New technique could improve detection of concealed nuclear materials


New technique could improve detection of concealed nuclear materials
Schematic shows how a fan-like beam of gamma particles created by an ion accelerator would pass through a shielded radioactive material inside a cargo container, and be measured on the other side with Cherenkov quartz detectors. 

Researchers have demonstrated proof of concept for a novel low-energy nuclear reaction imaging technique designed to detect the presence of “special nuclear materials”—weapons-grade uranium and plutonium—in cargo containers arriving at U.S. ports. The method relies on a combination of neutrons and high-energy photons to detect shielded radioactive materials inside the containers.

The technique can simultaneously measure the suspected material’s density and atomic number using mono-energetic gamma ray imaging, while confirming the presence of special by observing their unique delayed neutron emission signature. The mono-energetic nature of the novel radiation source could result in a lower radiation dose as compared to conventionally employed methods. As a result, the technique could increase the detection performance while avoiding harm to electronics and other cargo that may be sensitive to radiation.

If the technique can be scaled up and proven under real inspection conditions, it could significantly improve the ability to prevent the smuggling of dangerous nuclear materials and their potential diversion to terrorist groups.

Supported the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the research was reported April 18, 2016 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and the Pennsylvania State University conducted this research, which is believed to be the first successful effort to identify and image uranium using this approach.

“Once heavy shielding is placed around weapons-grade uranium or plutonium, detecting them passively using radiation detectors surrounding a 40-foot cargo container is very difficult,” said Anna Erickson, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “One way to deal with this challenge is to induce the emission of an intense, penetrating radiation signal in the material, which requires an external source of radiation.”

New technique could improve detection of concealed nuclear materials
Georgia Tech Graduate Student Paul Rose and Assistant Professor Anna Erickson are shown with Cherenkov quartz detectors used to image shielded radioactive materials inside cargo containers. 

The technique begins with an ion accelerator producing deuterons, heavy isotopes of hydrogen. The deuterons impinge on a target composed of boron, which produces both neutrons and high-energy photons. The resulting particles are focused into a fan shaped beam that could be used to scan the cargo container.

The transmission of high-energy photons can be used to image materials inside the cargo container, while both the photons and neutrons excite the special nuclear material—which then emits gamma rays and neutrons that can be detected outside the container. Transmission imaging detectors located in the line of sight of the interrogating fan beam of photons create the image of the cargo.

“The gamma rays of different energies interact with the material in very different ways, and how the signals are attenuated will be a very good indicator of what the atomic number of the hidden material is, and its potential density,” Erickson explained. “We can observe the characteristics of transmission of these particles to understand what we are looking at.”

When the neutrons interact with fissile materials, they initiate a fission reaction, generating both prompt and delayed neutrons that can be detected despite the shielding. The neutrons do not prompt a time-delayed reaction with non-fissionable materials such as lead, providing an indicator that materials of potential use for development of nuclear weapons are inside the shielding.

“If you have something benign, but heavy—like tungsten, for instance—versus something heavy and shielded like uranium, we can tell from the signatures of the neutrons,” Erickson said. “We can see the signature of special nuclear materials very clearly in the form of delayed neutrons. This happens only if there are special nuclear materials present.”

Earlier efforts at active detection of used X-rays to image the cargo containers, but that technique had difficulty with the heavy shielding and could harm the cargo if the radiation dose was high, Erickson said. Because it uses discrete energies of the photons and , the new technique minimizes the amount of energy entering the container.

Researchers at Georgia Tech—led by Erickson—and at University of Michigan and Penn State University—led by Igor Jovanovic, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences – demonstrated that the technique works in a laboratory setting by detecting uranium plates and rods.

In testing conducted in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Bates Linear Accelerator Center, the researchers used a fan-like pattern of particles created by an ion accelerator and emitted at 4.4 and 15.1 MeV. The particles passed through a shielded radioactive material, and were measured on the other side with Cherenkov quartz detectors connected to photomultiplier tubes.

“This provided proof that the physics works, and that we can use these particles to actually distinguish among various materials, including special nuclear materials,” Jovanovic said. The technique has not yet been tested under the real-world conditions of a steel , but such demonstration may take place in the near future.

Scientists have discovered what causes ‘Resting Bitch Face.’


Scientists used FaceReader softwear to look at RBF, which was immune to gender bias.

Queen Elizabeth has it. So does fashion designer Victoria Beckham. And actress Kristen Stewart — poor thing, she’s practically the poster girl.

Anna-Kendrick-resting-bitch-face.jpg

Among the slew of pop culture icons said to be afflicted with so-called Resting Bitch Face (alternatively known as Bitchy Resting Face), the vast majority are women, though Kanye West is among the male examples. All of them have been mocked by Internet commenters for having a certain unintentional expression when their faces are not in motion  — a look best described as vaguely annoyed, maybe a little judgy, perhaps slightly bored.

Since the RBF meme took over the internet in 2013, fuelled by a viral mock-PSA about “Bitchy Resting Face,” legions of people have identified the dreaded phenomenon in celebrity listicles, in their own social circles, even in the mirror.

So Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioural researchers with international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, decided to investigate: Why are some faces seen as truly expressionless, but others are inexplicably off-putting? What, exactly, makes us register a seemingly neutral expression as RBF?

“We wanted this to be fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also to have legitimate scientific data backing it up,” Macbeth said.

The researchers enlisted Noldus’s FaceReader, a sophisticated tool engineered to identify specific expressions based on a catalogue of more than 10,000 images of human faces. The software, which can examine faces through a live camera, a photograph or a video clip, maps 500 points on the human face, then analyses the image and assigns an expression based on eight basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and “neutral.”

To establish a baseline, Rogers and Macbeth first had FaceReader assess a series of genuinely expressionless faces. Those expressions registered about 97 per cent neutrality, Macbeth said; the remaining three per cent included “little blips of emotion”  — a touch of sadness here, a hint of surprise there, but nothing significant.

Then they plugged in photos of RBF all-stars Kanye West, Kristen Stewart and Queen Elizabeth. Suddenly, the level of emotion detected by the software doubled to six per cent.

One particular emotion was responsible for the jump: “The big change in percentage came from ‘contempt,’” Macbeth said.

And how exactly does a piece of software measure contempt in a face?

It’s in subtle signals, like “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers explained.

Or: “It’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile,” Macbeth suggested.

The cues are understated, yet the machine detects and interprets them the same way our human brains do, she said. “Something in the neutral expression of the face is relaying contempt, both to the software and to us.”

But there was one big difference, she added. FaceReader, being a piece of software and therefore immune to gender bias, proved to be the great equalizer: It detected RBF in male and female faces in equal measure. Which means that the idea of RBF as a predominantly female phenomenon has little to do with facial physiology and more to do with social norms.

Consider actress Anna Kendrick, who has publicly bemoaned the effect of RBF on her life.

“When she was younger, directors would say, ‘Why don’t you smile more, you need to smile more, you don’t seem like you’re very happy,’” Macbeth said. “That’s something that’s expected from women far more than it’s expected from men, and there’s a lot of anecdotal articles and scientific literature on that.

“So RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women, but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”

Worried that you might have RBF? Now you can find out for sure. After publishing their results in October, Rogers and Macbeth invited members of the public to submit their own faces for analysis.

Guys and gals alike are welcome to email photos of their most “neutral” facial expressions to jason@noldus.com, and FaceReader will tell you if you’re actually expressionless — or if you and the Queen have RBF in common.

Google is working on beaming high-speed wireless internet into your home.


It’s been five years since Google launched its Fiber broadband service, which has given selected US cities access to a super-fast alternative to what’s being offered by tech villains Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

And now, the CEO of Google Access (the company that oversees Fiber), Craig Barrett, has announced that they’re working on a plan to beam wireless broadband directly into homes across the US, telling re/code rather mysteriously, “[W]e are experimenting with a number of different wireless technologies.”

So why is this such a big deal? Well, if Google can come up with the technology needed to wirelessly connect every home in America to the internet, it would mean they could bypass the expensive, years-long process of installing physical cables and fibres under streets and pavements.

It would also mean that customers would be freed from the shackles of much-despised tech giants such as Comcast, A&T, and Verizon.

“If Google can figure out how to make the technology work, that would reverberate across the broadband industry, since it would solve the expensive ‘last mile’ problem that broadband companies usually tackle by stringing a web of wires directly into homes,” says Mark Bergen at re/code.

The details are pretty slim at the moment, as per usual when it comes to technology that could, quite literally, change an entire country – especially when you’ve got the likes of Facebook following hot on your heels. But Barrett explains that they’re figuring out how to connect existing fiber lines to wireless towers that could beam out a wireless network.

“We’re really transitioning from our earlier work, which was more of an experiment, to a real business,” he said.

As Jon Brodkin points out at Ars Technica, wireless home internet is already being used in rural areas that lack fiber or cable, but what’s currently on offer isn’t exactly great in terms of speed.

If Google is going to offer something wireless that rivals the speeds of existing broadband services, it’s going to have to incorporate brand new technology into its secret scheme.

Fortunately, researchers around the world  have been working on wireless networks that can do just that. One company, called Project Decibel, is expected to launch theirs in Boston later this year, as Brodkin reports:

“The wireless network will achieve gigabit speeds using high-frequency spectrum, including millimetre waves, the company said. Millimetre waves start at 30GHz and require line-of-sight connections, which might limit availability. Signals will be sent to a receiver that customers can place in a window.”

And back in the lab, researchers at the University of Surrey 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) in England announced earlier this year that they’ve achieved 5G speeds of 1 Terabit per second (Tbps) over 100 metres in a lab setting, which is by far the fastest wireless connection to date.

“We have developed 10 more breakthrough technologies and one of them means we can exceed 1 Tbps wirelessly,” Rahim Tafazolli, the director of 5GIC,told Dan Worth at UK technology news site V3. “This is the same capacity as fibre optics but we are doing it wirelessly.”

We’re now going to have to wait and see what Google comes up with, but it’s a pretty good bet they’re going to have something promising to show us in the coming years. And then it’s goodbye, one tech giant with horrible customer service policies, and hello, other tech giant with hopefully better customer service polices. We’ll take it!

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) recommends Sanofi’s dengue vaccine to curb spread of disease.


WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has recommended the use of Sanofi’s dengue vaccine- Dengvaxia  to control the spread of the life threatening mosquitoe borne disease. Dengvaxia has already been already approved for four countries including Brazil and Mexico.

In a statement Sanofi reps stated that, ” The SAGE advises that countries with high dengue transmission consider introduction of the dengue vaccine as part of an integrated disease prevention strategy including vector control to effectively lower their dengue disease burden.”

Vaccine’s Effectiveness

Dengvaxia vaccine’s anticipated impact on dengue fever disease burden is expected to stem from the vaccine’s proven ability to prevent 8 out of 10 dengue hospitalizations and up to 93 per cent of severe dengue cases–including dengue hemorrhagic fever–in study participants 9 years and older, as demonstrated during 25 months of follow-up of phase III efficacy studies.

WHO’s Objectives

The WHO has set objectives to reduce dengue morbidity by 25 percent and mortality by 50 percent by 2020. The recommendations from the SAGE are based on the technical review of clinical data from 25 clinical studies conducted in 15 different endemic and non-endemic countries around the world, including more than 40,000 study participants.

Science of the French paradox: How wine can be healthy


Oenophiles rejoiced the day doctors officially advocated for the daily glass of red wine. And for good reason — studies seemed to suggest that regular wine drinking was healthy for the heart.

But the question of why it’s beneficial has puzzled scientists for decades; and the hypotheses are contentious at best.

Turns out, the advantages wethought were specific to red wine may actually go much deeper than the wine itself.

French epidemiologists popularized the myth of the “French Paradox” in the 1980s, referring to a phenomenon in which the French appeared to have lower rates of heart disease despite eating a ton of saturated fats, cholesterol, and red wine. Shortly after, scientists scrambled to come up with an explanation.

A popular theory was that the heart gets a boost from resveratrol, a chemical compound plants produce to protect themselves when they’re injured. This chemical occurs naturally in grapes, berries, and peanuts, but only appears in quantities large enough to affect the body in red wine. When grapes get crushed and then processed into wine, leached resveratrol from the grape skins end up in your glass.

Scientists believed that this compound’s antioxidant activity may protect the heart from broad forms of cardiovascular disease, but studies confirming this have been lackluster at best.

A promising theory, however, suggests that the benefits may not stem from red wine itself, but from alcohol more generally.

The alcohol-cholesterol connection

The part of alcohol that gets you drunk is the ethanol, or if you want to sound fancy, the ethyl alcohol. The amount of ethanol in a given alcoholic beverage varies from drink to drinkbut in general, distilled spirits like rum, vodka, and whiskey tend to have the most — about 40% by volume. Wine is significantly lower at 12% on average, and beer is the lowest with an average of 5%.

Studies suggest that ethanol affects levels of cholesterol, which is present in every cell in our body. Cholesterols keep our cells intact, make hormones and vitamins, and help digest food.

But they can also be deadly if they build up in your blood. We used to think that the cholesterol you get from foods high in saturated fats, such as eggs, meat, poultry, and certain dairy products, raised the levels of cholesterol circulating through your blood, but recent science suggests otherwise. Either way, when your liver produces more cholesterol than normal — whatever the trigger — individual molecules of it can eventually stick to each other and to the walls of your arteries.

This makes it hard for your heart to circulate blood, and if a chunk of the plaque breaks off, components of your blood can stick to the damaged site and form a clot. When the clot breaks away, it can cause a heart attack by blocking blood from reaching the heart, or an aneurysm by blocking blood flow to the brain.

While it’s important to maintain healthy levels of the two types of cholesterol — the “good” high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and the “bad” low-density lipoproteins (LDL) — high levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol can cause plaques to form in the arteries.

Healthy levels of HDL cholesterol, meanwhile, are important. That “good” cholesterol helps shuttle excess LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it can then be discarded.

Studies show that moderate alcohol consumption of any kind pumps up levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by increasing the rate it is transported through the blood.

Tall glass of beerThis does not count as one drink.

So heads up devoted wine drinkers: your daily dose of fermented grape juice isn’t the only thing keeping you healthy. You can swap a glass of wine for a beer or mix up a cocktail to gain the same heart-protective benefits. In fact, research suggests that low-to-moderate drinking of alcohols like wine and beer are actually better for your heart than not drinking at all.

But before you go overboard, remember the key phrase:moderation. Excessive and longterm overconsumption of alcohol is overwhelmingly linked to heart problems, stroke, diabetes, and death.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking means one glass of alcohol per day if you’re a woman, two if you’re a man. And no, this doesn’t mean you can pull out that yard-long glass you snagged in Vegas and count it as one drink. The guidelines officially define one drink as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, five fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits.

If you’re curious to learn more about the ways alcohol helps your heart, check out this handyYouTube video by our friends at the American Chemical Society on their Reactions channel.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/DpCwiDQxPic?list=PLtLT74crQcwXtaWQCdT9q-xnGlSD7CJM6

Wild boars have colonized Fukushima .


In 2011, a catastrophic chain of events led to nuclear meltdowns that caused over 300,000 people to evacuate the towns surrounding Fukushima.

Today, the area remains a radioactive ghost town, still too dangerous for human residents.

But that isn’t scaring away the boars.

These days, the wild boar population is thriving in Fukushima. In March, Fukushima University Environmental Radioactivity Institute assistant ecology professor Okuda Keitokunin told local press that vacant houses in areas damaged by the disaster have served as breeding places of burrows for the boar. The number of boars in the area has increased more than 300% since 2014, currently reaching about 13,000.

Unlikely wildlife havens

wild boar babiesMatt Cardy/StringerWild boars have run the radioactive wasteland of Fukushima.

This isn’t the first time a nuclear disaster has provided a stomping ground for local animals.

The nuclear disaster zone of Chernobyl has seen a surge in its wildlife population over the past few decades, according to National Geographic. It turns out that when you remove humans from the equation, animals like wolves and bears and wild boars actually thrive. In other words, when it comes to choosing between high radiation levels and human cohabitants, we actually appear to be the greater of two evils from a wild animal’s perspective.

Radioactive meat

In a perfect world, a surplus of wild boar, Japan’s most popular meat, would be a good thing. But these boars are on a strict radioactive diet, munching only on Fukushima’s contaminated vegetation and other small animals. Tests have shown these boars to have high levels of radioactive substances — making their meat unfit for anyone’s dinner plate.

But the problem doesn’t end there.

The poisonous boars have been spilling over into surrounding farms, destroying crops and resulting in more than $900,000 dollars in agricultural damage, the Washington Post reports. To combat their rising population, the government has been offering hunters hefty bounties for dead boars. But this presents another interesting problem: what to do with the bodies which, on average, weigh about 200 pounds each.

Where do you put a bunch of radioactive boars?

wild boar huntChina Photos/StringerGovernment-approved hunting of wild boars is one way to prevent them from damaging local crops.

Thirty-five miles from the plant, the city of Nihonmatsu has been providing a temporary solution,the Post reports. The city is home to three mass graves, each with the capacity to hold around 600 boars. But these pits are getting close to the brim, and there’s not enough space in the city to dig out any more.

The next best solution would be incinerating the bodies. This is where things get a little tricky. Burning the boar carcasses requires a special facility that can filter out radioactive materials to prevent radioactive smoke from raining down on nearby land and contaminating it. The nearest such facility that exists, a $1.4 million crematorium in Soma, can only handle three boars a day, according to ScienceAlert. That isn’t nearly enough to curb their rapidly increasing numbers.

One thing is for certain: If the Japanese government doesn’t figure out to do with these radioactive beasts, local farms could be under significant threat.

Solar Impulse 2 Plane Set To Resume Its Round


The Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane is set to resume its record-breaking flight around the globe next month. It will leave from Hawaii under suitable weather conditions, a spokeswoman told AFP on Thursday. She added that location of the first stop on the US mainland is yet to be decided.

Solar Impulse 2

In July last year, this experimental aircraft was grounded as its solar-powered batteries were facing problems only halfway through its 35,000-kilometer trip.

It took the French crew several months to fix the damage from high tropical temperatures during the flight’s final Pacific stage, which was a record journey of 5 days and 5 nights between Nagoya, Japan and Hawaii.

It was in late February when the plane conducted its first successful test flight after the repairs. The next leg, which should take four days, may end in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Phoenix, Arizona, the spokeswoman said.

‘The destinations in US mainland have not been confirmed yet and will be dependent on weather conditions. We know from experience that crossing the United States is challenging in terms of weather,’ she said. She added that the aim  is to reach New York’s JFK Airport before crossing the Atlantic, she added.

Solar Impulse 2

In March, last year, Solar Impulse 2 left Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and since then has travelled almost 18,000 kilometres. Interestingly, its wings are covered with more than 17,000 photovoltaic cells that charge the batteries when the sun is shining during the day.

Two Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are taking alternating turns flying at each stage because the aircraft can accommodate one at a time.

Dubbed the ‘paper plane,’ Solar Impulse 2 has a wingspan of 72 meters, larger than a Boeing 747’s, and a weight of 2.3 tonnes, approximately that of a van.

It flies at a maximum altitude of 8,634 meters and must withstand high temperature fluctuations, with the pilots using oxygen tanks to breathe inside the tiny cockpit.

The project aims to demonstrate the possibilities of renewable solar energy.

Generic drugs: The right time, right place, right price.


Stronger national health programmes also helped extend the reach of affordable medicines.

The rolling back of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the past 15 years is a story of triumph over adversity in the realm of public health. While the three global health pandemics are far from over, progress since the turn of the millennium has been remarkable and beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic health experts.

 In that time, the number of deaths from HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria have halved from 6 million in 2000 to 3 million today. Progress against HIV/AIDS has been particularly striking in sub-Saharan Africa. Average life expectancy, which in some African countries plunged by the year 2000 to 35 as HIV/AIDS spread like wildfire, is on the rise again. Remarkably, 16 million people living with HIV are now on antiretroviral treatment, up from just 1.6 million in 2006.

This turnaround was no accident of history. It was spurred by visionary political leadership, galvanising a big increase in funding over two decades that has brought about a dramatic increase in availability of effective new treatments.

UNITAID and India’s pharmaceutical manufacturers have played a big part in this success story. As the main supplier of affordable medicines of assured quality, Indian generic manufacturers have led the way by driving high performance and ramping up productive capacity. Innovation and high-volume manufacture has made generic medicines the pharmaceuticals of choice in the developing world.

Barely a decade ago, HIV treatment was expensive and out of reach for most people living with HIV in developing countries. Generics have played a key role, bringing down antiretroviral treatment costs from $15,000 to $100 a year. HIV treatments costing less than a dollar a day have been made possible by the Indian generic drugs industry.

Stronger national health programmes also helped extend the reach of affordable medicines.

Today, India has developed a powerful and dynamic industry that is socially responsible.

UNITAID collaborates with Indian generic manufacturers to develop more affordable medicines to fight HIV and TB.

We invest in the development and the opening up of markets for health innovations. We do this by funding the final stages of research and development of drugs, helping to design guidelines for their use, to conduct operational research, and to deal with intellectual property rights issues. With the support of UNITAID funding, a new medication or public health technology can reach markets in developing countries quickly at an affordable price.

The challenges are formidable: Three million people are dying every year from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

TB is curable but many patients lack access to effective diagnosis while no new drugs have reached the market for 40 years. Malaria is still claims 584,000 lives a year. And across the three diseases, growing resistance to drugs and insecticides threatens to blunt the public health response.

The rate of increase in investments in these three diseases, which surged over the past 20 years, is slowing. That puts the onus on collaboration and innovation to achieve more with scarce resources. Robust market incentives and competition can save lives. Only by working together, can we unleash greater innovation to end HIV, TB and other diseases for good.

13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know. This is Beyond Amazing!


Pregnancy is one of life’s miracles. It’s incredible! Sure there are discomforts but the end result is the best gift you will ever receive. For nine months women basically become superheroes for what they endure. Here are 13 amazing pregnancy facts that you may or may not already know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

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13 Amazing Facts About Pregnancy That You May Not Know.

FURTHER READING

The rise of autism:Spectrum shift


Children in the rich world are far more likely to be diagnosed with autism than in the past. Why is this and what can be done to help them lead fulfilling lives.

ALONE and in silence, Sören Schindler sits in a white-walled conference room in Munich for six hours a day. He is writing a program that will run an online service for HypoVereinsbank, one of Germany’s largest financial institutions. His workspace suits him better than his previous one: an open-plan office where he felt constantly assaulted by the din of phones, clacking keyboards and chatty colleagues. “Working in such a loud environment exhausted me,” he says. Mr Schindler has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

Mr Schindler’s condition appears to have become more common over the past half-century. Autism was first identified in 1949 but not studied systematically for decades. An early study in 1970 found that one in 14,000 children in America was autistic. In 2000 America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention began collecting data regularly. Since then the share of eight-year-olds diagnosed with some form of autism has more than doubled to one in 68 or 15 in every 1,000 (see chart). A recent study in South Korea is the world’s first to be based on an entire population of school-age children rather than a sample. Alarmingly, it finds that one child in 38 between the ages of seven and 12 has some degree of autism.

Autism is a complex brain condition, encompassing a broad range of symptoms. These can include discomfort around other people, hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells and light, and obsessive interests. At least a quarter of children with autism do not speak, though some studies put the figure higher. At the other end of the scale are people of average or high intelligence who can live relatively normal lives. Dan Aykroyd, a Canadian comedian, is a notable example.

Autism affects different people in different ways. Some autistics score above average on intelligence tests but struggle to communicate verbally and make compulsively repetitive movements, such as rocking back and forth or flapping their arms. Others have a healthy vocabulary but a low IQ and poor motor control, which can make writing by hand or using a fork difficult. The autism of a particularly high-functioning person might be almost imperceptible, manifesting itself only subtly in an obsessive interest with maps, say, or the merits of different aeroplanes.

The causes of autism are not well understood. Research on identical twins suggests that genes play a big, probably dominant, role. But some environmental factors appear to matter, too, such as complications at birth or prenatal exposure to viruses or air pollution.

Researchers believe that autism begins developing early in life, perhaps in the womb. Although parents sometimes notice their babies behaving oddly before the age of one, symptoms do not always appear until later. Males appear to be more susceptible. In America, for example, autism is diagnosed almost five times as often in boys as in girls. There is no cure, although sometimes autistic children become adults for whom the label seems inappropriate because they grow out of it or improve with treatment.

One reason for the apparent rise in autism across the rich world is growing awareness, says Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University. Some cases that used to be diagnosed as an “intellectual disability” or (in the bad old days) as “mental retardation” are now being recognised as autism, says Jennifer Stapel-Wax of Emory University’s Marcus Autism Centre. The proportion of people affected by autism appears much lower in poor countries. That is not necessarily because it is less common, but because of shortcomings in diagnosis and data collection, says Andy Shih of Autism Speaks, a charity.

Making a different diagnosis

Another reason is that doctors have changed the way they diagnose autism. The “spectrum” of autistic conditions has expanded to include Asperger syndrome, a milder social disorder, and some other similar conditions. As with autism, those with Asperger’s often struggle to connect with others, but are usually of average or above average intelligence and tend not to have difficulty talking.

There is no objective test for autism; a diagnosis is made by observing behaviour. Does a baby fail to make eye contact or respond when called by name? Does he play with toys in an oddly repetitive way—running the same car back and forth on the carpet thousands of times or lining up plastic dinosaurs in perfect rows? Has he begun speaking at the appropriate age?

By asking such questions, doctors can spot autism with some reliability by the age of two. Even so, the average age of diagnosis in many rich countries is three-and-a-half. Screening is seldom universal. Long waits between a parent first expressing worry and final diagnosis are common. Fewer than a fifth of the children in America who are eventually diagnosed with autism are diagnosed before they turn two.

The consequence, says Dr Stapel-Wax, is that autism has too much time to advance. The human brain is at its most malleable in the first two years of life. Infants typically learn voraciously during this time. They watch and listen as people around them talk, laugh and eat. They play with others. By contrast autistic babies tend to fixate on inanimate objects, limiting how much they can learn from their environments. Autism is a “social disability that develops so quickly it can become an intellectual disability”, says Dr Stapel-Wax.

Autism can be treated, particularly if it is caught early. Intensive coaching from a young age can help alleviate the symptoms. Using applied behaviour analysis (ABA), therapists work with children one-on-one, sometimes for 40 hours a week. They evaluate a child’s life skills and reward signs of progress. A child who stops spinning or rocking may earn praise. One who learns how to greet people may be rewarded with a smile.

A study in Washington state in 2015 was encouraging. It found that children treated for two years, starting between the ages of 18 and 30 months, using the “early-start Denver model”, which combines building relationships through play and ABA, had less intense symptoms by the age of six. What works for one person, alas, may not for another. Nonetheless, early intervention is clearly cost-effective. A Swedish study found that the cost of lifelong care for someone with autism could be cut by two-thirds with early diagnosis and treatment.

School of hard knocks

Even if they are spotted and treated early, autistic children often have a wretched time at school. Mr Schindler says that as a schoolboy he avoided his fellow students and never engaged in classroom discussion unless explicitly required to do so. A survey by the Interactive Autism Network, an American research group, found that autistic children are three times as likely to be bullied as their non-autistic siblings. Many drop out. In France, for example, 87% attend primary school, but only 11% progress on to lower secondary school and just 1% to upper secondary school.

In several countries, including America and Britain, autistic pupils are mostly educated in mainstream schools but offered extra help from therapists and teachers trained to deal with them. Education authorities like this approach because it is cheaper than setting up specialist schools. Parents often prefer their children to be taught alongside non-autistic children. But integrating the two groups can be hard. In a survey of the NASUWT, a British teachers’ union, 60% of members said they were not adequately prepared to teach children with autism. This creates frustration and sorrow. Three-quarters of parents of autistic kids in Britain complained that it was not easy to get the support their child needed. A similar number said their child’s social skills, self-esteem and mental health had suffered as a result.

Teaching autistic children well can be expensive. Netley primary school in London has an autism programme for children aged 3-11 who can weave in and out of mainstream classes. It receives a grant of £22,500 ($31,800) per pupil per year from the government, far more than is allotted to most other schools in England. There are 16 staff for 24 pupils, compared with a national average of one for every 17.

Teachers often work with the children individually. In the room for kids between eight and 11 years old, a pupil and teacher do sums on a whiteboard. Next door, younger ones sing a song about the alphabet. “For two individualised 15-minute sessions a day students direct activities and a teacher will join in,” says Gianna Colizza, who runs the programme. “If a child wants to flip a toy car over on its back and spin its wheels, instead of saying ‘That’s not how you play with a car’, we’ll play along. It can be exhausting for them to operate in our world all day, so twice a day we go into theirs.” In the “sensory room”, an oasis of beanbags and lava lamps where anxious students can recharge, a boy gets a foot massage from a teacher while calming music wafts from surround-sound speakers.

School can be tough for autistic people, but many have a worse time once they leave it. A study by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia found that only 19% of American autistic people in their early 20s lived independently, away from their parents. Wherever they live many are isolated: one in four said that they had not seen friends or received invitations to social events in the past year. Some autistic people prefer their own company, but many are unhappy. Adults with Asperger’s are ten times more likely to mull suicide than the general population, a British study found.

Hard at work

To live independently, autistic people need jobs but the prospects for finding work are bleak. Academic studies on global employment rates for adults with autism do not exist, but the UN estimates that 80% do not work. A survey by Britain’s National Autistic Society, a charity, suggests that only 12% of higher-functioning autistic adults work full time. For those with more challenging forms of autism, only 2% have jobs.

Job training, life-skills coaching and psychotherapy could help. An American study found that 87% of autistic youngsters who were given assistance to find a job, got one. Only 6% who did not receive support were successful. But in most countries, services disappear the moment autistic people finish full-time education. Robert Schmus, a 27-year-old American social worker with Asperger’s, describes leaving school as “going off the cliff”. He no longer received the social coaching that he used to have along with maths and English classes.

Help that should be available often is not. America’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is supposed to guarantee services such as vocational training. Gary Mayerson, a lawyer specialising in issues relating to autism, is suing the New York city Department of Education for $500m on behalf of thousands of special-needs students who claim they did not receive assistance they were entitled to.

Judging what proportion of autistic people is actually capable of working is tricky. About half are of average or above average intelligence, but that does not necessarily mean they will all be employable. An autistic person might score well on an IQ test but suffer from such debilitating anxiety that he cannot stray far from home. Most autistic people want to work. In a survey by the National Autistic Society, 79% of autistic adults on out-of-work benefits said they would like to find a job. Higher-functioning autistic adults have an easier time getting and keeping a job than those more severely affected, but both groups find job-seeking tricky.

The first big hurdle is the interview. Many autistic people struggle with social conventions, such as making eye contact when speaking. Laura Williams, a British cat-rescue worker with Asperger’s, recalls that in past interviews she found it hard to know when to shake hands and what to say when greeting the interviewer. When meeting new people she sometimes creates scripts to ease her nerves, working out in advance when to say things like “hello” and “thank you”.

Autistic people often speak bluntly. Asked what he thought of team meetings, Mr Schindler replied: “They don’t work. Before digging into the problem at hand people waste time talking about their weekends. Great, but I don’t care.” Many non-autistic people would wholeheartedly agree, but few would say so openly in a job interview.

Speaking their minds

Non-autistic people routinely exaggerate their abilities during interviews. Many autistic people find this hard. Kurt Schöffer of Auticon, a German IT consultancy that hires people on the autism spectrum (including Mr Schindler), recently spoke with a candidate whom he knew to be a brilliant Java coder. When asked if he was an expert programmer, the candidate said no. Only when pressed did he explain that he did not consider himself an expert because he had not fully mastered all the other computer languages.

An autistic person who makes it through the interview faces other difficulties once in work. Autistic people are frequently hypersensitive to the everyday annoyances of office life: ringing phones and bright fluorescent lights may distress or drain them. They might get tripped up by less-than-specific instructions. Socialising can be thorny, too.

Some find their own ways of coping. Ms Williams recalls the problems of dealing with customers at a grocery where she used to work. “I was very neat and precise—I was good at stocking shelves and things. But I had a hard time when it came to talking to people, so I would just watch my colleague and try to copy her.” After her diagnosis, she also read books about Asperger’s and began asking for more social advice. “I learned that if you smile and say hello, that’s an outward sign that you want to be friends.” Before, she would avert her gaze, stay silent and agonise over why people did not like her.

Despite these drawbacks, employers who hire autistic staff are usually glad they did. Many have strengths that make them well suited to some jobs. They are unusually good at focusing, for example. When asked what he most enjoys about his job, Mr Schindler says: “Solving software-engineering problems.” His favourite hobby? “Solving software-engineering problems.”

Autistic people often enjoy repetitive tasks that others might find boring, such as updating databases, organising filing systems and fixing computers. Employers also report that autistic workers are reliable and loyal. Their desire for routine means, once they find a job that suits them well, they rarely miss work or quit.

Autistic people’s brutal honesty can be socially awkward, but it can also work to an employer’s advantage. One of Auticon’s consultants noticed that a process he was working on could be automated and immediately told the client. (Instead of staying mum, as an ordinary person might to preserve his job.) The project finished ahead of time and under budget.

Finding employment is starting to get easier for some people with the condition. A growing number of charities and businesses find work for autistic people of high intelligence. Specialisterne, a Danish firm operating in several European countries, offers training and help with job searches. Kaien in Japan, AQA in Israel and Passwerk in Belgium all offer autistic consultants to clients in need of software testing. Their employees are provided with job coaches, who help negotiate pay and brief potential clients on what to expect. Siemens, which hired two people from Auticon to develop and implement software-testing systems, said that they processed on average 50% more tests than other consultants.

The benefits to firms of hiring autistic people with rare technical skills are obvious. For autistic adults without such abilities it is harder to find work, but given a chance they usually do well. Steve Pemberton of Walgreen’s, an American pharmacy group which makes a point of hiring people with disabilities, says autistic employees at the group’s distribution centres perform at least as well as other workers.

At Rising Tide Carwash in Parkland, Florida, autistic employees have helped build a bustling business. To work there, candidates—many of whom have never had a job before—must pass tests of their practical skills such as wiping windows and vacuuming interiors. Thomas D’Eri, who founded the business with his father after noticing the dearth of opportunities for his autistic brother, says his workers provide top-notch customer service, work hard and smile even in the oppressive Florida heat. They are grateful for their jobs. Mr D’Eri reckons they stay with him three times longer than non-autistic workers, saving him time and money on recruitment and training.

There are other unexpected benefits for the businesses that take on autistic employees, says James Emmett, a consultant who advises firms about hiring disabled workers. Because autistic people often think very literally, managers have to give much clearer instructions; and that helps non-autistic staff, too.

Learning fast

Fruits of Employment, a programme run by TIAA Global Asset Management, an investment group, recruits autistic employees to tend six farms in California and Washington state. It uses detailed checklists to train workers to tend apple trees and harvest grapes. Heather Davis, the CIO of TIAA, who was inspired by the talents of her autistic son to start the programme, found such prompts helped her non-autistic employees learn quicker, too.

Firms that hire autistic staff may also reap a reputational benefit. Other people may conclude that they are caring and generous, and be more inclined to work for them or buy their products. Mr D’Eri thinks his firm’s social mission brings publicity and thus business: “You don’t usually talk about car washes at the dinner table unless they return you a dirty car. With Rising Tide, people do.”

Autistic workers are proving themselves in many fields. Israel’s army uses autistic volunteers to interpret complicated satellite images. L’Oréal, a cosmetics firm, hires autistic adults to pack products and update databases. Harry Specters, a chocolate shop in Cambridge, England, employs autistic adults to cook truffles. The number of schemes to help autistic people find work is growing. Autism Speaks, a charity, recently introduced a jobs database, Spectrum Careers, that allows autistic jobseekers to browse thousands of opportunities across America.

A recent study in JAMAPaediatrics, a science journal, calculated that the lifetime cost of supporting an American with autism was $1.4m-2.4m. Paul Leigh of the University of California at Davis and Juan Du of Old Dominion University have added up not only the cost of care but also the opportunity costs of autism in America. They include an estimate of the output lost when autistic people are jobless or underemployed, and when their relatives cut back on working hours to look after them. They put the total at $162 billion-367 billion in 2015, the equivalent of 0.9-2% of GDP, on a par with both diabetes and strokes. By 2025 the figure could exceed $1 trillion, they predict. Confronting autism is costly, but failing to do so may cost even more.

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