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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from guest experts and from the editors of Scientific American

Signal Failure (Again) Likely Caused Shanghai Train Collision

Two subway trains collided in the city of Shanghai on September 26, injuring hundreds, according to early reports. And, much like the collision of two high-speed trains that killed 40 people near Wenzhou on July 23, the culprit appears to be signal failures.According to Chinese news magazine Caixin, the signals began to malfunction at least an hour before the crash, which caused operators to attempt to coordinate the system by phone...

September 27, 2011 — David Biello

What the World Looks Like, If You Move Backward in Time [Video]

Oops, I said my last post on the recent Foundational Questions Institute conference would be my final one, but I can't resist just one more. At the conference, Gavin Crooks at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, who studies molecular machines and gave a great talk on how life balances time asymmetry with thermodynamic efficiency, showed this brilliant short film by Rocketboom...

September 26, 2011 — George Musser

How Life Arose on Earth, and How a Singularity Might Bring It Down

It didn't take long for the recent Foundational Questions Institute conference on the nature of time to delve into the purpose of life. "The purpose of life," meeting co-organizer and Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll said in his opening remarks, "is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide." Well, there you have it...

September 23, 2011 — George Musser

Bedbug Treatments Sicken More Than Bites Do

The ongoing bedbug epidemic has been a pain—if not full-on pestilence—for those infested and for those in constant terror of becoming so. The biting bugs are not known to carry infectious diseases like other bloodsuckers, such as ticks or mosquitoes...

September 23, 2011 — Katherine Harmon

UARS Satellite Reentered Atmosphere over Pacific Ocean, NASA Says [Updated]

A large, defunct satellite spiraling out of orbit and back to Earth will reenter the atmosphere sometime this afternoon or evening tonight or tomorrow morning Eastern Daylight Time has reentered the atmosphere, NASA says.* The 5.7-metric-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which descended uncontrolled, was expected to drop some 500 kilograms of debris somewhere on Earth, although the chances of harm to human life were slim...

September 23, 2011 — John Matson

Preschool Funding for Kids Now Pays Off Billions Later

There are few sure investments in this chaotic economic climate, but on a national level, education has proven to pay off big down the road. As tight economic times have put the squeeze on education budgets here in the U.S., a new report shows the big benefits of even small investments in early education worldwide.For every dollar invested in boosting preschool enrollment, middle- and low-income countries would see a return of some $6.40 to $17.60, according to a new analysis published September 22 in The Lancet ...

September 22, 2011 — Katherine Harmon

U.N. Health Talks Promise Global Action on Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer

Palestine has grabbed the lion's share of attention at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week in New York, but the international organization is also tackling several other major issues, including climate change and health, that could have great long-term effect on the world's population down the road.Earlier this week, the U.N...

September 22, 2011 — Katherine Harmon

Breakthrough Could Enable Others to Watch Your Dreams and Memories [Video]

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have reconstructed the internal "movie" that plays in a person's head. To re-create dynamic visual experiences, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of volunteers (the other members of the research team) as they watched short movie clips (left panel in the video below)...

September 22, 2011 — Philip Yam

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