April 04, 2015

Craig Venter discusses the state of the art in Biotech including rewriting pig genome to boost supply of organs 100 times

Craig Venter gives a keynote talk at a DARPA event.
He describes the work to get a highly precise set of genome sequences. Genomes have been sequenced using methods with more errors. Now they are going back to sequence with longer and more precise reads.

He discusses various projects for artificial chromosomes and cells.

He describes work to rewrite the pig genome to increase the supply of transplant organs 100 times.

He describes developing a better biotech toolbox.

He describes converting digital information into biology.

They are working on antimicrobial phage genome engineering.

They are working to decode the brain using genomics and better brain structure analysis.

Working to correct genetic errors in stem cells.

All of this is towards genome engineering.

Britain joins laser arms race with up to £100 million high energy combat laser project

The Ministry of Defence will begin building an experimental laser weapon later this year as a prototype for Star Wars-type armaments that could one day be used by British forces.

The project costing up to £100 million aims to create a high-energy laser that can track and hit moving targets in any weather.

Britain is joining the laser arms race as America has already developed a series of drone-killing and ship-burning lasers and already has one weapon on board a warship in the Gulf.

The project, known as the Laser Directed Energy Weapon Capability Demonstrator, is worth between £20 million and £100 million according to the MOD.

The project demonstrations will be required to establish five key metrics: the ability to detect, acquire and track targets at range and in varying weather conditions with sufficient precision; the ability to generate and precisely control a high energy laser; control of the irradiance of the laser; management of power and cooling demands whilst enabling operation of the laser over a prolonged period; and control requirements, particularly managing the risks such that the laser is safe to operate.

The UK is to build and test a laser weapon demonstrator. A Rheinmetall 10kW high-power laser weapon demonstrator is pictured. Source: Rheinmetal

Upgraded anti-jamming technology and improved guidance will enable multiple bunker busters to hit the same spot

The Pentagon has upgraded and tested the largest bunker-buster bomb in the U.S. arsenal, senior U.S. officials said, readying a weapon that could destroy or disable Iran’s most heavily fortified nuclear facilities should a nuclear deal fall apart and the White House decide to take military action.

The Pentagon declined to comment on any improvements to the so-called Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that Pentagon war planners had concluded that the 30,000-pound bunker buster wasn’t powerful enough to destroy certain hardened Iranian nuclear facilities and ordered steps to be taken to upgrade the bomb’s design and guidance systems. In 2013, the Journal reported the weapon was being redesigned.

The weapon was last tested in recent months, including in January, and senior officials say the results show the bomb—when dropped one on top of the other—is now more capable of penetrating fortified nuclear facilities in Iran or in North Korea.

Officials said work on improving the MOP is continuing, but the weapon has performed well in the tests, allaying the concerns officials had two years ago.

April 03, 2015

Comcast will offer 2 Gigabit internet service to about 18 million subscribers by end of 2015

Comcast announced it will offer residential multi-gigabit broadband service to more than 1.5 million customers in Atlanta starting next month. Gigabit Pro is a symmetrical, 2 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) service that will be delivered via a fiber-to-the-home solution. Service will be offered broadly across the Atlanta metro area and will be the fastest residential Internet speed in the country.

Combast plans to offer internet speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second to about 18 million subscribers (out of their current 22 million by the end of 2015.

Google Fiber service offers 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) of upstream and downstream bandwidth to customers living in Kansas City, Missouri; Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas; and soon other cities. Google Fiber customers pay about $70 per month for service that’s 30 times faster than the average US broadband connection.

Comcast hasn’t announced pricing yet, but chances are Gigabit Pro won’t be cheap. The company’s current 505 Mbps (roughly half a gigabit) connection costs just under $400 per month.

Comcast told Ars Technica writer Jon Brodkin that Gigabit Pro will cost less than the Comcast Gigabit Pro service.

April 02, 2015

Parameters of the nuclear framework deal with Iran are trying to get breakout time from 2-3 months to over 12 months

The Whitehouse has issued a press release with details of the parameters of the nuclear framework deal.

The US is trying to go for 12+ month to nuclear breakout instead of 2-3 months. Breakout meaning how long to get the first bomb from the point of following the agreement and when they stopped following and go for the bomb.

Once breakout occurs then it is about 25 bombs per year based on modified calculations from Robert Zubrin.
Zubrin had calculated the enrichment based on 6500 centrifuges. The deal is for 5,060.
There may also needs to be slight modification for 3.67 enriched starting point instead 4%. This could drop it to about 20 bombs per year.

Trying to avoid nuclear


* Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.
* Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
* Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.
* All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.
* Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
* Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.

Iran Centrifuges

NASA Space habitat NextStep is to get to 60 days in Cislunar Space and then scale for manned Mars Missions

Seven NASA NextSTEP habitat projects will have initial performance periods of up to 12 months, at a value of $400,000 to $1 million for the study and development efforts, and the potential for follow-on phases to be defined during the initial phase.

Habitation systems selections will help define the architecture and subsystems of a modular habitation capability to enable extended missions in deep space. Orion is the first component of human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and will be capable of sustaining a crew of four for 21 days in deep space and returning them safely to Earth.

These selections are intended to augment the Orion capsule with the development of capabilities to initially sustain a crew of four for up to 60 days in cis-lunar space with the ability to scale up to transit habitation capabilities for future Mars missions. The selected projects will address concepts and, in some cases, provide advancement in technologies related to habitation and operations, or environmental control and life support capabilities of a habitation system.

The selected companies are:

* Bigelow Aerospace LLC of North Las Vegas, Nevada
* The Boeing Company of Pasadena, Texas
* Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville, Alabama
* Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems International of Windsor Locks, Connecticut
* Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver, Colorado
* Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia
* Orbital Technologies Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin

NASA funds NextSTEP deep space propulsion including 100 hour VASIMR and advanced electric space drives

NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.

Selected advanced electric propulsion projects will develop propulsion technology systems in the 50- to 300-kilowatt range to meet the needs of a variety of deep space mission concepts. State-of-the-art electric propulsion technology currently employed by NASA generates less than five kilowatts, and systems being developed for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Broad Area Announcement (BAA) are in the 40-kilowatt range.

The three NextSTEP advanced propulsion projects, $400,000 to $3.5 million per year per award, will have no more than a three-year performance period focused on ground testing efforts. NASA required a minimum of 50% cost sharing and/or matching for the proposed efforts, which may include prior industry investment.

The selected companies are:

* Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas
* MSNW LLC of Redmond, Washington
* Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. of Redmond, Washington

Ad Astra’s winning proposal for advancing the technology readiness of the VASIMR® engine was one of three selected in the field of advanced electric propulsion. Under this work, valued at approximately $10 million over three years, the partnership will advance the VASIMR® engine to a technology readiness level(TRL)greater than 5–a step closerto spaceflight –with a demonstration of the VX-200-SS™laboratory prototype, a fully integrated system capable of operating at high power continuously for a minimum of 100 hours

In 2013 , after more than $30 million in private capital , the company completed more than 10,000 successful high power firings of its most advanced VASIMR ® prototype , the VX - 200 ™ , in Ad Astra’s Houston vacuum chamber facility. These tests demonstrated the engine’s excellent firing repeatability and performance (6 N thrust, 5000 sec sp and a thruster efficiency greater than 70%) with no measurable signs of engine wear.

New technological advances (for higher 100 hour endurance) will be fully integrated into a test article called the VX-200SS™ (for steady state)

Instead of killing bacteria, DARPA seeks to understand biology of host tolerance

Conventional disease treatments such as antibiotics have almost exclusively sought to emulate natural resistance by keeping patients’ pathogen levels as low as possible. This approach has been incredibly successful but has an increasingly serious downside: Any pathogens that survive a particular treatment can defy it from then on, giving rise to new antibiotic-resistant strains. The rising prevalence of multi-drug-resistant pathogens, as well as emerging biological threats, makes developing new medical countermeasures a national security priority.

DARPA’s new Technologies for Host Resilience (THoR) program aims to tackle these issues from a completely different angle. Instead of focusing on how to kill specific pathogens, THoR seeks to catalyze the development of breakthrough interventions that would increase the ability of patients’ own bodies to tolerate a broad range of pathogens. The program will explore the fundamental biology of host tolerance in animal populations with the goal of expanding treatment options for humans in the future.

If THoR is successful, it could provide substantial benefits to warfighter health and military readiness. New treatments would help reduce reliance on antibiotics and complement ongoing efforts both to fight microbes themselves and slow the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

THoR could also help treat life-threatening infections and related illnesses, such as sepsis. A catastrophic overreaction by the immune system to large-scale infection, sepsis afflicts 18 million people a year worldwide and kills between 30 and 50 percent of them. Sepsis poses a significant threat to warfighters who suffer combat injuries that predispose them to infection.

DARPA’s new Technologies for Host Resilience (THoR) program aims to tackle the rising prevalence of multi-drug-resistant pathogens, as well as emerging biological threats. Instead of focusing on how to kill specific pathogens, THoR seeks to catalyze the development of breakthrough interventions that would increase a patient’s ability to tolerate a broad range of pathogens. The program will explore the fundamental biology of host tolerance to infection with the goal of expanding treatment options for humans in the future.

Bioviva offering experimental gene therapy treatments for myostatin inhibition and telomere extension

Bioviva is offering various gene therapy treatments for telomerase extension and to treat alzheimers and hardening of arteries.

BioViva is a new company offering experimental medical services in South America.

Bioviva offers gene therapy for a myostatin inhibitor (the specific gene is not disclosed), and it has been tried by one of the team members, experimenting on himself 5 years ago, with good results in a younger man.

In a 2012 paper by Blasco’s student Bruno Bernardes de Jesus, ordinary lab mice were given gene therapy with an “extra” telomerase gene spread to their cells by a genetically-engineered virus. the mice lived 13-24% longer, and the experimenters reported “remarkable beneficial effects on health and fitness, including insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis, neuromuscular coordination and several molecular biomarkers of aging.”

Their team includes

* a lab that provides genetically modified viruses with a gene payload, made to order. (This has now become a reliable and predictable technology.)

* A doctor who has experience with experimental gene therapy, and who had the courage to experiment on himself five years ago, with good outcome thus far.

* Sites in Colombia and Mexico where doctors will administer therapies for which there is not yet FDA approval.

* Most important, a Scientific Advisory Board that includes two of the most prominent, senior biochemists who developed the science of telomerase in the 1990s and before. They are Bill Andrews and Michael Fossel.

* What they offer is gene therapy with hTERT and a proprietary myostatin inhibitor “in the same family with GDF-11,” according to CEO Elizabeth Parrish.

EMBO Molecular Medicine - Telomerase gene therapy in adult and old mice delays aging and increases longevity without increasing cancer

Cheap cellulose nanocrystals from pulp can increase the strength of concrete by 30 percent

Cellulose nanocrystals derived from industrial byproducts have been shown to increase the strength of concrete, representing a potential renewable additive to improve the ubiquitous construction material.

The cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) could be refined from byproducts generated in the paper, bioenergy, agriculture and pulp industries. They are extracted from structures called cellulose microfibrils, which help to give plants and trees their high strength, lightweight and resilience. Now, researchers at Purdue University have demonstrated that the cellulose nanocrystals can increase the tensile strength of concrete by 30 percent.

"This is an abundant, renewable material that can be harvested from low-quality cellulose feedstocks already being produced in various industrial processes," said Pablo Zavattieri, an associate professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering.

The cellulose nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with wide-ranging applications, such as strengthening construction materials and automotive components.

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures derived from renewable sources that might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with many potential applications. The structures have been shown to increase the strength of concrete. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

Journal of Cement and Concrete Composites - The influence of cellulose nanocrystal additions on the performance of cement paste

Plasmonic ceramic materials key to advances in nanophotonics in high temperature conditions

Progress in developing nanophotonic devices capable of withstanding high temperatures and harsh conditions for applications including data storage, sensing, health care and energy will depend on the research community and industry adopting new "plasmonic ceramic" materials, according to a commentary this week in the journal Science.

In one promising nanophotonic approach – plasmonics - clouds of electrons called surface plasmons are used to manipulate and control light on the nanometer scale. Plasmonic devices under development often rely on the use of metals such as gold and silver, which are not practical for most industrial applications because they are unable to withstand extreme heating and other harsh conditions. They also are not compatible with the complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing process used to construct integrated circuits.

Now researchers are proposing the use of plasmonic ceramics such as titanium nitride and zirconium nitride instead of gold and silver.

Science - All that glitters need not be gold

Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) is an emerging technology enabling ultra-dense storage of digital information. It promises to usher in the next generation of ultra-high capacity data storage devices, expanding the current computer hard disk drive (HDD) capabilities by a factor of 10 to 16. There is an urgent need for such data storage systems, as the rate of digital content creation is exploding world-wide.

A major challenge hindering commercialization of HAMR has been the lack of a robust nanoscale heating system, whose function is to locally and transiently raise the temperature of resilient magnetic materials used for HAMR, facilitating data recording. Such a system must be able to focus a laser beam onto a small enough region of the data storage medium (so that bits of data occupy the smallest area possible), while withstanding the thermal and mechanical stresses of prolonged operation.

April 01, 2015

Lifting all barriers to urban growth in America could add the equivalent of Canada's GDP to US GDP

Lifting all the barriers to urban growth in America could raise the country’s GDP by between 6.5% and 13.5%, or by about $1 trillion-2 trillion. It is difficult to think of many other policies that would yield anything like that. The Economist magazine provides the details.

Land is really not scarce but artificial scarcity drives up prices

Buy land, advised Mark Twain; they’re not making it any more. In fact, land is not really scarce: the entire population of America could fit into Texas with more than an acre for each household to enjoy. What drives prices skyward is a collision between rampant demand and limited supply in the great metropolises like London, Mumbai and New York. In the past ten years real prices in Hong Kong have risen by 150%. Residential property in Mayfair, in central London, can go for as much as £55,000 ($82,000) per square metre. A square mile of Manhattan residential property costs $16.5 billion.

Even in these great cities the scarcity is artificial. Regulatory limits on the height and density of buildings constrain supply and inflate prices. A recent analysis by academics at the London School of Economics estimates that land-use regulations in the West End of London inflate the price of office space by about 800%; in Milan and Paris the rules push up prices by around 300%. Most of the enormous value captured by landowners exists because it is well-nigh impossible to build new offices to compete those profits away.
San Francisco could squeeze in twice as many and remain half as dense as Manhattan. This would create vast economic opportunity and could double the GDP in the big US cities.

March 31, 2015

DARPA wants modular, specialized, cheaper and drop in upgradable swarm cloud of drones, missiles and mothership airplanes

DARPA's System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures--combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems--that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms.

The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems more quickly and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

DARPA has kicked off the System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program. SoSITE aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures—combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems—that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms. The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems faster and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

The computer analogy would be not having a single supercomputer or mainframe but a google server farm in a data center. Google can seamlessly swap out failed servers, or drop in upgraded servers.

DARPA’s System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures—combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems—that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms. The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems faster and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

Screenshot from video of mothership airplane releasing drones and missiles

War is Boring has some coverage.

“The mission truck launches a swarm of small low-cost cruise missiles, or LCCMs, that speed toward the enemy radar target,” the DARPA video narrated. “While each missile has a relatively small warhead, collectively they can have a tremendous impact.”

This makes the tactic — in theory — asymmetrical, like a guerrilla army using a fusillade of cheap rocket-propelled grenades to destroy a big, expensive armored vehicle. The mothership in this scenario is also beyond the range of the missile launchers on the ground — that’s important, too.

The project is still in its conceptual phase. The agency wants to begin experiments in 2017 and scale it up to testing “integrated air-air and precision strike kill chains” in 2019.

DARPA wants the system to rely on modular, “open” software architectures. If the Air Force wants to upgrade any part of the system, engineers could simply upload new “apps” developed separately — rather than rebuilding the entire system from scratch.

But this makes the software easier to hack. For instance, a hacker might be able to “spoof” the software into uploading a piece of malware that it thinks is an upgrade.

General expectation that Tesla Motors non-car product will be home battery charging system

New estimate of 300 to 900 billion planets in habitable zone in the milky way galaxy is triple the old prediction

With about 300 billion stars in our galaxy, researchers analyzing Kepler data and modified theory calculate there are 600 ± 300 billion planets in circumstellar habitable zones in our galaxy.

In the observable universe there are about 100 billion galaxies. Thus there are approximately 10^22 stars in the observable universe and twice that many planets in circumstellar habitable zones in the universe.

That’s a lot of real estate for alien development. Not all of these habitable zone planets will be wet and rocky like the Earth, but a fair fraction (about 30%) should be. Now we need some zippy interstellar spaceships to colonise and over-populate all these worlds before the aliens do.

The Goldilocks zone or habitable zone around a star is where the temperature is just right to have liquid water. Our new result suggests that there are, on average, two planets in the habitable zone. Aditya Chopra, ANU, adapted from NASA/JPL

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society- Using the inclinations of Kepler systems to prioritize new Titius–Bode-based exoplanet predictions

Nextbigfuture covered this paper two weeks ago. This new look is applying the results of a prediction tripling the estimate of habitable zone exoplanets to galactic and universal estimations.

Antibiotic resistant MRSA 90% killed by 1000 year old medieval remedy

Medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of an ancient remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.

Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together…
take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel

The project was born when Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to Christina Lee, an Anglo Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium called Bald's Leechbook, housed in the British Library.

Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine.

DARPA and Navy developing advanced fab facilities for less supply line dependence

High-tech fabrication facilities are being developed to enhance ship maintenance and repair by enabling more cost-effective training and rapid onsite production of parts and components.

DARPA and the Navy recently agreed to locate a fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC, pronounced “mar-mack”) in Norfolk, Virginia, under DARPA’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach Two (MENTOR2) program.

The goal of MENTOR2 is to reduce logistics supply chain costs and boost defense readiness by improving training and tools for operating, maintaining and adapting complex military equipment in low-tech environments—for example, repairing unmanned aerial vehicles in austere locations or fixing ship systems at sea. Some machine shops and fabrication capabilities exist aboard ships and in deployed areas, but these facilities provide only a fraction of the components needed for deployed operations—largely due to limited access to the adaptive manufacturing technology and comprehensive design expertise needed for in-theater fabrication. MENTOR2 aims to provide troops advanced tools and training, so they can rapidly design and fabricate needed components on the spot.

DARPA MENTOR2 performers observe current industrial-scale laser cutting at Norfolk area industrial Ship Yards. The Fab Lab installation at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center will include a smaller laser cutter and other prototyping equipment. Navy personnel will be able to train on the Fab Lab equipment to gain insight into the operation of larger equipment while fabricating creative solutions to maintenance problems. (Photo courtesy of BAE Norfolk Systems Ship Repair).

Likely features of the Long Range Strike bomber

Forbes has some deductions about the Long Range bomber

It is known that the Air Force plans to buy 80-100 strike aircraft at a cost of $550 million each with initial fielding in 2025.

1. It will have an unrefueled range of over 5,000 nautical miles. The new bomber must be able to reach targets located deep in the interior of Russia and China.

2. It will carry less payload than previous bombers. The cost of a bomber rises roughly in proportion to the size of its payload, so the imposition of a firm unit cost ceiling will tend to drive designs toward payloads much smaller than the 40,000 pounds on the very pricey B-2, the only stealthy long-range bomber currently in operation. But even at half the payload of the B-2, the LRS-B could still destroy dozens of different targets in a single flight (“sortie”) due to the advent of lightweight smart bombs.

Boeing and Lockheed delivered over 300 military aircraft last year, including some of the stealthiest fighters in the world; Northrop Grumman delivered nine aircraft, none of them stealthy. Boeing is the likely winner of the LRSB contract. Above is the Boeing -Lockheed design concept for the long range strike bomber.

Iran could enrich 25 nuclear bombs each year according to the nuclear framework

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned on Sunday the framework Iranian nuclear agreement being sought by international negotiators, saying it was even worse than his country had feared.

Israel has mounted what it terms an "uphill battle" against an agreement that might ease sanctions on the Iranians while leaving them with a nuclear infrastructure with bomb-making potential. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

"This deal, as it appears to be emerging, bears out all of our fears, and even more than that," Netanyahu told his cabinet in Jerusalem as the United States, five other world powers and Iran worked toward a March 31 deadline in Lausanne, Switzerland.

UPDATE - The details of the framework agreement have been released. It has 5,060 centrifuges and not 6,500. This means 25 bombs and not 32.

Robert Zubrin explains the details of enrichment and why too many centrifuges for Iran will enable them to get a nuclear bomb

In order to enable atomic bombs, the 0.7 percent U235 fraction of natural uranium needs to be enriched to 10 percent or more. This is typically done using centrifuges, and the amount of effort required by such systems to accomplish a given amount of enrichment is measured in Separation Work Units, or SWUs. The table below shows the number of SWUs needed to refine an initial feedstock of 100 metric tons (100,000 kilograms) of 0.7 percent U235 natural uranium into smaller amounts of more enriched materials.

Under Obama’s proposed treaty, Iran will be allowed
6,500 5060 centrifuges to enrich uranium from its natural level of 0.7 percent U235 to a reactor grade of 3 percent to 5 percent, but not to higher grades that would be useful for making bombs. However, we see that close to 80 percent of the total effort required to turn 0.7-percent-enriched natural uranium into 93-percent-enriched, top-quality bomb-grade material is spent on the first step, to 4-percent-enriched reactor grade stuff, which, as noted, the treaty will permit. Only the last 20 percent is forbidden.

Russian Air Force to buy fewer PAK FA fighters

The military is likely to buy fewer fifth generation T-50 fighters, scaling back requirements to 12 after initially planning for 52, due to economic considerations, Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov has said.

Russia will buy only 12 fighters initially and, after their operational testing and commissioning, will decide on how many more aircraft of this type it can afford. They had previously made commitments to acquire 52 aircraft according to the State Armament Program until 2020.

Russia will be ready to start mass production of the fifth generation fighter starting in 2016. However, the Deputy Minister added, the Ministry of Defence reserves the right to revise the number of units purchased. “Given the new economic conditions, the original plans may have to be adjusted,” he explained. “It is better to have the PAK FA kept as a reserve, and later move forward, while squeezing everything possible for now out of the 4+ generation fighters (Su-30 and Su-35 – Kommersant).

T50 fighters

Myostatin insufficiency produces stronger mice who live 15% longer

Fighting aging reports that loss of myostatin mutations in mice produce extended life spans, but too much suppression of myostatin may remove that benefit due to the cardiac issues that can accompany an overly large heart.

Aging Cell Journal -Haploinsufficiency of myostatin protects against aging-related declines in muscle function and enhances the longevity of mice

The molecular mechanisms behind aging-related declines in muscle function are not well understood, but the growth factor myostatin (MSTN) appears to play an important role in this process. Additionally, epidemiological studies have identified a positive correlation between skeletal muscle mass and longevity. Given the role of myostatin in regulating muscle size, and the correlation between muscle mass and longevity, we tested the hypotheses that the deficiency of myostatin would protect oldest-old mice (28-30 months old) from an aging-related loss in muscle size and contractility, and would extend the maximum lifespan of mice. We found that MSTN+/− and MSTN−/− mice were protected from aging-related declines in muscle mass and contractility. While no differences were detected between MSTN+/+ and MSTN−/− mice, MSTN+/− mice had an approximately 15% increase in maximal lifespan. These results suggest that targeting myostatin may protect against aging-related changes in skeletal muscle and contribute to enhanced longevity.

The mechanism behind the increased longevity of MSTN+/− mice is not known, but inhibition of myostatin can reduce systemic inflammatory proteins and body fat

March 30, 2015

Call for Superpills with Single-Dose Cures for Malaria, Other Diseases

One of the world’s preëminent biomedical researchers is calling for a concerted effort by scientists to develop pills that would stay in the stomach or gut for weeks or months once swallowed, delivering one or more drugs continuously or over set intervals.+

Such “super pills” would greatly simplify the treatment of diseases such as malaria. They could address a major concern in medicine, says MIT professor Robert Langer: the fact that many people don’t take all their drugs, especially when undergoing long-term treatment.

He and his colleague Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and researcher at MIT, note that failure to keep up with drug treatments leads to about $100 billion a year in avoidable hospitalizations. In poor countries, compliance with treatment can be even lower. “We have a lot of great medicines, but under 50 percent of folks actually take them,” Traverso says

Eighteen wheeler with over 32 tons of weight achieved 12.2 mpg which is over double regular efficiency

Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) SuperTruck program has achieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement – surpassing the Department of Energy (DOE) program’s goal of 50 percent improvement and exhibiting the best results of all reporting OEMs.

Testing was also conducted at the DTNA Detroit engineering facility to demonstrate engine efficiency by achieving 50.2 percent engine brake thermal efficiency.

The final SuperTruck demonstrator ran a five-day, 312-mile round trip route on Texas Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Dallas, at a weight of 65,000 lbs GVWR at a speed of 65 mph, where it achieved an average result of 12.2 mpg.

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare developing submarine hunter killer drone

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program seeks to develop a new type of unmanned surface vessel that could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. One of the challenges that the ACTUV program is addressing is development of autonomous behaviors for complying with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, known as COLREGS. Substantial progress has been made in developing and implementing those behaviors. Currently, ACTUV’s system for sensing other vessels is based on radar, which provides a “90 percent solution” for detecting other ships. However, radar is less suitable for classification of the type of other vessels, for example determining whether the vessel is a powered vessel or a sailboat. Additionally, one of the requirements of COLREGS is to maintain “a proper lookout by sight and hearing.”

Nextbigfuture - This system will be the underwater equivalent of a Predator drone. There is no way you make a silent submarine drone for trailing enemy submarines criss-crossing the ocean without putting a torpedo or two into the system. The submarine hunter is in the DARPA project description, but the killer would come with the torpedo capability.

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) seeks to develop an independently deployed unmanned surface vessel that would operate under sparse remote supervisory control and safely follow the maritime “rules of the road” for collision avoidance known as COLREGS. The hull for the ACTUV prototype is under construction in preparation for planned water-borne testing of the full prototype later this year.

There was an earlier ACTUV concept

DARPA developing drop in retrofit to increase automation in existing airplanes

In the latest step in a decades-long process through which automation has taken on increasing responsibilities in the cockpit—allowing pilots to focus on flight tasks demanding their unique capabilities—DARPA has awarded three contracts for its Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. ALIAS envisions a tailorable, drop‐in, removable kit that would enable high levels of automation in existing aircraft and facilitate reduced need for onboard crew. The program intends to leverage the considerable advances that have been made in aircraft automation systems over the past 50 years, as well as the advances that have been made in remotely piloted aircraft technologies, to help shift and refocus pilot workloads, augment mission performance and improve aircraft safety.

In Phase 1 of ALIAS, DARPA intends to focus on three critical technology areas:

* Development of minimally invasive interfaces between new automation systems and existing aircraft
* Knowledge acquisition on aircraft operations, to support rapid adaptation of the ALIAS toolkit across different aircraft
* Human-machine interfaces that would enable high-level human supervision instead of requiring pilots’ constant vigilance over lower-level flight maintenance tasks

“Because we want to develop a drop-in system for existing aircraft.

DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program envisions a tailorable, drop‐in, removable kit that would enable the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft to enable operation with reduced onboard crew. In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 1 of ALIAS to the following companies: Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation (top), Lockheed Martin Corporation (middle) and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (bottom). The photos show the aircraft that each performer plans to use to test its respective technologies in Phase 1.

Entanglement-Based Machine Learning on a Photonic Quantum Computer in principle and if scaled would show exponential speed up

For the first time, physicists have performed machine learning on a photonic quantum computer, demonstrating that quantum computers may be able to exponentially speed up the rate at which certain machine learning tasks are performed—in some cases, reducing the time from hundreds of thousands of years to mere seconds. The new method takes advantage of quantum entanglement, in which two or more objects are so strongly related that paradoxical effects often arise since a measurement on one object instantaneously affects the other. Here, quantum entanglement provides a very fast way to classify vectors into one of two categories, a task that is at the core of machine learning.

In the future, the researchers hope to scale the method to larger numbers of qubits. They explain that higher-dimensional quantum states can be encoded using a photon's degree of freedom of orbital angular momentum, or by using other properties.

"We are working on controlling an increasingly large number of quantum bits for more powerful quantum machine learning," Lu said. "By controlling multiple degrees of freedom of a single photon, we aim to generate 6-photon, 18-qubit entanglement in the near future. Using semiconductor quantum dots, we are trying to build a solid-state platform for approximately 20-photon entanglement in about five years. With the enhanced ability in quantum control, we will perform more complicated quantum artificial intelligence tasks."

Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, learns from previous experience to optimize performance, which is ubiquitous in various fields such as computer sciences, financial analysis, robotics, and bioinformatics. A challenge is that machine learning with the rapidly growing “big data” could become intractable for classical computers. Recently, quantum machine learning algorithms were proposed which could offer an exponential speedup over classical algorithms. Here, we report the first experimental entanglement-based classification of two-, four-, and eight-dimensional vectors to different clusters using a small-scale photonic quantum computer, which are then used to implement supervised and unsupervised machine learning. The results demonstrate the working principle of using quantum computers to manipulate and classify high-dimensional vectors, the core mathematical routine in machine learning. The method can, in principle, be scaled to larger numbers of qubits, and may provide a new route to accelerate machine learning.

Experimental setup for quantum machine learning with photonic qubits. Ultraviolet laser pulses with a central wavelength of 394 nm, pulse duration of 120 fs, and a repetition rate of 76 MHz pass through two type-II β-barium borate (BBO) crystals with a thickness of 2 mm to produce two entangled photon pairs

Entanglement-Based Machine Learning on a Quantum Computer, X.-D. Cai, D. Wu, Z.-E. Su, M.-C. Chen, X.-L. Wang, Li Li, N.-L. Liu, C.-Y. Lu, and J.-W. Pan,

Lloyd, Mohseni, and Rebentrost, arXiv.1307.0411, Quantum algorithms for supervised and unsupervised machine learning

Scott Aaronson on the Harrow, Hassidim, Lloyd Machine Learning Quantum Algorithm

Scott Aaronson has a 4 pager on the machine learning mini-revolution in quantum computing.

The algorithm at the center of the “quantum machine learning” mini-revolution is called HHL , after my colleagues Aram Harrow, Avinatan Hassidim, and Seth Lloyd, who invented it in 2008. Many of the subsequent quantum learning algorithms extend HHL or use it as a subroutine, so it’s important to understand HHL first.

The HHL algorithm “solves Ax = b in logarithmic time,” but it does so only with the following four caveats, each of which can be crucial in practice.

1. The vector b = (b1, . . . , bn) somehow needs to be loaded quickly into the quantum computer’s memory

2. The quantum computer also needs to be able to apply unitary transformations of the form e^−iAt, for various values of t.

3. The matrix A needs to be not merely invertible, but robustly invertible, or “well-conditioned.”

4. The limitation noted earlier—that even writing down the solution vector x = (x1, . . . , xn) already requires n steps—also applies in the quantum world. When HHL is finished, its output is not x itself, but rather a quantum state |xi of log2 n qubits, which (approximately) encodes the entries of x in its amplitudes.

HHL is not exactly an algorithm for solving a system of linear equations in logarithmic time. Rather, it’s an algorithm for approximately preparing a quantum superposition.

HHL algorithm still be useful for something? Absolutely—as long as one can address all the caveats, and explain why they’re not fatal for one’s desired application. To put it differently, perhaps the best way to see HHL is as a template for other quantum algorithms.

How excited should we be about the new quantum machine learning algorithms? To whatever extent we care about quantum computing at all, I’d say we should be excited indeed: HHL and its offshoots represent real advances in the theory of quantum algorithms, and in a world with quantum computers, they’d probably find practical uses.

The new algorithms provide a general template, showing how quantum computers might be used to provide exponential speedups for central problems like clustering, pattern-matching, and principal component analysis.

Woolly Mammoth DNA Inserted into Elephant Cells but passenger pigeon will become de-extincted first

Harvard geneticist George Church and his colleagues used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to insert mammoth genes for small ears, subcutaneous fat, and hair length and color into the DNA of elephant skin cells. The work has not yet been published in a scientific journal, and has yet to be reviewed by peers in the field.

Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) have been extinct for millennia, with the last of the species dying out about 3,600 years ago. But scientists say it may be possible to bring these and other species back from the grave, through a process known as de-extinction.

But we won't be seeing woolly mammoths prancing around anytime soon, "because there is more work to do," Church told U.K.'s The Times, "But we plan to do so," Church added.

Not all of the mammoth's genetic code was spliced into the elephant genome. In fact, only 14 genes were inserted -- ones most representative of the hairy, cold-enduring traits of the modern elephant's ancient relative. The genes were spliced into elephant skins cells using a technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat).

Church and his assistants specifically selected the 14 spliced genes -- sourced from the skin cells of a frozen woolly mammoth carcass -- for their uniqueness to the woolly mammoth's hardy appearance.

"We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin," Church told The Sunday Times.

March 29, 2015

DARPA progress to small ships each with UAV air forces

DARPA has chosen two performers to work on new systems that would cost-effectively provide capabilities on par with land-based systems.

DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal of Tern is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). These systems could provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets, including manned and unmanned helicopters. Further, a capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. The two prime contractors selected by DARPA are AeroVironment, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), seeks to enable forward-deployed small ships to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Tern to two companies: AeroVironment, Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

DARPA in search of breakthrough Analog systems for Petaflops on Desktops

DARPA is interested in pursuing the somewhat counterintuitive premise that “old fashioned” analog approaches may be part of the solution. Analog computers, which solve equations by manipulating continuously changing values instead of discrete measurements, have been around for more than a century. In the 1930s, for example, Vannevar Bush—who a decade later would help initiate and administer the Manhattan Project—created an analog “differential analyzer” that computed complex integrations through the use of a novel wheel-and-disc mechanism. And in the 1940s, the Norden bombsight made its way into U.S. warplanes, where it used analog methods to calculate bomb trajectories. But in the 1950s and 1960s, as transistor-based digital computers proved more efficient for most kinds of problems, analog methods fell into disuse.

DARPA invites input on how to speed up computation of the complex mathematics that characterize scientific computing.

The DARPA program is called Analog and Continuous-variable Co-processors for Efficient Scientific Simulation (ACCESS).

DARPA wants to solve the following needs, either singly or in combination:

* Scalable, controllable, and measurable processes that can be physically instantiated in co-processors for acceleration of computational tasks frequently encountered in scientific simulation

* Algorithms that use analog, non-linear, non-serial, or continuous-variable computational primitives to reduce the time, space, and communicative complexity relative to von Neumann/CPU/GPU processing architectures

* System architectures, schedulers, hybrid and specialized integrated circuits, compute languages, programming models, controller designs, and other elements for efficient problem decomposition, memory access, and task allocation across multi-hybrid co-processors

* Methods for modeling and simulation via direct physical analogy

DARPA is particularly interested in engaging nontraditional contributors to help develop leap-ahead technologies in the focus areas above, as well as other technologies that could potentially improve the computational tractability of complex nonlinear systems.

Fighter jet satellite launching, robot sub hunters and more from DARPA

DARPA released biennial report of Breakthrough Technologies for National Security. Here are some featured DARPA projects.

The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into orbit for less than $1 million per flight by using low-cost, expendable upper stages launched from unmodified conventional aircraft. ALASA aims to provide more affordable, flexible and reliable access to space.

The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access will work even better when the US has hypersonic jet fighters in the mach 5 to 10+ ranges.

Genetics breakthrough is a game changer for type 1 diabetes research

The genes that increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes have lost their hiding place.

A research group that includes a University of Florida genetics expert has located and narrowed down the number of genes that play a role in the disease, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics. Knowing the identities and location of causative genes is a crucial development: Other researchers can use this information to better predict who might develop Type 1 diabetes and how to prevent it.

“It’s a game-changer for Type 1 diabetes,” said Patrick Concannon, director of the University of Florida Genetics Institute.

Diabetes mellitus type 1 (also known as type 1 diabetes, or T1DM; formerly insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes) is a form of diabetes mellitus that results from the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The subsequent lack of insulin leads to increased blood and urine glucose. The classical symptoms are polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst), polyphagia (increased hunger) and weight loss.

Diabetes mellitus type 1 accounts for between 5% and 10% of cases of diabetes. Globally, the number of people with DM type 1 is unknown, although it is estimated that about 80,000 children develop the disease each year. Within the United States the number of affected persons is estimated at one to three million. The development of new cases vary by country and region; the lowest rates appears to be in Japan and China with approximately 1 person per 100,000 per year; the highest rates are found in Scandinavia where it is closer to 35 new cases per 100,000 per year. The United States and northern Europe fall somewhere in between with 8-17 new cases per 100,000 per year.

Type 1 diabetes is estimated to cause $10.5 billion in annual medical costs ($875 per month per diabetic) and an additional $4.4 billion in indirect costs ($366 per month per person with diabetes) in the U.S

DARPA is expanding the technological frontier by harnessing quantum physics and new chemistry

DARPA today released Breakthrough Technologies for National Security DARPA described how they are expanding the technological frontier.

DARPA’s core work has involved overcoming seemingly insurmountable physics and engineering barriers and, once showing those daunting problems to be tractable after all, applying new capabilities made possible by these breakthroughs directly to national security needs. That tradition holds true today. Maintaining momentum in this core component of the agency, DARPA is working to achieve new capabilities relating to the following opportunities:

Applying Deep Mathematics

From cyber defense to big data analysis to predictive modeling of complex phenomena, many practical technological challenges are short of solutions because the relevant mathematics remain incomplete. Among other initiatives aimed to address such shortcomings, DARPA is constructing and applying new mathematical approaches for representing, designing, and testing complex systems and, separately, is developing new mathematical tools for modeling extremely complex systems quickly without sacrificing resolution.

• Inventing New Chemistries, Processes and Materials

Military systems are fundamentally limited by the materials from which they are made. Only rarely, however, do any of the many new materials developed in laboratories make the transition into operational systems. To facilitate the assessment and adoption of novel materials in practical settings, DARPA is pursuing new modeling and measurement tools for evaluating and predicting functional reliability and is developing low-cost fabrication methods to allow customized and small-volume production. DARPA is also creating the technologies needed to assemble systems directly from atomic-scale feedstock.

DARPA’s Intense and Compact Neutron Sources (ICONS) program seeks to develop portable, next-generation imaging tools that combine the complementary benefits of X-ray and neutron radiography to enable highly detailed scanning in field settings. Neutron scanning provides the capability to see through many otherwise visually impenetrable objects; Asiatic lilies in a lead cask (left) are invisible to x-ray imaging but clearly visible in high resolution via neutron imaging (right).

DARPA plans to harness biology and master neurotechnologies

DARPA today released Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, a biennial report summarizing the Agency’s historical mission, current and evolving focus areas and recent transitions of DARPA-developed technologies to the military Services and other sectors.

One of DARPA's four main areas of focus is to harness biology.

Harness Biology as Technology: To leverage recent breakthroughs in neuroscience, immunology, genetics and related fields, DARPA in 2014 created its Biological Technologies Office, which has enabled a new level of momentum for the Agency’s portfolio of innovative, bio-based programs. DARPA’s work in this area includes programs to accelerate progress in synthetic biology, outpace the spread of infectious diseases and master new neurotechnologies.

Harnessing Biology as a Technology

• Accelerating Progress in Synthetic Biology

Biological systems have evolved tremendously sophisticated and highly efficient approaches to synthesizing compounds, including some with the potential to address current challenges in fields ranging from medicine to materials science. DARPA is developing technologies to harness biology’s synthetic and functional capabilities, with the goal of creating revolutionary bio-based manufacturing platforms that can enable new production paradigms and create materials with novel properties

• Outpacing Infectious Diseases

As the 2014 Ebola outbreak demonstrated, emerging infectious diseases can be a significant threat not just to health but also to national stability. DARPA is developing unconventional biological approaches to reduce the threats posed by infectious disease. Among the Agency’s goals are the development of genetic and immunological technologies to detect, diagnose and treat infectious diseases with unprecedented precision and rapidity, and platforms for exploring the evolution of viruses, predicting mutational pathways and developing drugs and vaccines in advance of need.

Mastering New Neurotechnologies

Recent advances in microelectronics, information science and neuroscience are enabling the development of novel therapies to accelerate recovery after a range of injuries and, in the longer run, new approaches to optimizing human performance. Among the Agency’s goals in this domain are implantable neural interfaces for human clinical use to bridge gaps in the injured brain, help overcome memory deficits and precisely deliver therapeutic stimuli in patients with neuropsychiatric and neurological disease; and systems to provide sensor-enabled feedback from prosthetic hands to the nervous system to provide enhanced dexterity and even the sense of touch for amputees.

DARPA’s Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx, pronounced “electrics”) program aims to develop ultraminiaturized feedback-controlled neuromodulation technologies that would monitor health status and intervene as needed to deliver patient-specific therapeutic patterns of stimulation designed to restore a healthy physiological state. Peripheral neuromodulation therapies based on ElectRx research could help maximize the immunological, physical and mental health of military Service members and veterans.

DARPA vision of Breakthroughs like new X-planes

DARPA today released Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, a biennial report summarizing the Agency’s historical mission, current and evolving focus areas and recent transitions of DARPA-developed technologies to the military Services and other sectors.

DARPA is focusing its strategic investments in four main areas:

1. Rethink Complex Military Systems: To help enable faster development and integration of breakthrough military capabilities in today’s rapidly shifting landscape, DARPA is working to make weapons systems more modular and easily upgraded and improved; assure superiority in the air, maritime, ground, space and cyber domains; improve position, navigation and timing (PNT) without depending on the satellite-based Global Positioning System; and augment defenses against terrorism.

2. Master the Information Explosion: DARPA is developing novel approaches to deriving insights from massive datasets, with powerful big-data tools. The Agency is also developing technologies to ensure that the data and systems with which critical decisions are made are trustworthy, such as automated cyber defense capabilities and methods to create fundamentally more secure systems. And DARPA is addressing the growing need to ensure privacy at various levels of need without losing the national security value that comes from appropriate access to networked data.

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