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Updated: 35 min 58 sec ago

New AAAS chief’s appointment stirs debate about the boundary between science and politics

3 February 2015
The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Rush Holt inspires disagreement at Nature.

Biomechanical measurements in the fast lane

3 February 2015
A dozen microscopes in one allow high throughput characterization of biofluids.

Polarization of light used to make Möbius strips

2 February 2015

New Scientist: If you take a strip of paper and give it a half twist and tape the ends together, the result is the one-sided loop known as a Möbius strip. Now, Peter Banzer of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, Germany, and his colleagues have demonstrated a similar effect using light. In 2005 it was predicted that light's polarization could become twisted like a Möbius strip. Banzer and his team achieved the effect by scattering two polarized beams off gold nanoparticles in such a way that the beams interfered with each other. The resulting light had polarizations with either three or five twists. The ability to twist polarized light could reveal details about light's 3D structure, which could lead to uses in biomedical imaging and particle manipulation.

Yucca Mountain proposal deemed safe but is not recommended

2 February 2015

Nature: On 29 January, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released the final two volumes of its technical analysis of the Department of Energy's proposal to use Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear waste repository. Although the report indicates that DOE's plan is sound, the NRC does not recommend going ahead with the construction. President Obama abandoned the project five years ago. Yet a federal court ruled that the NRC had to continue the study while it still had funds to do so. Even if Congress were to provide more funding for the next step (a further analysis of ecological impacts), the local governments in Nevada are openly resistant to selling the land to the federal government. Without that land, construction cannot begin.

Poll finds growing Republican support for action on climate change

2 February 2015
New York Times: According to a recent telephone poll, a growing number of Americans believe that climate change is occurring and is caused by human activity. In addition, a majority of Americans support government action to fight global warming, and two-thirds prefer political candidates who say they will take on that challenge. The poll was conducted by the New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan environmental research group. Although by party, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to feel that global warming is an important issue, the poll found that 61% of Republicans admit that reducing emissions is essential to curbing global warming and 51% say the government needs to take action. Many Republican politicians, however, continue to resist efforts to curb global warming on the basis that they will hurt the economy.

Cold plasma shown to fight norovirus

2 February 2015
BBC: Human norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis, which is characterized by severe nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The virus spreads particularly well in crowded areas, such as cruise ships, and has been difficult to study because it is almost impossible to grow in a laboratory. Now Birte Ahlfeld and Günter Klein of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, and their colleagues propose fighting the virus using nonthermal atmospheric pressure plasma, or cold plasma. The room-temperature, ionized gas molecules, created by applying an electric field to ambient air, were shown to be successful at inactivating the virus. Cold plasmas also are being developed for other medical applications, including the treatment of dental caries.