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     Volume 4 Issue 41 | April 8, 2005 |

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Undersea Power Source
US scientists have developed a method to learn about seafloor conditions within laboratories, a development that will be key to the study of under-ocean methane hydrates, one of the richest sources of natural gas. Scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have managed to mimic the high-pressure, low-temperature seafloor conditions in a tabletop vessel. "The amount of natural gas tied up in methane hydrates beneath the seafloor is several orders higher than all other known sources of natural gas. It is enough to meet our energy needs for several decades," said Devinder Mahajan, a chemist at the laboratory. Methane hydrates -- which are ice-like cages made of water molecules surrounding individual methane molecules -- are stable only at the very low temperatures and high pressures present at the ocean floor. "If you try to bring it up, these things fizzle and decompose, releasing the trapped methane," Mahajan explained. By studying different samples of methane hydrates and learning what combinations of pressure and temperature kept the methane locked up, scientists are now hoping to identify ways to extract natural gas from them with minimum loss.
The new research vessel, Mahajan said, may help in developing the required strategies. The new apparatus allows scientists to study even fine sediments and helps visualise and record the entire hydrate-forming event through a window along the vessel. "You fill the vessel with water and sediment, put in methane gas and cool it down under high pressure. After a few hours the hydrates form. You can actually see it. They look like ice, but they are not. They are stable at four degrees Celsius," he said. The comparisons of different sediment samples might help pinpoint the most abundant sources of locked-up methane.

Robot Arms Lose to Teenage Girl
The world's strongest man needn't worry about relinquishing his title to a robotic competitor anytime soon, a recent contest indicates. At a conference held by the International Society for Optical Engineers in San Diego, three robotic arms tested their might against a human opponent in arm wrestling matches, which the flesh-and-blood contestant won handily. Yoseph Bar-Cohen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., first proposed the idea of a robot-versus-person arm wrestling showdown in 1999 as a means to encourage research into artificial muscles or electroactive polymers (EAP). Three different designs rose to the challenge and took on 17-year-old high-school student Panna Felsen. A robotic arm manufactured by Environmental Robots Inc. (ERI) in New Mexico put up the best effort, surviving 26 seconds, whereas arms from Virginia Tech and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research capitulated in under four seconds each.

Formula for Every Relationship
Every time you criticise your partner, follow it up with five compliments for a smooth and happy relationship, says a German scientist. Dr. Hans Werner from the sociology department at the Ruhr University, Bochum, suggests, that couples must shower enough compliments on their partners once they express their anger and couples should ideally compliment their partners five times for every single bashing. "Then people feel good in their relationship. Goodwill increases your potential to be happy," said Werner. He came to this conclusion after he conducted a research in co-operation with his colleague Elke Rohmann on more than a thousand individuals and couples. He has also penned a book called What makes love strong based on this study.

Elephants Found Capable of Vocal Mimicry
Animals that live in complex social groups may employ vocal imitation to strengthen and maintain social bonds. Humans, bats, birds and marine mammals are well known to use this ability to advertise reproductive willingness or acknowledge acquaintances after a long absence, for instance. Now results indicate that elephants are also capable of this vocal feat. Mlaika is a 10-year-old female African elephant living in semicaptivity with other orphaned pachyderms in Tsavo, Kenya. The stockade that she sleeps in is located three kilometres from a busy highway. Peter L. Tyack of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and his colleagues analysed Mlaika's calls and were surprised to discover that they were unlike any of the normal calls made by African elephants. Rather, they sounded like moving trucks. Mlaika did not directly copy the sounds she heard, however. The team reports that her trucklike calls shared characteristics both with the sounds she was exposed to and other truck sounds recorded at other times, which suggests "that Mlaika used the general features of truck sounds as a model." The researchers also studied the vocalisations of Calimero, a 23-year-old male African elephant living for the past 18 years in a zoo in Switzerland. Calimero's companions are two female Asian elephants. In the wild, Asian and African elephants use different calling systems, with Asian elephants relying mainly on chirping sounds. The researchers analysed Calimero's calls and found that they were significantly different from any standard calls used by African elephants. Instead, they sound like the chirps of female Asian elephants. "To our knowledge," the authors write, "this discovery in elephants is the first example of vocal imitation in a nonprimate terrestrial mammal."

Bad e-mail Habits
A British-based security firm and a market research company has claimed that some users of the e-mail tend to use it in a careless and irresponsible manner and this in turn, helps to sustain the spam industry. According to the security firm Mirapoint and the market research company Radicati Group, one in 10 e-mail users have bought products advertised in junk mail, thus making it a fairly attractive business given its inexpensive costs. "This preliminary data is surprising and somewhat shocking to us. It explains why e-mail security threats including spam, viruses and phishing scams continue to proliferate," said Marcel Nienhuis, a market analyst at the Radicati Group. Clearswift, another research firm, has seen a 180 percent rise in sex-related spam over the course of the last month. Spammers will deliberately misspell a word or use digits instead of letters in an attempt to by-pass anti-spam software, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security firm Sophos. But anti-spam filters can only be part of the solution to the menace of junk e-mail. "People must resist their basic instincts to buy from spam mails. Spammers are criminals, plain and simple. If no-one responded to junk e-mail and didn't buy products sold in this way, then spam would be as extinct as the dinosaurs," quotes BBC.

Source: BBC Online, Webindia123, Scientific America and US Geological Survey

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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