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     Volume 4 Issue 60 |August 26, 2005 |

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The Next Supercomputer
The United States, Japan and China are competing to reach the next milestone in supercomputer performance. While the new supercomputers are not expected to be in operation before the end of the decade they are being viewed as crucial investments for progress in science, advanced technologies and national security. China has 19 supercomputers ranked among the 500 fastest machines, it's becoming an issue of national pride, according to Steve Wallach, a supercomputer designer who is a vice president at Chiaro Networks, a technology provider for high-performance computing. At the moment, the world's fastest computer is at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- it has reached more than 136 trillion operations a second. However, on the horizon is the petaflop that can perform 1 quadrillion mathematical operations a second, or eight times the speed of today's fastest computer. Japanese and U.S. experts estimate a petaflop will cost nearly $1 billion for each machine.

Stressed Coral Reefs
Overfishing, pollution, disease and climate change are threatening the health of coral reefs, said a report of a U.S. agency. The report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the coral reefs nearest populated areas are under increasing stress. Those in more remote areas are doing better. We see a decline in our overall ecosystems, said Mark Monaco, biogeography program manager for NOAA's Ocean Service. We're very concerned about the future of these delicate ecosystems. Some reef managers are struggling to combat natural forces such as coral bleaching -- warmer seas drive out one-celled algae that live within the coral and help sustain it -- as well as stresses caused by human influences.

Speed of light made faster
Swiss researchers have successfully demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to control the speed of light in an optical fiber. A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, said the findings, published in Applied Physics Letters, could have implications ranging from optical computing to the fibre-optic telecommunications industry. The researchers were able to slow light down and speed it up as well. The phenomenon could have profound technological consequences in controlling the speed of light in a simple optical fiber, according Luc Thevenaz and his fellow researchers. This has the enormous advantage of being a simple, inexpensive procedure that works at any wavelength, notably at wavelengths used in telecommunications, said Thevenaz.

Short stress boosts mice immune systems
Scientists at Ohio State University have found that mild psychological stress can increase immunity -- at least in mice. Firdaus Dhabhar and Kavitha Viswanathan injected a group of mice with a protein that triggers an immune response. Half the mice were put in small unfamiliar cages for more than two hours before the injection while the other half remained in their familiar cages. Nine months later, the scientists injected the mice again. Those that had been in the small cages before their first injection showed more inflammation than the others, suggesting that their immune systems were reacting more strongly. Whether the results will be valid for humans is a matter of debate. Bruce Rabin of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre told New Scientist that people seem to react to any kind of stress the same way, at least as far as their immune systems are concerned. In humans, even a short stressor is suppressive to the immune system, he said.

Learning to Make Horoscopes
Science and astrology appear to have found common ground - in a college in Gujarat. Just when the controversy over inclusion of astrology in higher education seemed to have died down, the Maninagar Science College has decided to introduce a three-year course on the subject. The course will be in place from the forthcoming academic session, aiming to teach Indian astrology as a science. "Students will be taught how to prepare horoscopes and derive predictions from them," college principal R.R. Shah was quoted as saying. "There are in all 27 types of horoscopes and the three-year course will acquaint students with all of them." During the rule of the previous National Democratic Alliance at the centre, then human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi had pushed the agenda of including Vedic astrology as a science in higher education. The move was opposed by the science community, which said that astrology was not a science. Joshi was forced to seek a view of the Supreme Court, which recognised astrology as a branch of science. Shah also believes that astrology is a science. "About 70 percent of the composition of the human body is water. When the movement of celestial bodies affects oceans, they are bound to affect the human body too. Astrology is the study of those effects," he said. He claimed the subject was recognised as a branch of science in Western countries too and would offer good job prospects to students. There are 16 educational institutions in India that offer courses in astrology.

The Evolution of Xerox
An employee for Japanese electronics giant Fuji Xerox displays a prototype model of electronic paper called "E-Paper" which enables a user to copy down documents and graphics like xerography, at the company's laboratory in Ebina, suburban Tokyo. The ultra thin E-Paper, formed by 0.3mm thickness photo-conductivity seats which contain a cholesteric LCD layer in the middle of two seats, reduces electrical consumption because it does not need electricity to maintain its display configuration. The E-Paper is expected to be commercialised next year.


Source: AFP, New Scientist and Webindia123

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