Kelly Gallagher: Interview with first Briton to win Winter Paralympics gold medal.


As a young girl growing up in a generally snow-free Northern Ireland, Kelly Gallagher’s favourite toy was a skiing Barbie. Thanks to the doll’s gaudy outfit, Gallagher could make out its appearance, but only if she held it close to her eyes, which from birth have been severely affected by a form of albinism. She never imagined she could ever ski herself.

Simon Usborne speaks to Kelly Gallagher, the first Briton to win a Winter Paralympics gold, and charts the remarkable story of the visually-impaired skier

“She had pink ski boots and a fashionable pink jumpsuit and she was just awesome,” Gallagher recalls. “I must have been about six or seven and I had to wait another 10 years to get on snow myself. But once I clicked into those skis I thought, this is it – catch me if you can.”

Now aged 28, Gallagher is among four women who have elevated a hitherto unheralded sport. Early on Monday morning, she won Britain’s first Winter Paralympics gold behind her guide and best friend, Charlotte Evans. Fellow Brits Jade Etherington and her guide, Caroline Powell, won a bronze medal in the same Super-G event at Sochi, adding to the silver they bagged in the downhill on Saturday.

“It means so much,” Gallagher says shortly after her medal ceremony. “We were clocked in training at 104kmh [65mph]. When you think I wouldn’t sit on a car bonnet going that fast, the idea that I’m doing it in a catsuit with only a back protector is a really special thing.”

 

Being almost blind is notably absent from this consideration, because Gallagher, whose eyes alone cannot tell her whether she is standing still or going downhill fast, has never felt disabled. Not long after those Barbie days, she began to inline skate and refused to be seen with a white cane. Aged 17, during a French family holiday, she insisted on a diversion to Andorra and her first ski lesson.

“Things got lost in translation at first when I explained to the instructor that I couldn’t see,” she says. “He said, yes, the visibility is quite bad today.” Gallagher, who is unable to drive or cycle, persevered and became instantly hooked. “I can’t find that speed in any other activity. There’s just nothing I can compare it to.”

It’s not clear when visually impaired snow-lovers first put blind faith in other skiers, but they have only had a place at the Paralympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. They follow closely behind full-sighted racers who wear luminous bibs, receiving directions from them via audio headsets.

Evans, a former solo racer who began working with blind skiers while recovering from injury in 2009, met Gallagher four years ago. “At first, it was more Kelly the athlete and me kind of like the carer, but it’s definitely equal now,” she says. “My job is to get her down as safely and quickly as possible, things that don’t usually go together, but it works.”

James Redpath is an adaptive skiing instructor and administrator at the British Disabled Ski Team, which is managed by Disability Snowsport UK. He hopes success in Sochi will trigger greater awareness and funding. “We basically run the team on a shoestring,” he says. “We only have two full-time members of staff… If we are going to progress it’s very important that this changes.”

John Dickinson-Lilley is a visually impaired skier whose Sochi dreams were dashed when his guide retired last summer after getting a “proper job”. John, 35, who funds his training while working as head of public policy for Sport England, is appealing for a new guide before the next Winter Paralympics in South Korea.

“These results aren’t from big corporate sponsors or loads of public money, but huge commitment and individual investment,” he says. “They could be great news for the sport and will hopefully inspire a new generation of young disabled people to take up all kinds of skiing.”

The sport offers visually impaired people more than thrills and freedom, says Dickinson-Lilley, whose eyesight began to fail due to a brain condition when he was 13. “It makes you more independent and mobile because it sharpens your ability to perceive things around you.”

As the sport develops, Gallagher finds even less to separate her from able-bodied skiers. “We can guess the kind of speed we’re doing but when I saw it up there, I thought, this is something to be proud of – we’re up there with the best in the sport and it’s really exciting.”

Fukushima operator may have to dump contaminated water into Pacific.


As Japan marks the third anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Tepco is struggling to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water
  • A worker in a protective suit looks at tanks, under construction, to store radioactive water
A worker at the Fukushima Daiichi plant looks at tanks, under construction, to store radioactive water. Photograph: Toru Hanai/AP

A senior adviser to the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichinuclear power plant has told the firm that it may have no choice but to eventually dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated waterinto the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking to reporters who were on a rare visit to the plant on the eve of the third anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Dale Klein said Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] had yet to reassure the public over the handling of water leaks that continue to frustrate efforts to clean up the site.

“The one issue that keeps me awake at night is Tepco’s long-term strategy for water management,” said Klein, a former chairman of the US nuclear regulatory commission who now leads Tepco’s nuclear reform committee.

“Storing massive amounts of water on-site is not sustainable. A controlled release is much safer than keeping the water on-site.

“Tepco is making progress on water management but I’m not satisfied yet. It’s frustrating that the company takes four or five steps forward, then two back. And every time you have a leakage it contributes to a lack of trust. There’s room for improvement on all fronts.”

Tepco’s failure to manage the buildup of contaminated water came to light last summer, when it admitted that at least 300 tonnes of tainted water were leaking into the sea every day.

That revelation was followed by a string of incidents involving spills from poorly assembled storage tanks, prompting the government to commit about $500m (£300m) into measures to contain the water.

They include the construction of an underground frozen wall to prevent groundwater mixing with contaminated coolant water, which becomes tainted after coming into contact with melted nuclear fuel deep inside the damaged reactors.

Tepco confirmed that it would activate an experimental wall at a test site at the plant on Tuesday. If the test is successful, the firm plans to build a similar structure almost 2km in length around four damaged reactors next year, although some experts have questioned its ability to use the technology on such a large scale.

Klein, too, voiced scepticism over the frozen wall solution, and suggested that the controlled release of treated water into the Pacific was preferable to storing huge quantities of it on site.

But Tepco, the government and nuclear regulators would have to win the support of local fishermen, and the release of even treated water would almost certainly draw a furious response from China and South Korea.

“It’s a very emotional issue,” Klein said. “But Tepco and the government will have to articulate their position to other people. For me, the water issue is more about policy than science.”

Tepco is pinning its hopes on technology that can remove dozens of dangerous radionuclides, apart from tritium, internal exposure to which has been linked to a greater risk of developing cancer.

Klein, however, said tritium does not pose the same threat to heath as bone-settling strontium and caesium, and can be diluted to safe levels before it is released into the sea.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager, Akira Ono, said the firm had no plans to release contaminated water into the Pacific, but agreed that decommissioning would remain on hold until the problem was solved.

“The most pressing issue for us is the contaminated water, rather than decommissioning,” he said.

“Unless we address this issue the public will not be assured and the evacuees will not be able to return home.

“We are in a positive frame of mind over decommissioning the plant over the next 30 to 40 years, But we have to take utmost care every step of the way because errors can cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”

Currently about 400 tonnes of groundwater is streaming into the reactor basements from the hills behind the plant each day. The plant has accumulated about 300,000 tonnes of contaminated water, which is being stored in 1,200 tanks occupying a large swath of the Fukushima Daiichi site.

Eventually Tepco hopes to have enough space to store 800,000 tonnes, but fears are rising that it will run out of space sometime next year because it can’t keep up with the flow of toxic water.

Fukushima three years on

For visitors and workers alike, the journey to the plant begins at J-Village, a former training complex for the Japanese football team that now serves as the Fukushima cleanup’s logistical base.

During the 20-minute bus ride through neighbourhoods still bearing the scars of the earthquake and tsunami, there were signs that decontamination work is making modest progress.

Atmospheric radiation levels are falling, leading the authorities to partially lift evacuation orders in neighbourhoods on the edge of the evacuation zone.

Some of Fukushima’s 100,000-plus nuclear evacuees are now permitted to return to their homes during the day, but radiation levels are still too high for them to make a permanent return.

In the town of Naraha, where atmospheric radiation hovered around 2 microsieverts an hour on Monday – the official decontamination target is 0.23 microsieverts an hour – large black bags filled with radioactive soil cover fields once used for agriculture, where they will remain until agreement can be reached on a permanent disposal site.

Part of a railway line running along to coast is due to reopen in the spring, although stretches of track that pass through the most contaminated areas are expected to remain closed for years.

Inside Fukushima Daiichi, reporters were reminded of the frantic attempts by a small group of Tepco engineers to save the plant from an even greater catastrophe in the hours after its power supply was knocked out by a towering tsunami three years ago.

In the control room for reactors 1 and 2, both of which suffered meltdowns, one worker’s attempts to record water levels by scribbling them on to a disabled control panel are still visible.

None of the unnamed men, who had to work by torchlight, are still at the site: some have retired, but most had to leave because they quickly reached their lifetime radiation dose limit.

“It is difficult to describe what that time was like for those workers,” said Kenichiro Matsui, a Tepco official. “They worked tirelessly to save the reactors. They had a real sense of mission.”

Number of scarlet fever cases at a 24-year high in the UK.


868 cases have been recorded for the first 8 weeks of 2014 compared to 591 in the same period last year

  • Between the start of 2014 and the end of February, 868 cases of scarlet fever have been reported, according to Public Health England, the highest number of outbreaks since 1990.

In 2013, for the same period, only 591 cases had been recorded.

In the East Midlands alone, 134 cases have been notified in the first eight weeks of the year, compared to 56 during the same time the year before. In Lincolnshire nursery staff have been receiving letters guiding them on how to spot the warning signs.

Scarlet fever has been manifesting itself as a milder disease since 1885, and fatalities linked to the disease have become quite rare in developed countries. Between 1820 and 1880, cases of scarlet fever were often highly fatal.

According to the Health Protection Agency in 1959 47,919 cases were notified, however only one death was recorded. The age distribution of notifications shows that scarlet fever affects mostly children between the ages of one and four, followed by children between five and nine years old.

The number of scarlet fever outbreaks is higher during the first weeks of the year as the illness can spread through sneezing and coughing as the bacteria is found in mucus and saliva.

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that is recognised by a widespread pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch. It can be accompanied by high temperature, a swollen tongue and flushed cheeks. A simple course of antibiotics is usually needed to fight the scarlet fever.

According to the NHS, 2,000 to 4,000 cases are diagnosed in England every year.

Do massive dams ever make sense?


Hoover dam
The Hoover dam
A new report from researchers at Oxford University argues that large dams are a risky investment – soaring past projected budgets, drowning emerging economies in debt and failing to deliver promised benefits. Do they ever really make sense?

A peek over the edge of the Hoover Dam’s 60-storey wall is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. Constructed from enough concrete to pave a motorway from New York to San Francisco – this colossal barrier is touted as a symbol of man’s mastery over nature and a marvel of 20th Century engineering.

The dam was credited with helping jump-start America’s economy after the Great Depression, reining in the flood-prone Colorado River and generating cheap hydroelectric power for arid south-western states. Even more miraculously, the Hoover Dam was completed two years ahead of schedule and roughly $15m (£9m) under budget.

But for megadam critics, the Hoover Dam is an anomaly. The Oxford researchers reviewed 245 large dams – those with a wall height over 15m (49ft) – built between 1934 and 2007. They found that the dams ran 96% over their approved budgets on average – Brazil’s Itaipu dam suffered a 240% overrun – and took an average of 8.2 years to build.

In the vast majority of cases, they say, megadams are not economically viable.

But after a two-decade lull, large dams are once again being trumpeted as a ticket to prosperity. Countries from China to Brazil, via Pakistan and Ethiopia, are rushing to erect them.

With world electricity consumption expected to grow by more than 56% between 2010 and 2040, according to the 2013 International Energy Outlook report, hydropower is a tempting option.

More than 90% of the world’s renewable electricity comes from dams, according to the International Commission on Large Dams.

Tarbela dam in Pakistan
Flooded vegetation produces methane

Andy Hughes of the British Dam Society points to Laos and Vietnam as shining examples of dam-building countries that have harnessed hydropower. “They’re building dams, they’re generating hydropower, and then they export that power to other countries, so it’s a big cash crop for them,” he says.

Debatable dams

Belo Monte

  • Country: Brazil
  • Height of wall: 90m (295ft)
  • Cost: $14.4bn (£8.6bn), predicted to rise to $27.4bn (£16.4bn)
  • Problem: Judge suspended construction in 2011, on environmental grounds

Three Gorges

  • Country: China
  • Height of wall: 181m (594ft)
  • Cost: $23bn (£13.8bn)
  • Problem: Displaced 1.4m people, may have caused landslides

Diamer-Bhasha

  • Country: Pakistan
  • Height of wall: 272m (892ft)
  • Cost (2008): $12.7bn (£7.6bn)
  • Experts predict the construction costs may not be recovered

Gigel Gibe III

  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Height of wall: 243m (797ft)
  • Cost: $2.1bn (£1.3bn)
  • Expected to disrupt fisheries and the livelihoods of 500,000 inhabitants of the Lower Omo Valley

But Bent Flyvbjerg, principal investigator for the Oxford University dam study, says dams “are not carbon neutral, and they’re not greenhouse neutral”. The vast quantities of concrete required to construct leave an enormous carbon footprint, he says.

Furthermore flooded vegetation under the reservoirs produces methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, he says.

But also, his argument is not with dams as such, but with megadams.

“We don’t accept that it’s a discussion of hydropower from large dams versus fossil fuels. We would like the discussion to be about hydropower from large dams versus hydropower from smaller hydropower projects,” he says.

Others, such as Peter Bosshard of environmental campaign group International Rivers, say climate change threatens to alter weather patterns in unpredictable ways.

“So if you put all your energy eggs in one big dam, you’re taking a big risk because you don’t know what future rainfall patterns will be over time,” he says.

The cost of these behemoths is the main focus of the Oxford study.

Flyvbjerg says he expects the $14.4bn (£8.7bn) price tag for Brazil’s Belo Monte dam to surge to $27.4bn (£16.5bn), outweighing any benefits, and saddling the country with a mountain of debt.

The Nile at Cairo
Ethiopia’s Nile dam could affect the river downstream, in Cairo

At least Brazil’s economy is robust. For many emerging economies, massive dams spell disaster, Flyvbjerg says. Some countries take out large loans – often in foreign currency, making them vulnerable to exchange rate fluctuations – and when dams don’t deliver the promised benefits, these nations take a huge hit.

“It’s like a bull in a china store – these projects are way too big and way too risky to be taken on by the most fragile economies in the world,” he says.

Even when a dam project is overrunning and costs are soaring, governments are reluctant to scrap them he points out.

“A dam is really a useless asset if it’s not completely finished. Even if it’s 99% finished, you can’t use it – it’s either on or it’s not,” Flyvbjerg says.

But Andy Hughes says dams have many upsides. Critics should ask themselves a number of questions, he says: “How else would one generate power, how else would one give people clean water to drink, how else would one irrigate farms, how else would one treat sewage?”

Belo Monte
Work on the Belo Monte dam was suspended by a judge in 2011

And dams create employment. The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project is projected to create work for an estimated 20,000 people

He says they can play an important role in mitigating climate change. During drought conditions, the reservoirs provide drinking water and irrigation. During wetter periods they’re key for flood protection. In fact, Hughes predicts an upswing in dam building after severe flooding across the UK in the winter just gone by.

Julia Jones, an Oregon State University hydrologist, says this chimes with her study of dams in the Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest.

“There’s been a net increase in the availably of water during scarce times and the protection of places during flooding times, which is exactly what the dams were intended to create,” she explains. “That suggests that there is resilience and that there may be capacity large enough to deal with future climate change.” But it all depends on how big the impact of climate change is, she notes.

The real benefit of dams may simply boil down to perspective, according to Jones.

“It all depends on who’s at the table,” she says. “There has been a lot of controversy for half a century or more about the larger context in which these projects are constructed – that is, who loses their livelihoods, who gains from the construction of the dam and the environmental benefits and costs.”

For Hughes, it’s more of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t trap.

“My view is that dams can never win. If we build a dam, we get criticised, but once the dam is built people say, ‘Well, what was all the fuss about? Isn’t this a beautiful setting for walking around the lake and picnics?’ But try and demolish a dam, and you get criticized for damaging that beautiful environment. So it’s a no-win exercise, I’m afraid.”

Gluten-brain-wheat-cuts-off-blood-flow-to-frontal-cortex.


As far back as 1954, reports of the full or partial resolution of schizophrenia following a gluten free diet began to surface in the medical literature. We covered this remarkable pattern of associations in a previous article titled, “60 Years of Research Links Gluten Grains to Schizophrenia.” While the explanation for this intriguing connection has remained focused on the disruption of the gut-brain axis and the presence in wheat of a wide range of pharmacologically active and mostly opioid receptor modulating polypeptides, a new and possibly more disturbing explanation is beginning to surface: wheat consumption cuts off blood flow to the brain.

grain_brain_damage_gluten

Starting with a 1997 case study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine involving a 33-year-old patient, with pre-existing diagnosis of ‘schizophrenic’ disorder, who first came to medical attention for severe diarrhea and weight loss (classical symptoms of gluten intolerance), brain scan technology determined that cerebral hypoperfusion (decreased blood flow to the brain) was occurring within the patient’s frontal cortex.[i] A gluten free diet resulted not only in the normalization of intestinal damage and autoantibodies, but the return of blood flow to the frontal cortex, and the resolution of schizophrenic symptoms.

Then, in 2004, a follow up study was performed to verify if the 1997 case study was just a fluke, or perhaps a widespread effect of untreated celiac disease. Published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Institute of Internal Medicine, Catholic University, Rome, Italy, compared 15 untreated celiac patients without neurological or psychiatric disorders other than anxiety or depression, with 15 celiac patients who were on a gluten-free diet for almost 1 year, and 24 healthy volunteers of similar sex and age. All subjects underwent cerebral single photon emission computed tomography examination.

The results were remarkable, with dramatically increased incidence of impaired brain blood flow in untreated celiac patients, reported as follows:

Of the 15 untreated celiac patients, 11 (73%) had at least one hypoperfused brain region, compared with only 1 (7%) of the 15 celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and none of the controls (P = 0.01). Cerebral perfusion was significantly lower (P <0.05) in untreated celiac patients, compared with healthy controls, in 7 of 26 brain regions. No significant differences in cerebral perfusion were found between celiac patients on a gluten-free diet and healthy controls.”

They concluded: “There is evidence of regional cerebral blood flow alteration in untreated celiac patients.”

Discussion

So, let’s take a closer look at what cerebral (brain) hypoperfusion means.

Hypoperfusion is simply decreased blood flow through an organ. Whether it is an internal organ like the kidney, a muscle or the brain, the organ will experience lower availability of oxygen (hypoxia) and nutrients, and will therefore function at a suboptimal level.  Cerebral hypoperfusion, therefore, is decreased blood flow to the brain – an organ with extremely high energy demands, and upon which our entire consciousness depends.

Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the #1 New York Times best-selling book Grain Brain, has made great strides in introducing the concept to the world that grains adversely affect brain health. We know that the carbohydrate content of grains alone contribute to disrupting insulin-mediated glucose homeostasiswithin neurons, ultimately contributing to their suboptimal functioning and in some cases demise, but the discovery that wheat in particular has blood flow disrupting properties to the frontal cortex of the grain, has profound implications.

For example, it is know that the frontal lobe house the ‘executive functions‘ of the brain, including:

  • Recognizing future consequences resulting from current actions
  • Choosing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actions
  • Overriding and suppressing socially unacceptable responses
  • Retaining longer term memories which are not task-based.
  • Determine similarities and differences between things or events.

If wheat consumption, through some as of yet unknown mechanism, interferes with blood flow to the brain in susceptible individuals, and as a result disrupts the executive functions of the brain, abstaining from it should be considered a reasonable precautionary behavior, assuming we wish to retain these critical functions related to morality, cognizance, and social responsibility.

Also, for more information on the brain-specific harmful effects of wheat, read the following articles or watch the video:

Article References

[i] A De Santis, G Addolorato, A Romito, S Caputo, A Giordano, G Gambassi, C Taranto, R Manna, G Gasbarrini. Schizophrenic symptoms and SPECT abnormalities in a coeliac patient: regression after a gluten-free diet. J Intern Med. 1997 Nov ;242(5):421-3. PMID: 9408073

New Ozone-Killing Gases Found in Atmosphere.


Worried scientists said Sunday they had found four new ozone-destroying gases in the atmosphere, most likely put there by humans in the last 50-odd years despite a ban on these dangerous compounds.

 
 
No one (besides Santa, of course) claims ownership over the North Pole … but that may soon change. Guest Host Annie Gaus tell us which country is making a play for the North Pole and why.

It is the first time since the 1990s that new substances damaging to Earth’s stratospheric shield have been found, and others may be out there, they said.

“Our research has shown four gases that were not around in the atmosphere at all until the 1960s, which suggests they are man-made,” the team from Europe and Australia wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience.

They analyzed unpolluted air samples collected in Tasmania between 1978 and 2012, and from deep, compacted snow in Greenland.

“The identification of these four new gases is very worrying as they will contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer,” added a statement from the team.

“We don’t know where the new gases are being emitted from, and this should be investigated.”

Three of the gases are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — a group which includes chemicals traditionally found in air-conditioning, refrigerators and aerosol spray cans but banned under the Montreal Protocol.

The fourth is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), part of a closely-related group of compounds which replaced CFCs but are being phased out.

More than 74,000 tonnes of the four newly-identified gases had accumulated in the atmosphere by 2012, said the team.

This is very small compared with peak emissions of CFCs in the 1980s of more than a million tonnes per year.

“However, the reported emissions are clearly contrary to the intentions behind the Montreal Protocol, and raise questions about the sources of these gases,” the team wrote.

Two of the gases, one CFC and the HCFC, are still accumulating.

Previously, seven types of CFC and six of HCFC were known to contribute to ozone destruction.

CFCs, the main cause of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, are man-made organic compounds made of carbon, chlorine and fluorine.

They were phased out from 1989, followed by a total ban in 2010.

HCFCs, CFC-like compounds which also include one or more hydrogen atoms, are less ozone-damaging but contribute to climate change by trapping more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere.

The ozone layer comprises triple-atom oxygen molecules that are spread thinly in the stratosphere.

It plays a vital role in protecting life by filtering out ultraviolet rays that can damage vegetation and cause skin cancer.

In high latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, where the ozone layer is damaged or subject to seasonal fluctuations, people are advised to cover exposed skin and wear sunglasses.

Possible sources for the new gases include chemicals used for insecticide production and solvents for cleaning electronic components, said the researchers.

Concentration differences between the samples suggested the dominant source was in the industrialized Northern Hemisphere, they added.

Study co-author Johannes Laube from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences said the ozone layer stopped thinning from the late 1990s and there were signs of it starting to recover.

“As many ODSs [ozone-depleting substances], and especially CFCs, take a long time to break down once released into the atmosphere, it will be many decades until it will fully recover,” he told AFP.

“Provided we do not have further unpleasant surprises.”

Martyn Chipperfield, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Leeds in northern England, said the low concentrations of the four gases “do not present concern at the moment.”

But, he added, “the fact that these gases are in the atmosphere and some are increasing needs investigation.”

 

Scientists hatch plan to laser-blast space junk.


Scientists have come up with a very video game-like way to take out orbiting space debris using ground-based lasers.

space debris around EarthThis NASA image is an illustration of space debris.

It’s a junkyard out there. Researchers estimate that at least several hundred thousand pieces of space debris are stuck out in orbit around the planet, creating hazards for satellites and spacecraft. These pieces include everything from stray bolts to entire derelict satellites. If only we could blast them with lasers and take care of the problem. Oh wait, maybe we can.

The Australian government announced a $20 million Cooperative Research Centre that will investigate using lasers to locate, track, and remove space debris. The group will bring together partners from the government, academia, and aerospace industries. A total estimated investment of around $90 million is needed to bring the project to fruition. NASA’s Ames Research Center and Lockheed Martin are already on board.

“Everywhere humans have been in space, we leave some trash behind,” said Matthew Colless, director of the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Mount Stromlo. “We now want to clean up space to avoid the growing risks of collisions and to make sure we don’t have the kind of event portrayed in ‘Gravity.'”

The idea of using lasers in the battle against space junk has been around for a while, but the latest thinking advances the concept. Scientists have already floated the idea of nudging junk out of the way of satellites using lasers. The Australian team would like to eventually use lasers to slow the orbit of objects until they fall into the atmosphere and burn up. The tracking component of the project would come first, however, in an attempt to prevent collisions that only create more pieces of junk.

If the laser plan comes to fruition, manning the lasers could become one of the most sought-after tech jobs in history. Perhaps the laser operators would be recruited from among expert video game players. It may be as close to a real-life Asteroids as anyone could hope for.

 
 
 

New Ozone-Killing Gases Found in Atmosphere .


Worried scientists said Sunday they had found four new ozone-destroying gases in the atmosphere, most likely put there by humans in the last 50-odd years despite a ban on these dangerous compounds.

No one (besides Santa, of course) claims ownership over the North Pole … but that may soon change. Guest Host Annie Gaus tell us which country is making a play for the North Pole and why.

It is the first time since the 1990s that new substances damaging to Earth’s stratospheric shield have been found, and others may be out there, they said.

“Our research has shown four gases that were not around in the atmosphere at all until the 1960s, which suggests they are man-made,” the team from Europe and Australia wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience.

They analyzed unpolluted air samples collected in Tasmania between 1978 and 2012, and from deep, compacted snow in Greenland.

“The identification of these four new gases is very worrying as they will contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer,” added a statement from the team.

“We don’t know where the new gases are being emitted from, and this should be investigated.”

Three of the gases are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — a group which includes chemicals traditionally found in air-conditioning, refrigerators and aerosol spray cans but banned under the Montreal Protocol.

The fourth is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), part of a closely-related group of compounds which replaced CFCs but are being phased out.

More than 74,000 tonnes of the four newly-identified gases had accumulated in the atmosphere by 2012, said the team.

This is very small compared with peak emissions of CFCs in the 1980s of more than a million tonnes per year.

“However, the reported emissions are clearly contrary to the intentions behind the Montreal Protocol, and raise questions about the sources of these gases,” the team wrote.

Two of the gases, one CFC and the HCFC, are still accumulating.

Previously, seven types of CFC and six of HCFC were known to contribute to ozone destruction.

CFCs, the main cause of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, are man-made organic compounds made of carbon, chlorine and fluorine.

They were phased out from 1989, followed by a total ban in 2010.

 

HCFCs, CFC-like compounds which also include one or more hydrogen atoms, are less ozone-damaging but contribute to climate change by trapping more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere.

The ozone layer comprises triple-atom oxygen molecules that are spread thinly in the stratosphere.

It plays a vital role in protecting life by filtering out ultraviolet rays that can damage vegetation and cause skin cancer.

In high latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, where the ozone layer is damaged or subject to seasonal fluctuations, people are advised to cover exposed skin and wear sunglasses.

Possible sources for the new gases include chemicals used for insecticide production and solvents for cleaning electronic components, said the researchers.

Concentration differences between the samples suggested the dominant source was in the industrialized Northern Hemisphere, they added.

Study co-author Johannes Laube from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences said the ozone layer stopped thinning from the late 1990s and there were signs of it starting to recover.

“As many ODSs [ozone-depleting substances], and especially CFCs, take a long time to break down once released into the atmosphere, it will be many decades until it will fully recover,” he told AFP.

“Provided we do not have further unpleasant surprises.”

Martyn Chipperfield, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Leeds in northern England, said the low concentrations of the four gases “do not present concern at the moment.”

But, he added, “the fact that these gases are in the atmosphere and some are increasing needs investigation.”

Why Smarter People Are More Likely To Be Mentally Ill.


A rising sense of dread heralds the new morning for our thinking man, who first considers the shotgun leaning by the door before turning to the coffeemaker — deciding that maybe tomorrow is the day.

For the late American novelist David Foster Wallace, that doomsday came Sept. 12, 2008. After suffering for years from major depression, one of the greatest and most influential writers in a generation succumbed to illness with a hangman’s rope in the garage. In death, Wallace joined a pantheon of notable artists and thinkers plagued by mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar polar disorder, and schizophrenia, among other ailments.

Higher Intelligence Linked To Mental Illnesses

Indeed, society has long associated higher intelligence and creative thinking with mental illnesses ranging from the slight to the severe. Affecting some 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, bipolar disorder alone has touched many of our greatest achievers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, and Jackson Pollock to name just a handful. And although lacking a modern diagnosis, surely Virginia Woolf — who drowned herself in 1941 — fit the type.

Like the Sword of Damocles, higher intelligence may in some ways curse its beneficiaries. Aside from the usual desire to self-medicate, smarter people tend to drink alcohol and do drugs more than average — perhaps seeking to drench a burning sense of curiosity described by the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. Long before the Agricultural Revolution brought alcohol to humankind, life on the African savannah during the Pleistocene helped design the modern mind. “The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment,” evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, of the London School of Economics, says of his theory.

In modern life, the opportunity to imbibe — or to otherwise ingest mind-altering substances — presents an “evolutionarily novel” situation explored more readily by the smarter, bolder ones among us. In fact, the correlation is so strong scientists say the inverse is true: People of lower intelligence are the least likely to drink or use drugs. Now, scientists have identified a biomolecular connection between curiosity as a trait and intelligence in general, as evidenced by a 2009 study in Neuron from researchers at the University of Toronto and the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. Specifically, the neuronal calcium sensor-1 protein was associated in a mouse model with spatial memory and curiosity. Interestingly, that same protein has been linked in humans to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

 Other research supporting a link between intelligence and mental health problems shows bipolar disorder may be four times as common among young adults who’d earned straight-A’s in school. Though long suspected, evidence for this connection was found by researchers at King’s College London, in a collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden by comparing Swedish national school records to diagnoses for the disorder. “We found that achieving an A grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects,” lead researcher James MacCabe, wrote in a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. “These findings provide support for the hypothesis that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with bipolar disorder.”

Perhaps not surpisingly, the correlation between A grades and bipolar disorder was strongest among students excelling in music and language, supporting popular notions about writers and artists with regard to mental health. A similar study from Jari Tiihonen at the University of Kuopio in Finland also supports the link, although with arithmetic as a correlative for IQ. In mining data on Finnish military conscripts, the Finnish researchers found an almost unbelievably high correlation between high-scorers and those who later received bipolar diagnoses — 12-fold.

“The finding of an association between progressively increasing risk of bipolar disorder and high arithmetic intellectual performance is rather surprising,” Tiihonen wrote, explaining the arithmetic test requires not only mathematical skill but rapid information-processing for the purpose of successfully completing the timed exam. High scorers with such rapid processing power may also share a tendency to experience mania, a state of high focus and psychomotor activity. Along with bequesting humanity with advanced arithmetical or psychomotor performance, past generations may have also left us with a heightened risk for bipolar’s ups and downs.

Although some studies have shown no connection, more than 30 academic papers support a link between intelligence and bipolar disorder — among related illnesses — as researchers continue to experiment with mouse models and proteins, and to mine databases in search of what’s missing. Soon, science may give us improved medicines to treat our maladaptive maladies of the mind. But at what cost to society? Known for his mercurial moods and heavy substance abuse, the late “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson once insisted he’d have it no other way. “Without the booze and drugs,” he said, “I’d have the mind of a third-rate accountant.”

First Patient Implanted With Carmat Total Artificial Heart Dies.


A 76-year-old man with end-stage heart failure who was the first person implanted with the world’s first permanent, biosynthetic artificial heart has died 75 days after receiving the device. The patient died March 2, 2014, physicians at European Hospital Georges-Pompidou (EHGP) in Paris announced Monday night.

Assistance Publique — Hôpitaux de Paris (APHP) released a statement saying that the cause of death is being investigated but will not be known until a thorough analysis of medical and technical data is conducted.

“The doctors directly involved in postoperative care wish to emphasize the importance of the first lessons they have learned from this first clinical trial regarding patient selection, postoperative care, treatment, and prevention of complications,” says APHP.

The device manufacturer, Carmat, said it is “of course premature to draw conclusions from a single patient, either before or, in this case, beyond the 30-day postimplantation survival period.”

The patient was the first in a feasibility study aiming to enroll four patients suffering from irreversible end-stage, biventricular heart failure (LVEF <30%) who were not eligible for transplantation. The study is examining patient survival at 30 days, prosthesis function, and patient quality of life.

“We are currently recruiting the other three patients,” explained Prof Christian Latrémouille (EHGP) at a French cardiology society meeting in January. “The total artificial heart bioprosthesis, Carmat, is now [officially] in clinical trials.”

Carmat is not expected to communicate the results of the study until implantation and 30-day follow-up is completed in all four subjects.

The patient, whose name has not been made public, was implanted with the device in mid-December; in February, an update from the hospital indicated that the patient had been taken off anticoagulants on January 10; and as of February 18, it reported he was able to walk without respiratory assistance. French newspaper Le Parisien reported today that no signs of thrombosis were seen on the device after postmortem explantation.

By way of comparison, the first patient to receive a heart transplant in 1967, Louis Washkansky, aged 55, survived the operation and lived for just 18 days before succumbing to massive bilateral pneumonia induced by the immunosuppressive regimen.

 

Fully Implanted Artificial Heart Mimics Cardiac Physiology

 

Carmat total artificial heart.

The brainchild of renowned cardiologist Prof Alain Cribier, the Carmat pump was designed with a morphology similar to that of the human heart, with two separate ventricles and four bioprosthetic valves. Unlike left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) approved for use in end-stage heart-disease patients, either as destination therapy or as bridges to transplantation, the Carmat, weighing 900 g, is designed to fully reproduce heart function, using biomaterials, including bovine valves.

The device consists of two ventricular cavities with two volume spaces separated by a flexible biomembrane: one for blood and one for the “actioning fluid,” the company website explains. A flexible, external bag contains this actioning fluid and beats at the same rate as a native heart, displacing the biomembrane and mimicking the movement of the native ventricle wall during heart contraction: that motion admits and ejects the blood. A sensor monitors and regulates prosthesis operation according to patient’s needs.

At present, the investigational device is powered either by a hospital-based console or by an external battery with a battery life of four to six hours. An internal backup battery operates the artificial heart for 20 minutes. The company is currently developing a fuel cell that would increase device autonomy to 16 hours.