Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/9/2010


Real 'Tractor Beam' Developed

insidescience - Tractor beams, energy rays that can move objects, are a science fiction mainstay. But now they are becoming a reality -- at least for moving very tiny objects.

Researchers from the Australian National University have announced that they have built a device that can move small particles a meter and a half using only the power of light.

Physicists have been able to manipulate tiny particles over miniscule distances by using lasers for years. Optical tweezers that can move particles a few millimeters are common.

Andrei Rode, a researcher involved with the project, said that existing optical tweezers are able to move particles the size of a bacterium a few millimeters in a liquid. Their new technique can move objects one hundred times that size over a distance of a meter or more.

The device works by shining a hollow laser beam around tiny glass particles. The air surrounding the particle heats up, while the dark center of the beam stays cool. When the particle starts to drift out of the middle and into the bright laser beam, the force of heated air molecules bouncing around and hitting the particle's surface is enough to nudge it back to the center.

A small amount of light also seeps into the darker middle part of the beam, heating the air on one side of the particle and pushing it along the length of the laser beam. If another such laser is lined up on the opposite side of the beam, the speed and direction the particle moves can be easily manipulated by changing the brightness of the beams.

Rode said that their technique could likely work over even longer distances than they tested.

"With the particles and the laser we use, I would guess up to 10 meters in air should not be a problem. The max distance we had was 1.5 meters, which was limited by the size of the optical table in the lab," Rode said.

Because this technique needs heated gas to push the particles around, it can't work in the vacuum of outer space like the tractor beams in Star Trek. But on Earth there are many possible applications for the technology. The meter-long distances that the research team was able to move the particles could open up new avenues for laser tweezers in the transport of dangerous substances and microbes, and for sample taking and biomedical research.

"There is the possibility that one could use the hollow spheres as a means of chemical delivery agents, or microscopic containers of some kind, but some more work would need to be done here just to check what happens inside the spheres, in terms of sample heating," said David McGloin, a physicist at the University of Dundee in the U.K not connected with the Australian team.

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Thai Woman Claims She Gave Birth to an Egg


phuketgazette - Villagers in Nong Hin District have been rushing to see a woman who had reportedly given birth to an egg. At last report Chawee Chinchaiphum and her husband, Prayut, both 40, have not let anyone see the egg, but enterprising locals have been selling photos of the recently-arrived object for 10 baht each. Demand has been so strong that the pictures have sold out many times. Mr Prayuth said that around 9am on August 16, his wife, who was nine months pregnant, began to complain of stomach pains – pains identical to contractions as if she were ready to give birth.

Mr Prayuth called an ambulance, but when it arrived Mrs Chawee refused to get in. Eventually the ambulance left – without her. At 11:30 am, Mrs Chawee shouted that she had just given birth to something, Mr Prayut explained. When he went to see, he found only an egg-like object approximately three centimeters long covered in blood. Mr Prayut washed the “egg”, dusted it with talcum powder and placed it on a tray. Word of the mysterious birth soon made its way through the village, prompting curious neighbors into coming round and asking to see the newborn.

Mrs Chawee, however, refused to let anyone come in to see her or her egg. Another mystery yet to be unraveled, however, is that somehow someone took a photo of the egg. Police Sen Sgt Maj Prayan Somkhan said that when he heard the news he led a team of three officers to investigate. Mrs Chawee, however, was steadfast in her resolve and refused to let them see. Before leaving, the officers warned Mr Prayut that if the story turned out to be pure fabrication, the couple would be charged with deceiving the public.

Sen Sgt Maj Prayan said he was a tad suspicious of why Mrs Chawee refused to get in the ambulance when it came to take her to hospital. An intrepid reporter for Khao Sod daily news began investigating the story of Mrs Chawee and the egg, and went to the clinic where Mr Prayut said he had taken his wife for her prenatal care. Staff at the clinic confirmed they had indeed seen Mrs Chawee, but said that she was tended to for stomach pains – not pregnancy. Dr Wiwat Korwiriyakamon of the Loei Public Health Office, said that he, local police and the District Chief, would visit the couple to discover the real facts behind the story.

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Witnessing Evolution

dailymail - Scientists have caught the process of evolution in action as a species of Australian lizard abandons egg-laying for live births.

The variety of skink, which is snake-like with four tiny legs, has been found laying eggs along the coast of New South Wales.

However, the same yellow-bellied three-toed lizard living in the colder mountainous region is giving birth to offspring like a mammal does.

There are only two other types of modern reptiles which use both types of reproduction methods – another skink species and a European lizard.

One in five snakes and lizards gives birth to live young, with records showing nearly a hundred reptile lineages have changed from egg-laying in the past.

Study co-author James Stewart, a biologist at East Tennessee State University, in America, told National Geographic that the discovery provided scientists with a rare opportunity.

‘By studying differences among populations that are in different stages of this process, you can begin to put together what looks like the transition from one [birth style] to the other,’ he said.

Mr Stewart said the transformation could be linked to how newborns get nourishment. Or it could be a way of protecting the young in harsher climates.

Baby mammals are fed via a placenta which is connects the foetus to the ovary wall.

Through this it can breathe and pass back waste.

Embryos of egg-laying species get nutrients from the yolk while absorbing calcium from the porous shell, which also protects them from the external environment.

However, some fish and reptiles are using a mix of both birthing styles.

Mothers form an egg which she keeps inside her body until the last stages. The shells thin, allowing the embryos to breathe until birth – but, according to scientists, this poses a nourishment problem, as it contains less calcium.

This discovery prompted Mr Stewart and his colleagues to investigate the nutrient issue in the structure and the chemistry of the Australian lizard’s uterus.

He explained: ‘Now we can see that the uterus secretes calcium that becomes incorporated into the embryo – it’s basically the early stages of the evolution of a placenta in reptiles.’

However, Mr Stewart added that the process of reptiles moving from egg-laying to live birth is common in historic terms as making the switch is relatively easy.

‘We tend to think of this as a very complex transition,’ he added. ‘But it’s looking like it might be much simpler is some cases than we thought.’

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Super Bug on the March Worldwide

A new gene in bacteria that allows the microorganisms to become drug-resistant 'superbugs' is circulating widely in India. Just like the HIV virus that causes AIDS, the man-made Doom Bug alters bacteria, making them resistant to all known antibiotics. Along with India, the Doom Bug has been detected in small numbers in Australia, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.K. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Tuesday that it is planning to list the new superbug NDM-1 as a communicable disease.

NDM1 - New Super Bug - The Death Of Us All?

CDC to list new superbug NDM-1 as communicable disease

Drug-resistant 'superbug' found in hospitals in London and Nottingham

Japan confirms its first case of new superbug gene


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Suicides Cost Japan Economy $32BN

BBC - The government in Japan says suicides and depression cost its economy almost 2.7tn yen ($32bn; £21bn) last year.

The figures refer to lost incomes and the cost of treatment. It is the first time Japan has released such figures.

Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rates, with more than 32,000 people killing themselves last year. PM Naoto Kan sees it as proof of an economic and emotional downturn.

The government is setting up a task force to try to reduce the rate.

"Given that the number of suicides in Japan has been over 30,000 for 12 straight years, this is a problem that needs to be addressed by the entire nation," a health, labour and welfare ministry official said.

"We hope this study triggers stronger prevention measures."

The study showed that those who took their lives last year - 26,500 people in 2009 - when they were aged 15 to 69 would have earned 1.9tn yen had they worked until retirement.

Mr Kan has pointed to the suicide numbers as proof of what he believes is wrong with the country, with too many people suffering economically and emotionally.

"There are many causes of suicides. Decreasing them would be one way to build a society with a minimum level of unhappiness," he said.

But attitudes to depression in Japan arguably demand equally urgent scrutiny, correspondents say.

In a country in which stoicism and consensus are highly valued, many older people in particular view mental illness as a stigma that can be overcome simply by trying harder, they say.

The use of psychotherapy to treat depression has lagged behind North America and Europe, with Japanese doctors often viewing medication as the sole answer, they add.

NOTE: these links are to posts in reference to Japanese suicides and the paranormal / strangeness aspects - Japan's High Suicide Rate Continues and Destination Truth: The Aokigahara Suicide Forest...Lon

Fortean / Oddball News - 9/9/2010

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