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     Volume 4 Issue 52 | June 24, 2005 |


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Sci-tech

The Petroleum Joyride
Could the petroleum joyride -- cheap, abundant oil that has sent the global economy whizzing along with the pedal to the metal and the AC blasting for decades -- be coming to an end? Some observers of the oil industry think so. They predict that this year, maybe next -- almost certainly by the end of the decade -- the world's oil production, having grown exuberantly for more than a century, will peak and begin to decline. And then it really will be all downhill. The price of oil will increase drastically. Major oil-consuming countries will experience crippling inflation, unemployment and economic instability. Princeton University geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes predicts "a permanent state of oil shortage." According to these experts, it will take a decade or more before conservation measures and new technologies can bridge the gap between supply and demand, and even then the situation will be touch and go. Though gas prices are up, they are expected to remain below US $2.50 a gallon. Accounting for inflation, that's comparable to what motorists paid for most of the 20th century; it only feels expensive because gasoline was unusually cheap between 1986 and 2003. And there are many who doubt the doomsday scenario will ever come true. Most oil industry analysts think production will continue growing for at least another 30 years. By then, substitute energy sources will be available to ease the transition into a post-petroleum age. Oil producers will grow flush with cash. And because the price of oil ultimately affects the cost of just about everything else in the economy, inflation will rear its ugly head. Anybody who has been paying close attention to the news lately may feel a bit queasy at this stage. Could US $5-a-gallon gas be right around the corner?

In death grip star remnants could merge
Two white dwarfs, remnants of stars that have used up all their fuel, are orbiting each other in a death grip and will eventually merge, says a scientist using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. According to US space agency NASA, data indicate that gravitational waves are carrying energy away from the star system at a prodigious rate, "making it a prime candidate for future missions designed to directly detect these ripples in space-time". The system was observed by Tod Strohmayer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, Maryland, is known as J0806. The white dwarf pair in J0806 might have the smallest orbit of any known binary system. The stars are only about 50,000 miles (80,000 km) apart, which is one-fifth the distance between the Earth and the Moon. "If confirmed, J0806 could be one of the brightest sources of gravitational waves in our galaxy," said Strohmayer. "It could be among the first to be directly detected with an upcoming space mission called LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna," he added. White dwarfs along with neutron stars and black holes are extremely dense and pack a huge amount of mass in a small volume. Each of the white dwarfs in question, for instance, has an estimated mass of one-half the sun, yet are only about the size of the Earth.

Robots for cleanliness
Japan's economic ministry plans to use six robots to clean its office building, in an effort to arouse public awareness about the promising robotics industry and to fill the manpower shortage. The economy, trade and industry ministry would use the mechanical cleaners for mopping all corridors in the building except for toilets. They would work at night on programmes that would include the structure of the building and their working route. After the robots finished cleaning a floor, they would automatically move to other floors via elevators. Faced with an ageing population, Japan has put robot technology at the top of its industrial development strategy in a bid to fill the manpower shortage. The government aims to bring about mass use of robots from 2015 and has projected a US $58.5 billion domestic market by 2025. The ministry hopes the robots' performance would encourage other government departments to follow suit to help push the popularisation and use of robot technology. At the end of 2002, there were 350,000 robots in operation in Japan, accounting for 45 percent of the total worldwide, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

Computers with Ability to Reason
A new software, designed to enable computers to reason, is being developed by colleagues in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The process specification language software, known as ISO 18629, is supposed to make computers much more useful in manufacturing, according to the Boulder, Colorado-based National Institute of Standards and Technology. ISO 18629 uses artificial intelligence and language analysis to represent computer commands in the context of a manufacturing plan.

Military use Damages Grasslands
A new study says it could take 50 years for rare chalk grasslands in Europe to recover from the damage done by military training. The research found neutral, or mesotrophic grasslands, recover in 30 to 40 years, while chalk grasslands take much longer. It is not just the problem of vegetation being destroyed by tanks and shelling, said Dr. Rachel Hirst and colleagues from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the University of Liverpool, but also soil compaction. The research was conducted on the Salisbury Plain Training Area, the largest military training area in Britain. It contains the largest expanse of unimproved chalk grassland in northwest Europe. Hirst said the findings raise questions not only for the military's use of the land, but also how much pressure certain areas of the countryside can bear from the increased use of off-road vehicles.

Boston has the most marijuana users
More than 12 percent of people in Boston over the age of 12 have admitted to having used marijuana in the past month, a U.S. study found. The report, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, ranked areas of the country for marijuana use. Five areas in Massachusetts were included in the top 15 regions in the country for marijuana use, the Boston Herald reported Friday. Michael Botticelli, assistant commissioner for substance abuse services at the state Department of Public Health, said he was not surprised by the study's results because 200,000 college students reside in and around Boston. However, many residents told the Herald they knew many people who use marijuana recreationally, including many in high school. Regions with the lowest rates of marijuana use were northern Iowa and southern Texas, where 3 percent or less reported recent use.

Ancient Egyptian
Glassmaking

Scientists say they have found the first conclusive evidence of a glass factory in ancient Egypt. They believe their find offers new insights into production techniques for a commodity so highly prized that nobles used it interchangeably with gemstones. Analysing glass and clay fragments at Qantir-Piramesses in the eastern Nile Delta, researchers described a two-step process in which factories melted crushed quartz to form semi-finished glass. The glass then was re-melted and coloured to make ingots for shipment to artisans elsewhere. Another melting formed the glass into inlays, ornaments and other objects. For years, there was no direct evidence of the production of glass, said archaeologist Thilo Rehren of University College in London. Somebody was making it, but the only thing we had were museums full of glass objects.

 

Source: IANS, UPI and Webindia122

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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