific plates grind against each other at a rate of 33 to 37 millimetres a year, building up the stress released in earthquakes. Records indicate that California experiences a magnitude 7 or greater quake every 100 to 150 years; the last was the magnitude 7.S San >

Royol Society A, vol 368, p 2481). Seth Stein of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and colleagues think that the movement of frozen water might account for seismicity in the US Midwest, too. In 2010, they proposed that the retreat of the ice cap at the end of the last ice age released pent-up energy that caused faults in the area around New Madrid to fail (Nature, vol 466, p 608). If that all stands up, climate change is likely to make such effects more pronounced: as melting ice caps release pressure on faults below, more quakes could be on the horizon (New Scientist, 1 October 2011, p 38).

14 January 20121 NewScientist 135

"The earthquakes appear to be jumping from one fault to another across long distances"
Francisco earthquake in 1906. Things might not be much different for intraplate earthquakes. Earth's crust is engaged in a slow but constant process of ripping itself apart and crashing back together. At places such as the mid-Atlantic ridge, the nearest plate boundary to the east of New Madrid, this ripping has succeeded, creating a region of volcanism where new material is constantly spewing up from Earth's interior. In other places, however, the rip never quite happens. The result is an unstable region that, though often unremarkable at the surface, is more easily stressed than the rock around it. These weak spots in Earth's crust are strained by the same geological restlessness that strains faults at plate boundaries; it just takes longer. That, it had been assumed, could explain why intraplate earthquakes occur far less frequently than those at plate boundaries. In the 1980s, it became clear New Madrid sits atop such a failed rift (Tectonophysics, vol 131,p i), Dubbed the Reelfoot rift, it lies buried beneath the southern and Midwestern US and seems to have shuddered regularly in recent millennia. Magnani's colleague Martitia Tuttle digs around New Madrid in search of geological features called sand blows, produced when a powerful earthquake shakes the soil so much that it loses strength and behaves like a liquid, spewing from the ground in a tiny mud volcano. The plains around New Madrid are dotted with sand blows that formed 200 years ago. Underground, Tuttle has found more, suggesting that large tremors racked the area in 300,900 and 1450 AD. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) suggests that there is a 25 to 40 per cent chance of a magnitude 6 or larger quake hitting the New Madrid area in the next 50 years, with a 7 to 10 per cent chance of an event as big as the one two centuries ago. Back then, there were hardly any settlers in the region. Today, a quake of that size would displace 7.2 million people in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, and cost at least $300 billion, according to a 2009 report funded by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. New Madrid might not be the only area at risk. Magnani's studies ofthe deformation of Mississippi sediments have uncovered a 45-kilometre-Iong fault north of Memphis that seems to be part ofthe Reelfoot system. The to-kilometre-long Marianna fault in Arkansas, discovered in 2009, could see a magnitude 7 quake, says Haydar Al-Shukri of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "The seismogenic potential involves a much larger area than just the active faults we see today," Magnani says. "New Madrid is just the latest incarnation."

Clustered and migrating
Seth Stein of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and his colleagues have come to a further startling conclusion after 20 years of using GPS to map the seismic zone around New Madrid. If the faults in the area are still under strain, they should be moving, just as they are at the San Andreas fault, for instance. But they are not (Science, vol 284, p 619). In 2009, Stein and his colleague Eric Calais suggested that New Madrid is now in a deep seismic slumber from which it should not be expected to awake for hundreds, if not thousands, of years (Science, vol 323, p 1442). That leads Stein to make a controversial claim. He doesn't buy the idea that intraplate earthquakes are akin to interplate earthquakes, hitting home less frequently but in similarly predictable places. Instead, he characterises them as episodic, clustered and migrating. Seismic energy can jump within a network of small faults that snake their way through the middle of a tectonic plate, he says - and that is just what is going on beneath the US Midwest. "If I had to guess, I would say that over time the motion in New Madrid will be transferred into seismic zones in Indiana and further south into Arkansas," he says. Whether that will happen on a timescale of decades or centuries, he cannot say. Work by Stein's collaborator Mian Liu of the University of Missouri in Columbia suggests there could be truth in this picture. Last year Liu analysed the occurrence of intraplate earthquakes over 2000 years in the north of China, scene of some of the most devastating historical examples, including the 1556 Shaanxi quake. Liu showed that the epicentres of intraplate earthquakes in China hop around haphazardly. Areas of violent shocks become quiescent; previously docile areas suddenly become active (Lithosphere, vol 3, p 128). "The earthquakes appear to be spatially migrating, jumping from one fault to another across long distances," he says. He thinks that faults in the

The 2011 Virginia earthquake caused upheaval but no deaths 361 NewScientist 114January 2012

Great shakes
Evenareas well away from plate boundaries may experience significant earthquakes, as this map of USseismic riskbased on historical data shows. The region around New Madridstands out - but it is by no means the only place affected

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New Madrid, Missouri
16 December 1811 (two) 23 January 1812 7 February 1812 Allmagnitude 7-8
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expect a magnitude 5 quake once every century, a magnitude 6 quake every 670 years and a magnitude 7 quake every 3400 years (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, vol 98, p 1696). That highlights a gulf between perceived and actual risk, says Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, UK. "An earthquake of magnitude 5.5 to 6 in New York would not come as a surprise to seismologists who have ever studied the area," he says. "But it would come as a surprise to most people who live there." The same goes for other major cities. An earthquake of estimated magnitude 5,7 hit the Dover straits off south-east England in 1580,

0-4

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Intensity of shaking as a percentage of acceleration due to gravity

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middle of a plate are mechanically coupled, so that an earthquake along one changes another's susceptibility to future movement. If so, that could have huge ramifications for our understanding of intraplate quakes. Take the Virginia quake of 2011. Its epicentre was in the Central Virginia seismic zone, which has experienced many quakes of around magnitude 3 over the past 120 years, but was not considered particularly at risk of anything bigger. If Stein and Liu's ideas are right, the culprit might be seismic energy that roamed into the area from elsewhere. The nearby Western Quebec seismic zone, for example, extends over the northern border of New York State, and was visited by a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in 1944. The Eastern Tennessee seismic zone, stretching from north-east Alabama to south-west Virginia, is also highly active, although most quakes in the region are small. Two magnitude 4.6 earthquakes have occurred there in recent decades: one near Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1973 and another near Fort Payne, Alabama, in 2003, That amounts to a wake-up call, says Stein's colleague Suzan van der Lee, "Earthquakes like the ones in Virginia and New Madrid could happen anywhere, including in Boston or Chicago," she says. In 2008, Lynn Sykes of Columbia University in New York City catalogued all 383 quakes in a 39,000-square-kilometre area around New York City from 1677 to 2007 and estimated the future risk. He concluded that New York can

"Quakes like the ones in Virginia and New Madrid could also happen in Boston or Chicago"
causing a pinnacle to fall off Westminster Abbey in London some 150 kilometres away. A magnitude 4.3 quake struck the same region in 2007. We should not overstate the risks, Musson says: most modern buildings in these areas could easily withstand a magnitude 5 or 6 quake. Skyscrapers in particular have enough" sway" in them to counteract the effects, but historical monuments and older buildings such as police stations, schools and fire stations made from unreinforced brick could be vulnerable,

Any larger earthquakes could be more problematic. A magnitude 6.5 quake below Manhattan could cause $1trillion in damage, according to Mary Lou Zoback, a former USGS seismologist who now works for riskmodelling company Risk Management Solutions. She suggests that not just building codes but also critical infrastructuresuch as electrical and telecommunications networks and water and fuel pipelines - need to be upgraded to reflect the small but real danger. In the US at least, more information on the vulnerable areas might come soon. USArray, a mobile system of hundreds of seismometers that has been crawling eastwards from California since 2004, is now centred on New Madrid, where it will stay for two years before moving on towards the east coast. Each seismometer records sound waves generated by vertical and horizontal movements in the Earth's crust, building up a complete picture of the rocks and the faults that riddle them (New Scientist, 11April 2009, p 26). "The array will help us answer questions about intraplate earthquakes," says van der Lee, Almost every third US state is thought to have a piece of failed rift in it, she says. Why some, like the Reelfoot, are seismically active but others are not remains a big unanswered question. "Until we find a clear pattern that explains intraplate quakes, we have to expect they could happen anywhere." • Ferrisjabr is a freelance writer based in New York
14 January 20121 NewScientist 137

381 NewScientist 114 January 2012

Feeling the future
F
EWsounds quicken the pulse like the clatter of the roulette ball as it drops. Fortunes can be won or lost as it settles into its numbered slot. Find a way to predict where it will come to rest, and you would soon become the envy of every other gam bier and the worst nightmare of every casino. Michael Franklin thinks he might be able to make that claim. Over thousands of trials, he seems to have found a way to predict, with an accuracy slightly better than chance, whether the ball will fall to red or black. You'll find no divining rods or crystal balls about Franklin's person. Nor does he operate from a murky tent swathed in lace and clouded with the fumes of burning incense; he works in a lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Franklin is one of a small group of psychologists who are investigating precognition - the ability to foretell the future. Astonishingly, some of the groups, including Franklin's, are returning positive results. "I still want to see that I can actually win money with this," says Franklin, who rates his confidence in the data so far at about 7.5 out of 10. "As a scientist, I need to be agnostic." If precognition does turn out to be real, it will shake the foundations of science and philosophy. Few researchers will be putting money on this conclusion, though; most expect that the puzzling results will begin to evaporate as others attempt to repeat the experiments. Even so, that could change science as we know it. Franklin and his colleagues are all using standard research methods that normally go unquestioned. If those methods can lead respected scientists to such startling errors, how many other studies might be similarly flawed? images. In every case, however, independent researchers failed to repeat the initial results, eventually concluding that they were the result of procedural flaws or coincidence. However, a year ago even the sceptics had to take a closer look when Daryl Bern, a wellrespected psychologist at Cornell University, New York, reported some positive results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (vol 100, p 407). "When Daryl Bem speaks, we listen," says Jeff Galak, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The appeal of Bern's work is that he used well-accepted psychological experiments, but with a twist. Countless studies, for example, have established that writing out a list of words makes it easier to recall those words later. Bem merely switched the order of the two events. His subjects viewed the list briefly and were tested on their initial recall. They were then given a smaller, random selection of words from the same list, which they were asked to type out and memorise. Surprisingly, they were more likely to have remembered these words during the initial memory test - before they had even seen the list. The difference between the two sets of words was slight - only 2.27 per cent - but statistically significant. Another of Bern's experiments focused on a psychological effect known as habituation; if volunteers are asked to choose between two similar images, they will tend to prefer an image they have seen before over one they have not. Again, Bem reversed the sequencehe showed subjects two new images, and asked them to choose which one they liked better, before showing them one of the images again immediately afterwards. Bem found that about 54 per cent ofthe time, people preferred the image they would end up seeing again later. He reported nine such time-reversed experiments, in eight of which later events appeared to influence people's earlier behaviour. The effects were subtle, typically swaying the results by 2 to 4 per cent, but Bem's statistical tests suggested that they were unlikely to have occurred by chance. Taken together, the experiments strongly suggested that people could indeed "feel the future", Bem concluded. Since Bern's study appeared, two other researchers presented similar results at the >

Whatever is behind the puzzling experiments that seem to show the future influencing the present they could change the course of science, says Bob Holmes

Future vision
Take a look at this Necker cube, which can be seen in two different ways. How do you see it?

A closer look
Despite widespread scepticism from mainstream scientists, studies of precognition and other forms of extrasensory perception crop up time and again. In the 1940S it was card-guessing, in the 1980s the ability to influence random-number generators, and in the last decade so-called "presentiment" - in which volunteers showed changes in skin conductance just before they saw disturbing

Now turn to page 40, or inside back page. According to a recent study, what you see there may have affected the way you originally perceived the illusion 14 January 20121 NewScientist 139

If precognition is real, you could "remember" future lottery results

"Franklin correctly called the fall of a roulette ball about 57 per cent of the time - enough to make a tidy profit had he bet real money"

Towards a Science of Consciousness conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in May 2011. Franklin was one of them. He asked volunteers to identify certain complex geometric shapes, some of which they would use for practice later on. In line with Bern's results, their performance on the first task seemed to be affected by the shapes they saw in the later practice run. Franklin wondered whether he could adapt his method to make more useful predictions. Suppose the choice of practice shapes was determined by the spin of a roulette wheel, for example. He could then use the subject's test results to predict whether the ball would fall on red or black ahead of time. "If you know which practice condition they're going to get, then you can say OK, I'm going to predict that the roulette spin is going to be red," Franklin says. Sure enough, when he actually tried this he correctly called the fall of a roulette ball in another room about 57 per cent of the time - enough to make a tidy profit, had he bet real money on a game. Dick Bierman, a physicist and cognitive psychologist at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, meanwhile, showed volunteers a standard optical illusion known as a Necker cube - a two-dimensional drawing of a cube that appears to alternate between top and bottom views (see "Future Vision", page 39). The subjects had to indicate which view they saw and when their perception switched. Then Bierman showed each volunteer a filled-in drawing of a cube that was unambiguously either top or bottom view. Those who later saw the top view spent more time perceiving the Necker cube in top view, while those who later saw the bottom view tended to see the Necker cube in bottom view, he found. It was as iftheir initial view predicted what they would be shown the second time. As with Bern's study, the difference was slight - about 3 per cent - but unlikely to have occurred by chance. At a first glance, these experiments appear to blow the conventional notion of cause and
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effect out of the water. It would suggest your hunches may really tell you something about the future. Perhaps you could even "remember" next week's lottery results. Surprisingly, none of this would break the laws of physics as we know them, since the equations of physics are mostly "timesymmetric", notes Daniel Sheehan, a physicist at the University of California ,San Diego. "If you were to say the past influences the present, everyone would say OK. But you can equally say that the future boundary conditions affect the present," says Sheehan, who organised a symposium on reverse causation in 2011 for a regional meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. "The future has an equal say in the present as does the past."

(racks appear
Indeed, even some physics experiments can be interpreted as causation moving backward in time. A photon passing through one or two narrow slits will behave as either a wave or a particle, depending on how many slits are open - even ifthe slits are adjusted after the photon has passed through (Science, vol 315, p 966). The experiment can also be explained without invoking reverse causation, but the arguments tend to be tortuous, says Sheehan. The vast majority of scientists won't be embracing these interpretations just yet. "Before you jump to attempts to accommodate these phenomena in physics, show us that the phenomena are there," says James Alcock, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada. And if you take a closer look at the latest studies, cracks begin to appear in their seemingly convincing facade. To begin with, the statistical analyses, which are meant to weed out results that could have occurred by chance, may in fact be hiding false positives. Using the standard technique, researchers try to estimate the probability of their results occurring under a so-called "null

hypothesis" that nothing unusual is going on - in this case, the idea that precognition does not occur. Ifthis probability is suitably small, they conclude that an alternative hypothesis must be true instead - in these experiments, the idea that precognition really exists. But nowhere in this process do the experimenters calculate how likely the observations would be under the alternative hypothesis. When you do perform this calculation, using a different method known as Bayesian statistics, the results can be disconcerting. Suppose you toss a coin a 1000 times, and end up getting 527 tails. The odds of getting this far away from a 50 :50 divide using a fair coin are a little less than 1 in 20. It's tempting to think this means the odds are 20 to 1 that the coin is biased - but that's not the case, says Jeff Rouder, a psychologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Even the best alternative - a coin that gives tails 52.7 per cent of the time -yields a probability of just 0.025 of getting exactly 527 tails, which is only a four-fold improvement over the odds of producing exactly 527 tails with a fair coin. "In other words, this new alternative is not much more probable than the one I rejected," says Rouder. Other alternatives - that the coin comes up tails 55 per cent ofthe time, sayoffer even less of an edge over the null. Looking at Bern's data in this way, Bayesian reanalyses by Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a mathematical psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, and Rouder found the case for precognition to be unconvincing. Such analyses have their own issues, though, since Bayesian statisticians must initially estimate the size of the possible effect - in this case, how much precognition should sway the results ofthe tests. Bern argues that Wagenmakers's estimate was too high. His own Bayesian analysis concluded that his experiments, taken as a group, provided odds of about 13,000 to 1 in favour of precognition. Whatever the outcome of this debate, most sceptics agree that another factor - prevalent throughout science - may have boosted the chances of producing these puzzling results. The issue arises from the difficulties of setting up a study, when you choose which variables to measure, how many samples to take, and which confounding factors to consider. Ideally, all these decisions are made ahead of time, before any measurements have been collected. But in practice, experimenters often wing it, adjusting their techniques based on the results they see. For example, a researcher might measure two related variables, then report the one that gives the clearer (that is,

more significant) result - providing two places for a false positive to pop up. The common practice of "optional stopping", which involves analysing the data, then collecting more ifthe result is not quite significant, can also sway the chances of a false result.

Torturing the data
When researchers pick over their results in this way, they are in essence "torturing the data until they confess", says Wagenmakers. The effect can be huge: a study with four common errors of this sort could end up with false positives more than 60 per cent ofthe time, according to simulations by LeifNelson, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, and his colleagues. Bern says he has been careful to avoid these pitfalls. However, the sceptics - and even some who are inclined to think the results are realwonder whether some unknown factors may have remained unchecked. "There's a genuine concern that these effects - including the ones that I've observed - could be a product of all the different ways that you could analyse the data to make the research fit the hypothesis," says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who

is a co-author of Franklin's study. Fortunately, there is a straightforward way to settle the question - repeating the studies, with all procedures specified ahead of time in a public forum where everyone can see them. This eliminates the flexibility that can inflate the risk of false positives. If these studies still find evidence of precognition, then it deserves a closer look. If they do not, then the initial results were probably just false positives. Bern, to his credit, has made this easier by making his set-up available to other researchers, and several replications have already been done. One, by Eugene Subbotsky of the University ofLancaster, UK, found results almost identical to Bern's, while six

"Researchers in almost every field may be laying the ground for false positives to pop up like mushrooms after rain"

others, including tests by Galak and Nelson, Schooler, Wagenmakers and Richard Wiseman of the Universi ty of Hertfordshire, UK, have failed to find any supporting evidence. Franklin, too, has finished a replication of his results that gave just barely significant support for precognition. In the end, most scientists expect that most replications will fail and the current controversy over precognition will fade away, as all previous theories about ESP have before. "People are going to fail to replicate it, and that's what's going to make his statistics unimpressive in the end," says Rouder. But even if precognition does amount to nothing, Bern and Franklin may have made an important contribution to science by drawing our attention to how easily good researchers can be misled. After all, ESP researchers are not the only ones who torture their data. Thanks to increased computing power, researchers in every field have started to test one variable after another in search of interesting results, laying the ground for false positives to pop up like mushrooms after rain. "I think an awful lot of what's published out there is wrong," says Jim Berger, a statistician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. To remedy this, Schooler, Nelson and others are calling for a more rigorous approach, in which researchers routinely do what some are now doing for Bern's work: declare the experimental set-up beforehand, and report the results no matter what they look like. The proposal may be more radical than it seems, because most researchers are reluctant to do "mere replications" that aren't breaking new ground. "It's systemic," says Wiseman. "Punders don't like funding replications, scientists don't like carrying them out, and journals don't like publishing them." Changing that mindset may be the biggest challenge of all. • Bob Holmes is a consultant for New Scientist based in Edmonton, Canada
14 January 20121 NewScientist 141

Creative sparks
Does it really take a human to make a masterpiece? Catherine de Lange sizes up the artificial artists forcing us to change our ideas about creativity

I

NAloft overlooking the rooftops of one of the buzzing artistic neighbourhoods of Paris, France, Simon Colton is carefully unfurling one giant painting after another. I have waited some time to see these, and am unsure what to expect. To dislike them would be a disappointment, but easy. IfI think these paintings are any good, however, then I might have to reconsider my own creative talents. In fact, they might even challenge my understanding of what it means to be human. The thing is, these paintings are not the work of an ordinary artist. Nor of Colton, who is a computer scientist based at Imperial College London. Instead, they have been created by a piece of software that can seek artistic inspiration and, arguably, has a rudimentary imagination. Called the Painting Fool, it may have been designed by Colton, but its artwork is its own. It sounds unlikely that any computer, unguided by the human hand and eye, could create artwork with any feeling or resonance. How could it be creative without having experienced the world? Now, as I take a first glimpse at the paintings, will I be forced to reconsider? Could software, which has no shared experience with my own, create a painting that touches me? The Painting Fool is one of a growing

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number of computers which, so their makers claim, possess creative talents. Classical music by an artificial composer has had audiences enraptured, and even tricked them into believing a human was behind the score. Artworks painted by a robot have sold for thousands of dollars and been hung in prestigious galleries. And software has been built which creates art that could not have been imagined by the programmer. "It scares a lot of people," says Geraint Wiggins, a computational creativity researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London. "They are worried it is taking away something special from what it means to be human." While some animals such as crows and monkeys have displayed traits that could be labelled as limited creativity, we are the only species to perform sophisticated creative acts regularly. Ifwe can break this process down into computer code, where does that leave human creativity? "This is a question at the very core of humanity," says Wiggins. To some extent, we are all familiar with computerised art. Software that is used to create or manipulate art is ubiquitous, but these are mere tools for a human artist. The question is: where does the work of a person stop and the creativity of the computer begin? Consider one of the oldest machine artists,

Aaron, a robot that has had paintings exhibited in London's Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In some respects, then, Aaron passes some kind of creative Turing test - its works are good enough to be exhibited alongside some of the best human art and people spend good money on them. Aaron can pick up a paintbrush with its robotic arm and paint on canvas on its own. Impressive, perhaps, but it can never break free from the tightly controlled rules it has been given by its programmer, the artist and founder of machine fine art, Harold Cohen. So I remain unconvinced that Aaron is much more than a tool to realise Cohen's own creative ideas. Colton also dismisses the machine as "rather limited" because "it still only creates one kind of artwork: people in a room with pot plants". Colton is keen to make sure the Painting Fool doesn't fall foul ofthe same criticism,

Composed and painted by a computer - can it be enjoyed and lauded by a human being? and so has sought to give it as much autonomy as possible. Although the software does not physically apply paint to canvas, it simulates many styles digitally, from collage to paint strokes. One ofthe first paintings Colton shows me is a touching portrait of a young, fragile-looking girl with porcelain skin and long brown hair. I am impressed that a computer could capture such subtleties, until Colton tells me the software just applied its own painting style to photographs of the girl. That sounds like cheating to me, but Colton assures me that was an early work. Today, the Painting Fool only needs minimal direction and can come up with its own concepts by going online for source material. "I don't even give it the notion of a person or a topic," says Colton. "It will wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper headlines." The software runs its own web searches and trawls through social media websites such as Twitter and Flickr. The idea is that this approach will let it produce art that is meaningful to the audience, because it is essentially drawing on the human experience as we act, feel and argue on the web. In 2009, Colton and graduate student Anna Krzeczkowska asked the Painting Fool to > 14 January 20121 NewScientist 143

'The machine will wake up in the morning and look at newspaper headlines for source material"

produce its own interpretation of the war in Afghanistan, based on a news story. The result is a striking juxtaposition of Afghan citizens, explosions and war graves. "This piece struck a chord with me, and shows the potential for the software to add poignancy and intentionality to its paintings," says Colton. The Painting Fool is now beginning to display a kind of imagination too, creating pictures from scratch. One of its original works, part of a series that Colton called Four Seasons, depicts fuzzy panels of simple landscapes (see image, below). I think it looks rather mechanical.

"After discovering the truth, one music lover told Cope he had 'killed music' and tried to punch him"
to that of humans, who "have had millennia to develop our skills". Others, though, are fascinated by the prospect that a computer might create something as original, emotional and subtle as our best artists. So far, only one has come close. One day, David Cope was suffering from "composer's block". He had been commissioned to write an opera, but was struggling to come up with the goods. If only a computer could understand his style, he thought, and help him write new material. That idea was the starting point for what was to become one ofthe most controversial pieces of creative software to date. Cope came up with a program called Experiments in Musical Intelligence, or EM!. He fed in musical scores and out popped new material in the composer's style. Not only did EMI create compositions in his style, but also that of the most revered classical composers, including Bach and Mozart. To my untrained ear, it sounds like any other classical music. I found the purported Chopin, in particular, to be rich and emotional. Audiences who heard the music have been moved to tears, and EMI even fooled classical music experts into thinking they were hearing genuine Bach. If ever there were a successful Turing test for computational creativity, that had to be it. If a child produced these scenes, you might say they were imaginative

Comparable to Bach
Having said that, I am swayed by Colton's argument that my reaction arises from my double standards towards software-produced and human-produced art. After all, he says, consider that the Painting Fool painted the landscapes without referring to a photo. "If a child painted a new scene from its head, you'd say it has a certain level of imagination, even if it's just a little bit," he points out. "The same should be true of a machine." Software bugs can also lead to unexpected results. I see this for myself when Colton shows me some paintings of a chair, which came out black and white thanks to a glitch. It gives the work an eerie, ghostlike quality. Human artists like Ellsworth Kelly are lauded for limiting their colour palate - so why should computers be any different? Nonetheless, these mechanical steps towards creating new styles are barely comparable to the talents of, say, Picasso or Mozart. Or are they? Researchers like Colton don't believe it is right to compare machine creativity directly

Not everyone was impressed, however. Some critics, such as Wiggins, have blasted Cope's work as pseudoscience, saying his explanation of how the software works is "smoke and mirrors" leaving others unable to reproduce the results (Literary and Linguist Computing, vol 23, p 109). Douglas Hofstadter, at Indiana University, Bloomington, says Cope merely scratches at the surface of creativity, using superficial elements of an artist's work to create replicas, which still rely on the original artist's creative impulses. Nonetheless, for others EMI's ability to mimic Bach or Chopin has serious implications. If it is so easy to break down the style of some of the world's most original composers into computer code, that means some of the best human artists are more machine-like than we would like to think. Indeed, when audiences found out the truth about EMI they were often outraged - one music lover allegedly told Cope he had "killed music" and tried to punch him. Amid such controversy, in 2004 Cope decided that EMI's time was up, and destroyed its vital databases. But why did so many people love the music, yet recoil when they discovered what composed it? A study by David Moffat, a computer scientist at Glasgow Caledonian University in the UK, provides a clue. He asked both expert musicians and non-experts to assess the creative worth of six compositions. The participants weren't told beforehand whether the tunes were composed by humans or computers, but were asked to guess, and then rate how much they liked each one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who thought the composer was a computer tended to dislike that piece more than those who believed it was human. This was true even among experts, who you might think would be more objective in their analysis of musical quality. Where does this prejudice come from? Psychologist Paul Bloom of Yale University has a suggestion: he reckons part ofthe pleasure we get from art comes from our perception of the creative process behind it. This can give it an "irresistible essence", says Bloom. This idea explains why a painting loses its value if exposed as a fake, even though we might have loved it when we thought it was an original. Indeed, experiments by psychologist Justin Kruger of New York University have shown that people's enjoyment of an artwork increases if they think more time and effort was needed to create it (Journal of Experi men tal Social Psychology, vol 40, p 91). Similarly, Colton thinks that when people experience art, they engage in a discourse with

441 NewScientist 114January 2012

Our enjoyment of art is influenced by the time and effort it required

the artist. We wonder what the artist might have been thinking, or ponder what they are trying to tell us. With computers producing art, this speculation is cut short -there's nothing to explore. But as the software becomes increasingly complex, finding those greater depths in the art may become possible. That's why Colton asks the Painting Fool to tap into online social networks for its inspiration: hopefully this way it will choose themes that will already mean something to us.

Unconscious creativity
Hofstadter thinks the more complex machines become, the more easily we will accept their art - especially if they can interact more with the physical world. If robots bumped into things and had goals, successes and failures, then that might be enough. "They would be sort of pathetic and laughable and once in a while heroic," he says. "I don't think people would be uncomfortable with creatures like that writing an essay or composing a piece of music or painting a picture." Yet the fact that machines now lack this kind of self-awareness is perhaps the most irksome element of computational creativity. How can you be creative without even being conscious? Surprisingly, it is not a computer scientist who talks me out of this reaction, but a neuroscientist. Our brains work creatively

even when we aren't consciously thinking about it, says Arne Dietrich at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Just think back to a time when the solution to a problem you had forgotten about just popped into your head. "We know that there are several different types of creativity - some of them are conscious, some of them unconscious," he says. "Creativity can happen when you try effortfully, or it can happen in your sleep." In any case, Dietrich believes that the creative brain might work much like software. Neuroscientists suspect that creativity is essentially about discovery, rather than anything mystical. "It's a mechanical process in the brain that generates possible solutions and then eliminates them systematically," Dietrich says. He believes our tendency to dismiss computational creativity as inferior to our own comes from an ingrained dualism in human culture: "We are over-evaluating ourselves and underestimating them. As a neuroscientist, I tackle the brain as a machine, and I don't see machine creativity as different." Suddenly, the idea that the human brain has a unique claim to creative talents seems a limited perspective. Back in Paris, Colton continues to show me painting after painting, all signed by the Painting Fool. Some of the work genuinely speaks to me. One of my favourites, called The Dancing Salesman Problem, features colourful

human figures dancing on a black background (see main image, page 42). Again, the software did not base its composition on existing pictures. The dancers are painted in long, flowing strokes, so they appear full of movement: they contort into beautiful poses, and the bright colours bring the scene to life. The work could never be to everyone's taste, but I would have stopped to look at it in a gallery, and I don't mind that it was created by a machine. I have come to appreciate that computers can create subtle and original artwork. Will others accept that idea? The trick, says Colton, is to stop trying to compare computer artists to human ones. Ifwe can embrace computer creativity for what it is, and stop trying to make it look human, not only will computers teach us new things about our own creative talents, but they might become creative in ways that we cannot begin to imagine. They are creating a whole new form of art with the potential to delight, challenge and surprise us. Will that take something away from being human? "It's not taking away anything at all," says Wiggins. "It's helping us to understand how things work. And when you understand how things work they tend to become more amazing, not less so." • Catherine de Lange is a writer based in London. To see more examples of software-produced artwork, visit newscientistcom/gallery/painting-fool
14 January 20121 NewScientist 145

CULTURELAB

The paradox of nothing
Confirming our origins in empty space is enticing but elusive, Michael Brooks finds
A Universe From Nothing: Why there is something rother than nothing by Lawrence Krauss, Free Press, £17,99/$24,99 IN 1996, Lawrence Krauss visited the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. During his time there he gave a talk on his latest idea - that empty space might contain energy. Afterwards, Krauss recalls, a young physicist came up to him and said, "We will prove you wrong!" That young physicist was Saul Perlmutter, who last month picked up a Nobel prize - not for proving Krauss wrong, as it turns out, but for proving him right. As part of the team who showed that the universe is expanding ever faster, Perlmutter had defeated his own instincts and confirmed Krauss's hunch that "nothing" is not quite what it seems. As Krauss elegantly argues that have proved themselves both inA Universe From Nothing, the reliable and remarkably fruitful. accelerating expansion, indeed As Krauss's insightful book shows, the whole existence of the these days we really can talk with cosmos, is most likely powered by "nothing". Krauss is an exemplary scientific rigour about the history and even the prehistoric origins of interpreter oftough science, and the central part of the book, where our universe. he discusses what we know about "The multiverse puts the the history of the universe - and question of what shaped how we know it - is perfectly our laws of nature beyond judged. It is detailed but lucid, science - for now" thorough but not stodgy. It is remarkable to think that, a Yet despite its clear strengths, century ago, quantum theory was barely formed, general relativity A Universe From Nothing is not quite, as Richard Dawkins was a work in progress and only hopefully declares in the a few scientists believed there was afterword, a "knockout blow" for a beginning to the universe. We the idea that a deity must have have come a long, long way since kicked the universe into being. then by developing scientific tools
461 NewScientist 114 January 2012 Nothing is an unstable of something state; the is inevitable production

Krauss does want to deliver that blow: towards the end of the book, he promises that we really can have something from nothing - "even the laws of physics may not be necessary or required". Ultimately, though, he has to perform a little sleight of hand. Space and time can indeed come from nothing; nothing, as Krauss explains beautifully, being an extremely unstable state from which the production of" something" is pretty much inevitable. However, the laws of physics can't be conjured from nothing. In the end, the best answer is that they arise from our existence within a multiverse, where all

the universes have their own laws - ours being just so for no particular reason. Krauss contends that the multiverse makes the question of what determined our laws of nature "less significant". Truthfully, it just puts the question beyond science - for now, at least. That (together with the frustratingly opaque origins of a multiverse) means Krauss can't quite knock out those who think there must ultimately be a prime mover. Not that this matters too much: the juvenile asides that litter the first third of the book (for example, "I am tempted to retort here that theologians are expert at nothing") mean that, by the time we get to the fascinating core of his argument, Krauss will be preaching only to the converted. That said, we should be happy to be preached to so intelligently. The same can't be said about the Dawkins afterword, which is both superfluous and silly. A Universe From Nothing is a great book: readable, informative and topical. Inexplicably, though, Dawkins compares it to On the Origin of Species, and suggests it might be cosmology's "deadliest blow to supernaturalism". That leaves the reader with the entirely wrong sense of having just ingested a polemic, rather than an excellent guide to the cutting edge of physics. Krauss doesn't need Dawkins; a writer this good can speak for himself. •
Michael Brooks is the author of

Free Radicals: The secret anarchy of science (Profile, 2011)

For more books and arts coverage and to add your comments, visit newscientist.com/culturelab

Parsing page rank
Algorithms drive the digital world and it helps to understand them, Kevin Slavin believes
Nine Algorithms that Changed the Future byJohn MacCormick, rinceton P University Press, £19.95/$27.95

TO UNDERSTAND the hidden infrastructure of the universe, many people turn to theoretical physics or evolutionary biology. But as our lives are increasingly filled with interactions driven by complex informatics, perhaps literacy in this area is just as crucial to understanding our world. Everything from the stock market to movies and the media is the result of algorithms optimising against taste, demand and opportunity. Algorithmic compression determines how we see everyday images and hear music. E-commerce transactions have complex algorithms to ensure their security. And of course, every online search result is determined by algorithms that quantify and rank the value of information. In Nine Algorithms that Changed the Future, John MacCormick aims to illuminate

what underpins all of this - and just about everything else that involves a computer. It's an ambitious task, but with two mathematics degrees, a PhD in computer vision and a fistful of patents, he is well qualified for it. The algorithms he explains include Google's PageRank, and those behind data compression, pattern recognition and digital signatures. There's also a chapter

on" an algorithm that would be great if it existed" based on a concept called the halting problem, which concerns whether a program will run indefinitely. In his conclusion, MacCormick expresses his surprise and delight at discovering the algorithms that he had focused on all had "some simple yet clever trick at their core - a trick that could be explained without requiring any technical knowledge". At its best, the book delivers on its ambition. The chapters on data compression and error correction, for example, do a good job of revealing complexity through Everything from the stock market to social media is driven by algorithms

simplicity and may well change how you see the computermediated world. The next time you see a low-quality image on a website, blurry and full of colourshifted artefacts, you'll know what system was used to produce it, and what compromises it was accommodating. Understanding exactly how data gets compressed changes how you think about the data that's piling up around you. But the use of stories to explain algorithms occasionally falls short. Outlining the principles of public key cryptography, for example, he relies on the metaphor of three guests at a party. Two need to communicate in front of the third, while still sharing secrets with each other. Useful enough, but when we are asked to imagine they will do so by privately mixing paint in buckets before setting them down in the middle of the party, it becomes a struggle. The story is not easily digested, nor does it present the important concepts in a straightforward way. Overall though, MacCormick leaves the reader with a sense of the engine that powers the networked world. And at its best, Nine Algorithms enables you to recognise the real world and begin to see those algorithms alive and kicking all around us .• Kevin Slavin is an entrepreneur and educator. He gave a talk at the 2011 TEDconference in Edinburgh, UK,on the way algorithms shape our world

Inside medical minds
Writer; MD. edited by Leah Kaminsky, Vintage, $15

Reviewed by Tiffany O'Callaghan __ DOES daily exposure to patients'tragedies harden doctors, causing their empathy to atrophy? When young surgeons

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have to make their first incisions, which patients are they most likely to practice on? Does doctors' archetypal dark humour belie a troubling truth about the emotional demands of medical practice? What is life without memory? These questions and others are explored in Writer, M.D. a collection of short stories, fiction and non-fiction, penned by doctors. Without exception, these previously published works

provide food for thought - from Abraham Verghese's compelling piece on the need for physicians to remember the art of the physical examination to a poignant essay on medical dissection by Pauline W. Chen. Exemplifying the collection's best prose is psychiatrist Oliver Sacks's essay, The Lost Mariner. Writing about a patient who has Korsakoff's syndrome, a form of amnesia, Sacks says: "If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he

has lost a leg or an eye. But if he has lost a self- himself- he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it." The sentiment captured in these few words is particularly poignant in the light of'today's increasingly pressing issues of ageing and mental health. Containing many such insights into the human condition, Writer, M.D. will leave you with much to mull over, long after you have put it down .•
14 January 20121 NewScientist 147

CULTURELAB
plastic surgery procedures were performed worldwide. The aim of the show, Yeo says, is "to get people to look from a slightly different point of view and accept that this is here to stay". To create the 17works in the collection, Yeo obtained permission to study photographs of people undergoing cosmetic surgery and watch their operations. As someone who has spent 20 years painting faces, he says it was "utterly riveting" to get a glimpse of the musculature beneath. Yeo has become fascinated with plastic surgery and hopes to explore the subject further, but he has also developed some strong views on the practice as a result ofthis project. For one thing, he thinks people underestimate the physical severity of the procedures. One of his paintings depicts a woman just after surgery, her face swaddled in white cloth. Though middle-aged, the woman resembles a battered child. "She looks like someone who has come out of the jungle in the middle of a war with a head wound," he says. He also wonders about the

Incisive portraits
Jonathan Yeo's paintings cast surgeons in the role of artists, says Tiffany Q'(allaghan
You're Only Young Twice byJonathan Yeo, Lazarides Gallery, London, until 21January IN THE "before" image, a woman's bare torso emerges in honeyed tones from a bluish grid. In the next painting, the same woman - now with far larger breasts - has an unmistakable bikini tan line and seems to stand a tad straighter. British portrait artist Jonathan Yeo's latest collection, You're Only Young Twice, includes several such transformations. Yeo, who has previously created portraits of politicians including David Cameron and George W. Bush, now aims to explore the way plastic surgeons are blurring the distinction between portraiture and medical procedure. Yeo says it used to be portrait artists who applied their era's ideals of beauty to their Plastic surgery has the potential to make us all look alike subjects, but now surgeons are assuming that role. "They're becoming artists themselves, sculpting with real bodies," he says. In 2010 more than 9.4 million

"It's a slightly odd thing that we can change our bodies to look like whatever celebrity is popular"
potential for plastic surgery trends to produce homogeneity. "It's a slightly odd thing that we can change our bodies to look like whatever celebrity is popular at the moment." Yeo worries that too much plastic surgery can take away the individual complexity that comes with age. "I prefer older faces," he says, "when you can see the narrative of their lives written in the lines." •

So much to say
Babel No More: The search for the world's most extraordinary language learners by Michael Erard, Free Press,

$25.99 Reviewed by Christine Kenneally WHO hasn't wanted to master not just two languages but 1O? Take Giuseppe Mezzofanti, a 19th-century priest IIIImmlimiil who was said to be fluent in as many as 50 languages. Native speakers came from all over the world to test his abilities,
481 NewScientist 114 January 2012

and many left astonished. In Babel No More, Michael Erard investigates the legend of Mezzofanti and other linguistic prodigies, or "hyperpolyglots", How do they do it? Do they possess peculiar capacities or skills? Or are they merely prodigious tricksters? Being a journey into the linguistic unknown, terms must naturally be defined, and early on Erard - who also wrote Urn ... , a book on verbal blunders - asks what it means to really know a language. Claire Kramsch, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, tells him the question should not be "How

many languages do you know?" but rather "In how many languages do you live?" Understanding the cultural nuances of a language requires extensive ongoing contact with its speakers, and for that reason Kramsch doubts that anyone could ever live in more than four or five languages. Fair enough, but what about the less nuanced yet still astonishing feats of memory and computation that people display when they pick up a new language, or eight? Erard points out that, for no good reason, this question has been neglected by science. After all, we study extraordinary aptitude in

mathematics and music; why not hyperpolyglots? Erard tracks down Mezzofanti's papers, speaks to many fascinating language experts and even learns that some bilingual people experience mental illness in one language but not another. Most interestingly, he surveys a group of modern hyperpolyglots. Memory, motivation and practice are all important, they say, but so is pragmatism. Those who claimed to speak nlanguages did not much care about sounding like a native. Unlike Mezzofanti, their goal was not to dazzle but to do - see the world, read the local paper and not get lost .•

We know only 0/0 of what we'll know in The rest simply hasn't been discovered ...

5

50 years.
yet

• In 1956 we anticipated portable screens in our report on 'Television without wires" • In 1980 we were concerned about the likelihood of a warming "green-house effect" produced by a build-up of carbon dioxide • In 2011 we reported on the possibility of handheld gadgets diagnosing infections by letting smartphones replace labwork

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Associate Director-Disease Biology and Target Selection AstraZeneca US United States Effectively manage both individual and team performance and development * Provideteam members with scientific leadership and advice,Work acrossfunctional teams to effectively leverage the global organization, Identify and propose business collaborations and partnerships with external academics and other parties For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: Celgene NJ- New Jersey Investigational compounds are being studied for patients with incurable hematological and solid tumor cancers, including multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, chronic lymphocyte leukemia (Cll), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHl), glioblastoma, and ovarian, pancreatic lung and prostate cancer,and inflammatory disorders, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

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Senior Associate Scientist Job Celgene CA - California Completed Bachelors degree in the Life Scienceswith 8-10 years industry experience or Masters degree, with a minimum of 2 years of additional experience in a research environment Must be willing to work with a highly motivated team, pursuing goals aggressively. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

Biology (206202/206203) Henry Mjackson Foundation MO - Maryland This opening isfor a dynamic scientist with interest in working in an interdisciplinary environment with focus on the development and application of computational solutions to biomedical problems, involving bioinformatics (e,g" algorithms for next-generation sequencing, metagenomics, and RNA-Seq)and systems biology (e,g" signaling, protein, and metabolic networks), For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

of Chemistry Technology as an Analytical Scientist This position represents afu 11-me career ti opportunity in a fast-paced, R&D team environment for a growing company in the agricultural industry, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

1401327023
Computational Biologist (0066G) Monsanto MS - Mississippi Monsanto is seeking a highly motivated, creative individual with excellent training in Computational Biology and Comparative Genomics to join the team at our Divergence site, Inyour position, you will apply your knowledge in bioinformatics and data visualization to the discovery of new traits and methods for crop protection and improvement For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

1401327544
Post Doc - Oncology AstraZeneca US MA - Massachusetts We are seeking an enthusiastic and self-motivated synthetic and chemical biology scientist to join the oncology Innovative Medicines (iMED),Youwill embark on a research project in designing, synthesizing and characterizing boron containing small molecule inhibitors to target carboxylic acid side chains in disease associated proteins, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.com job 10:

1401325181
Plant Pathologist Company 10-Idaho Effectively generate and interpret data to assessthe spectrum and potential durability of both single genes, or combinations of genes, and ensure that technical procedures are in alignment with regulatory expectations and meet international standards where applicable, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

J.R. Simplot

1401326879
Field Pathologist (Vegetable Seeds) (00601) Monsanto SC- South Carolina This position is created to execute crop inspection of vegetable seed production plots, resource planning, documentation and implementation of QMStools including field and seed sanitation, Support Pest Risk Assessment For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

1401326963
Research ScientistPhysiological Data Modeling (206381) Henry MJackson Foundation MO - Maryland This opening isfor dynamic scientists interested in working in an interdisciplinary environment focused on the development and the application of computational solutions to biomedical problems, involving signal processing of time series physiological data, data mining, data-driven and physiological-based models, and artificial intelligence, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

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Plant Protein Biochemist Company 10-Idaho Extract, purify, analyze, and characterize proteins derived from plant samples using standard bioanalytical techniques (e,g, Western blot, ELISA,SDS-PAGE, enzymatic activity assays,sample purity assays,total protein determination), For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

1401327503
Assistant Director of Public Health Research Autism Speaks NY - New York We currently seek an Assistant Director of Public Health Research to help lead the GlobalAutism Public Health Initiative (GAPH)and related programmatic efforts, The Assistant Director of Public Health Researchwill be based in New YorkCity and will report to the Vice President of Scientific Affairs, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

J.R. Simplot

1401326862
Weed Physiologist (00500) Monsanto MS - Mississippi You will also be an integral part of a larger multi-disciplinary crossfunctional research team dedicated to the development of crop productivity systems, The ability to make rapid progress against goals and tight timelines is a critical skill. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10:

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Analytical Scientist (OOSAB) Monsanto MS - Mississippi Monsanto is seeking a highly motivated scientist to join the Crop Analytics & Automation division

1401325107
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50 I NewScientist 114January 2012

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Research ScientistsBioinformaticslSystems

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Assistantl Associate Professor, Forensic Science, Texas Sam Houston State University TX- Texas A successful candidate must be able to develop and teach graduate-level courses in mainstream forensic science disciplines (forensic chemistry and/or forensic biology), pursue a sustained research agenda, supervise graduate student research and actively participate in the continuous development of forensic science programming at SHSU, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325174

Syngenta US CA - California Researchand/or develop genetic testing, analysis, and evaluation, Develop program strategy and participate in achieving strategies, Develop and coordinate the inbred line development - Coordinate screening and development of lines and end products, Develop,conduct and evaluate tolerance for species at seedling stage of growth, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325463 Senior Scientist - Trait Physiologist job Syngenta US NC- North Carolina Coordinate and perform trait dissection experiments for characterization of advanced leads as well as for hypothesis generation and lead identification, Contribute expertise and knowledge relevant to crop improvement in the Agronomic Traits, Inthis context, AT includes programs such as abiotic stresses (drought heat etc) and crop yield, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327340

NeBrasKa Lincoln
Pioneering new frontiers.

Postdoctoral Opportunity
The laboratory of Dr. Paul N. Black in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Nebraska has open postdoctoral positions to address fundamental questions in fatty acid trafficking and complex lipid metabolism, The Department is housed in the George W Beadle Center, which includes stateof-the-art facilities in proteomics, metabolomics, genomics, crystallography, bioimaging, flow cytometry, bioinformatics, and biophysical spectroscopy. The Department of Biochemistry (http://biochem.nnl.edn/) offers a highly collaborative environment for advanced training in the molecular life sciences. We are seeking candidates with experience using high-resolution mass spectrometry for experiments that are directed to follow the trafficking and metabolism of different classes of exogenous fatty acids in mammalian cell lines, These experimental strategies will be combined with Raman and coherent antistokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS) imaging, Expertise in mammalian cell culture and associated expression and knockdown technologies, lipid metabolism, and ability to apply state-of-the-art methods are preferred; candidates should e-mail their current Cv, a description of their PhD work, and a list of three references to pblack2@wll.edn. A PhD in biochemistry or related field and publications in peer-reviewed journals are required. Lincoln Nebraska boasts an outstanding quality of life that includes fine culinary and artistic treasures, a live music scene and numerous parks, golf courses and bike trails.
The University of Nebraska has an active National Science Foundation ADVANCE gender equity program, and is committed to a pluralistic campus community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual careers.

Bioinformatics Research Scientist St.jude Children's Research Hospital TN - Tennessee The Bioinformatics Research Scientist in the Computational Biology Department takes a lead role in data mining, data visualization, statistical analysis, experimental design, and database development Provides help with databases, software, and computational resources used in bioinformatics analysis to researchers in the disease, biotechnology, and statistical fields, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326082

Computational Biologist job Syngenta US NC - North Carolina Support gene candidate discovery for plant traits and breeding by analyzing complex datasets in the context of biological pathways and phenotypes, Develop and apply statistical methodologies to analyze, integrate and extract value from expression, metabolite, and other omics datasets. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327337

Solutions Agronomist job Syngenta US CA - California Conducts field evaluation and testing of agronomic solutions to determine theirfit within different business models as well as value propositions acrossa range of crops, agronomic zones and crop micromarkets, Develops proof points and performance data needed to effectively position and create market demand for integrated solutions For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327331 Associate Director, Analytical Research & Development job Celgene NJ- New Jersey The Associate Director is responsible for leading and managing the overall scientific technical and operational efforts of

a group of analytical scientists with delivery of analytical methods, timely data, and process knowledge needed to meet Celgene project milestones and associated regulatory requirements, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325846

Plant Scientist Job

Principal Scientist, Chemistry job Celgene NJ- New Jersey Completed PhD, in Chemistry (or relevant discipline) and minimum of 10 plus years of pharmaceutical laboratory experience required, Provide scientific leadership and hands on technical expertise in trouble shooting and conducting analytical research and development of pharmaceutical materials under minimal guidance and oversight from his/her supervisor, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326499

Principal Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry Job Celgene CA - California The qualified Principal Scientist candidate has a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry with 10-13 years of industrial experience in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery with atrack record of significant achievement For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326496 Scientist I, Analytical Research & Development job Celgene NJ- New Jersey The successful candidate will be highly motivated to work within a science focused, collaborative, multidisciplinary drug substance and drug product development environment to achieve the company's aggressive drug development targets, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326495
14 January 20121 NewScientist 151

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Scientist II, Analytical Research &- Development job Celgene Nj - New jersey Provide supervision to scientific staff in method development and validation for the analysis of starting materials, intermediates, and finished products in accordance with cGMPregulations, established protocols, and all applicable SOPs. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326493

plant, animal and environmental systems. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326858

CHEMISTRY
Sr. Analytical Chemist (OOSAI) Monsanto MO - Missouri In this role,you will have significant technical and management responsibilities in leading a multidisciplinary team effort to develop, and apply innovative solutions to answer biochemical questions in key row crops to accelerate Monsanto's new seeds and traits pipeline. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327022

the Development Microbiology strategy on anti-infective development products Assessment of qualifications remote laboratories participating in clinical trials. Contribute to microbiology sections of regulatory submissions (NDA, MAA, etc), core data sheets, and product labels. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327528

Analytical Chemist (006FF) Monsanto QC- Quebec This individual will provide analytical support to manufacturing for day to day operations, process upsets, start-ups, plant experiments, & other tasks as needed. The chemist will serve as a liaison between manufacturing and the routine analytical QNQC laboratory. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.com job 10: 1401326658

Nucleic Acid Chemist (OOSlA) Monsanto United States Monsanto is seeking a highly motivated and creative scientist to join the GlobalTechnology organization as a Nucleic Acid Chemist. In this role,you will conduct basic and applied research in the area of nucleic acid chemistry in a diverse and highly collaborative, multi-functional environment. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327031

Sr. Research Chemist (OOSLA) Monsanto United States In this role,you will apply their technical expertise to optimize existing processes and be expected to show leadership in the identification and implementation of new technical opportunities at Monsanto's manufacturing facilities. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326894

Principal Statistician AstraZeneca US DE - Delaware As a statistician in AstraZeneca you may be involved at all stages of the drug development process. You will be an indispensable part of our multi-disciplinary teams and play an active role in driving the strategy for development of medicines that make a real difference to our patients across the world. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327545

Statistical Science Director, Clinical Science AstraZeneca US DE - Delaware The GPSisaccountable for providing strategic scientific expertise to quantify the benefit risk,value and uncertainty ofthe emerging product profile throughout the lifecycle of the drug development process. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327512 Senior Medical Writer job Celgene Nj - New jersey Must have experience in preparing clinical documents including Investigators Brochures, clinical study reports, integrated summaries of efficacy and safety, registration dossiers, and responses to health authorities. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326960 Senior Scientist, Analytical Research &- Development job Celgene Nj - New jersey The successful candidate will be highly motivated to work within a science focused, collaborative, multidisciplinary drug substance and drug product development environment to achieve the company's aggressive drug development targets. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.com job 10: 1401326497

Senior Analytical/ Bioanalytical Chemist (006EJ) Monsanto MS - Mississippi The Monsanto Regulatory Environmental Sciences Technology Center in st. Louis is seeking an experienced and innovative analytical/bioanalytical chemist to develop novel quantative methods for measuring targeted small molecules in
521 NewScientist 114January 2012

Chemistl-S job Syngenta US NC - North Carolina Plan,organize and conduct experiments to optimize marketing, regulatory and production performance of Syngenta products. Take an active part in scale-up and plant introduction of newly developed products, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327335

Section Director Pharmacometrics AstraZeneca US DE - Delaware Lead group of Pharmacometricians and ensure co-operation within the ClinicalDevelopment. Manage salary and allocation of bonuses for section members. Ensure that the members ofthe group have the right knowledge/education forthe activities For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327534 Sr. Pharmacometrician (Director) AstraZeneca US DE - Delaware The SRPM(together with the Lead Modeller of Statistics and Informatics (S&I)) is accountable for the M&S plan of the clinical projects. The M&S plan is a collaborative effort with modellers from S&I as well as consultants from outside AstraZeneca (AZ). For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327533

CLINICAL
Clinical/Development Microbiologist AstraZeneca US MT - Montana Support the clinical and non-clinical microbiology plans for delivery of

Research Associate (004PX) Monsanto MS - Mississippi Assist in computer related activities and provide supportfortesting activities such as operation of shelling systems, seed counters, and seed packaging. Perform safety inspections, and assist in providing safety training and guidance to field personnel. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327042

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Clinical Statistician Pfizer US MA - Massachusetts The Pharmaceutical Science and Manufacturing Statistics group supports a wide variety of activities in drug development and manufacturing spanning both new chemical and biological entities, This position is located in either Andover, MA or Chesterfield, MO, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327375 Research Associate - Soy Regulated Field Trials job Syngenta US IL - Illinois The purpose of the Research Associate isto assist the execution of regulated trait soybean trials, strictly follow compliance guidelines and stewardship practices, and provide quality yield and agronomic data to assist scientists in delivering project goals by providing technical assistance, as well as to support site management with the functional activities of a breeding and regulated trait testing station, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327323

enhancement, access,and visualization of climate databases to meet research needs of an alliance of universities and agencies, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325689 Executive Director, Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (Reno or Las Vegas, NV) Desert Research Institute NV - Nevada Reporting to the Executive Vice President for Research, the Executive Director's primary function isto support, facilitate, and grow divisional research activities through strong leadership utilizing the Division'sscientific skills, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325691 Executive Director, Division of Hydrologic Sciences (Reno or Las Vegas, NV) Desert Research Institute NV - Nevada The Desert Research Institute (DRI),the non-profit environmental research institution of the Nevada System of Higher Education, strives to be a world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people's lives throughout Nevada,the United States and the world, DRIhas research divisions in Atmospheric Sciences,Hydrologic Sciences,and Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401325692 Biology and Environmental Sciences, Assistant Professor Tenure-Track Western Connecticut State University CT - Connecticut The successful candidate will have primary expertise in microbiology related to human or animal health, Primary teaching assignments will address needs in introductory microbiology and anatomy & physiology. For more information visit

NewScientistjobs.comjob 1401325178

10:

'ENGINEERING
Production Engineer (00380) Monsanto Mexico Schedule, coordinate, monitor and report compliance activities, labor,equipment and agricultural inputs required to the production of vegetable hybrid seeds of crops growing in Seminis Vegetables Seeds Open Field in Bajasite, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327011 Sr. Biochemical Engineer (OOSBA) Monsanto MS - Mississippi Monsanto is seeking a highly motivated and experienced Biochemical Engineer to join the Chemistry Technology organization to drive development of advanced bioprocessing systems, Youwill focusing on projects that will range from systems for manufacturing of biological based materials to advanced waste treatment systems for multiple agrochemical platforms, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327016 Staff Associate (Energy Modeling) The Earth Institute, Columbia University NY - New York Responsibilities: the staff associate will be responsible for assisting with simulations of the EEMto quantify the impact of worldwide climate and energy policies on greenhouse gas emissions, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326732

collaborating with researchers and other statisticians across our Breeding organization by identifying appropriate experimental designs, sample size requirements, and analysis methodologies to support the development of optimal research and discovery strategies, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327038 Strategic Scientist (003DJ) Monsanto United States Monsanto is passionate about using science and technology to improve agriculture, Monsanto scientists are conducting the research and development (R&D) to revolutionize plant breeding and biotechnology. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401326898 Sr. Scientist (R4) - Compund Management Pfizer US CT - Connecticut This position will be responsible for managing and executing the distribution of plate-based subsets and compound collections for Hit 10screening, using laboratory automation systems and associated local and enterprise level appl kations. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327515

DATAANALYSIS
Production Technology Scientist - Woodland, CA (OOSjX) Monsanto CA - California This is a unique opportunity to lead all aspects of Production Research to advance Monsanto Vegetable Seeds production practices by improving seed quality, reducing costs, and maximizing land productivity, For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327000

SALES
R&D Manager - Vero Beach Research Center, Biological Research and Development job Syngenta US FL - Florida Provide leadership and development opportunities for an experienced R&D team at the Vero Beach ResearchCenter (VBRC), Coordinate and deliver R&D program assigned to the VBRC Manage personnel, facilities, and funding resources assigned to the VBRC. For more information visit NewScientistjobs.comjob 10: 1401327336

EARTH &: ENVIROMENT
Assistant Research Scientist, Computer Analyst (Reno, NV) Desert Research Institute NV - Nevada The Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) eeks a computer s analyst forthe development,
541 NewScientist 114January 2012

MATHS&IT
Statistical Geneticist Ankeny, IA (004FB) Monsanto lA-Iowa The Statistical Geneticist will have primary responsibilities for

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WHAT can explain a report in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on 1 December? Evert Stefansson had both legs amputated as a result of diabetes. A powered wheelchair would improve the quality of his life, so he applied to the Sodermanland local authority for funds. Reader Lars Gislen translates the official response as "The handicap does not seem to be permanent". (The council soon apologised for the "unfortunate wording") Meanwhile, in London, Rikki Iodelko was registered blind in 1973, as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. He is a musician, works in computer programming, and for help with mobility claims Disability Living Allowancewhose administration has been privatised to the company ATOS. In October, he was told that he must go to an approved optician and must take a copy of his "eyecare plan". Told, that is, in a letter - on paper. How helpful.

And opticians are being required to confirm blindness, for money, which is thereby not saved. Of course, medical decisions should be taken in the best interests of the patient, so there must be a medical rather than a financial basis for these stories. Perhaps, Rikki suggests, "we should be told more about these developments that can make the lame walk and the blind see".

A READERwho had better be anonymous was one of several recently to inform us about "quantum fruitloopery of the highest order" at quantumjumping.com. We replied that we had been there and done that (26 March 2011). "Dang," the reader replied, "I'll try again after (or perhaps before?) I perfect my time machine." And then another thought struck him: "Would superluminal neutrinos be perfect for those needing to shave microseconds off transatlantic trading?" (1 October 2011, p 24). Never mind putting that in Feedback, we suggested, let's form a "Ponzi Pyramid" marketing franchise now! "See, this is precisely why I'm not rich," was the response, followed by: "Yes, this is a very dull teleconference I'm in. What makes you ask?" The virtual meeting went on, and on, until our reader's correspondence concluded with, "I am now the proud owner of quantumfruitloopery.com I have no idea why". A visit will tell you, and we wish the site well.

email Dr Frankenstein six times before he responds with a licence to reproduce a diagram of his interesting apparatus; but you'd want him to do the same for you. Failure to do so can have very strange results. John Toner of the National Union ofJournalists mentions writing to the German Nazi party warning them against distributing postcards made with a union member's photograph. Or. .. what? "Or we will pursue them for punitive damages for breach of copyright," John concludes. In the annals of antifascism, would it be premature to celebrate this action with a very, very small footnote? As it turned out, German police entered party premises and seized the postcards before any were distributed.

WHEN "the homeopathy crowd see buy-once.com ", writes Carl Zetie, "their heads will explode".

ADVANCESin technology continue to produce amazing new ways to make mistakes. Take the Siri speech recognition software on the newest Apple iPhone. Jim Woodgett reports an impressive example. "When setting an appointment for next week I told Siri '10 am this Monday, meeting with Irene'. When I tapped to confirm, it added the appointment into iCal- and emailed a meeting request with the title 'Mating with Irene'. Irene has yet to reply - but I suspect she has left the country."

It proposes that "Homeopathic remedies are prepared by mixing an ingredient with distilled water, shaking the container. pouring out 90 per cent ... and repeating ... So if you don't use it all. you can make it even better than new!" We like the testimonials, particularly this one: "I was worried, as the potency increased 10 times with each Replenishing. that I might overdose. But I found that as my hypochondriacal diseases became resistant to the standard doses ... the increase was exactly what I needed to keep them suppressed." FINALLY, mention of software for the UK's National Health Service is likely to evoke unkind thoughts about huge, failed schemes. Some of it may, however, be underrated. Another reader who needs to remain anonymous tells us that SystmOne patient record software offers hints to the user. Notably, "TIP: Pressing F6 will save the current patient." Just like that! Unfortunately. though. it takes a balanced approach to case management. "Pressing Ctrl + F6 will discard the patient."

Petzplus Super Plush Toys "help with separation anxiety when your dog is left home alone" and are "for supervised use only", So, Peta Lee asks, are they for astral-travelling owners?
561 NewScientist 114January 2012

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THE LAST WORD
Hang on lads ...
At the end of the original 1969 movie of The Ita/ianjob, the thieves edge are in a bus hanging overthe

Last words past and present,

plus questions,

at last-word.com

of a cliff, with a stack of gold bars about to slide out of the back doors. All the protagonists crowd to the front of the bus to balance out the weight of the gold. Their problem is they can't get at the gold, because every time they try to edge down the bus to grab it, the bus tips again and the gold slides nearer the doors. The movie ends before the dilemma is resolved. Assuming no outside action is permissible, how could the thieves save the gold?

• Having so ingeniously stolen the gold in the first place, this final little problem would not have caused much consternation among the gang. They would strip out enough overhead internal wiring to fashion a stiff "rope", lasso the pallet of gold and drag it to the front of the coach. Next, they would dismantle the pallet and use the main timbers to inch the coach back on to the road using a rowing motion. Tony Holkham Boncath, Pembrokeshlre, UK

• There are several ways to solve such a balance problem. If the thieves are armed they could shoot and puncture the bus's fuel tank to drain it; the tank is typically in the rear of a bus and thus at the same end as the gold. Shooting the tank would not ignite the fuel, and draining it would tip the balance toward the thieves. Alternatively, a more time consuming approach would be to run the engine until the fuel runs out. Again this would tilt the balance toward the front of the bus. Another approach would be to break the windscreen so the heaviest of the protagonists can crawl out ofthe bus and hang from the front bumper, increasing their distance from the fulcrum and perhaps creating enough leverage for the lightest ofthe gang to

thieves would know how many to search for. Anthony Castaldo San Antonio, Texas, US • In 2008, to promote awareness of science, the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry asked the same question, with the conditions that the solution took less than 30 minutes to complete and did not involve a helicopter. The winning answer, by John Godwin of Surrey, UK, was for the gang to first break and remove two large side windows just aft of the pivot point and let the glass fall outside to lose its weight, followed by breaking two windows over the two front axles, keeping the broken glass on board to keep its weight for balance. One ofthe gang would then climb out through the front broken windows (but rest his weight on the ground) and deflate the bus's front tyres, to reduce rocking movement about the pivot point. He would then drain the fuel tank, which was aft ofthe pivot point; this would change the balance enough to let another man get out and gather heavy rocks to load the front of the bus. Then they could unload the bus until a suitable vehicle passes, hijack it and carry the gold away. However, using the amounts given in the movie, the gold's weight would have been 3200 kilograms, almost the exact weight of the Harrington Legionnaire coach it was in. The structural changes at the rear that would be needed to support the three

670 kg Minis the coach originally carried, plus the 3200 kg of gold, luggage and fuel, would mean the weight aft ofthe fulcrum the bus was rocking on would exceed the total weight of the bus, sadly crashing both bus and question into the bottom ofthe valley. Robin Hill Crynant, South Glamorgan, UK You can read the winning entry of the Royal Society of Chemistry's competition here: prospect.rsc.

orq/bloqs/rsc/in-pictures-italianjob-entries - Ed • The simple answer is that they could not save the gold. This is because the situation depicted is absurd. When I taught physics I would use this scenario to illustrate the very high density of gold. To begin with, the amount of gold depicted would far outweigh the men on the coach so that their edging back and forth in the bus would have had very little effect. A cube of pure gold just 16 centimetres on each side would weigh more than an average man. Also, the weight of gold in the back would have catapulted the coach over the edge as soon as it went out of control. If it did teeter on the edge by some film-maker's miracle, the weight of gold would create a lot of friction between the palette it was standing on and the coach floor preventing it from sliding unless the angle was catastrophically large. Great film though. Dave Oldham Kingsley, Northamptonshire, UK

"Shooting the fuel tank would not ignite it, and draining it would tip the coach towards the thieves"
reach some bars. Once a few bars are transported to the front of the bus the balance would be shifted enough to move the rest of them. One more idea is for the thieves to escape from the bus via the broken windscreen all at the same time. The bus would fall but they would all survive. A standard gold bar, which weighs about 12.4 kilograms, is not easily broken or washed away. If the gang hiked down the cliff the bars should be easy enough to find, even if they were not contained by the smashed bus. Presumably the

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