Science and Technology News | October 2011

MIT physics professors examined the subatomic speed limit controversy
On Sept. 23, European scientists in their experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking apparatus), announced that they had observed neutrinos, a class of subatomic particles, traveling faster than the speed of light — the universe’s fundamental “speed limit.”  Since then the scientific community has been hotly debating its validity. But MIT professors confirmed that there’s a 98 percent chance of a  systematic  error while calculating the speed of neutrinos. 

1st photos of endangered Amur leopard captured in China since 1949
Chinese researchers have captured photos of one of the most endangered amur leopard from a forest in northeast China’s Jilin Province for the first time since 1949. The total number of amur leopards living in the wild is believed to be no more than 50 worldwide, with about ten living in China. 

Mountain three times as high as Mt. Everest found in Vesta
A new image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows a mountain three times as high as Mt. Everest, in the south polar region of the giant asteroid Vesta. Vesta is one of the largest asteroids, with a mean diameter of about 530 kilometres. Vesta is the second-most-massive asteroid after the dwarf planet Ceres and comprises an estimated  9% of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the brightest asteroid visible from Earth. 

What is a Meteor Shower?
A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors are observed to radiate from one point in the night sky. These meteors are caused by streams of cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth's atmosphere at extremely high speeds on parallel trajectories. Most meteors are smaller than a grain of sand, so almost all of them disintegrate and never hit the Earth's surface. The Orionid meteor shower is the most prolific meteor shower associated with Halley's Comet. It is an annual meteor shower which last approximately one week in late-October. Since meteor shower particles travelin parallel paths, and at the same velocity, they will all appear to an observer below to radiate away from a single point in the sky. 

China sends unmanned craft into space
A Chinese Long March rocket has blasted off, propelling an unmanned spacecraft into orbit in the next step towards the country's ambitious plans for a manned space station. The Shenzhou 8 was launched at dawn from the north Gobi desert, entering orbit successfully, the official Xinhua news agency reported. It should dock with the Tiangong 1 module within two days, more than 200 miles above Earth. The Shenzhou-8 is carrying an experimental facility developed by German and Chinese scientists. According to the German space agency DLR, plants, bacteria and human cancer cells will be exposed to zero gravity and space radiation for nearly three weeks as scientists seek to explore questions such as how gravity affects biological processes and how the immune system could be strengthened. 

Higgs boson
The Higgs boson (God particle) is a hypothetical massive elementary particle that is predicted to exist by the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics. Its existence is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in the Standard Model. Experiments attempting to find the particle are currently being performed using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), and were performed at Fermilab's Tevatron until Tevatron's closure in late 2011. The Higgs boson is the only elementary particle predicted by the Standard Model that has not been observed in particle physics experiments. It is a necessary requirement of the so-called Higgs mechanism, the part of the SM which explains how most of the known elementary particles obtain their mass. 

Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon experimental confirmation of the existence of quarks. Since then, discoveries of the bottom quark (1977), the top quark (1995) and the tau neutrino (2000) have given credence to the Standard Model. Because of its success in explaining a wide variety of experimental results, the Standard Model is sometimes regarded as a theory of almost everything. 

Antimatter is the counterpart of matter, and according to the laws of physics the two are identical except for the electric charges (and the other quantum attributes that fundamental particles are endowed with), which are opposite. That is, every fundamental particle has an antiparticle but with the opposite electric charge. The positron is the antiparticle of the electron and the antiproton is the antiparticle of the proton. The photon has no charge and hence is its own antiparticle, but the antineutron is different from the neutron even though it has no charge because it has a magnetic moment that is opposite to that of the neutron. When a particle and an antiparticle meet, they annihilate each other and give out enormous energy according to Einstein's E = mc2 equation.
If the laws of physics as we know them today are correct, at the Big Bang, matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts. However, the world as we see it seems to be made only of matter; antimatter, for some reason not yet understood, seems to have disappeared. One of the objectives of present-day cosmic ray experiments is to search for this primary (primordial) antimatter to understand the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe. So far, none of such experiments has found any evidence for primary antimatter. A new experiment to search for antimatter, the AMS (Anti Matter Spectrometer), was launched during the last trip of the space shuttle. 

Production of artificial Antimatter
Currently, antimatter can be created only in high-energy accelerators, such as the ones at Fermilab in the United States and at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland, which are used to produce a controllable supply of antiparticles for physics research. The method used is basically the reverse of annihilation, where the high energy delivered in accelerators results in the production of particle-antiparticle pairs, which can then be separated by applying suitable magnetic fields because particles and antiparticles behave in opposite ways in a magnetic field. In November 2010, experiments at CERN succeeded in producing and trapping large quantities of anti-hydrogen atoms. 

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the 70-year-old Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman for his “discovery of quasicrystals”, which caused a controversy at the time of its discovery nearly four decades ago. A quasiperiodic crystal or quasicrystal is a structure that is ordered but not periodic.

Dennis M. Ritchie, the father of C, died at 70
Dennis Ritchie, who is considered as the father of C programming language died at the age of 70. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, working at Bell Labs, Mr. Ritchie made a pair of lasting contributions to computer science. He was the principal designer of the C programming language and co-developer of the Unix operating system, working closely with Ken Thompson, his longtime Bell Labs collaborator. The C programming language is still widely used today, and successors like C++ and Java build on the ideas, rules and grammar that Mr. Ritchie designed. The Unix operating system has similarly had a rich and enduring impact. Its free, open-source variant, Linux, powers many of the world’s data centers, like those at Google and Amazon, and its technology serves as the foundation of operating systems, like Apple’s iOS, in consumer computing devices.

Steve Jobs died at 56 - A tribute
The co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. From 2004, he fought a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was one of the top visionaries who modernized the technology world. In 1976, Jobs along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded Apple. Ronald Wayne received a 10% stake in Apple but relinquished his stock for US$800 less than two weeks later. Then Steve and Wozniak visited Mike Markkula who had made millions from stock option trading and retired from his job at the age of 32. In 1977, Markkula brought his business expertise along with US$250,000 and became a one-third owner of Apple and employee number 3.  It was Markkula who served as Mr. Jobs's management mentor at Apple, teaching him how to run a business.  
In 1983, Apple recruited John Sculley away from Pepsi-Cola to serve as Apple's CEO, asking, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?".  Apple president Mike Markkula also wanted to retire and believed that Jobs lacked the discipline and temperament needed to run Apple on a daily basis and that Sculley's conventional business background and recent successes would give a more favorable image. In 1984, Apple's Macintosh became the first commercially successful small computer with a graphical user interface. By the end of 1984, an internal power struggle developed between Jobs and Sculley. Apple's board of directors sided with Sculley and removed Jobs from his managerial duties as head of the Macintosh division. Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985 and founded NeXT Inc. in the same year.
Jobs later claimed that being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him; "The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." NeXT workstations were first released in 1990. It  was known for its technical strengths, chief among them its object-oriented software development system. In 1996, Apple announced that it would buy NeXT,bringing Jobs back to the company he co-founded. Jobs became de facto chief after then-CEO Gil Amelio was ousted in July 1997. From then he served as the CEO of Apple till 2011 August.

Reality distortion field 
It is a term coined by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe Steve Jobs' charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Mac project.

Junk DNA
Chimpanzees share 99% of the same genes with humans despite their huge differences in appearance and ability. Now, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US have found that although the sequence of genes in both humans chimpanzees is nearly identical, the animals have certain gaps in their genome. In humans, those gaps are filled with what is known as "junk DNA" , reported.