Latest research news

September 7, 2005

Sands of Mars may hold vast reservoir of water

The sands of Mars, which hold the biggest dunes in the solar system, could contain up to 50 per cent snow and ice, a US scientist told the British Association festival of science meeting in Dublin yesterday. The discovery could be of enormous significance. President George Bush has named Mars as the destination for a manned mission in the next 30 years. Nasa and the European Space Agency both plan orbiter missions and robot landings in the next decade. Researchers are also anxious to settle the dispute over whether Mars was ever home to life, and whether microbial life could still endure beneath the soil.

The Guardian

 

Good vibrations to cut road accidents

The car of the future will feel and smell different. In an effort to reduce the number of road accidents, scientists have developed a range of warning systems that work by vibrating parts of the driver's body or by pumping pleasant odours into the car. Charles Spence, a lecturer in experimental psychology at Oxford University , told the British Association that the warnings could reduce the most common type of car accident by up to 15 per cent. A driver's main source of information when assessing safety is sight, but, with the confusion of noise and lights in a car making a play for attention, scientists are turning to the other senses to warn drivers.

The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph

 

'Hotspot' clues to heart disease

Research has pinpointed six genetic “hotspots” that can double the risk of heart disease. A British Heart Foundation DNA database of brothers and sisters across Britain has been used to identify culprit genes that make some people more vulnerable to heart problems when they are middle-aged. Scientists looked at samples from 2,871 siblings from 930 families, searching for genetic differences between those with heart disease and those without, and concluded that certain variations led to more than a doubling of risk of heart disease for some family members.

The Times

 

Warning over high doses of vitamin B

High doses of vitamin B supplements do not reduce the risk of a heart attack and may do more harm than good, research has shown. Past studies into B vitamins have indicated for 15 years that they can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But the new research, presented at a conference yesterday, failed to find a useful effect. Professor Kaare Harald Bonaa, of the University of Tromso , Norway , told the European Society of Cardiology that doctors were giving high doses of B vitamins to patients at risk of heart problems.

The Daily Telegraph

 

Saturn's rings more placid than thought

The icy particles of Saturn's rings rotate slowly like miniature moons, rather than spinning around wildly as scientists had once thought. Astronomers had assumed that chunks of ice and rock in the rings, ranging in size from dust grains to mountains, were bouncing around like pinballs, frequently slamming into each other. "They ought to be spinning out of control," says Kevin Baines, a planetary scientist from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena , California . Some rings are packed so tightly that sunlight cannot break through, so collisions should be inevitable.

Nature

 

Scientists find way to extend life of decaying historic works

A technique developed to protect historic documents and works of art can increase their lifespan by more than 10 times, researchers said yesterday. Identifying the exact ingredients of iron gall inks used in drawings by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt has helped scientists identify the chemical agents best suited to counter their corrosive effects. Jana Kolar, of the Slovenian National and University Library in Ljubljana , told the conference that the method could help slow the gradual destruction of countless works of art, treaties, letters and books.

The Daily Telegraph, The Times

 

Scientist goes round the bend in optics coup

A new study from the University of Edinburgh could hold the key to creating near-perfect lenses cheaply - in a move set to revolutionise telecommunications and microwave engineering. In collaboration with Pennsylvania State University , Edinburgh researcher Dr Tom Mackay has devised a simple way to produce materials which bend light the "wrong" way. The new research has found a way to simply construct the negatively-refracting materials necessary to bend light by blending two granular substances together.

The Scotsman

 

Champion racehorses are thoroughly inbred

All thoroughbred horses alive today are descended from 28 animals imported from the Near East during the 17th and 18th centuries. Advances in genetics have allowed researchers to trace the ancestry of the world's 500,000 thoroughbreds to three stallions and 25 mares. Close to 95 per cent of all purely bred male horses can be traced back to a horse called Darley Arabian, born just over 300 years ago.

The Daily Telegraph

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