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See Inside May 2006

News Scan Briefs

AVIATION
Powering Off for Safety
Lifting the ban on cell phones during flights, a change being considered by the Federal Communications Commission, may be a bad idea: portable electronics can potentially interfere with GPS navigation, which has been increasingly used during landings. Carnegie Mellon University researchers stowed, with permission, a wireless frequency spectrum analyzer onboard 37 commercial flights in the eastern U.S. They found that passengers made one to four cell phone calls per flight. Moreover, the group discovered that other onboard sources (possibly DVD players, gaming devices or laptops) emitted in the GPS frequency, consistent with anonymous safety reports that these devices have interrupted the function of navigation systems....

ENTOMOLOGY
Cannibal Run
Millions of Mormon crickets swarm across western North America--not to devour crops, as do the more familiar locust hordes, but apparently to flee from one another. An international team studying a one-kilometer-long swarm in Idaho last year found that the flightless crickets were avid cannibals. When the scientists left food out for the insects, they clearly preferred meals high in protein and salt, nutrients the crickets are themselves rich in....

NANOTECH
Origami from DNA
Strands of DNA can be folded into flat structures as elaborate as maps of the Americas. The DNA origami technique developed by California Institute of Technology computer scientist Paul Rothemund takes a long DNA and folds it repeatedly like a piece of string to create any desired shape, much like drawing a picture using a single line. Short DNAs are added to hold each fold in place....

PHYSICS
Artificial Gravity with Magnetism
Devices for simulating changes in gravity range from centrifuges to "vomit comets," but simple magnetism may offer the most versatile method. Living tissues are diamagnetic, meaning that they become magnetic in response to an external magnetic field. Researchers have used a powerful magnet to levitate frogs, effectively putting them in zero gravity; now the same Brown University group has varied and reversed the gravity felt by the single-celled paramecium, which senses gravity and swims against it....

PLANETS
Cold Faithful
Ice geysers off the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus potentially hint at an underground ocean. In three flybys, the Cassini space probe detected a plume of ice and dust shooting thousands of kilometers high above the cracked, buckling crust. Most of the plume falls back down as snow to gild plains already littered with house-size ice boulders....

VISION
Eyeing Redness
Color vision may have originated in humans and related primates to spot blushes on cheeks and faces pale with fear. Whereas birds' and bees' color receptors are evenly sensitive across the visible spectrum, two of the three kinds of color photoreceptors in humans and other Old World primates are both most sensitive to roughly 550-nanometer-wavelength light. California Institute of Technology neurobiologists suggest that this closeness in sensitivities is optimized toward detecting subtle changes in skin tone because of varying concentrations of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood....

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