Man-made deluge scours Grand Canyon in the name of endangered fish
To survive, the humpback chub—an endangered fish with a prominent hump of flesh immediately behind its long-snouted head—needs sandbars in the Colorado River. These silt deposits create calm waters where the fish can spawn and also cloud the river creating conditions in which the chub can thrive. But the building of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s ended the natural ebb and flow of the river that courses through the Grand Canyon, which severely altered the natural conditions in which the chub evolved, pushing the silvery-green fish onto the path of extinction. This week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne personally supervised the release of 41,500 cubic feet (1,175 cubic meters) of water per second over a 60-hour period to mimic a natural flood that will enlarge existing sandbars. The bars themselves, however, won't survive very long—they'll be quickly eroded when river levels are shifted to maximize electricity generation. And there are no plans to repeat the inundation, which is itself a repeat of similar efforts in 1996 and 2004 that didn't succeed in helping the fish. One environmental advocate told The New York Times that the well-publicized event was a "charade." (USGS, The Economist, The New York Times

Painting the town with solar power
Many large buildings are sheathed in sheets of steel, typically coated to resist corrosion. Now researchers in Wales are exploring how to cover such material with a photovoltaic paint that can produce solar power. "We haven't really paid much attention to how we can make the outside of steel capable of doing something other than looking good," materials researcher Dave Worsley of Swansea University said in a statement. The idea of using the steel to generate power came from one of Swansea's engineering graduate students, who was looking into how sunlight interacts with titanium dioxide, often found in paints and dyes. The team realized that if they used solar cells made from titanium dioxide dyes, which were first created by Michael Graetzel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, such cells could coat steel and generate electricity. The potential is huge: 4,500 gigawatts (4,500 billion watts) of electricity per year for every 1.08 billion square feet (100 million square meters) of the steel coated in the dye, Worsley estimates, or more than 260 times the installed capacity of all U.S. wind farms. The researchers hope to have test batches available in the next few years. (Swansea University press release

Military bases are off-limits for Google Earth, says Pentagon
When it comes to Internet maps, the more realistic, the better—except when those maps are of military bases and not officially authorized by the Pentagon. Google, Inc., found this out the hard way this week after panoramic images of Ft. Sam Houston Army base in San Antonio, Tex., showed up on its Google Maps site, the Associated Press reports. Military officials have banned Google Earth cartographers from making 360-degree, street-level video maps of U.S. bases because it would provide would-be attackers with important information. Some of this concern may be justified, as demonstrators in England earlier this week indicated that Google Earth had been an integral tool in plotting a recent protest on the roof of the Houses of Parliament against the expansion of London Heathrow Airport, the reported. Google Street View, which debuted in May, lets users view and navigate 360-degree, street-level digital images of 21 U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami and the Big Apple. (The Sunday Times, AP

German police crack down on alleged patent offenders at trade show
Suspecting patent violations, German police and customs officials descended upon the CeBIT 2008 trade and technology fair in Berlin this week and confiscated 68 boxes of mobile phones, navigation devices, electronic picture frames and flat-screen devices, according to the Associated Press. Police targeted 51 of the show's exhibitors, more than half of them based in Hong Kong and other locations in China, as well as in Taiwan. The rest of the exhibitors were from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and South Korea. The alleged patent violations largely concerned devices with MP3, MP4 or digital video broadcast functions and DVD players as well as blank CDs and DVDs, according to the AP report. The busts came after companies that held patents on these various technologies had been unsuccessful in contacting the alleged violators. (AP)

I'm not on break, I'm using Nintendo Wii to do research!
Next time you visit a science lab and see someone using a Nintendo Wii, it may not be because researchers are slacking off. Psychologists at the University of Memphis have pressed the Wii's remote controller—known as the Wiimote—into duty for their research, using it to study how arm motions change as someone learns to perform a task. Based on data from the Wiimote, the scientists found that participants became more confident in their body language as they improved at the exercise. The authors of the study, published in PLoS ONE, reported that video games of the future could use information gleaned from a user's body positions to change the difficulty of a game based on the confidence implied by a player's posture. Kudos to the scientists for making lab time playtime, but their work is still only the second-most clever use of the Wiimote. (ANI)

Mouse model could explain human speech deficits
What do running on a track and speech have in common? A particular genetic mutation, according to an international team led by researchers at the University of Oxford. The scientists found that mice with a mutant gene known to impair mouth movements necessary for speech in humans aren't coordinated enough to run on a track. When the team examined the brains of the mutated mice, they found that cells in a region associated with movement planning and function didn't react when given an electrical jolt, which typically strengthens connections between cells to boost learning. Those findings—published this week in Current Biology—suggest that the gene, known as FOXP2 is involved in learning the muscle movements necessary for speech, explains co-author Simon Fisher, a professor of molecular neuroscience at Oxford's Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics. This implies that FOXP2, the only gene thus far to be linked to speech and language in humans, may cause similar problems in people. (Discovery News