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     Volume 4 Issue 39 | March 25, 2005 |

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Tiny Human Species
The fossil of a one-metre tall "Hobbit" discovered in Indonesia may represent a separate species of early humans, according to a study. The study was carried out by some US, Australian and Indonesian researchers. The Hobbit was among the tiny fossils of as many as eight individuals found in layers dating from 95,000 to 12,000 years ago in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. The Hobbit skeleton was the most complete specimen and the only one with the skull. Scientists said the specimen, nicknamed the Hobbit after a character created by J.R.R. Tolkien, showed clearly that it was a normal adult of its species. The Hobbit's brain, about 417 cubic cm in size, had unique features that could allow advanced behaviour such as hunting, fire-making and the use of stone tools. However, the theory that the Hobbit may represent a new human species has met with skepticism. Critics said the bones could represent a human pygmy or a human afflicted with microcephaly characterised by a small head circumference.

Hill Folk Live Longer
People living in the hills have a longer life span and lower rates of death due to heart disease than those living in lowland areas, says a new research. The findings were based on tracking the cardiovascular health and death rates people living in hilly areas. They point out that living at moderately high altitude produces long term physiological changes in the body to enable it to cope with lower levels of oxygen, and that this, combined with the exertion required to walk uphill regularly on rugged terrain, could give the heart a better work-out. Information on risk factors, including gender, age, weight, smoking habit, blood pressure, and alcohol consumption, were collected for each person in 1981. Blood samples were also taken to build up the profile of biochemical health. After taking account of all the cardiovascular risk factors, it was found that mountain village residents had lower death rates, and lower rates of death from heart disease, than their peers in the lowlands. The effects were more pronounced among the men.

Super-Conducting Electrons
Scientists in Beijing and Tokyo say they have successfully observed super-conducting electrons by an ultra-high resolution photoemission spectroscope that they invented. Chen Chuangtian, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xu Zuyan, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and Shuntaro Watanabe and Shik Shi, professors at the University of Tokyo Institute for Solid State Physics, led the joint research. "We successfully observed super-conducting electrons directly by the photoemission spectroscope with the highest resolution of the world," said Chen. "We will be able to solve the exotic super-conducting mechanism." Three US scientists who depicted the super-conducting mechanism of metal superconductors won the 1972 Nobel Prize. But scientists know that compound superconductors have a different super-conducting mechanism. Chen's team developed the optical special crystal and the prism-non-linear optical crystal coupling technique while Watanabe's team developed the laser system using this crystal. "With the new equipment," he said, "we observed the super-conducting electrons of a compound directly for the first time and found that its super-conducting mechanism has not been known."

Invisibility Cloak
Researchers, bringing the magic of Harry Potter into the world of scientific fact, are developing a cloaking device that makes objects invisible. Electronic engineers at the University of Pennsylvania in the US are working on a real invisibility shield called a 'plasmonic cover', which works by preventing objects from reflecting and scattering light. The cloak could have widespread use in the military as it would be more effective than current stealth technology. Although no final product has been made, the engineers claim their proposal "does not obviously violate any of the laws of physics". According to Andrea Alu and Nader Engheta, the engineers behind the project, objects are visible because light bounces off them. If this could be prevented and the objects did not reflect any light, they would become invisible. The 'plasmonic screen' made of plasmons - created when the electrons on the surface of a metallic material move in rhythm - achieves this by resonating in tune with the illuminating light, they said. The developers claim a shell of this material will reduce light-scatter to the extent that an object will become invisible.

Religiousness Lies in the Genes
A person's religious nature is more influenced by his genes than the environment as he grows older, reveals a new study. According to the study published in the Journal of Personality, researchers studied adult male monozygotic (MZ) (i.e. Identical twins) and dizygotic (DZ)(i.e. fraternal twins) and found that both genes and environment influence difference in religiousness. But during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, genetic factors increase in importance while shared environmental factors decrease. The MZ twins maintained their religious similarity over time, while the DZ twins became more dissimilar. "These correlation suggest low genetic and high environmental influences when the twins were young but a larger genetic influence as the twins age" the authors state.

Religiousness was tested using self-report of nine items that measured the centrality of religion in their lives. External items were found to be more environmentally and less genetically influenced during childhood but more genetically influenced in adulthood. The internal scale showed a similar pattern, but the genetic influences seemed to be slightly larger in childhood compared to the external scale and so more consistent across the two ages. "Like other personality traits, adult religiousness is heritable and though changes in religiousness occur during development, it is fairly stable," the authors conclude.


Source: Discovery News, Nature, Webindia123 and Xinhua.

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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