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Science Progressing: July 15

Science Funding Cuts, Champion Robots, Invisibility Cloaks, and a New Cyber Defense Strategy

SOURCE: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Welcome to the third edition of “Science Progressing,” SP’s weekly news report. Each Friday Science Progressing brings you a progressive perspective on the week’s top news about science, technology, politics, the economy and society.

Science Progressing: July 15

SCIENCE CUTS
Science And Research Organizations Urge Policymakers Not To Remove Programs
Amid looming budget cuts, a consortium of more than 140 science societies drafted a letter urging policymakers not to cut funding for any particular research programs. Singling out particular programs, the letter suggested, would undermine the nation’s vested interest in scientific progress and discourage would-be scientists from entering the field. The letter was specifically targeted at policymakers who will debate the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 in the coming weeks.  The AAAS, the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and other prominent organizations supported the letter. For more on the debt limit, see CAP’s U.S. debt limit 101.

CYBER SECURITY
DOD Could Use Force in Cyber War
The Pentagon has stated that it “reserves the right” to use military force against cyberattacks in a newly declassified 13-page cyberstrategy document this week. This came in part as a response to the rising specter of cyber sabotage exemplified by the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program, and to the cybertheft of 24,000 files by a foreign government this past spring. The declassified cyberstrategy outlines five new initiatives that the pentagon will take to increase American cyber security. As part of the efforts, the Pentagon will devote more funding to building its cyberdefenses. Questions remain, however, about what defines an “act of war” in the cyberworld. This follows a May proposal from the White House to update and improve domestic cyber security laws.

CARBON MARKETS
Australia Puts a Price on Carbon
The 500 biggest polluters in Australia will be required to pay $24.60 per ton of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, starting in July of next year. Though Australia only produces roughly 1.3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, it has one of the highest rates of emission per person. The government plans to raise the tax by 2.5 percent each year until July 2015, at which point an emission-trading program will be created. Up to $10 billion dollars of the tax revenue will help fund low pollution measures, clean energy research, energy-efficient technologies, and even tax cuts. By 2020, the plan should reduce Australia’s emissions by 5 percent, which is equal to the emissions produced by 45 million cars.

STEM EDUCATION
STEM Workers Live Long and Prosper
A new report released Thursday by the Economics and Statistics Administration found that employment in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields grew 3 times faster than job growth in non-STEM fields. These report also found that “STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts”, and that STEM jobs “are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs in the coming decade.” Our recent reporthighlighted the importance of a STEM-trained labor force to our nation’s innovation system and global economic competitiveness.

ELECTRICITY REGULATION
GOP Light Bulb Amendment Likely To Pass Friday After Earlier Defeat
A Republican-led effort to repeal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed under President George W. Bush, failed to obtain the two-thirds majority it needed in the House earlier this week, but could succeed on a simple majority vote today. With a few exceptions, the law, starting January 1 of next year through 2014, will require all light bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient. House Republicans argued that the law is an example of government overreach in offering the amendment to repeal it, but Democrats believe that the more efficient bulbs will save American families $6 billion per year in the long run.

NEUROSCIENCE
Stem Cells Restore Cognitive Abilities Impaired by Brain Cancer Treatment
UC Irvine researchers have found that stem cells may help cancer patients regain some of their learning and memory abilities after they have been lost due to radiation treatment. Radiation-damaged rats who were given multipotent human neural stem cells improved, while rats not given the treatment showed no improvement. Some of these stem cells became neurons and integrated themselves into the memory area of the brain, or turned into cells that support cerebral neurons.

JUST FOR FUN
Proof that Rebecca Black was Right
In March 2011, YouTube phenomenon Rebecca Black’s music video “Friday” went viral in cyberspace and was dismissed by some as utterly ridiculous and lauded by others as completely genius. Whether you love her or hate her, it turns out that the main point of her song, that “everybody’s looking forward to the weekend,” may have some scientific validity. A recent National Bureau of Economics study showed that people experience more happiness, enjoyment, and laughter on weekends than on weekdays, and there is evidence that the social aspects of weekends that Black emphasizes in her song might have something to do with this. Three-day weekends much?

PHYSICS RESEARCH
Harry Potter and the Invisibility Cloak: Part 2.  Hidden in Time
Cornell University researchers have made incremental progress toward building an “invisibility cloak,” akin to the piece of cloth that hides up-and-coming wizards in the Harry Potter books and films.  Devices that hide objects by bending light around them currently exist, but this one uses a different principle to create invisibility. Rather than bending light around an object, the Cornell “space-time cloak” creates a blindspot in time, making certain events unnoticeable.  The device works because when light enters through an object (e.g. a lens), some wavelengths are slowed down while others speed up.  Very short events (so far, not more than 1.25 micro seconds) can be hidden because half the bent light arrives before the event happens, and the other half arrives after the event has taken place.

CHAMPION ROBOTS
American Soccer Robots Dominate at the World RoboCup 2011
A pair of robots designed by Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa team took top honors at the World RoboCup for the adult-size and child-size categories. The adult robot, named CHARLI-L2, won one match 4-1, setting a record for the highest score ever achieved by a humanoid robot. The child robot was named DARWIn-OP. The organizers of the World RoboCup not only hope to showcase the latest development in robotics each year but also want robots able to compete with humans in soccer by 2050.

Watch the robot soccer here:

This week’s news compiled and summarized by Science Progress interns Michelle Spektor and Gaurav Dhiman.

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