Category Archives: Science

More Evidence That Plants Get Their Energy Through Quantum Entanglement

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More Evidence That Plants Get Their Energy Through Quantum Entanglement

By on January 20, 2014 in News

fern plant

As top human scientists dream of someday creating a quantum computer, are we lagging far behind plants? io9 reports:

Biophysicists theorize that plants tap into the eerie world of quantum entanglement during photosynthesis. Evidence to date has been purely circumstantial, but now, scientists have discovered a feature of plants that cannot be explained by classical physics.

In a way, they’re like mini-quantum computers capable of scanning all possible options in order to choose the most efficient paths or solutions. For plants, this means the ability to make the most of the energy they receive and then deliver that energy from leaves with near perfect efficiency.

The going theory is that plants have light-gathering macromolecules in their cells that can transfer energy via molecular vibrations — vibrations that have no equivalents in classical physics.

In the new study, UCL researchers identified a specific feature in biological systems that can only be predicted by quantum physics. The team learned that the energy transfer in the light-harvesting macromolecules is facilitated by specific vibrational motions of the chromophores. Quantum effects improve the efficiency of plant photosynthesis in a way that classical physics cannot allow.

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Scientists Create New Form Of Matter Composed Of Pure Light

By on September 30, 2013 in News

light_saber

Light sabers are now a reality, ScienceDaily reports:

A group at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms have managed to coax light photons into binding together to form molecules — a state of matter that, until recently, had been purely theoretical.

The discovery runs contrary to accepted wisdom about the nature of light. Photons have long been described as massless particles which don’t interact with each other. “Photonic molecules,” however, behave more like something in science fiction — the light saber.

“What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules,” Lukin said.

The system could be useful in classical computing, considering the power-dissipation challenges chip-makers now face. It might one day even be used to create complex three-dimensional structures wholly out of light.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil

Just when you thought ol’ Curiosity was digging in for the winter, the little discovery machine came up with a doozy: It discovered water in Martian soil. NASA scientists just published five papers in Science detailing the experiments that led to the discovery. That’s right. There’s water on Mars.

Impressive as it is, though, the discovery comes with some caveats. It’s not like Curiosity stumbled on a lost lake under a mountain or a stream trickling across the landscape. Rather, it found water molecules bound to other minerals in Martian soil. There’s kind of a lot of it, too. Researchers say that every cubic foot of Martian soil contains about two pints of liquid water. All things told, about two percent of the Martian soil is made of up water.

“We tend to think of Mars as this dry place—to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me,” Laurie Leshin, dean of science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told The Guardian. She also explained how the discovery was made. Curiosity picked up and sieved a scoop of soil from the surface before dropping it into an on-board oven. “We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them,” she said. “We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released.”

Of course, this isn’t the first sign of water on the red planet. Back in June, Curiosity scooped up a rock specimen that contained a type of clay only be formed in neutral water telling scientists that Mars was once home to running water. And of course, scientists have long suspected water once existed on the planet due to various formations across the Martian landscape. In fact, it’s widely believed that water existed in abundance on Mars, perhaps just as prominently as it does on Earth.

The discovery is important for a number of reasons, but especially exciting because of what this means for future missions to Mars. “We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars,” says Leshin. “When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water.” She makes it life on Mars sound so easy; now we just have to figure out how to get around that the quantity of deadly radiation we’ll encounter on the trip over. [Science via The Guardian]

Update (5pm): We reached out to Dean Leshin to ask what the discovery of water meant for the larger question of life on Mars, and she replied with a shade of optimism:

Although we found water bound up in the soil particles, it’s still pretty dry. Also, we didn’t find evidence of organic molecules in the soil. So, this doesn’t have a very big bearing on the life on Mars discussion. However, we now know that our instruments are working beautifully, and our next step is to drill into rocks that may have been better places to preserve evidence or organics and of wet environments that could be suitable for life.

Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding

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Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding

Apr. 29, 2013 — Having to explain how a political policy works leads people to express less extreme attitudes toward the policy, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


The research suggests that people may hold extreme policy positions because they are under an illusion of understanding — attempting to explain the nuts and bolts of how a policy works forces them to acknowledge that they don’t know as much about the policy as they initially thought.

Psychological scientist Philip Fernbach of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder and his co-authors were interested in exploring some of the factors that could contribute to what they see as increasing political polarization in the United States.

“We wanted to know how it’s possible that people can maintain such strong positions on issues that are so complex — such as macroeconomics, health care, foreign relations — and yet seem to be so ill-informed about those issues,” says Fernbach.

Drawing on previous research on the illusion of understanding, Fernbach and colleagues speculated that one reason for the apparent paradox may be that voters think they understand how policies work better than they actually do.

In their first study, the researchers asked participants taking an online survey to rate how well they understood six political policies, including raising the retirement age for Social Security, instituting a national flat tax, and implementing merit-based pay for teachers. The participants were randomly assigned to explain two of the policies and then asked to re-rate how well they understood the policies.

As the researchers predicted, people reported lower understanding of all six policies after they had to explain them, and their positions on the policies were less extreme. In fact, the data showed that the more people’s understanding decreased, the more uncertain they were about the position, and the less extreme their position was in the end.

The act of explaining also affected participants’ behavior. People who initially held a strong position softened their position after having to explain it, making them less likely to donate bonus money to a related organization when they were given the opportunity to do so.

Importantly, the results affected people along the whole political spectrum, from self-identified Democrats to Republicans to Independents.

According to the researchers, these findings shed light on a psychological process that may help people to open the lines of communication in the context of a heated debate or negotiation.

“This research is important because political polarization is hard to combat,” says Fernbach. “There are many psychological processes that act to create greater extremism and polarization, but this is a rare case where asking people to attempt to explain makes them back off their extreme positions.”

In addition to Fernbach, co-authors include Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School; Craig R. Fox of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Steven A. Sloman of Brown University.

First love child of human, Neanderthal believed found

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First love child of human, Neanderthal believed found

By Jennifer Viegas
Discover News

The skeletal remains of an individual living in northern Italy 40,000-30,000 years ago are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE.

If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.

The present study focuses on the individual’s jaw, which was unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time.

PHOTOS: Faces of Our Ancestors

“From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” co-author Silvana Condemi, an anthropologist, told Discovery News.

Condemi is the CNRS research director at the University of Ai-Marseille. She and her colleagues studied the remains via DNA analysis and 3-D imaging. They then compared those results with the same features from Homo sapiens.

The genetic analysis shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA is Neanderthal. Since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, the researchers conclude that it was a “female Neanderthal who mated with male Homo sapiens.”

NEWS: Neanderthals Lacked Social Skills

By the time modern humans arrived in the area, the Neanderthals had already established their own culture, Mousterian, which lasted some 200,000 years. Numerous flint tools, such as axes and spear points, have been associated with the Mousterian. The artifacts are typically found in rock shelters, such as the Riparo di Mezzena, and caves throughout Europe.

The researchers found that, although the hybridization between the two hominid species likely took place, the Neanderthals continued to uphold their own cultural traditions.

That’s an intriguing clue, because it suggests that the two populations did not simply meet, mate and merge into a single group.

NEWS: Neanderthals Died Out Earlier Than Thought 

As Condemi and her colleagues wrote, the mandible supports the theory of “a slow process of replacement of Neanderthals by the invading modern human populations, as well as additional evidence of the upholding of the Neanderthals’ cultural identity.”

Prior fossil finds indicate that modern humans were living in a southern Italy cave as early as 45,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals therefore lived in roughly the same regions for thousands of years, but the new human arrivals, from the Neanderthal perspective, might not have been welcome, and for good reason. The research team hints that the modern humans may have raped female Neanderthals, bringing to mind modern cases of “ethnic cleansing.”

Ian Tattersall is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals and the human fossil record. He is a paleoanthropologist and a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History.

Tattersall told Discovery News that the hypothesis, presented in the new paper, “is very intriguing and one that invites more research.”

Neanderthal culture and purebred Neanderthals all died out 35,000-30,000 years ago.