Science Magazine – Special Issue on Mercury

In the July 4 issue of Science, you’ll find a series of reports based on observations from the MESSENGER spacecraft’s flyby of Mercury earlier this year. There will be another flyby in October.

IEEE Spectrum Feature: The Singularity

Looking for some interesting reading this week, or while you’re taking a break next week during finals? Check out this month’s IEEE Spectrum feature on “The Singularity.”

This is the idea that, as a consequence of exponentially accelerating technological innovation and continuously self-improving artificial intelligence, computer power will outstrip human brainpower, leading to the end of human culture as we know it. Not a century from now, mind you, but somewhere between 2030 and 2045, depending on whom you talk to. — from Un-assuming The Singularity

You’ll find articles from science fiction author/SDSU emeritus professor Vernor Vinge (Signs of the Singularity), Caltech’s Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi (Can Machines Be Conscious?), and University of Sheffield’s Richard A. L. Jones (Rupturing the Nanotech Rapture), among others. The articles and accompanying videos are free, and UCSD affiliates can also access the entire IEEE Spectrum issue via IEEE Explore.

Fantastic Voyage: Tumor-Targeting Nanoworms

Magnetic Iron Oxide Nanoworms for Tumor Targeting and Imaging
Advanced Materials
Volume 20, Issue 9, Date: May 5, 2008, Pages: 1630-1635
Ji-Ho Park, Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Lianglin Zhang, Michael P. Schwartz, Erkki Ruoslahti, Sangeeta N. Bhatia, Michael J. Sailor

UCSD Press Release:

Scientists at UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT have developed nanometer-sized “nanoworms” that can cruise through the bloodstream without significant interference from the body’s immune defense system and—like tiny anti-cancer missiles—home in on tumors.

Their discovery, detailed in this week’s issue of the journal Advanced Materials, is reminiscent of the 1966 science fiction movie, the Fantastic Voyage, in which a submarine is shrunken to microscopic dimensions, then injected into the bloodstream to remove a blood clot from a diplomat’s brain.

Using nanoworms, doctors should eventually be able to target and reveal the location of developing tumors that are too small to detect by conventional methods. Carrying payloads targeted to specific features on tumors, these microscopic vehicles could also one day provide the means to more effectively deliver toxic anti-cancer drugs to these tumors in high concentrations without negatively impacting other parts of the body.

John A. Wheeler, 1911-2008

Physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who studied under Niels Bohr and later taught Richard Feynman and Hugh Everett, who worked on the Manhattan Project and adopted the term “black hole” (over ‘com­pletely collapsed gravitational objects’), passed away on Sunday at the age of 96.

Obituaries and tributes from:

Selected Works:

iHop Wins the Research Expo

Christopher M. Schmidt-Wetekam (MAE) won Best Poster at this year’s Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo for A SELF-TRANSFORMING REACTION WHEEL-STABILIZED CLIMBING ROVER. Also reported on KPBS.

The iHop robot was developed under the direction of Thomas Bewley, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who directs the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab. Over the past year, Schmidt-Wetekam and Bewley have been teaching the wallaby-sized iHop to perform increasingly amazing tricks.

It maneuvers on wheels like other robots, but can also balance in an upright position, quickly turn and roll, jump and even twist in mid-air and land without falling over. The robot’s gyroscopes and accelerometers feed sophisticated on-board attitude estimation and stabilization algorithms in its tiny silicon brain. Bewley said that not only does iHop and a family of similar robots have potential as toys, but they can also be used to search for people stranded in burning buildings or operate in a variety of other hazardous environments.

Congratulations to Christopher and his advisor, Thomas Bewley.


photo of Chris, l, and David Zhang, r, from Andrew Phelps/ KPBS

Impact Factor Data: Editorial & Rebuttal

Show me the data (Rossner M, Van Epps H, Hill E)
Journal of Cell Biology, Vol. 179, No. 6, 1091-1092

The integrity of data, and transparency about their acquisition, are vital to science. The impact factor data that are gathered and sold by Thomson Scientific (formerly the Institute of Scientific Information, or ISI) have a strong influence on the scientific community, affecting decisions on where to publish, whom to promote or hire, the success of grant applications, and even salary bonuses. Yet, members of the community seem to have little understanding of how impact factors are determined, and, to our knowledge, no one has independently audited the underlying data to validate their reliability.

Thomson Scientific Corrects Inaccuracies in Editorial (Pendlebury DA)

A recent editorial in the Journal of Cell Biology by Rossner, Van Epps, and Hill argues that Thomson Scientific’s impact factor measure for the evaluation of journals should not be trusted since an article data set purchased from Thomson by The Rockefeller University Press did not exactly replicate the Journal Citation Reports data for its own — and selected other — journals.

When these data were questioned by The Rockefeller University Press, Thomson staff explained precisely the content of the data, as well as its derivation and use. Unfortunately for the readers of the Rossner editorial, the authors misunderstood much and as a result, misled readers about several matters, not only regarding the data but what Thomson representatives did and said from June to September 2007 in many email exchanges.

Rossner is Executive Director of the Rockefeller University Press, Van Epps is Executive Editor of Journal of Experimental Medicine, and Hill is Executive Editor of Journal of Cell Biology. Pendlebury is with the Research Services Group at Thomson Scientific.

Knot Physics – NYT

In the New York Times Magazine’s annual Year of Ideas issue, one of the 70 honored ideas comes courtesy of UCSD: Knot Physics. Assistant Professor Douglas Smith and undergraduate Dorian Raymer were also profiled in this week’s UCSD News about their work on knot formation.

Among the other honored ideas: the Radiohead payment model, Wikiscanning, the Biofuel Race, and Wireless Energy.

Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string
Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith
PNAS | October 16, 2007 | vol. 104 | no. 42 | 16432-16437

It is well known that a jostled string tends to become knotted; yet the factors governing the “spontaneous” formation of various knots are unclear. We performed experiments in which a string was tumbled inside a box and found that complex knots often form within seconds. We used mathematical knot theory to analyze the knots. Above a critical string length, the probability P of knotting at first increased sharply with length but then saturated below 100%. This behavior differs from that of mathematical self-avoiding random walks, where P has been proven to approach 100%. Finite agitation time and jamming of the string due to its stiffness result in lower probability, but P approaches 100% with long, flexible strings. We analyzed the knots by calculating their Jones polynomials via computer analysis of digital photos of the string. Remarkably, almost all were identified as prime knots: 120 different types, having minimum crossing numbers up to 11, were observed in 3,415 trials. All prime knots with up to seven crossings were observed. The relative probability of forming a knot decreased exponentially with minimum crossing number and Möbius energy, mathematical measures of knot complexity. Based on the observation that long, stiff strings tend to form a coiled structure when confined, we propose a simple model to describe the knot formation based on random “braid moves” of the string end. Our model can qualitatively account for the observed distribution of knots and dependence on agitation time and string length.

UCSD, SciVee and CNN

This week, CNN posted an article (via AP) on their website about SciVee, focusing on how Haim Weizman (Chemistry) is using the site to demonstrate organic chemistry laboratory techniques.

Launched this summer by UCSD pharmacology professor Phillip Bourne with funding from NSF, SciVee can best be described as “Science meets YouTube.” Scientists can upload videos and pubcasts, which are then freely available for viewing by anyone.

ACS Nanotation

ACS has just launched a new nanotechnology site, ACS Nanotation, to be the premiere destination for nanoscience and nanotechnology news, highlights, and community. This looks like an expansion of what ACS has been doing with their ACS Chemical Biology site.

Along with a wiki and podcasts, ACS Nanotation also features:

  • Nano Highlights from ACS journals (including Nano Letters and the new ACS Nano), with links to the articles
  • Nano Picks, reviews of recent articles
  • NanoTube, where registered users can post videos introducing their articles, tutorials on nanoscience, etc.
  • Ask the Scientist

What Makes Teeth Cut (DVR Alert)

On Saturday, Oct 20 at 7pm PST, the History Channel will run an encore of Modern Marvels: World’s Sharpest. Among the featured researchers: Materials Science & Engineering professor Marc Meyers and his “detailed studies of shark and piranha teeth and other cutting surfaces found in nature as part of his research on biomimetics.”

[h/t: JSE]

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