Quantcast Inside Science: October 2007 Archives

October 2007 Archives

By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net coffin.JPGWANT to keep those memories alive even when you're dead? Use the high-tech coffin that has an LCD display panel. The multimedia coffin was created by Filipino inventor Antonio Andes Sr. who thought of coming up with a more innovative method of paying respects to the recently deceased -- by playing videos, music and images on an LCD monitor attached to the open side of a casket. In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Andes said the LCD monitor is actually attached to a PC discreetly hidden near the casket. The videos, audio and photos can be provided by the family or friends of the deceased and can be rotated as a PowerPoint presentation. "We can do the editing for the family as per request, or they can give their own presentation and then we can play it on the PC," Andes said. In fact, even far-off relatives of the deceased can post their eulogies or messages via e-mail as the PC can be attached to the Internet, turning it into a virtual logbook of condolences. All it needs now is a web camera. The 42-year-old Andes is no first-timer when it comes to inventions. In the mid-1990s he outfitted a refrigerator with a cloth dryer. He observed the Filipino approach to fast-drying clothes, which is attaching these to the back of a refrigerator, which is constantly hot. Just last year, his first attempt to reinvent the casket was when he developed the reusable coffin. It is composed of two coffins, an inner wooden casket and an outer metal casket. Basically, the reusable casket is targeted at the poorer sector of the economy that would not normally be able to pay for a coffin costing P100, 000 to P500, 000. "The reusable casket is rented and we charge P8, 500 for a five-day wake. Then we can bury the dead in the inner casket while retaining the outer casket," Andes said. Not surprisingly, the multimedia casket is actually the reusable casket, only outfitted with an LCD monitor. Andes said it would cost an additional P5, 000 to use the reusable casket with the monitor -- photo and video editing included. "It may seem funny at first but this is one way for people to remember their dearly departed. Before, flowers and ribbons were sent to the wake but now, families and friends can send their condolences online instead," Andes aid. "Besides, it's for people who couldn't afford a coffin. Not only did they save, but they've also paid their last respects to their dead in a good way," he added.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net TEAM Sinag has finished 11th out of the 21 participants in the Challenge category of the Panasonic World Solar Challenge (WSC) in Australia. Here's a photo of the Sinag solar car crossing the finish line in Adelaide. dsc02285.JPG The Philippine team also finished 20th out of the total 38 participants in the WSC, an international competition for developers of solar-powered vehicles. The results are posted on the WSC website. The team’s solar car entry called “Sinag” (Filipino for “sunlight”) was able to finish the 3,021-kilometer race from Darwin to Adelaide at 4 p.m., on Oct. 27 (Australian time). It was the Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, with their car the Nuna4, that took the overall win in the competition, finishing the race on October 25. Like Team Sinag, the Nuon Solar Team is also in the same Challenge category, which is for first-time participants in the race. Despite being its first time to join, the Philippine team’s car did not stall throughout the journey across Australia. A few of the entries were put in trailers after experiencing technical difficulties. In a statement, Team Sinag technical head engineer Rene Fernandez described their performance as remarkable as this was their first time to join and they did not know what to expect. “It’s positive proof of not only the car’s solid design and construction, but also our own capability to successfully deploy solar power technology in the Philippines.” Team Sinag is composed of students from De La Salle University and is sponsored by about a dozen local companies, including Philippine Airlines, San Miguel Corp., Shell, Ford, Sunpower and Motolite. Here's a photo of Team Sinag after crossing the finish line. dsc02287.JPG
By Associated Press TOKYO, Japan--Japan plans to follow up its first lunar satellite orbit this month by sending an unmanned probe to land on the moon by 2015, news reports said Saturday. The Space Activities Commission of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology decided Friday to aim to land a SELENE-2 probe on the moon's surface by 2015, Japanese major daily Asahi reported Saturday. Another daily Mainichi carried a similar report. The landing would be a follow-up to the launch on Sept. 14 of the Selenological and Engineering Explorer -- or SELENE -- probe for what officials call the largest mission to the moon since the US Apollo project. The 2015 moon probe -- expected to cost about 50 billion yen (US$437 million; €304 million) -- would consist of an unmanned lander, a rover to study the lunar surface and a small satellite to transfer data, according to the reports. Officials of the ministry and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, were not available for comment Saturday. The reports follow China's successful launch Wednesday of its first lunar probe -- a leap forward in the Asian space race. India is likely to join the rivalry soon, with plans to send its own lunar probe into space in April. Last January, JAXA gave up on a mission to land on the moon's surface. The Lunar-A probe, originally scheduled to lift off in 1995, was to plant two seismic sensors on the lunar surface, but development of the penetrator probes took so long that the mission's mother ship fell into disrepair. On Oct. 5, officials said the SELENE probe had gone into orbit round the moon. Its mission involves placing a main satellite in orbit at an altitude of about 100 kilometers (60 miles) and deploying the two smaller satellites in polar orbits. Researchers will use data gathered by the probes to study the moon's origin and evolution.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net IN THE LAST six years, only 96 Filipino inventions have been granted patents by the Philippine Intellectual Property Office (IPOPHIL) out of over 8,000 inventions patented in the country. The sad part here is that very few Filipino inventors, engineers and developers know the processes that could protect their inventions. In his presentation during an intellectual property forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, IPOPHIL Bureau of Patents Director Epifanio Rey Evasco said the lack of knowledge on local patenting and the requirements for patenting have discouraged Filipino innovators from filing for patents. What is worse is that some of the products that have commercial potential are taken by entrepreneurs who file for patents for themselves. “Inventors are not always businessmen and they could be exploited,” Evasco said. Evasco said that majority of the Filipino inventions that did get successfully patented were in the mechanical field, some of which are used for direct commercial products or manufacturing. Evasco noted that while patents granted locally are not always protected abroad, the IPOPHIL is already a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty, a multi-nation entity that monitors and reviews the patent filings of its 130 member-countries. “Since we are a member, we can help the patent filer to protect their inventions in other countries as long as they are a member of PTC. This already gives the Filipino inventor a leverage to become a world-class inventor,” Evasco. Evasco said one of the goals of IPOPHIL is to get information across to Filipino inventors through different organizations. One of these groups is the Technology Application and Promotion Institute, which assists Filipino inventors and innovators regarding patent applications. He also said IPOPHIL is already working to speed up the processing of patent filings. He noted that the agency receives at least 20 patent filings per day, though the majority of these are either rejected or withdrawn. “We have about 50 patent reviewers and each one is handling about 100 patent filings. Our goal is to process a patent within six months of filing,” Evasco said, adding that normally a patent filing is granted within four-and-a-half years.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net IN AN EFFORT to promote intellectual property rights (IPR) and encourage scientists and engineers to develop more technology innovations, science journalists have tied up with the Philippine Intellectual Property Office (IPOPHIL) to conduct seminars for science reporters and other media groups. The IPOPHIL and the Philippine Science Journalists (PsciJourn) conducted the first media IPR Forum at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology building at the University of the Philippines Diliman last October 25. Here's a video of IPOHIL director general Adrian Cristobal Jr. (left) and PsciJourn president Angelo Palmones. The whole-day affair focused on the various aspects of intellectual property rights, and the differences and values of trademarks, copyright and patents. In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Cristobal said the partnership would be the first time the agency will directly deal with the media in promoting intellectual property rights and protection. Cristobal said he intends to work with other media groups, especially business writers, to give them a better understanding of the county’s intellectual property system. He explained that there is a need for inventors, researchers, engineers and scientists to innovate and create new products that may bolster both the intellectual capacity and economic development of the country. “It’s the media who will give us the leverage to tell inventors and engineers what to do,” Cristobal said. Palmones said that while the IP system is an important subject in media coverage, very few journalists actually cover or even understand it. “That’s why we’re here; to make them understand it themselves and impart knowledge to the people who listen or read them,” he said. Palmones said among the group’s plans is the holding of workshops with educational institutions that have broadcast media or journalism courses, to expose the younger generation of journalists to the IP system and related concepts.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE PHILIPPINE Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is set to receive at least P1.6 billion in budget allocation and grants to upgrade its weather and climate forecasting capabilities. The biggest grant came from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which put in P1.08 billion, followed by the Korean International Agency, providing P50 million. The Australian Center for International Agriculture Research gave P5 million while the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Thailand provided P1 million. The Department of Science and Industry, which is the umbrella agency of PAGASA, meanwhile gave P200 million this year. All these grants are on top of the P360 million allocation for PAGASA from the national budget. PAGASA Operational Services Deputy Director Dr. Prisco Nilo said in an interview that this would be the biggest sum of grants and budget the agency received in recent years. Nilo said the amount would go to upgrading the weather bureau’s rainfall measurement tools, storm radars and flood monitoring equipment. These will be placed in major cities with large populations as well as flood-prone areas. The agency will also purchase at least eight Doppler radars, which measures the speed of an incoming tropical depression or storms. Each Doppler radar costs around P50 million to P60 million. Such equipment will give PAGASA more accurate measurements and give advance warning to areas that will be hit by storms. “We’ll also be upgrading our manpower capabilities. The ability of the equipment to measure weather-related phenomenon are just as good as the skills of our weather forecasters,” Nilo said. He noted that PAGASA has at least 1,000 employees and would hire more when some employees retire. Nilo said that the agency would eventually focus on monitoring the specific effects of climate change on the Philippines. So far, there is little empirical data indicating actual effects of global warming in the country.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE SINAG solar car has traveled 633 kilometers as of the second day of the Panasonic World Solar Challenge in Australia. This would be the longest distance yet traveled by the first Philippine-made solar car. According to the Sinag Team website, Sinag is in 29th place out of 37 cars after they passed the stop at Dunmarra, which is the second stop during the 3,021-kilometer race. Team Sinag has also avoided failing along the race, despite 10 other vehicles being towed. The team’s next stop is Alice Springs, which is another 600 kilometers from Dunmarra. They would reach Alice Springs by October 24 where they will be displayed for a while. The event, which started last October 21, will end in October 28. It will run from Darwin to Adelaide. Team Sinag is composed of 15 students from the De La Salle University. This would be the first time that the Philippines will join the World Solar Challenge. It joined under the Challenge category.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net LOS BAÑOS, Laguna--Members of the media that cover weather and those interested in the science of weather forecasting went to a field workshop by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA), the country’s lead agency on weather preparedness and forecasting. The workshop was held at the Splash Mountain Resort in Los Banos, Laguna and was attended by around 30 journalists from print, TV, radio and online. The three-day event aims to provide media all the information on weather forecasting, the technical details on data interpretation and planning on public information dissemination. It also conducted an astronomical study, particularly stargazing, one aspect that is not commonly known by most people. Assistant Science Secretary Carol Yorobe said the workshop is one of several activities that aim to get members of the media and scientists to understand each other and form a better system of data collection, interpretation and delivery. “We also want to make scientists out of you,” as Yorobe simply put it. The first day of the workshop focused mainly on the basics of weather and climate terminology and forecasting techniques. There are familiar terms and concepts on weather formation and climate changes that are actually part of elementary science textbooks. Still, the information was necessary in order to better establish the next stages of how weather is formed in the Philippines. The sessions included weather hazards in the Philippines, as presented by senior weather specialist Ninio Alejandre Relox wherein he identified the kinds of weather-related dangers such as thunderstorms, hail storms, flash floods, and on rare occasions, tornados and waterspouts. Relox also described the difference between the northeast monsoon (locally known as “Amihan”) and the southwest monsoon (locally termed “Habagat”) and their different effects and potential damage to properties and human life. Meanwhile, PAGASA Weather Branch chief Nathaniel Cruz described how PAGASA gathers weather and climate information both within and outside the country. In most cases, PAGASA regularly gets data from international observation satellites and facilities for weather anomalies, which it interprets into forecasting data for Philippine use. Based on the data, PAGASA weather specialists monitor the movement, speed and strength of the weather anomaly, categorized then given appropriate warnings to the public. Meanwhile, Jose Mendoza IV, a specialist from the astronomy division of PAGASA, also gave insights regarding the country’s astronomical programs. He said there are several government-owned astronomical observation facilities open to the public. Mendoza also said that PAGASA just recently switched on an astronomy website in celebration of the upcoming International Year of Astronomy 2009. During the open forum, the PAGASA executives noted the problems with the agency’s budget and manpower. Annually, PAGASA gets about P500 million, though it is getting more from the government due to better weather forecasting techniques regardless of lack of equipment and manpower. PAGASA chief of staff Cecilia Monteverde said the ideal distance of weather stations should be within 20 kilometers to get more specific weather data rather than a general overview within a large area. However, she said that the best that could be hoped for is one per region. With regards to manpower, PAGASA chief of the Natural Disaster Reduction Branch Rolu Encarnacion said that there are only a few weather forecasters working in PAGASA now and that there are occasions when their most senior forecasters move to work for the private sector or are hired abroad. There are no schools offering meteorology and climatology as an undergraduate course though the University of the Philippines-Diliman offers graduate and post-graduate degree while the Ateneo De Manila University is planning to offer it soon. “It’s not easy to be in this industry because the skills necessary are really high. It requires a lot of mathematical modeling to get the right data,” Encarnacion said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net LOS BAÑOS, Laguna--If there is one field that the Philippine media should focus on, it should be in bringing science and technology to the people and making them understand its effects on the country. This was the message delivered by Philippine Science Journalists (SciJourn) president Angelo Palmones during a workshop on weather forecasting conducted by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). Palmones, who is also the station manager of radio DZMM, said one of the key problems of the media is lack of understanding of the various aspects of science, which makes it difficult for them to explain concepts to ordinary readers. In particular he cited the method of interpreting data delivered by PAGASA. In most cases, PAGASA is blamed for alleged wrong predictions regarding the effects of the storms and the subsequent damage that go with these. Defending PAGASA's bad reputation among government officials and the general public, Palmones said it is also the media's responsibility to gather the correct and most timely data from PAGASA, interpret them and also highlight the potential dangers from storm forecasts. Palmones gave as an example the activities before and during the devastating storm Milenyo (international name Xangsane) in September last year. Most government offices immediately ordered the suspension of work and classes prior to the storm's landfall while some private companies that received the news also closed their offices and strengthened some structures. However, other people resumed their daily activities not knowing the storm’s strength. "This is where the media failed at some point. We didn’t explain thoroughly what would happen. We don’t just say how strong the winds of an upcoming storm [are], we tell [them] what’s going to happen when these strike vulnerable structures," Palmones said. Palmones went as far as saying that PAGASA does not claim weather prediction but rather weather forecasting. "There is no such thing as perfect forecasting. Even the US and China have the latest weather forecasting equipment but they are still heavily struck by storms and the floods that happen afterwards." Palmones said that what matters is readiness prior to these storms, stressing that local government officials should make preparations in case of brewing storms. "We can't stop disasters from happening but we can reduce the human toll," he said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE DEPARTMENT of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) is planning to expand the local herbal products industry to reduce dependence on imported drugs. In a press conference Wednesday, DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Jaime Montoya said building the local herbal industry was aimed at reducing the cost of more expensive drugs and dependence on foreign imports The use of herbal products for functional foods and personal care are major markets for the agency, Montoya said. "There has been an emergence in threats from infectious diseases and disorders from differing lifestyles, thus there is a shift towards preventive measures for health protection," Montoya said. Montoya said in his presentation that the herbal products industry in the Philippines was worth 2 million dollars per year relative to the revenue of the pharmaceutical industry. But this figure is only 3.5 percent of the total size of the pharmaceutical business, he said. Montoya said that the Philippines was rich in flora that could be utilized for local herbal development. There are 3,500 plant species endemic to the country and 120 species are scientifically validated to be usefu, he said. Among the plant species that can be commercially expanded is a local chaste tree (Vitex nagundo) otherwise locally known as lagundi, which is useful against cough and asthma; ngai camphor (Blumea balsamifera) otherwise known as sambong useful against kidney stones; wild mint (Mentha cordifolia) or yerba buena for pain relief; and candlebrush (Cassia alata) as an anti-fungal medication. Montoya identified other plant species that could be processed and commercially sold. Some of these are used for skin and hair care, as well as food products such as fortified health drinks. "Apart from the local market, our herbal products can be exported to Malaysia, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong," Montoya said. Among the plans of the PCHRD include starting research and development studies and intensifying current research on plant development and their viability for human consumption, said Montoya. In particular, the PCHRD will conduct and prioritize research on unique diseases in the Philippines and finding the corresponding species of plants that can prevent these diseases from spreading, Montoya said. "We would also increase information dissemination among R&D institutions across the country so we can build a database of commercially viable herbal products," Montoya said.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net THE DEPARTMENT of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute will reveal in November the 450 successful applicants in the online mathematics and science teacher training program. In an interview, DOST-SEI Director Ester Ogena said they received a little over 500 applications to the training program, which was more than what they expected since they only introduced the program two years ago. Under the program, public elementary teachers in mathematics and science would be provided with additional information and techniques in teaching the two subjects to students. One unique feature of this training is that it will be delivered online, theoretically reducing the hassles teachers face in attending a classroom-type environment. “The teachers may come from different parts of the country but they will be able to see each other through the Internet wherever they may be,” Ogena said. This program is a first in the Philippines and is an attempt by the DOST-SEI to improve the teaching capabilities of public school faculty. To help teachers through the training, the DOST-SEI will waive the P6,000 training fee, as well as giving a monthly P500 allowance to buy Internet prepaid cards. Likewise, the teachers can purchase the computers that will be issued to them at half the price, at P7, 600. Ogena noted that they had technical problems with their website, www.e-training.ph but that this was resolved about a month ago. “We’ll make sure it runs smoothly from now on.”
By Agence France-Presse SAN FRANCISCO, California--The most far-reaching search for extra-terrestrial life ever undertaken began Thursday as an array of radio telescopes that will trawl deepest space were activated in northern California. A total of 42 radio dishes started collecting scientific data from the furthest reaches of the universe, part of the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Hat Creek, around 270 miles (432 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The dishes will be part of an eventual army of telescopes numbering around 350 that are being deployed to help advance radio astronomy, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and the University of California, Berkeley said in a statement. "The ATA's technical capabilities exponentially increase our ability to search for intelligent signals, and may lead to the discovery of thinking beings elsewhere in the universe," said astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. "It is the first major telescope in the world built specifically for undertaking a search for extraterrestrial intelligence," he added. Shostak has compared the project to the 1997 Hollywood film "Contact", in which Jodie Foster plays a scientist based at a remote monitoring station trying to decipher signals from a distant civilization. "The Allen Telescope Array will be like 200 million Jodie Fosters sitting out there listening," Shostak said. The project is named after Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Paul G. Allen, who donated funding in 2001. Allen joined scientists from SETI and Berkeley on Thursday to launch the telescopes, which are able to monitor radio waves emitted by objects in space, allowing scientists to create a picture of astronomical bodies at distances not possible by telescopes operating at other wavelengths. "They're like souped-up, old-style TV dishes that, gathered together using state-of-the-art electronics and computing, create a very powerful and flexible radio telescope," Allen told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. "SETI is the long-shot of long shots, but we can also use this for regular radio astronomy."
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net FOR the next seven days, Team Sinag will be doing final checks and testing on the country’s first solar-powered vehicle that will be an entry to the upcoming World Solar Challenge from October 21 to 28. The 15-man team composed of students from the De La Salle University flew last Friday night to Australia to compete in the biennial event. Being their first time to compete in such a prestigious international contest, they feel the pressure of performing well. However, they remain confident and relaxed and are hopeful that their car, aptly christened “Sinag” (Filipino for “sunlight”), will be able to survive the trip from Darwin to Adelaide, a grueling 3,000-kilometer run under Australia’s hot sun. In an interview, Sinag team leader Robert Obiles said the team will immediately make final preparations upon reaching Australia. It will include more tweaks on the car as well as a test run to ensure that the car will be running smoothly all throughout the trip. Obiles said they have already tested the car on local roads, particularly in Pasay City’s Macapagal Avenue and in Batangas’ Star Toll. “So far, everything is running smoothly. We’ll be making more calculations to ensure maximum performance of the car and to draw up a strategy.” Noteworthy is Australia’s climate, which could be extremes during winter and summer. For example, Darwin’s temperature around this time could reach as high as 33 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius at night. Luckily, Adelaide has a more comfortable weather with temperatures reaching a maximum of 21 degrees Celsius to as low as 11 degrees Celsius. “We were told that Australia’s in their spring season and the temperature is almost the same as in the Philippines so we’ll be able to adjust there easily,” Obiles said. The WSC is both a trial for the drivers and the cars. Under the rules of the contest, each team should have at least two main drivers and another pair of back-up drivers. Each driver would have to drive nine hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There would be several checkpoints where racers can stop for a minimum of 30 minutes for rest and maintenance but strictly no repairs. Batteries cannot be replaced during these checkpoints but in case of a breakdown, batteries may be replaced but at cost of time penalty. Not surprisingly, the vehicles will not have airconditioning units and drivers may have to rely on the momentum of the cars to receive wind to cool them down. Orbiles said they put a few holes in the body of Sinag so that air will flow through though these should be minimized to reduce drag on the car that could slow it down. Orbiles and teammate Sherwin To will be the two back-up drivers for the competition while the primary drivers will be Ivan Porcalla and Eric Tan. The rest of the team are Rene Fernandez, Jack Catalan, Isidro Marfori, Emmanuel Gonzales, Noriel Mallari, Prince Ang, Mico Villena, Martin Sy-Quia, Vincent Yao, Kaiser Fernandez and Walter Chua.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net WHILE THE DE La Salle University’s “Sinag" (Filipino for "sunlight") solar car project may be celebrating its entry into the prestigious 2007 World Solar Challenge in Australia, it may not be alone in this endeavor. Apparently, another group of Filipinos is also quietly preparing for its participation in the competition, as part of a 15-man collaborative effort between Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong City and the Salesian Polytechnic Ikuei Kosen, an affiliate school under the Salesian universities and colleges. According to the information indicated in the official World Solar Challenge, the Don Bosco/Salesian Polytechnic team’s project is called the “Salesio Solar Car Project” that has a car number 97 and its country of origin is under Japan/Philippines. It has apparently been entered into the 20-year old competition four times from 1996, 1999, 2001 and this year. As such, the Salesio Solar Car will be joined under the Adventure Class category, which is for entries that have been entered in previous WSC competitions. Meanwhile, the Sinag Team’s entry will be under the Challenge Class category, which is for first-time participants. While the website did identify Don Bosco Technical College as part of the Salesio Solar Car Project, it did not specify the school’s exact involvement. As of this writing, Don Bosco has not yet responded to INQUIRER.net's calls to clarify its participation. On the other hand, a representative of Sinag told INQUIRER.net that they knew of Don Bosco’s involvement in the contest and that some Don Bosco students were sent to Japan to help in research for the Salesio Solar Car, though it was still primarily a Japanese entry. Japan has two other entries for the Adventure Class category in this year’s WSC while a third car will be entered as Prototype/Experimental. A total of 43 vehicles from 20 countries are entering the WSC, a biennial event that tests solar-powered car creations on a grueling 3,000-kilometer trip from Darwin to Adelaide, Australia from October 21 to 28. This will be the first time that an all-Filipino team will join the WSC. The De La Salle University fielded 15 students -- four to drive their solar car and the rest to maintain it.
By Agence France-Presse COPENHAGEN--The ice cap in the northern hemisphere is melting a lot more rapidly that scientists thought, according to new research published Thursday by the Danish National Space Center. "Until 2004, the glacier mass in the southeastern part of the island lost about 50 to 100 cubic kilometers (12 to 24 cubic miles) per year. After this date, the melting rate accelerated to 300 cubic kilometers per year. It's a jump of 400 percent, which is very worrying," National Space Center head researcher and project chief Abbas Khan told AFP. The ice cap, located in Greenland, is currently melting four times more rapidly than at the beginning of the decade according to the study. Glaciers in southeastern Greenland release icebergs into the sea, corresponding to a giant ice cube measuring 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) per side. "It's an alarming development," Khan said. "We do not know if it is due to global warming or other factors." The results of the study were made in conjunction with US-based University of Colorado and published Thursday on an online edition of Geophysical Research Letters magazine. The researchers measured ice melt with ultra-sensitive Global Positioning Systems (GPS) stations located in the mountains and along the ice cap. The measurements indicated that the mountains hugging glaciers in the southeastern part of Greenland rose four to five centimeters (1.5 to two inches) per year, and that the banks of the glaciers thinned 100 meters per year. The area of the Greenlandic ice cap measures 1.7 square kilometers and is 3.2 kilometers thick.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net WHAT do the sheep Dolly, the dog Snuppy and Amy the cow have in common? They're all clones, exact copies of their parents from a single cell. Now the Philippines is hoping to replicate the same cloning techniques to deliver the country's first cloned carabao or water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis carabanesis). The Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) and the Department of the Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCARRD) are working together to create a breed of cloned "super buffalos" for use primarily to improve the country's livestock supply. These super buffalos are actually the regular carabaos that have been naturally bred specifically to yield more milk and meat while resistant to carabao diseases. They have not been genetically modified in any way. The cloning technique to be employed by scientists from the PCC and PCARRD is called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, the same method used by British genetic engineers to create Dolly, the first artificially cloned mammal. It involves cells from an adult animal extracted and then placed into oocytes or immature ovum that will serve as its host. It is similar to in vitro fertilization but instead of using live sperm from a male, the cell is extracted from any part of the animal, including skin and hair. The cell contains the blueprint of all living things, thus using it as a primary cell directly copies the genetic material into the new animal. Afterwards, the cell and the oocyte, now called the embryo, is placed into a host animal. In this case, another healthy carabao will serve as a surrogate parent for the maturing super carabao embryo. During the presentation, PCC supervising science research specialist Edwin Atabay said the project is already in its next phase as they have already cultivated about 1, 500 embryos, all of which will soon be implanted into a healthy heifer. Atabay noted that the failure rate is very high during cloning processes and the PCC and the PCARRD are expecting a success rate of only five percent. “This is because the recipient animal might reject the embryo so we'll have to keep on repeating the process until we succeed,” Atabay said. Atabay hopes that the first live cloned specimen, which would be female, will be born within a year or two, depending on the progress of further testing the viability of the embryos. Atabay added the cloning of carabaos was intended to help the livestock industry improve its cattle and milk yield, which is already in decline in the Philippines. Much of the cattle meat being consumed in the Philippines today is imported, with the Philippines producing 59 percent of the total requirement. Likewise, milk and dairy products are mostly imported with the Philippines producing only two percent of the overall requirement. “On an average, we’re importing 26 billion pesos worth of milk and dairy products and another 24 billion for carabeef (carabao meat),” Atabay said. PCARRD director for Livestock Research Edwin Villar said that by creating genetically superior carabaos the country can start producing its own requirements for beef, milk and dairy products, which helps not just the consumer but also the local livestock industry. He also hopes that their research coming from the cloning procedure of carabaos will be useful for global research on animal cloning. Villar said the PCC and PCARRD have already invested around P6 million in the project, which includes improvements in PCC laboratories specifically for cloning, as well as training of scientists in this field. He also said that the resulting cloned animals will not be sold commercially, but will be the source for subsequent production of live animals to be distributed to livestock farmers nationwide. And like all proud parents, the PCC and PCARRD are hoping to name their first-born cloned carabao after an important person. "We may call it 'Estrella,'" Villar joked, referring to Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, who discreetly requested both agencies not to name the animal after her.
By Agence France-Presse BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan--Malaysia's first astronaut was to blast off on Wednesday on a space voyage seen as breaking new boundaries for the Asian nation and for space travel by Muslims. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was to lift off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 1322 GMT in a Russian Soyuz rocket headed for the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and American Peggy Whitson. He was to spend about nine days on the ISS, arriving at the orbiting station near the end of the holy month of Ramadan and staying there for the Eid festival, when he will treat the long-term crew to festive Malaysian food. Malaysian officials have described the voyage as a national milestone as their country marks 50 years of independence. Muszaphar, a 35-year-old doctor who has undergone extensive astronaut training, has said he hopes to inspire Malaysians to further space achievements and that Malaysia should have its own spacecraft by 2020. He is due to conduct scientific experiments on behalf of Malaysia's Genome Institute, including tests on cancer cells to be transported on the Soyuz. He has also said he will try to observe the fasting rules of Ramadan and that he hopes to get closer to God and share his experiences with other Muslims. He is one of very few Muslims who have traveled to space. Malaysian religious authorities have prepared guidelines adapting religious rules to life on the ISS, which circles the Earth 16 times per calendar day, meaning that without adapting the rules he would be obliged to pray 80 times in 24 hours. The guidelines say that the astronaut need only pray five times a day and that the times should follow the location from which the spacecraft blasted off. The visit has been arranged as part of a billion-dollar purchase by Malaysia of Russian fighter jets, Russia being the operator of the Baikonur cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan. Russia has launched about 1,800 Soyuz rockets in various adaptations and technical staff were confident the launch would pass without a hitch. This month is the 50th anniversary of the start of modern space travel, which dates from the Soviet Union's launch on Oct. 4, 1957 of the first ever satellite, Sputnik 1, from Baikonur.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net RESEARCH conducted by environmentalist group Greenpeace said the Philippines may suffer a decline in fresh water sources by 2025 due to water pollution, climate change and lack of government-led water management. The “State of Water in the Philippines” study pointed out several river basins where a decline in water would happen such as in Pampanga, Agno, Pasig-Laguna, Cagayan Valley, Jalaur River in Iloilo and Hilabangan River in Negros Occidental. Greenpeace noted that while the quality of water is declining, the cost of obtaining fresh water is steadily increasing. Likewise, blatant abuse of water sources, disrespect for existing laws and even lack of enforcement are also to blame for the water shortage. The group also said toxic materials continue to seep into the water table and that the government has limited monitoring capabilities. The report also cited an earlier study by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which acknowledged that as much as 50 of the 421 rivers in the country can be considered "biologically dead" due to pollution. Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Beau Baconguis said in a statement that the problems indicated in the study are just a sample of what is happening to the country’s water source. She said the country should focus on cleaning up the production process among major manufacturing industries instead of containing or putting standards as to what are tolerable levels of toxic material leakage into water. “Another problem with the existing laws, aside from the fact that they cannot be enforced, is the fixation on standards. The law does not put a stop to the presence of toxic chemicals in the water, but assigns limits, or ‘standards’ about how much of these chemicals can be tolerated in the water. This leads to a legalized sort of pollution, because the ‘allowable standards’ for example of lead or mercury in the water, build up in the environment and can still end up in our food, or in our water,” Baconguis said. The group recently conducted Project: Clean Water, which would start as a photo exhibit on fresh water, in Robinson's Galleria from Oct. 10 to 17. This would be followed by several other activities to promote the cleaning water sources.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net AMID the availability of off-the-shelf fire prevention devices that are mostly expensive, two researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Banos developed a low-cost fire detection mechanism that only uses an ordinary computer and a webcam. Professor Jaderick Pabico and his colleague Deiter Dizon have designed a real-time fire detection system using an existing software algorithm on a computer that connects to a USB-mounted web camera. Unlike most commercial fire detection sensors that use infrared and heat, web cameras can identify spectral, spatial and temporal properties of fires -- actually "seeing" the fire. The use of color video streams from a web camera is more effective as it can also provide a visual profile of the ongoing fire, its speed of growth, location and size, which are determined by the computer's complex algorithms. Even the sound from a fire can be recorded to help in analyzing the fire. Pabico and Dizon said the criteria can be adjusted to improve detection under specific environments. Their system aims to help decisionmakers avoid future fire damage while also aiding arson and forensic investigators. Pabico and Dizon reported that they tested the system on various indoor and outdoor fires and claim that it detected real fire events and ignored 84 percent of non-fire events. It also detected non-fire events as fire events, or false alarms, 12 percent of the time and ignored real fire events four percent of the time. On the other hand, the two scientists explained that the ignored fire events were from controlled fires such as the blue flame from a torch welder and a motionless flame from a gas stove. "Based on our tests, our vision-based fire detection system from off-the-shelf hardware can be a cheap yet flexible alternative to traditional ones," they said in their paper. Dizon and Pabico's paper was presented during the recently held 29th Annual Scientific Meeting of the National Academy of Science and Technology.
By Agence France-Presse TOKYO--Japan's first lunar probe successfully entered the moon's orbit on the most extensive mission there since the US Apollo program, officials said Friday. The Kaguya probe, which was launched last month on a domestically developed rocket, appears to be functioning normally, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said. "We have confirmed that the satellite's condition is normal," it added. The lunar orbiter, aiming to collect data for research on the moon's origin and evolution, will orbit 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the moon. Japan has been expanding its space operations and has set a goal of sending an astronaut to the moon by 2020 in the hopes of restoring pride in its troubled space program. It faced an embarrassing failure in November 2003, when it had to destroy a rocket carrying a spy satellite 10 minutes after lift-off because a booster failed to separate. The setback came just a month after neighboring China became the third country to carry out a manned space mission. China is pressing ahead with a program that includes space walks and dockings. With the lunar orbiter, Japan hopes to keep the country one step ahead of China and other regional rivals like India, which are also expected to launch similar probes in coming months.
By Louise Daly Agence France-Presse CHICAGO--It sounds like something out of "Star Trek" -- a tropical plant that uses toxic and come-hither odors and rising temperatures to ensure pollination. But in fact, this scenario is straight out of nature. In a paper released Thursday, US biologists report that the Australian cycad, a primitive tropical plant with large seed cones, uses a novel "pull-push" method to manipulate the tiny flying insects, or thrips, that it relies on for pollination. The thrips tend to congregate in the male cones (which are much like pine cones) where they feed and make their homes -- but at a certain time of day, the plant will heat up and emit a toxic order, repelling the insects. The pollen-laden insects then fly to the neighboring or surrounding female cones which are emitting a more attractive odor, where they pollinate the female plant's eggs. "The cycads are trading food for sex," said Robert Roemer, a co-author of the paper in the journal Science. "Pollen is the only thing these thrips eat, so they totally rely on the plants. And the thrips are the only animals that pollinate the plants." The curious "mating ritual" only occurs during a short pollination period that occurs once a year to once every several years. "Then they are done and the cones disintegrate," said Irene Terry, the University of Utah biologist who was lead author on the paper. During the pollination period, the cycads can increase the temperature in their cones each day between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. The male cones particularly tend to raise the temperature higher -- up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the ambient air. The plants, use a metabolic process to turn up the heat -- burning sugars, starches, and fats that have been stockpiled to fuel routine cell functions. This process is accompanied by a massive release of odors. One chemical in particular, named beta-myrcene, increases to toxic, lethal levels and drives the pollen-covered insects out of the male cones. A similar process is occurring in the female cones, but because the female plants don't heat up so much, the odors generated aren't offensive. In fact at lower concentrations the beta-myrcene chemical odor is slightly attractive, so the insects end up taking refuge there and pollinating their eggs. The novel push-pull pollination strategy that the cycads evolved may be an intermediate evolutionary stage on the path from plants using odors to repel herbivore predators to plants using attractive odors to attract pollinating insects, Terry said. "It is thought that early on, these odors were used as defensive mechanisms to repel plant eaters, and that some early pollination systems evolved with insects that used the odors to find the plant," she said. Cycads belong to the same group of plants as modern conifers such as pines or firs. They are known as "living fossils" because they date back 250- 290-million years to the Permian Period. This species can be found in the coastal mountains of Queensland and New South Wales in Australia.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net CAGAYAN de Oro City Second District Representative Rufus Rodriguez has filed two proposals that seek to protect the environment. House Bill 2512 makes mandatory the use of recyclable or biodegradable materials for the packaging of consumer products while HB 2521 would create an oil spill liability fund. Rodriguez pointed out that under HB 2512, any business or non-business entity that use recycled or biodegradable materials for packaging consumer goods will be given income tax deductibility privileges. "Establishing mechanisms for the use of recyclable and biodegradable materials particularly in the manufacturing of consumer goods is one way of conserving our resources," Rodriguez said. Meanwhile, HB 2521 was born out of past events of oil spills from tankers, particularly the 2006 disaster of the ship M/V Solar I, which spilled approximately 200, 000 liters of crude oil off the coast of Guimaras Island in Mindanao. It was considered as the worst oil spill in the country’s history. Under the proposal, the fund would be sourced out from the contributions of operators of the tankers and barges that haul oil products through the country's waterways and shipping routes. "This legislative measure seeks to institute a mechanism for the prevention, abatement, mitigation and control of oil pollution within the territorial jurisdiction of the country," Rodriguez said.
By Mira Oberman Agence France-Presse CHICAGO--Snuggled into a huge belt of warm dust, an Earth-like planet appears to be forming some 424 light years away, scientists said Wednesday. At somewhere between 10 and 16 million years old, the planet's solar system is still in its "very young adolescence," but is at the perfect age for forming Earth-like planets, said lead researcher Carey Lisse of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. The massive dust ring surrounding one of the system's two stars is smack in the middle of the system's "habitable zone" where water could one day exist on a rocky planet. These types of dust belts rarely form around sun-like stars and the presence of an outer ice belt makes it all the more likely that water, and subsequently life, could one day reach the planet's surface. And this belt is made up of rocky compounds similar to those which form our Earth's crust and metal sulfides similar to the material found in the Earth's core. "It's just the right stuff to be making an Earth," Lisse said in a telephone interview. "It's exciting to think that this is happening." Not that Lisse will be around to see much of it. The images captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are about 424 years old, but that's barely a blink in the eye of the young planet. It will likely be about 100 million years before the planet is fully formed and -- if our planet is anything to go by -- about a billion years before the first signs of life such as algae appear, Lisse said. The evolution of complex organisms such as dinosaurs will probably take another couple billion years if the new planet follows a pattern similar to ours, he added. "We've got a long time to go," he said. But the images captured have helped Lisse and his colleagues understand a lot about how an Earth-like planet could form. While mathematical models can be created to extrapolate what will happen to this particular system, even more can be learned if astronomers continue to probe the universe for other Earth-like planets at various stages of development. "For me, this is all part of the big story of how we got here," Lisse said. The next step in studying this particular system will be to try to capture more images of it to see if gas-like planets, such as our Jupiter and Saturn, have already formed and to get a more detailed look at the contents of the dust and ice belts. Right now, the planet in the system known as HD113766 is growing as dust grains clump together to form rocks and these rocks collide to form larger bodies, some as big as our own moon. There are no plans yet to give it a name. Lisse's findings will be presented next week at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences and published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal.

Remembering Sputnik

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AS we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, which marked the dawn of the Space Age and the start of the Space Race, it seems fitting that several nations are eyeing a return to the moon. What's also interesting is that the US, which sent men to the moon in response to the shock of seeing the USSR take the lead in the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik, is practically conceding that China might beat it back to the moon. Here's an excerpt from the Discovery Channel article:
It took years for the United States to recover from the shock of being bested in space by the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957, and the flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin just 42 months later, but the country recovered in time to clinch the grand prize in the Cold War space race by landing a man on the moon. This time, the United States may not be so lucky. "I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are," NASA administrator Michael Griffin said during a luncheon speech in Washington D.C., last week. "I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it."
Here are video clips of digitized film footage of the Sputnik launch and the Space Race courtesy of TVNETWORKS.
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net MOBILE communications firm Smart Communications recently joined the Philippine Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Program (PHILGARP) in an effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases among large companies in the Philippines. Smart will be among the 19 members of the Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE) that will join PHILGARP, which is a voluntary program for greenhouse accounting and reporting, as well as resource management and greenhouse gases protocol standards. During a recent PHILGARP workshop, Smart Network Logistics Operations-Administration and Materials Management Division Head Jessie Sarmiento showed data from Smart’s General Services-Properties Facilities Management Department, Network Logistics Operations of AMMD, Systems Support Engineering of Network Services Division and Fixed Asset Finance Group. Sarmiento’s data showed that Smart’s main sources of greenhouse gas emissions are activities that require electric power and the operation of company-paid vehicles, he said. The company is already initiating pro-environment in-house measures like the installation of fuel catalysts in generator sets supplying power to some 600 cell sites nationwide. These fuel catalysts are expected to reduce diesel consumption by 18 to 20 percent, with a corresponding decrease in carbon emission. Sarmiento added that other measures include strict vehicle maintenance servicing at every 5,000-kilometer interval run, the scheduled replacement of forklifts from gas to electric and the prioritization of the use of E-10 alternative unleaded gas on fleet vehicles where it is available. The company’s use of liquefied petroleum gas devices is also currently under study. In its corporate offices, Smart is also promoting energy-efficiency programs like reducing the operating time of air-conditioning units, using electronic ballasts, turning off the coffee machine after office hours, asking employees to hibernate PCs during lunch, converting fluorescent lights, using LED lights, retiring inefficient air-conditioning units and other equipment and separating switches for cost-efficient lighting. PhilGARP aims to provide a platform for public reporting and information dissemination on greenhouse gas emission management issues. In the coming weeks, companies in the pilot group will have consultations with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) on the inventory management plan and GHG inventories. Among the agency partners for PHILGARP are Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Energy, WRI, WBCSD, PBE and its secretariat the Klima Climate Change Center of the Manila Observatory. It is also supported by the United States Agency for International Development.

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