Tuesday, July 22, 2014

[tt] NYT: Louise Aronson: The Future of Robot Caregivers

Louise Aronson: The Future of Robot Caregivers
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/the-future-of-robot-caregivers.html

She's an associate professor of geriatrics at the University of
California, San Francisco, and the author of a collection of
stories, "A History of the Present Illness."

EACH time I make a house call, I stay much longer than I should. I
can't leave because my patient is holding my hand, or because she's
telling me, not for the first time, about when Aunt Mabel cut off
all her hair and they called her a boy at school, or how her daddy
lost his job and the lights went out and her mother lit pine cones
and danced and made everyone laugh. Sometimes I can't leave because
she just has to show me one thing, but getting to that thing
requires that she rise unsteadily from her chair, negotiate her
walker through the narrow hallway, and find whatever it is in the
dim light of her bedroom.

I can, and do, write prescriptions for her many medical problems,
but I have little to offer for the two conditions that dominate her
days: loneliness and disability. She has a well-meaning, troubled
daughter in a faraway state, a caregiver who comes twice a week, a
friend who checks in on her periodically, and she gets regular calls
from volunteers with the Friendship Line.

It's not enough. Like most older adults, she doesn't want to be
"locked up in one of those homes." What she needs is someone who is
always there, who can help with everyday tasks, who will listen and
smile.

What she needs is a robot caregiver.

That may sound like an oxymoron. In an ideal world, it would be:
Each of us would have at least one kind and fully capable human
caregiver to meet our physical and emotional needs as we age. But
most of us do not live in an ideal world, and a reliable robot may
be better than an unreliable or abusive person, or than no one at
all.

Caregiving is hard work. More often than not, it is tedious,
awkwardly intimate and physically and emotionally exhausting.
Sometimes it is dangerous or disgusting. Almost always it is 24/7
and unpaid or low wage, and has profound adverse health consequences
for those who do it. It is women's work and immigrants' work, and it
is work that many people either can't or simply won't do.

Many countries have acknowledged this reality by investing in robot
development. Last year in Japan, where robots are considered
"iyashi," or healing, the health ministry began a program designed
to meet work-force shortages and help prevent injuries by promoting
nursing-care robots that assist with lifting and moving patients. A
consortium of European companies, universities and research
institutions collaborated on Mobiserv, a project that developed a
touch-screen-toting, humanoid-looking "social companion" robot that
offers reminders about appointments and medications and encourages
social activity, healthy eating and exercise. In Sweden, researchers
have developed GiraffPlus, a robot that looks like a standing mirror
cum vacuum cleaner, monitors health metrics like blood pressure and
has a screen for virtual doctor and family visits.

Researchers in the United States are developing robot-caregiver
prototypes as well, but we have been slower to move in this
direction. Already, we have robots to assist in surgery and very
basic "walking" robots that deliver medications and other supplies
in hospitals. Robots are increasingly used in rehabilitation after
debilitating events like strokes. But a robot that cleans out your
arteries or carries linens isn't the same as a robot meant to be
your friend and caregiver. Even within the medical community, this
idea that machines could help fulfill more than just physical needs
meets largely with skepticism, and occasionally with outrage.

As Jerald Winakur, a San Antonio internist and geriatrician, put it,
"Just because we digitally savvy parents toss an iPad at our kids to
keep them busy and out of our hair, is this the example we want to
set when we, ourselves, need care and kindness?"

And yet, search YouTube and you can watch developmentally delayed
children doing therapy with a cute blue-and-yellow CosmoBot that
also collects information about their performance. Or you can see
older Japanese people with dementia smiling and chatting happily
with a robot named Paro that looks like a baby seal and responds to
human speech. Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T. professor and technology
skeptic, questions such artificial emotional relationships in her
book "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less
From Each Other." Yet after watching a 72-year-old woman named
Miriam interact with Paro, she noted that the woman "found comfort
when she confided in her Paro. Paro took care of Miriam's desire to
tell her a story."

One proof of the social and emotional potential of robot caregivers
is probably right in front of you. If you have walked down any
street recently, or sat in a restaurant, or entered a workplace,
you've probably seen numerous people oblivious to the humans with or
around them, while fully engaged with the machines in their hands or
on their desks. Admittedly, such people are often interacting with
other humans via their machines, but the fact remains that the
primary interaction is between person and machine, and despite
compelling protests that such interactions do not constitute
meaningful, empathic relationships, they seem to provide stimulation
and satisfaction to millions, if not billions, of us. Maybe you are
one of those people, reading this article on a device.

But the biggest argument for robot caregivers is that we need them.
We do not have anywhere near enough human caregivers for the growing
number of older Americans. Robots could help solve this work-force
crisis by strategically supplementing human care. Equally important,
robots could decrease high rates of neglect and abuse of older
adults by assisting overwhelmed human caregivers and replacing those
who are guilty of intentional negligence or mistreatment.

In the next decade, robot caregiver prototypes will become much more
sophisticated. According to Jim Osborn, the executive director of
the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon, the
current limitation is not the technology, but finding a viable
business model to make it affordable. He said, "I really expect
there will be a robot helping me out when I retire. I just hope I
don't have to use all my retirement savings to pay for it."

In that new world, my lonely, disabled patient's life would be
improved by a robot caregiver.

Imagine this: Since the robot caregiver wouldn't require sleep, it
would always be alert and available in case of crisis. While my
patient slept, the robot could do laundry and other household tasks.
When she woke, the robot could greet her with a kind, humanlike
voice, help her get out of bed safely and make sure she was clean
after she used the toilet. It--she? he?--would ensure that my
patient took the right medications in the right doses. At breakfast,
the robot could chat with her about the weather or news.

And then, because my patient loves to read but her eyesight is
failing, the caregiver robot would offer to read to her. Or maybe it
would provide her with a large-print electronic display of a book,
the lighting just right for her weakened eyes. After a while the
robot would say, "I wonder whether we should take a break from
reading now and get you dressed. Your daughter's coming to visit
today."

Are there ethical issues we will need to address? Of course. But I
can also imagine my patient's smile when the robot says these words,
and I suspect she doesn't smile much in her current situation, when
she's home alone, hour after hour and day after day.
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[tt] NS 2978: Meet Jibo, the cute social robot that knows the family

NS 2978: Meet Jibo, the cute social robot that knows the family
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25881-meet-jibo-the-cute-social-robot-that-knows-the-family.html
* 14:00 16 July 2014 by Hal Hodson

It doesn't just recognise you - it can field your phone calls and
chat to you at dinner

IN SUITE 712 of the Eventi Hotel, high above the sticky June bustle
of Midtown Manhattan, New York, one of the world's most advanced
consumer robots awaits command.

"Wake up, Jibo," says [14]Cynthia Breazeal, his creator. The robot's
round head shakes awake. He lets out a tinkling noise, then a yawn.
Jibo's two-part body twists and stretches and his face, with a
single digital eye, switches on and turns to look at us. He looks
like a Pixar character come to life.

Jibo is the first robot designed to be used by the whole family.
He's not a niche robot with a single purpose, like a Roomba, nor is
he a toy. Available for $499 through an [15]Indiegogo crowdfunding
campaign that starts this week, Jibo is designed to tap into the
social fabric of a household and help out. The first model, which
will ship in 2015, will perform simple tasks like taking voice
reminders, fielding phone calls and messages - connecting to the
family's phones through Wi-Fi. He will also act as the heart of the
home connecting to iPads, TVs and games consoles. More complex
skills include automatically identifying the faces in a room and
taking pictures on request and reading a story to a child.

Breazeal chats casually to the robot: "How are you doing, Jibo?"

"I'm great, thanks for asking," he says, cocking his head slightly
as his digital eye curves into a grin. Jibo explains all the
different things he can do, after a quick dance to Simon and
Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Song.

"I would say this is the first social, personal robot," says Illah
Nourbakhsh, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. Jibo's body language and expressions are designed to
convey emotional states in the same way humans do, while his sensors
and programming are tuned to our presence. Jibo knows when someone
enters a room, and can identify who it is if he can see their face
or hear their voice. The idea is that Jibo's social skills help him
to fit seamlessly into the household.

Jibo's body and head movements are complex and smooth enough to
convey convincing human-like body language but he cannot move
around. For that, he relies on the humans in the household to pick
him up - he weighs a mere 2.7 kilos - and move him from place to
place. Jibo charges up via wireless pads plugged in around the
house, or he can run on batteries for about 30 minutes away from a
power source. When he joins the family at the dinner table, for
instance.

Jibo turns to face whoever is talking, so an absent family member
can use him to video chat as the rest of the family sit around the
table. "With Jibo, you feel like you're really part of the group
dynamic," says Breazeal.

"I think that's enormous, I love it," says Ken Goldberg, a
roboticist from the University of California in Berkeley. Goldberg
works on robots that can move around their environment and
manipulate it, more in line with the traditional notion of the home
robot. But such tasks are difficult to perfect: the dream of the
robot butler is a long way off. "Right now, the most
state-of-the-art robot still takes a good 20 minutes to fold a small
towel," Goldberg says.

Breazeal's [16]research at the MIT Media Lab, along with that of
[17]Bilge Mutlu at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown
how important it is for robot-human communication that robots can
express emotion. "The ability to turn your head around and pay
attention to something else has been taken for granted, but it's
huge," says Mutlu.

Breazeal is also opening Jibo up to developers as a platform on
which to build new kinds of apps, such as ones that let the robot
place takeaway orders for "the usual" on request, or that control
the lighting and heating in a home, or even keep an eye on activity
patterns to make sure that senior household members are moving
enough.

But socially aware robots raise new ethical questions. Would it be
appropriate, for instance, for Jibo to announce that the senior
family member he has been watching has fallen down and cannot get
up? "We're going to have a really interesting dilemma about when a
robot can violate privacy to save a life," Nourbakhsh says.

"The big deal with this is its optimisation for sociality," says
Nourbakhsh. "For the first time in history, we humans are going to
have complex interactions with machines."

References

14. http://www.ted.com/talks/cynthia_breazeal_the_rise_of_personal_robots
15.
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jibo-the-world-s-first-family-robot/
16.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229694.100-kindergarten-bots-teach-language-to-tots.html
17.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428665.500-mindreading-robot-teachers-keep-students-focused.html
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[tt] NS 2978: Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

NS 2978: Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25894-meet-the-electric-life-forms-that-live-on-pure-energy.html
* 17:08 16 July 2014 by Catherine Brahic

[Leader: "Spark of life revisited thanks to electric bacteria" added.]

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use
energy in its purest form - they eat and breathe electrons - and
they are everywhere

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they
will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria
to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as
this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic
energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are
popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy
in its purest form - naked electricity in the shape of electrons
harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types,
[14]Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they
can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them
with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on
battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms
of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says [15]Kenneth
Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We
know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons:
"You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in
oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars,
and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical
reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy
storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around
is a key part of making ATP. "Life's very clever," says Nealson. "It
figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep
them under control." In most living things, the body packages the
electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the
cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.

"That's the way we make all our energy and it's the same for every
organism on this planet," says Nealson. "Electrons must flow in
order for energy to be gained. This is why when someone suffocates
another person they are dead within minutes. You have stopped the
supply of oxygen, so the electrons can no longer flow."

The discovery of electric bacteria shows that some very basic forms
of life can do away with sugary middlemen and handle the energy in
its purest form - electrons, harvested from the surface of minerals.
"It is truly foreign, you know," says Nealson. "In a sense, alien."

Nealson's team is one of a handful that is now growing these
bacteria directly on electrodes, keeping them alive with electricity
and nothing else - neither sugars nor any other kind of nutrient.
The highly dangerous equivalent in humans, he says, would be for us
to power up by shoving our fingers in a DC electrical socket.

To grow these bacteria, the team collects sediment from the seabed,
brings it back to the lab, and inserts electrodes into it.

First they measure the natural voltage across the sediment, before
applying a slightly different one. A slightly higher voltage offers
an excess of electrons; a slightly lower voltage means the electrode
will readily accept electrons from anything willing to pass them
off. Bugs in the sediments can either "eat" electrons from the
higher voltage, or "breathe" electrons on to the lower-voltage
electrode, generating a current. That current is picked up by the
researchers as a signal of the type of life they have captured.

"Basically, the idea is to take sediment, stick electrodes inside
and then ask 'OK, who likes this?'," says Nealson.

Shocking breath

At the Goldschmidt geoscience conference in Sacramento, California,
last month, [16]Shiue-lin Li of Nealson's lab presented results of
experiments growing electricity breathers in sediment collected from
Santa Catalina harbour in California. Yamini Jangir, also from the
University of Southern California, presented separate experiments
which grew electricity breathers collected from a well in Death
Valley in the Mojave Desert in California.

Over at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, Daniel Bond and his
colleagues have published experiments showing that they could grow a
type of bacteria that harvested electrons from an iron electrode
([17]mBio, doi.org/tqg). That research, says Jangir's supervisor
[18]Moh El-Naggar, may be the most convincing example we have so far
of electricity eaters grown on a supply of electrons with no added
food.

But Nealson says there is much more to come. His PhD student Annette
Rowe has identified up to eight different kinds of bacteria that
consume electricity. Those results are being submitted for
publication.

Nealson is particularly excited that Rowe has found so many types of
electric bacteria, all very different to one another, and none of
them anything like Shewanella or Geobacter. "This is huge. What it
means is that there's a whole part of the microbial world that we
don't know about."

Discovering this hidden biosphere is precisely why Jangir and
El-Naggar want to cultivate electric bacteria. "We're using
electrodes to mimic their interactions," says El-Naggar. "Culturing
the 'unculturables', if you will." The researchers plan to install a
battery inside a gold mine in South Dakota to see what they can find
living down there.

NASA is also interested in [19]things that live deep underground
because such organisms often survive on very little energy and they
may suggest modes of life in other parts of the solar system.

Electric bacteria could have practical uses here on Earth, however,
such as creating biomachines that do useful things like clean up
sewage or contaminated groundwater while drawing their own power
from their surroundings. Nealson calls them self-powered useful
devices, or SPUDs.

Practicality aside, another exciting prospect is to use electric
bacteria to probe fundamental questions about life, such as what is
the bare minimum of energy needed to maintain life.

For that we need the next stage of experiments, says [20]Yuri Gorby,
a microbiologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy,
New York: bacteria should be grown not on a single electrode but
between two. These bacteria would effectively eat electrons from one
electrode, use them as a source of energy, and discard them on to
the other electrode.

Gorby believes bacterial cells that both eat and breathe electrons
will soon be discovered. "An electric bacterium grown between two
electrodes could maintain itself virtually forever," says Gorby. "If
nothing is going to eat it or destroy it then, theoretically, we
should be able to maintain that organism indefinitely."

It may also be possible to vary the voltage applied to the
electrodes, putting the energetic squeeze on cells to the point at
which they are just doing the absolute minimum to stay alive. In
this state, the cells may not be able to reproduce or grow, but they
would still be able to run repairs on cell machinery. "For them, the
work that energy does would be maintaining life - maintaining
viability," says Gorby.

How much juice do you need to keep a living electric bacterium
going? Answer that question, and you've answered one of the most
fundamental existential questions there is.

Wire in the mud

Electric bacteria come in all shapes and sizes. A few years ago,
biologists discovered that some produce hair-like filaments that act
as wires, [22]ferrying electrons back and forth between the cells
and their wider environment. They dubbed them microbial nanowires.

Lars Peter Nielsen and his colleagues at Aarhus University in
Denmark have found that tens of thousands of electric bacteria can
join together to form daisy chains that carry electrons over several
centimetres - a huge distance for a bacterium only 3 or 4
micrometres long. It means that bacteria living in, say, seabed mud
where no oxygen penetrates, can access oxygen dissolved in the
seawater simply by holding hands with their friends.

Such bacteria are showing up everywhere we look, says Nielsen. One
way to find out if you're in the presence of these electron munchers
is to put clumps of dirt in a shallow dish full of water, and gently
swirl it. The dirt should fall apart. If it doesn't, it's likely
that cables made of bacteria are holding it together.

Nielsen can spot the glimmer of the cables when he pulls soil apart
and holds it up to sunlight (see video).

Flexible biocables

It's more than just a bit of fun. Early work shows that such cables
conduct electricity about as well as the wires that connect your
toaster to the mains. That could open up interesting research
avenues involving flexible, lab-grown biocables.

References

15. http://dornsife.usc.edu/cf/faculty-and-staff/faculty.cfm?pid=1003571
16. http://dornsife.usc.edu/labs/nealsonlab/members/
17. http://mbio.asm.org/content/4/1/e00420-12
18. http://dornsife.usc.edu/cf/faculty-and-staff/faculty.cfm?pid=1013055
19.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229742.500-weird-organisms-emerge-from-the-deep-dark-biosphere.html
20. http://faculty.rpi.edu/node/1179
21.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329781.600-spark-of-life-revisited-thanks-to-electric-bacteria.html
22.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428712.300-giant-living-power-cables-let-bacteria-respire.html
---
Leader: Spark of life revisited thanks to electric bacteria
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329781.600-spark-of-life-revisited-thanks-to-electric-bacteria.html

IN 1786, a student of Luigi Galvani's at the University of Bologna,
Italy, was startled to find that a dead frog's leg kicked when he
touched a scalpel to its sciatic nerve. Galvani worked out that the
metallic implement had been charged with static electricity, which
he took to be the agent that activated muscles in living animals.

This idea - which Galvani termed "animal electricity" - went on to
become highly influential. Most famously, Mary Shelley wondered if
electricity could be used to reanimate the dead (though the
lightning-bolt scene familiar from the Frankenstein movie didn't
actually feature in Shelley's novel).

We've long known that cells use ions dissolved in water to carry out
a huge range of functions, from animating our brains to powering our
bodies. Now we have found bacteria in the ground that eat electrons
from minerals directly, and pass them back out, without the need for
the sugars or oxygen that most life forms use to mediate the process
(see "Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy.

These bacteria seem to come in many varieties. There might even be
some among the teeming bacterial hordes in your gut. And their
discovery means we are on the verge of finding out just how little
electricity fundamental life requires.

Two hundred and twenty-eight years later, we are still feeling the
kick of that frog's leg.
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[tt] NS 2978: Chimpanzee brain power is strongly heritable

NS 2978: Chimpanzee brain power is strongly heritable
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25875-chimpanzee-brain-power-is-strongly-heritable.html
* 17:00 10 July 2014 by Andy Coghlan

If a chimpanzee appears [10]unusually intelligent, it probably had
bright parents. That's the message from the first study to check if
chimp brain power is heritable.

The discovery could help to tease apart the genes that affect chimp
[11]intelligence and to see whether those [12]genes in humans also
influence intelligence. It might also help to identify additional
genetic factors that give humans the [13]intellectual edge over
their non-human-primate cousins.

The researchers estimate that, similar to humans, genetic
differences account for about 54 per cent of the range seen in
"general intelligence" - dubbed "g" - which is measured via a series
of cognitive tests. "Our results in chimps are quite consistent with
data from humans, and the human heritability in g," says [14]William
Hopkins of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta,
Georgia, who heads the team reporting its findings in [15]Current
Biology.

"The historical view is that non-genetic factors dominate animal
intelligence, and our findings challenge that view," says Hopkins.

Run the gamut

To assess heritability, Hopkins and his colleagues studied 99
captive chimpanzees - 29 males and 70 females - aged from 9 to 54.
The team had the chimps do 13 standard tasks to measure their
cognitive abilities.

Hopkins teased out ability in four broad categories: spatial memory
and ability; tool use; communication skills; and establishing
causality. Tests to remember which of three beakers hid food, for
example, helped measure spatial memory, while challenging chimps to
obtain visible but otherwise inaccessible food by attracting
attention from humans helped measure communication skills. By
combining results from all the categories, the researchers
calculated values for g.

By taking into account the sex of each animal, its family
relationships, and what sort of environment and [16]chimp culture it
grew up in, the researchers claim they could isolate the impact of
heritability on how well the animals scored. They found that genetic
background accounted for 52.5 per cent of the variance in overall g
scores. Within the tasks, heritability had the strongest impact on
spatial memory and ability, and communication skills.

Hopkins speculates that these skills may be more heritable because
they are important in foraging and group problem-solving, which
strongly affect survival and mating chances. "Smarter chimps might
gain access to more food resources and mates," he says.

Tool dropping

Other intelligence researchers said the results seemed broadly
sound. "The discovery that spatial skills have a strong genetic
component is unsurprising, but the link with communication needs
further investigation," says [17]Josep Call of the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He led
a [18]study in 2012 which found that some chimps were unusually
intelligent. Call was also surprised that tool use only showed a
weak heritability.

The results were consistent with those in people. "They are bang on
with human results in showing substantial g and in showing that
results in nearly all of the tests are significantly heritable,"
says Robert Plomin of King's College London, who is a veteran
researcher on genetic elements of human intelligence. He also says
the study suggests the range of cognitive abilities tested in the
chimps are influenced by the same suites of genes.

However, Plomin challenges Hopkins's suggestion that research in
chimps will hasten the identification of genes in humans that
influence intelligence. "I think the flow will go the other way, and
we'll find [19]genes associated with intelligence in humans, then
ask if the same genes impact intelligence in chimps," he says.

Journal reference: Current Biology: (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.076)

References

10.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328574.300-chimp-prodigy-shows-signs-of-humanlike-intelligence.html
11.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12993-chimps-outperform-humans-at-memory-task.html
12.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24745-nature-more-than-nurture-determines-exam-success.html#.U71Y4dEU_5o
13.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128191.900-intelligence-what-is-it.html
14.
http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/research/divisions/developmental_cognitive_neuroscience/hopkins_william.html
15. http://doi.org/tn3
16.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19324-the-genetical-evolution-of-chimp-culture.html
17. http://www.newscientist.com/www.eva.mpg.de/psycho/staff/call/
18.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328574.300-chimp-prodigy-shows-signs-of-humanlike-intelligence.html
19.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19626324.100-intelligence-genes-reveal-their-complexity.html
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[tt] NS 2978: Strange dark stuff is making the universe too bright

NS 2978: Strange dark stuff is making the universe too bright
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329782.700-strange-dark-stuff-is-making-the-universe-too-bright.html
* 17 July 2014 by Lisa Grossman

LIGHT is in crisis. The universe is far brighter than it should be
based on the number of light-emitting objects we can find, a cosmic
accounting problem that has astronomers baffled.

"Something is very wrong," says [16]Juna Kollmeier at the
Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena,
California.

Solving the mystery could show us novel ways to hunt for dark
matter, or reveal the presence of another unknown "dark" component
to the cosmos.

"It's such a big discrepancy that whatever we find is going to be
amazing, and it will overturn something we currently think is true,"
says Kollmeier.

The trouble stems from the most recent census of objects that
produce high-energy ultraviolet light. Some of the biggest known
sources are [17]quasars - galaxies with actively feeding black holes
at their centres. These behemoths spit out plenty of UV light as
matter falling into them is heated and compressed. Young galaxies
filled with hot, bright stars are also contributors.

Ultraviolet light from these objects [18]ionises the gas that
permeates intergalactic space, stripping hydrogen atoms of their
electrons. Observations of the gas can tell us how much of it has
been ionised, helping astronomers to estimate the amount of UV light
that must be flying about.

But as our images of the cosmos became sharper, astronomers found
that these measurements don't seem to tally with the number of
sources found.

Kollmeier started worrying in 2012, when Francesco Haardt at the
University of Insubria in Como, Italy, and Piero Madau at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, compiled the results of
several sky surveys and found far fewer UV sources than previously
suggested.

Then in February, Charles Danforth at the University of Colorado,
Boulder, and his colleagues released the [19]latest observations of
intergalactic hydrogen by the Hubble Space Telescope. That work
confirmed the large amount of gas being ionised. "It could have been
that there was much more neutral hydrogen than we thought, and
therefore there would be no light crisis," says Kollmeier. "But that
loophole has been shut."

Now Kollmeier and her colleagues have run computer simulations of
intergalactic gas and compared them with the Hubble data, just to be
sure. They found that there is five times too much ionised gas for
the number of known UV sources in the modern, nearby universe.

Strangely, their simulations also show that, for the early, more
distant universe, UV sources and ionised gas match up perfectly,
suggesting something has changed with time (Astrophysical Journal
Letters, [20]doi.org/tqm).

This could be down to dark matter, the mysterious stuff thought to
make up more than 80 per cent of the matter in the universe.

The leading theoretical candidates for dark matter are weakly
interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. There are many proposed
versions of WIMPs, including some [21]non-standard varieties that
would decay and release UV photons.

Knowing that dark matter in the early universe worked like a
scaffold to create the cosmic structure we see today, we have a good
idea how much must have existed in the past. That suggests dark
matter particles are stable for billions of years before they begin
to decay.

Theorists can now consider the UV problem in their calculations and
see if any of the proposed particles start to decay at the right
time to account for the extra light, says [22]Kathryn Zurek, a dark
matter expert at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. If so,
that could explain why the excess only shows up in the modern
cosmos.

If WIMPS aren't the answer, the possible explanations become even
more bizarre, such as mysterious "dark" objects that can emit UV
light but remain shrouded from view. And if all else fails, there's
even a chance something is wrong with our basic understanding of
hydrogen.

"We don't know what it is, or we would be reporting discovery
instead of crisis," says Kollmeier. "The point is to bring this to
everyone's attention so we can figure it out as a community."

References

16. http://users.obs.carnegiescience.edu/jak/Home.html
17.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23893-rave-universe-shows-galactic-imprint-of-quasar-light.html
18.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20840-ionised-gas-keeps-milky-ways-lights-on.html
19. http://arxiv.org/abs/1402.2655
20. http://iopscience.iop.org/2041-8205/789/2/L32/
21.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229712.600-its-crunch-time-for-dark-matter-if-wimps-dont-show.html
22.
http://www.lsa.umich.edu/physics/directory/faculty/ci.zurekkathryn_ci.detail
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Monday, July 21, 2014

[tt] (Decoded Science 2014-01) Helium Shortage: Situation Update One Year Later

[

http://www.decodedscience.com/helium-shortage-situation-update-one-year-later/42314

]

(... links deleted ...)

Helium Shortage: Situation Update One Year Later

January 30, 2014 by [56]Clara Piccirillo, PhD [57]2 Comments
[58]Share Button
[59]Helium gas is essential for many applications. Phot by Pslawinski.

Helium gas is essential for many applications. Image courtesy of
Pslawinski.

About one year ago Decoded Science reported on the helium shortage and
the possible impact this could have on several sectors, such as
medicine and other scientific areas.

Now, one year later, we present an update on the situation.

2013: Difficult Year for Helium

2013 was a difficult year for helium production, and in which the
situation almost reached a point of no return.

The reason for this was the feared shutdown of the Federal Helium
Reserve; this is one of the main helium world producers.

The Federal Helium Reserve is located in Texas, and operated by the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It supplies 30 % of the world and 42 %
of the U.S. helium.

[INS: :INS]

Federal Helium Reserve Shutdown

The Federal Helium Reserve shutdown was a consequence of the Helium
Privatization Act, a law approved in 1996. At the time, there was less
interest in helium production, as it was not considered essential for
the defence industry anymore, and its technological importance was less
relevant and understood.

According to this law, BLM was supposed to continue selling helium to
pay off the debt accumulated over the years; once the debt was paid,
the facility was supposed to shut down and stopping supplying the
helium.

This shutdown was supposed to happen on the 7^th of October 2013.
[60]MRI machine require helium. Photo by Jan Ainali.

MRI machines even require helium. Phillips MRI courtesy of Jan Ainali.

Helium Catastrophe?

The situation, however, had changed dramatically since 1996, and these
days helium is essential in many sectors. A lot of medical equipment,
MRI and lasers for instance, require helium to keep parts of them at a
very low temperature; helium is also used for electronic fabrication
and aeronautics applications.

Many research laboratories of universities all over the world rely on
helium to operate some of their instruments.

The shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve, and the consequent
substantial reduction in helium supply, would badly affect all these
activities. Moreover, such reduction would cause an increase in the
helium price, which would put even more strain on all these industries.

Last-Minute Solution

Luckily, in the end the catastrophe was avoided, as a last minute
solution was found. The US government approved a bill on the 2^nd of
October 2013, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, which avoided the
shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve.

According to the law, BLM will have to auction the remaining 300
million m^3 of helium from 2015 onwards; the auction should continue
until two thirds of this quantity will be sold. The remaining helium
will be used for federal purposes.

New Projects

All helium users, from scientists to birthday partiers, hope that 2014
will be a better year for helium supplies, and there are already some
encouraging signs.

Some good news came from Qatar, where RasGas opened a new plant which
can produce about 60 million m^3 of helium per year. With this plant,
Qatar becomes the second largest helium world producer, after the US.
In this new plant, helium is separated from natural gas and then sold
to intermediate distributing companies, such as Air Liquid, Linde and
Iwatani.

At the same time, Air Products and Chemicals is developing plans for a
new plant in Colorado, which should become active from the beginning of
next year (2015). Helium is present in a natural carbon dioxide
reserve; the new plant will separate the helium from the other gas.

Better Future for Helium and Science

Despite these new projects, it is still not clear what the future holds
for helium users. According to many predictions, it is likely that
there will be periodic [61]helium shortages and that the prices will
still be quite high for the whole 2014 year.

It is therefore important to try to recover and reuse helium and, when
possible, to find alternative solutions.
[62]Share Button
© Copyright 2014 Clara Piccirillo, PhD, All rights Reserved. Written
For: [63]Decoded Science
Decoded Everything is a non-profit corporation, dependent on donations
from readers like you. Donate now, and keep the great information
coming!

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Filed Under: [64]Chemistry, [65]Headlines Tagged With: [66]Bureau of
Land Management, [67]Federal Helium Reserve, [68]helium shortage,
[69]Helium Stewardship Act

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References

56. http://www.decodedscience.com/author/clara-piccirillo
57. http://www.decodedscience.com/helium-shortage-situation-update-one-year-later/42314#comments
58. http://www.hupso.com/share/
59. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HeTube.jpg
60. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MRI-Philips.JPG
61. http://www.decodedscience.com/helium-shortage-perspectives-and-challenges/25594
62. http://www.hupso.com/share/
63. http://www.decodedscience.com/
64. http://www.decodedscience.com/topics/physical-science/chemistry
65. http://www.decodedscience.com/topics/science-news
66. http://www.decodedscience.com/tags/bureau-of-land-management
67. http://www.decodedscience.com/tags/federal-helium-reserve
68. http://www.decodedscience.com/tags/helium-shortage
69. http://www.decodedscience.com/tags/helium-stewardship-act
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Re: [tt] Observer: Why the internet of things could destroy the welfare state

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On 21/07/14 02:20 AM, Frank Forman wrote:
> I find all this confusing. Would someone explain it to me?

Morozov can only get attention by shouting about the internet on the
internet.

If we ignore him he'll have another conversion, probably involving
economics, and go away.

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