May 14, 2016

World's largest desalination plant operating at full capacity

The world’s largest modern seawater desalination plant, provides 20 percent of the water consumed by Israel's households. It was built for around $500 million and uses a conventional desalination technology called reverse osmosis (RO). Thanks to a series of engineering and materials advances, however, it produces clean water from the sea cheaply and at a scale never before achieved.

The new plant in Israel, called Sorek, was finished in late 2013 but is just now ramping up to its full capacity; it will produce 627,000 cubic meters of water daily, providing evidence that such large desalination facilities are practical.

Desalination accounts for 40 percent of Israel’s water supply. Late in 2016, when additional plants will be running, some 50 percent of the country’s water is expected to come from desalination.

Sorek will profitably sell water to the Israeli water authority for 58 U.S. cents per cubic meter (1,000 liters, or about what one person in Israel uses per week), which is a lower price than today’s conventional desalination plants can manage. What’s more, its energy consumption is among the lowest in the world for large-scale desalination plants.

It is the first large desalination plant to use pressure tubes that are 16 inches in diameter rather than eight inches. The payoff is that it needs only a fourth as much piping and other hardware, slashing costs. The plant also has highly efficient pumps and energy recovery devices.

Highlights of US report to Congress on China's Military in 2016

the 2016 Annual Report to congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s
Republic of China has been published (156 pages)

In 2015, China unveiled sweeping organizational reforms to overhaul the entire military structure. These reforms aim to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over the military, enhance the PLA’s ability to conduct joint operations, and improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland. China’s leaders seek ways to leverage China’s growing military, diplomatic, and economic clout to advance its ambitions to establish regional preeminence and expand its international influence.

The 2016 report said airstrips are under construction at Mischief and Subi Reefs, where China is in the “final stages of primary infrastructure construction.” That work includes building communication and surveillance systems and logistical support facilities, the report said.

“The airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities will allow China to maintain a more flexible and persistent coast guard and military presence in the area,” the report said. “This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them.”

The report said China’s military budget rose again in 2015, up $8 billion to $144 billion. But Abraham Denmark, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, said actual military spending is much higher — $180 billion — because the Chinese budget omits research-and-development spending and some purchases of foreign weapons.

China's Navy places a high priority on the modernization of its submarine force and currently possesses five SSNs, four nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), and 53 diesel-powered attack submarines (SS/SSP). By 2020, this force will likely grow to between 69 and 78 submarines.

Some organisms can stop or reverse the aging process

Several organisms can stop or reverse the aging process.

After spawning its polyps, the adult Turritopsis nutricula regresses back to a polyp, beginning its life anew. This is accomplished by turning adult cells back into stem cells, going against the usual developmental direction from stem cells to differentiated cells—in essence driving backward down a one-way developmental street.

Dermestid beetles (Trogoderma glabrum) can reverse aging but only when starved. As they play life out on a carcass in the woods, the beetles go through six different larval stages in succession, looking like a grub, and then a millipede, and then a water glider before ending up as a six-legged beetle. A pair of entomologists working at the University of Wisconsin in 1972 isolated the sixth-stage larvae (when they were just ready to become adults) in test tubes and discovered that without food, they regressed to stage-five larvae. If they were deprived of food for many days, they would actually shrink and regress backward through the stages until they looked like newly hatched maggots. Then, if feeding was resumed, they would go forward again through the developmental stages and become adults with normal life spans. They found they were able to repeat the cycle over and over again, allowing them to grow to stage six and then starving them back down to stage one, thereby extending their life spans from eight weeks to more than two years.

May 13, 2016

HRL receives DARPA award to STAMP learning into the brain with accelerated learning from low current brain stimulation

What if low-current electrical brain stimulation could be used to accelerate learning and dramatically reduce training time and costs? The Biological Technologies Office (BTO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded HRL Laboratories, LLC, funding for a two-year project in the RAM Replay program to develop a man-portable system to boost learning during waking and memory consolidation during sleep, thereby increasing a person's ability to quickly integrate and accurately recall information.

According to Dr. Praveen Pilly, project leader and research staff member in HRL's Center for Neural and Emergent Systems, the team will be the first to employ next-generation electrode-embedded head caps to apply high-definition transcranial current stimulation (HD-tCS) in order to tag specific memories and skills during learning, and to increase the probability of reactivating those neural representations during sleep for improved consolidation. "We'll develop a first-of-its-kind cognitive model of memory replays during sleep/wake stages to predict task performance that can be personalized to control the stimulation intervention for each user," said Pilly.

Outdoor air pollution is killing over 3 million per year and world air pollution increased by 8% from 2008 to 2013

Air pollution is a killer, and it’s getting worse.

  • All forms of air pollution is causing the premature death of ten million people per year
  • Outdoor air pollution increased by 8% from 2008 to 2013
  • Outdoor air pollution is still increasing and current trends would see it double by 2050
  • Air pollution levels in many cities in China and India is like forcing every baby, elderly person and people with asthma and lung disease to smoke 6 cigarettes per day. Everyone has to breath so every persons health is impacted who is in the area. Clearly the most vulnerable to air pollution succumb first. Life expectency is five years less in the half of China that has higher air pollution levels

According to a new study of over 3,000 cities around the world conducted by the World Health Organization, the amount of microscopic particle pollution increased 8 percent between 2008 and 2013. The findings were especially bad in low- and middle-income regions, where some 98 percent of cities don’t meet the WHO guidelines on air quality. In wealthy parts of the world, that figure is 56 percent.

Recent research shows that tiny particles of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, black carbon, and other pollutants [outdoor air pollution] contribute to the deaths of over three million people each year around the world. The particles, which get more hazardous the smaller they are, can lodge deep in the lungs or pass into the bloodstream, contributing to asthma, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. A recent study in Nature suggested that under a business-as-usual scenario, the global health burden of this kind of air pollution could double by 2050.

Some studies indicate the combined premature deaths from indoor, outdoor air pollution is ten million per year.

The effects of particle pollutants killed 3.15 million individuals in 2010, with strokes (cerebrovascular disease) and heart attacks (ischemic heart disease) contributing most heavily. Analysis of ozone related mortality revealed a total estimate of 3.30 million people dying prematurely in 2010. An additional 3.54 million deaths per year are attributed to indoor air pollution caused by the use of solid fuels such as coal. Combined indoor and outdoor air pollution deaths would then be 10 million per year. Air quality had gotten worse from 2010 to 2015.

WHO’s Air quality guidelines offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. The Guidelines indicate that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m), air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by roughly 15%.

  • In general, urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific Region.
  • The highest urban air pollution levels were experienced in low-and middle-income countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions, with annual mean levels often exceeding 5-10 times WHO limits, followed by low-income cities in the Western Pacific Region.
  • In the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions and low-income countries in the Western Pacific Region, levels of urban air pollution has increased by more than 5% in more than two-thirds of the cities.
  • In the African Region urban air pollution data remains very sparse, however available data revealed particulate matter (PM) levels above the median. The database now contains PM measurements for more than twice as many cities than previous versions.

MIT Technology Review article noted the millions of deaths from air pollution but worried that stopping it would increase warming

Soot does absorb more light which has a large warming effect. Removing the soot and particulates will save millions of lives and reduce the light absorbing warming effect.

If people are concerned about the airborne cooling effect of some reflective particles, then replace those particles with other cooling particles that do not cause millions of deaths.

But some will say, we will be experimenting with the environment.

What do we think putting billions of tons of particulates into the atmosphere every year for many decades is ? It is a side effect of energy and transporation technology that is an experiment with our atmosphere and environment.

Not doing something about the air pollution deaths is like delaying stopping World War 2 because there was a cooling effect from burning millions of people in the concentration camps.

IBM Medical Anti virus breakthrough could enable new mode of vaccination against all viruses

As one of medicine’s largest challenges, viral infections often escape vaccines due to their natural ability to mutate rapidly and develop drug resistance easily. Many viruses, such as Zika, Ebola and dengue fever, have grown into major global health epidemics with great human and economic toll. IBM Research and Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering, Nanotechnology (IBN) announced they have identified a new breakthrough macromolecule that could help prevent deadly virus infections with a unique triple-play mechanism that can also help prevent viral drug resistance.

The study exploits supramolecular chemistry – the study of large molecules designed with multiple features -- to help combat viral infection. The research is believed to be a first of its kind in fighting viral diseases and IBM Watson, along with such experimental breakthroughs, could help further accelerate drug discovery.

A Unique Triple-Play Action that Helps Prevent Drug Resistance

The new macromolecule is composed of several specialized components to create a powerful triple-play action that helps fight viral infection and replication while inhibiting drug resistance.

  1. Attraction - One specialized component of the macromolecule enables strong hydrogen bonds with electrostatic interactions to attract the proteins on the virus surface -- disabling viral ability to infect healthy cells.
  2. Prevention - Mannose (a type of sugar) components of the macromolecule bind directly to healthy immune cell receptors to help fight viral infection and allow the free flow of these naturally protective cells.
  3. Neutralization - Another component of the macromolecule, known as basic amine groups, neutralize the pH inside the viral cell making it inhospitable for replication.

Additionally, the researchers aimed to design a very flexible macromolecule and surveyed a variety of representative viruses from various categories, including Ebola, dengue, Marburg, influenza, Chikungunya, Enterovirus 71 and herpes simplex. In early testing, scientists have seen no resistance. Also, by targeting both viral proteins and host−virus interactions, the antiviral macromolecule sidesteps the normal mutations that enable viruses to escape vaccines through the onset of resistance.

:eer-reviewed journal Macromolecules -Cooperative Orthogonal Macromolecular Assemblies with Broad Spectrum Antiviral Activity, High Selectivity, and Resistance Mitigation

May 12, 2016

Army fast tracking active protection to detect and destroy rocket propelled grenades and antitank missiles in milliseconds

The Army is fast-tracking an emerging technology which gives combat vehicles an opportunity identify, track and destroy approaching enemy rocket-propelled grenades in a matter of milliseconds.

Called Active Protection Systems, or APS, the technology uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs.

“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army's Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.

The idea is to arm armored combat vehicles and tactical wheeled vehicles with additional protective technology to secure platforms and soldiers from enemy fire; vehicles slated for use of APS systems are infantry fighting vehicles such as Bradleys along with Stykers, Abrams tanks and even tactical vehicles such as transport trucks and the emerging Humvee replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

The US Marine Corps plans to buy the Israeli Trophy Active Protection Systems for M1 Tanks.

Various Active Protection Systems
  • Rafael's Trophy system
  • Israeli Military Industry's Iron Fist
  • Artis Corporation's Iron Curtain
  • UBT / Rheinmetall's ADS system


DRS Technologies and Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are asking the U.S. Army to consider acquiring their recently combat-tested Trophy Active Protection System, a vehicle-mounted technology engineered to instantly locate and destroy incoming enemy fire.

Using a 360-degree radar, processor and on-board computer, Trophy is designed to locate, track and destroy approaching fire coming from a range of weapons such as Anti-Tank-Guided-Missiles, or ATGMs, or Rocket Propelled Grenades, or RPGs.

Trophy intercepts and destroys incoming missiles and rockets with a shotgun-like blast. Trophy is the product of a ten-year collaborative development project between the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries' Elta Group. Its principal purpose is to supplement the armor of light and heavy armored fighting vehicles.

In June 2014, Rafael unveiled Trophy LV, a lighter application of the system designed to offer protection to light military vehicles (less than 8 tons) such as jeeps and 4x4s. It weights 200 kilos, significantly less than other Trophy applications.

Trophy Combined with Iron Fist

In December 2014, it was revealed that Rafael, IAI, and Israel Military Industries had agreed to jointly develop a next-generation active defense system for vehicles, based on a combination of the Rafael/IAI Trophy and IMI Iron Fist. Rafael will act as the main contractor and system developer and integrator, and IAI and IMI will be subcontractors providing the radar and interceptor respectively. Unlike the Trophy's interception method of metal pellets that spread over a wide area, IMI's interceptor is based on an anti-missile missile. Interest for a vehicle APS grew significantly following Trophy's successful performance during Operation Protective Edge in mid-2014, where dozens of tanks equipped with the system suffered no injuries or false alarms. The Defense Ministry had pushed the companies to work together and combine their systems

Russia plans to deploy 24 hypersonic Yu-71 missiles by 2025

Russia is test-flying a new, hypersonic glide vehicle that follows the contrails of China’s WU-14, a delivery vehicle reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads at Mach 10 and less susceptible to U.S. anti-ballistic countermeasures.

Moscow has spent several years developing the new Yu-71 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which was first test-flown in February, according to this month’s Jane’s Intelligence Review. It is part of an ongoing escalated effort by the Kremlin to overcome U.S. missile defenses, known as Project 4202.

Project 4202 could turn out a limited number of glide vehicles armed with nuclear warheads by 2020, and up to 24 with new hypersonic payloads could be deployed at the Dombarovsky base between 2020 and 2025, the Intelligence Review said.

Reports indicate that by then, Russia could potentially deploy a new ICBM that could carry the Yu-71.

The advantage of the U-71 is about its speed and maneuverability. The vehicle is said to develop the speed ten times the speed of sound.

The vehicle carries nuclear warheads and was designed to overcome the US missile defense system

Hydrogen doped graphene can make graphene magnetic for a material to enable spintronic devices

By inserting hydrogen atoms into the lattice of a graphene sheet, researchers from Spain and Egypt say an array of electrons in nanoscale domains encoded with magnetic spin can transform the material into a spintronic successor to silicon.

Graphene, predicted to be the successor to silicon at the end of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) circa 2023, is missing a key ingredient: magnetism. Although silicon has gotten by without significant magnetic properties, beyond the end of the roadmap, information is going to have to be stored on the magnetic spin of individual electrons (rather than accumulations of charge). Using magnetic-spin allows electrons to stand for both 1s and 0s depending on their spin direction—up or down—the basis of spintronics.

Now researchers think they have solved the magnetic-graphene problem by inserting (doping) hydrogen atoms into specific locations in the graphene lattice. If it works, electronics will never be the same since hydrogen has only a single electron making it the densest possible spintronic material. By spreading out hydrogen atoms in an already tightly packed array of carbon atoms (graphene) spintronic circuits could be built at ultra-small nano- or even angstron-scale (10 angstroms equals a nanometer).

Science - Atomic-scale control of graphene magnetism by using hydrogen atoms

European company ATOS targets exaflop supercomputer by 2020

Atos Chairman and CEO, Thierry Breton claims the Bull sequana is the first exascale-class supercomputer offering a thousand times more performance than current petaflops-scale systems.

Computer manufacturer Atos has named its first customer for Bull sequana, a supercomputer design it hopes will reach exaflop levels of performance by 2020.

Atos is building the computer for the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), it said Tuesday.

It's an ambitious target for Atos, as it will mean a thousand-fold increase in performance compared to the last machine it built for the CEA, the 1.25-Pflop Tera 100 completed in 2010. That machine, fast for its day, now languishes in 74th place in the Top500 list.

Atos also promises that Bull sequana will be 10 times more energy efficient than today's machines.

The six-year-old Tera 100 is a laggard when it comes to energy efficiency, at just 0.23 Gflops/watt. Average power consumption across the November 2015 Top500 list was 1.45 Gflops/watt. That would put the power consumption of an exaflop machine at around 690 MW, around a third of the output of the Hoover Dam.

The most efficient machines on the list, many of them delivered within the last year, performed two or three times better, with a clutch of new entrants from China delivering between 3.77 and 4.78 Gflops/watt.

Modern supercomputers are already over ten times more efficient than Tera 100. Atos wants to beat the average supercomputer efficiency by a factor of ten. They will have to build one three to four times better than today's best to meet its target, a performance improvement of 300 percent.

Graphics card manufacturer Nvidia has developed a new processor architecture it calls Pascal to speed up scientific calculations. Last week the Swiss National Supercomputing Center said it will use 4,500 of Nvidia's latest processors to triple the performance of its Piz Daint supercomputer by year end. The machine already runs at 7.8 Pflops.

May 11, 2016

China is funding an exaFLOP supercomputer by the end of 2020 with a 35 megawatt power limit

Since 1996 Professor Professor Qian has served on the expert committee for the National High-tech Research and Development Program (the 863 program). Currently, he is the chief scientist of the 863 key project on high productivity computer and application service environment.

Professor Qian acknowledged that despite export restrictions on processor and software technology imposed by the US, work continues on two 100 petaflops (peak) systems: the next iteration of Tianhe-2, installed at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou, and the upcoming Sunway system coming to the Jiangnan Institute of Computer Technology in Wuxi, China, near Shanghai. The official line is that these systems will be ready “by the end of the year,” but there have been rumblings that one or both of these systems will be introduced during the ISC’16 event in June.

The second 100 petaflops system (Sunway) will use the next-generation Chinese-made ShenWei chips and will be implemented together with a general purpose cluster system of 1 petaflops performance. This configuration is designed to meet a wide variety of application requirements.

Professor Qian provided an overview of China’s main weaknesses, the most significant being a gap in kernel technologies and the lack of a suitable accelerator for the Tienhe-2 upgrade on account of the US embargo. “Currently there is no available accelerator to upgrade the system and it’s a major issue from the point of view of the Chinese government,” he said. “We had to change our plan and rely on our own processors. We are in urgent need for the system software, for the domestic processor, for the tool software and also the application software. Without an ecosystem around the domestic processors, we will not succeed in this respect.”

At the ISC high performance conference, there will be a talk The New Sunway Supercomputer System at Wuxi on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

13th Five-Year Plan Targets Exascale

After updating the continued supercomputing progress being made under the 12th five-year plan, Qian walked through brand-new elements of China’s 13th five-year plan, which puts into motion one of the most ambitious exascale programs in the world. If successful the program will stand up an exaflops (peak) supercomputer by the end of 2020 within a 35 MW power limit.

China is in the midst of overhauling its national research system and restructuring 100 programs into five tracks: Basic research program; mega-research program; key research and development program; enterprise-oriented research program; research centers and talents program.

The new track that is being focused on in the session is the third one – the key research and development program. A proposal for the track-3 key project on HPC was submitted in September 2015 and launched on February 2016.

The primary pillars for the key project are developing exascale computers, promoting computer industry by technology transfer and a China-controlled HPC technology set. The major tasks are next-generation supercomputing development, CNGrid upgrading and transformation, and domain HPC applications development. A robust supercomputing program is seen as a critical for addressing grand challenge problems spanning the environment, energy, climate, medicine, industry and science.

US Supercomputer Chip ban delayed China's 100 petaFLOP computer by 8 months and contributed to Intel laying off 12,000 employees

In April 2015, the US government refused to let Intel help China update the world's biggest supercomputer. The Tianhe-2 used 80,000 Intel Xeon chips to generate a computational capacity of more than 33 petaflops. In 2015, the Chinese machine was due to undergo a series of upgrades to boost its number-crunching abilities past 110 petaflops. The upgrades would depend largely on new Intel Xeon chips.

Several Chinese supercomputer sites were expected to order some 250+ PFLOPS of compute in the next few years (around 500,000 top-end Broadwell-EP Xeon E5v4 processors, or approximately $1 billion high margin list price).

Next month (June 2016) China will reveal an upgraded 100+ petaFLOP Tianhe-2. The US ban on Intel Xeon chips delayed China's supercomputer upgrade by about 8 months.

In April 2016, Intel announced the layoff of 12,000 employees.

Intel had been leaning on PCs for years, watching ruefully as smartphones, tablets and other new technologies sprang up – all without Intel chips. Intel declared it's letting go of the past in PCs in hopes of a brighter future in data centers, wearable computers and other emerging gadgets.

However, normally Intel would try to transition without laying off staff. 12,000 people is pretty close to what would be expected from having $1 billion less revenue per year.

Intel did not get $1 billion in likely annual ongoing supercomputer chip sales and now has two strong supercomputer chip competitors in China. China has one supercomputer ARM chip company and another Alpha chip company.

There is open source version of the ARM chip.

British company ARM Holdings develops the architecture and licenses it to other companies, who design their own products that implement one of those architectures—​​including systems-on-chips (SoC) that incorporate memory, interfaces, radios, etc. It also designs cores that implement this instruction set and licenses these designs to a number of companies that incorporate those core designs into their own products.

China will unveil a 100 petaflop supercomputer next month after investing $500 million to develop domestic chips after US ban on Intel Xeon exports to China

In 2015, the U.S. State Department blocked the further sales of Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi processors to Chinese institutions, most notably the Tianhe-2 supercomputer. The U.S. Administration also blocked the move in which a China-based investment fund would invest in AMD.

Tianhe 2 has been the world's fastest superconmputer since early 2013. Tianhe-2 has 32,000 Intel Xeon E5-2692 v2 processors, and 48,000 Intel Xeon Phi 31S1P co-processors. Tianhe-2 delivers a peak performance of 54.9 PFLOPS [petaFLOPS], and a sustained performance of 33.86 PFLOPS. What is little known is that Tianhe-2 is not a fully built supercomputer. In fact, Tianhe operated at a 50% capacity, as the original target for the system was 100 PFLOPS peak and 80 PFLOPS sustained.

According to VRWorld sources, China did not react in a way the current administration expected. China invested all the funds intended for Intel and other foreign vendors – into the development of in-house Alpha and ARM superprocessors, which have the potential to beat the traditional x86 architecture. In terms of funds, NUDT planned to buy 32,000 more Xeon processors (this time, based on Haswell-E) and 48,000 more Xeon Phi co-processors. Over $500 million was invested in bringing the Chinese silicon from a prototype phase to production-grade level.

At the 2016 Supercomputing Frontiers conference in Singapore, VRWorld learned the first details of the fully developed Tianhe-2 supercomputer, scheduled to debut in June 2016 during the 2016 International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. This system is expected to deliver over 100 PFLOPS peak performance, and keep the crown of the world’s fastest (super)computer.

A new 64-core design will enable the system to reach its original performance targets. With the three million new ARM cores inside the Tianhe-2, its estimated Rpeak performance in the Linpack benchmark should exceed 100 PFLOPS.

When Tianhe-2 reach its full deployment of 32,000 Xeons, 32,000 ShenWei processor, and 96,000 Phytium accelerator cards, it could reach a range of 200-300 PFLOPS – if the building can withstand the thermal and power challenges associated with it.

There are several slides of Phytium Technology chips online.

Phytium Technology delivered motherboards with multiple processors and up to 256 GB per Mars processor.

Jiāngnán Computing Lab successfully developed a new multi-core Alpha processor. Considered a sixth generation design, ShenWei Alpha processors achieve more than 1 TFLOPS of compute performance.


Indoor and outdoor air pollution contributes to about 10 million premature deaths each year

In 2014, Prof Michael Greenstone and colleagues from Harvard University and MIT partnered with the government in Gujarat, India, to reduce industrial pollution. The study found that making environmental auditors more independent improves the accuracy of audit reports; the reforms reduced pollution by 28 percent. Authorities in Gujarat later adopted the reforms as state law.

The success in Gujarat prompted Greenstone to launch EPIC-India to collaborate with Indian policymakers in taking on energy and environmental challenges through cross-disciplinary, innovative research to make people’s lives better.

In India’s state of Bihar, home to 100 million people, per capita electricity consumption is just about 1 percent of U.S. per capita consumption. To expand energy access, Greenstone and his colleagues are working with the state-owned electricity distribution company to test whether a collective incentive can be used to increase payment rates, reduce distribution losses, and enable the utility to expand electricity supply.

“Michael has pushed the area of energy and environmental economics to new levels with his empirical innovativeness and rigor,” says John List, chairman and the Homer J. Livingston Distinguished Service Professor of Economics.

Pollution and life expectancy

In 2002, Greenstone began analyzing the Clean Air Act and its impact on air quality and human health, as well as on industrial activity and home prices. He discovered that the health research ran into a major obstacle: “We just didn’t have a setting where we could see people’s lifetime exposure to air pollution.”

Then he learned of a government program in China, the Huai River policy, in which the government subsidized coal for heating for people living north of the Huai River and forbade winter heating south of it. The policy, which enabled northerners to have free winter heating, led to serious air pollution in the north.

“The policy took effect in the period when people were really not allowed to migrate,” Greenstone says. “It means that northerners had been exposed to extraordinary air pollution concentrations their whole lives.”

Greenstone and his colleagues found that those living in the north saw their lifespans cut short by about five years compared to those in the south. He has applied the same metric from this study to India, finding that air pollution there is cutting lifespans short by 3.2 years for more than 650 million people.

“We can now say with much greater confidence that long-run exposure to air pollution, especially particulates, shortens lives,” Greenstone says. “I think our work has joined a larger effort to put a fine point on the consequences of these high levels of pollution and has helped crystallize people’s emerging concerns in China, with a similar process beginning to take hold in India.”

China has since widened its air-quality monitoring rules and declared a “war on pollution.”

Air pollution is a global public health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared air pollution the world’s single largest environmental health risk and attributed around 7 million deaths globally to air pollution in 2012. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 report estimated that ambient particulate matter air pollution accounts for about 6% of global deaths.

Some researchers estimate the effects of particle pollutants killed 3.15 million individuals in 2010, with strokes (cerebrovascular disease) and heart attacks (ischemic heart disease) contributing most heavily. Analysis of ozone related mortality revealed a total estimate of 3.30 million people dying prematurely in 2010. An additional 3.54 million deaths per year are attributed to indoor air pollution caused by the use of solid fuels such as coal. Combined indoor and outdoor air pollution deaths would then be 10 million per year. Air quality had gotten worse from 2010 to 2015.

Air pollution in India is severe. Data from the country’s apex environmental regulator, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), reveals that 77% of Indian urban agglomerations exceeded national ambient air quality standards for respirable suspended particulate matter (PM10) in 2010 (CPCB 2012). Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that 13 of the 20 cities in the world with the worst fine particulate (PM2.5) air pollution are in India, including Delhi, the worst-ranked city. India has the highest rate of death caused by chronic respiratory diseases anywhere in the world.

India's pollution board identified road dust as the biggest contributor (52.5%) to particulate matter in Delhi’s air, followed by industries (22.1%). The study attributed only 6.6% of particulate emissions to vehicles. For NOx, the study found industries contributed 79% and vehicles 18%; vehicles were the main source for CO and hydrocarbons: 59% and 50% respectively.

New device could improve cancer detection

A new University of British Columbia-developed method to isolate cancer cells that have escaped from a tumour could soon pave the way for improved diagnosis and treatment.

The simple process involves a special device that squeezes cells in a blood sample through tiny funnels, which drive the cancer cells and blood cells into separate streams based on differences in their size and softness.

“Circulating tumour cells—cells from a tumour that have escaped into the bloodstream with the potential to spread into other tissues—are extremely useful for assessing a patient’s disease in order to select the most appropriate treatment,” said UBC mechanical engineering professor Hongshen Ma, the lead researcher. “These cells are particularly important for prostate cancer, where the site of metastasis is typically in the bone, where biopsies are difficult or impossible.

Journal Small - Continuous Flow Deformability-Based Separation of Circulating Tumor Cells Using Microfluidic Ratchets

Toward genome editing and a lot of cured diseases at Editas and other genetic companies

Rival firms Editas Medicine, Intellia Therapeutics, and CRISPR Therapeutics are all pioneering gene editing. They use CRISPR-Cas9 that holds the promise of curing thousands of genetic diseases by cutting out and revising, removing, or repairing DNA, the building block of life.

Editas, cofounded by Harvard geneticist George Church, has set its sights initially on a rare eye disease called Leber congenital amaurosis, partly because scientists have identified the genetic defect but also because the eye is relatively easy to reach for a gene-editing procedure.

Intellia, which raised $108 million in its own IPO earlier this month, is developing treatments for cancer and liver disease.

CRISPR Therapeutics is targeting the blood disorders sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

More than $1 billion in venture capital financing has been plowed into gene-editing companies over the past two years, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Larger biopharma companies also have been making big bets on the field. Boston’s Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Bayer AG of Germany have forged partnerships with CRISPR Therapeutics. Editas has an alliance with Juno Therapeutics Inc. of Seattle, while Intellia is collaborating with the Swiss drug giant Novartis AG, which bases its global research operation in Cambridge, and biotech Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Tarrytown, New York.

Other companies, ranging from Sangamo BioSciences Inc. of Richmond, California, to France’s Cellectis, are working on different types of gene editing. But within the research field, CRISPR-Cas9 is considered the superior method and is being widely adopted worldwide.

Editas Medicine is translating CRISPR/Cas9 and TALENs technologies into a novel class of human therapeutics that enable precise and corrective molecular modification to treat disease at the genetic level.

CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) and TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) comprise novel gene editing methods that overcome the challenges associated with previous technologies. Early published research on CRISPR/Cas9, coupled with a growing body of work on TALENs, suggests the potential to pursue therapeutic indications that have previously been intractable to traditional gene therapy, gene knock-down or other genome modification techniques. The CRISPR/Cas9 system, the most recent and exciting approach to emerge, acts by a mechanism in which the Cas9 protein binds to specific RNA molecules. The RNA molecules then guide the Cas9 complex to the exact location in the genome that requires repair. Similarly, TALENs are proteins that can be custom programmed to bind essentially any DNA sequence of interest and to direct gene modification activities to specific targets in the genome. CRISPR/Cas9 and TALENs uniquely enable highly efficient knock-out, knock-down or selective editing of defective genes in the context of their natural promoters, unlocking the ability to treat the root cause of a broad range of diseases.

Editas has a 29 page corporate presentation from April 2016.

Japan will have a 25 petaFLOP supercomputer operating in December 2016

The Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing (JCAHPC) in Japan today released the details of its next generation supercomputer – Oakforest-PACs – which will deliver 25 PFLOPS, use Intel’s Xeon Phi (Knights Landing) manycore processors and Omni-Path Architecture, be built by Fujitsu, and be operational in December 2016.

When fired up, the Oakforest-PACS will be the fastest supercomputer system in Japan for the moment. Twenty-five PFLOPS would have taken the second spot on the TOP500 last November – ahead of Titan (DoE/Oak Ridge NL, 17.5 PFLOPS) but still short of Tianhe-2 (National Supercomputer Center, Guangzhou, 33.8 PFLOPS). There has been speculation that China will field two 100 PFLOPS machines this year, perhaps having one benchmarked in time for the June TOP500.

The details of the system incude:

  • “The Oakforest-PACS system has of 8,208 compute nodes, each of which consists of next-generation Intel Xeon Phi processor (code name: Knights Landing), and Intel Omni-Path Architecture (Intel OPA) as a high-performance interconnect, which is a brand-new fabric developed by Intel Corporation. This is the first large scale system with such a processor in Japan. The system is integrated by Fujitsu and its PRIMERGY server is employed as each of compute node. Additionally, the system employs the shared files system (capacity: 26 PB), and the fast file cache system (940 TB), both of which are provided by Data Direct Network (DDN).
  • “Peak performance of the Oakforest-PACS is 25 PFLOPS and the total memory capacity is more than 900 TB. All compute nodes and servers of file systems are connected by fat-tree topology based on Intel OPA, which provides full bisection bandwidth. Therefore, flexible and efficient utilization and operation of compute nodes and file systems is available. Moreover, the fast file cache system is equipped with SSD’s and it is suitable for such applications that require higher file I/O performance.”

According to Robert Triendl, SVP at DDN, “The storage environment will consist of multiple shared file system, using DDN’s branch of the Intel Enterprise Edition of Lustre (IEEL) and DDN’s next generation ES14KX Lustre SSU, and providing up to 400 GB/sec of peak Lustre bandwidth. The shared file system will be enhanced by an NVMe-based distributed flash caching layer provided by 25 of DDN’s new IME14KX caching appliance with a total capacity of 940 TB and a peak performance of up to 1.4 TB/sec.”

Fujitsu has taken pains to conserve energy and space use. Oakforest-PACS will be a high-density system with a compact physical footprint, with eight nodes fitting into a 2U rackmount chassis. Advanced “hot water” cooling technology is used to supply cooling water to all the system’s components, each of which have different optimum temperatures. In this way efficient cooling at low power is achieved.

180 PetaFLOP Aurora supercomputer in the USA planned for 2018

Trapped atoms in an artificial crystal of light is a major leap towards perfect quantum metamaterials free of structural defects

Scientists have devised a way to build a “quantum metamaterial”—an engineered material with exotic properties not found in nature—using ultracold atoms trapped in an artificial crystal composed of light. The theoretical work represents a step toward manipulating atoms to transmit information, perform complex simulations or function as powerful sensors.

The research team, led by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley, proposes the use of an accordion-like atomic framework, or “lattice” structure, made with laser light to trap atoms in regularly spaced nanoscale pockets. Such a light-based structure, which has patterned features that in some ways resemble those of a crystal, is essentially a “perfect” structure—free of the typical defects found in natural materials.

Researchers believe they can pinpoint the placement of a so-called “probe” atom in this crystal of light, and actively tune its behavior with another type of laser light (near-infrared light) to make the atom cough up some of its energy on demand in the form of a particle of light, or photon.


  • control over the speed of the release of a photon, so we can optically process information much faster
  • manipulating atoms to transmit information, perform complex simulations or function as powerful sensors
  • enabling single or few-photon-level applications as varied as quantum sensing, quantum information processing, and quantum simulations using metamaterials

The wavelike pattern at the top shows the accordion-like structure of a proposed quantum material—an artificial crystal made of light—that can trap atoms in regularly spaced nanoscale pockets. These pockets can be made to hold a large collection of ultracold “host” atoms (green), slowed to a standstill by laser light, and individually planted “probe” atoms (red) that can be made to transmit quantum information in the form of a photon (particle of light). The lower panel shows how the artificial crystal can be reconfigured with light from an open (hyperbolic, in orange) geometry to a closed (elliptical, in green) geometry, which greatly affects the speed at which the probe atom can release a photon. (Credit: Pankaj K. Jha/UC Berkeley)

Physical Review Letters - Coherence-Driven Topological Transition in Quantum Metamaterials

May 10, 2016

Starshot Breakthrough Initiative for laser pushed interstellar nanocraft

Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.

Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.

Nextbigfuture covered the project last month when it was announced. Here is more information from the Breakthrough Initiative website.

Since 2010, Draper and Cornell University have collaborated on research into spacecraft that could be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and dubbed “ChipSats.” While ChipSats are small and inexpensive to launch, they face challenges far different from those of larger spacecraft and require a completely different approach to space missions.

Due to their tiny size, ChipSats experience disturbances in space in a different manner from large spacecraft. Much like a dinghy is greatly affected by waves that cannot move an oil tanker, the importance of small environmental forces, such as solar radiation pressure and aerodynamic drag, is magnified for ChipSats. This represents a challenge for completing the journey to Alpha Centauri and pointing precisely to send data back to Earth. But it is also an opportunity for developing new guidance and control approaches that take advantage of the environment.

Precision Navigation Without GPS

The U.S. military relies heavily on GPS signals to conduct its mission-critical operations. U.S. adversaries have taken note and developed capabilities to disrupt access to the satellite signals. North Korea, for example, has blocked GPS access along its border, and Iran broadcast counterfeit signals as part of its effort to capture a U.S. drone.

Draper plans to help address threats like GPS interference, in part, by expanding its Huntsville, Alabama business operations with the intention of increasing collaboration with U.S. Army organizations. Draper has tapped Spence Guida, a retired Army colonel, to lead Army projects for the Huntsville office in order to apply Draper’s extensive research and development expertise to a broad range of Army requirements.

“Nearly all Army platforms and subsystems rely on GPS-based positioning and navigation. Our objective is to leverage Draper’s core engineering competencies in navigation, secure and assured systems, and microsystems to improve Army capabilities in the face of threats from GPS and communications jamming as well as cyber-attacks. This is just one of the many ways Draper can help the Army achieve mission success,” Guida explained. “Draper’s technical strength, combined with its experience developing rapid prototype

Draper’s engineering expertise and solutions, including chipscale atomic clock technology, can help Army soldiers and systems operate through environments where GPS signals are degraded or not available.

Improving the stealth of undersea robots and submarines

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the predominant means of obtaining positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) information for both military and civilian systems and applications. However, the radio frequency basis for GPS also means that its signals cannot penetrate seawater, and thus undersea GPS is effectively denied. Undersea vehicles use inertial measurement units (IMU) and other dead reckoning sensors to navigate while submerged. Performance of inertial sensors for dead reckoning continues to improve and come in smaller packages. However, while dead reckoning sensors may provide sole-source navigation for short duration missions, accumulation of inertial error eventually requires external measurements to maintain or restore accurate performance. As a result, undersea vehicles must regularly surface to receive GPS signals and fix their position, and this presents a risk of detection. In addition, the cost and power draw of state-of-the art undersea navigation sensors, such as a navigation grade IMU and Doppler velocity log (DVL), are significant.

To combat these vulnerabilities and limitations, DARPA is soliciting proposals for the Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation (POSYDON) program to develop an undersea system that provides omnipresent, robust positioning. DARPA envisions that the POSYDON program will distribute a small number of acoustic sources, analogous to GPS satellites, around an ocean basin. By measuring the absolute range to multiple source signals, an undersea platform can obtain continuous, accurate positioning without surfacing for a GPS fix. POSYDON seeks to eliminate the need for expensive IMU and velocity sensors. Host platforms of interest include autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) of all types, although DARPA also encourages solutions that can be leveraged by other undersea platforms and systems. POSYDON will not require the platform to surface to obtain and maintain its PNT information, and the platform will not need to make any transmissions, thus maintaining minimum platform detectability

The POSYDON program seeks to develop an undersea, ocean basin-scale, PNT system that may be used in lieu of surfacing to obtain a GPS fix. Solutions should be relevant for the deep ocean and continental shelves, and describe both the solution’s degree of applicability to littoral regions and a technical pathway for use in the littorals. As stated previously, platforms of interest include AUVs of all types, although DARPA also encourages solutions that can be leveraged by other undersea platforms and systems.

DARPA is funding the development of a small number of acoustic transmitters that can be anchored to fixed locations around ocean basins to serve as an undersea navigation constellation. By measuring its range to multiple signals emanating from known coordinates, an undersea vehicle can operate continuously with accurate navigation information without needing to surface for GPS fixes or to use high cost inertial systems that are typical of current UUVs. DARPA awarded a contract on March 15, 2016 to a Draper-led team to begin development of a solution for the Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation (POSYDON).

By measuring its position relative to multiple signals emanating from known coordinates, a UUV can operate continuously with accurate navigation information without needing to surface for GPS positioning or use inertial systems.

Number of known exoplanets has increased by 60% to 3200

NASA's Kepler space telescope has discovered 1,284 new exoplanets, including nine rocky worlds that might be capable of supporting life as we know it, astronomers announced today (May 10). This is by far the largest haul of alien planets ever unveiled at one time.

The total exoplanet tally now stands at about 3,200, and Kepler has found 2,235 of them

The histogram shows the number of planet discoveries by year for more than the past two decades of the exoplanet search. The blue bar shows previous non-Kepler planet discoveries, the light blue bar shows previous Kepler planet discoveries, the orange bar displays the 1,284 new validated planets. Credits: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel; Princeton University/T. Morton

False positive probabilities for all Kepler objects of interest: 1284 Newly validated planets and 428 likely false positives.(20 pages paper)

Out of 7056 KOIs (Kepler Objects of Interest), researchers determine that 1935 have probabilities less than 1% to be astrophysical false positives, and thus may be considered validated planets. 1284 of these have not yet been validated or confirmed by other methods. In addition, we identify 428 KOIs likely to be false positives that have not yet been identified as such, though some of these may be a result of unidentified transit timing variations. A side product of these calculations is full stellar property posterior samplings for every host star, modeled as single, binary, and triple systems. These calculations use vespa, a publicly available Python package able to be easily applied to any transiting exoplanet candidate.

Hyperloop Tech is building a large test track, pods and other equipment and will be testing a 700+ mph hyperloop section by the end of 2016

A startup company called Hyperloop Technologies is trying to develop Elon Musks Hyperloop transportation system. They aveg $100 million of venture capital.

Josh Giegel, vice president of design and analysis at Hyperloop Tech indicates they have developed a tube, robots, a length of track, and various pieces of the electromagnetic propulsion system. A couple of hundred miles away, 2,000 feet of track in the Nevada desert is being readied for a public test of the track and electromagnetic propulsion system.

Two-year-old Hyperloop Tech has already grown from a handful of engineers in a garage to 140 people across three acres of old industrial buildings near downtown Los Angeles, plus a patch of desert in North Las Vegas.

Hyperloop Tech’s growth is impressive and they are far ahead of a competitor, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is funded by donations.

Beyond the steel tubes and welding robots, there's a wind tunnel, a huge pressurized chamber called the levitation rig, and an even bigger vacuum tube (appropriately dubbed the Big Tube) for testing the full set of Hyperloop components. A block of electromagnets are floating a large, flat steel square a foot or so in the air. It hovers there stiffly, so stiffly that even when you press down on it very hard, it does not budge. This was a demonstration of the Hyperloop’s shock absorption system.

This device is used to test the levitation system needed to lift up Hyperloop capsules.

A rendering of a Hyperloop pod carrying a shipping container.

US high speed rail projects looking for Chinese financing

High Speed rail companies in Texas, Minnesota and Nevada all plan to tap private cash from investors globally, with help from foreign train makers and governments eager to export train technology. The projects would rely on partnerships with Japanese or Chinese firms that face saturated train markets at home.

North American High Speed Rail Group’s project in Minnesota said last year it would seek money from Chinese investors. Now, it said it is considering two foreign partners for the $4.2 billion project, which seeks to connect the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to Rochester, Minnesota, by 2022.

Texas Central is paying for engineering studies with $75 million from Texas investors, $40 million from a state-backed Japanese development fund and about $130 million in design work from two firms. The Dallas-to-Houston rail line is projected to cost $12 billion and be completed by 2021.

In Nevada, privately financed XpressWest plans to link Las Vegas to Southern California. Started by Las Vegas developer Marnell Companies, the company formed a joint venture last fall with a consortium of Chinese firms, infusing $100 million into the project expected to break ground as soon as this year.

May 09, 2016

Most recent US Navy plan is to have 308 ships by 2021

China plans to build 20 floating nuclear powerplants for areas like the South China Sea

In January, Xu Dazhe, the director of the China Atomic Energy Authority, told reporters in Beijing that China was planning to develop offshore floating nuclear energy plants, saying they “must undergo a rigorous, scientific evaluation,” but also linking these to China’s desire to become a “maritime power.”

Mr. Xu said at the time that developing China’s nuclear power-generating capacity was part of the country’s five-year economic development plan, which runs through 2020. China has more civilian nuclear power stations under construction than any other country.

Chinese state media said that Beijing plans to build as many as 20 floating nuclear power plants to supply power to remote locations.

That could include offshore oil drilling rigs and the sparsely inhabited islands that China has spent the past two years building up and steadily turning into military outposts.

"The Chinese have been operating nuclear-powered submarines for a number of years. It's not a big leap" to modify those power plants into electricity generators, said Rod Adams, who served as the engineer officer on a US nuclear sub and now publishes Atomic Insights, an industry reference.

He said there are "few insurmountable challenges" to deploying those reactors by 2020.

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