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Hammer champion is out IT WAS a heavy blow for Belarus as Ivan Tsikhan, their champion hammer thrower, was withdrawn from the Olympic Games last week after he was found to have used banned substances to win silver in Athens eight years ago. Drug cheats develop ever more sophisticated ways of avoiding detection while anti-doping authorities hurry to catch up. This game of cat and mouse gives the International Olympics Committee (IOC) reason to maintain an eight-year statute of limitations on drug-related offences. However, anti-doping technologies may be so far behind that this statute could be extended to 14 years, says Andy Parkinson, chief executive of UK Anti-Doping. Since Tsikhan won the silver medal
in 2004, the IOC has implemented a number of new procedures to test for performance-enhancing substances, the most significant of which was the biological passport. This relies on regular monitoring of an athlete’s biological functions to identify any suspicious changes. There are also improved tests for so-called designer steroids and a class of drugs called CERA, which increase the production of red blood cells. One innovation introduced the week the London games started was an improved detection system for human growth hormone (HGH). The test identifies two biomarkers whose concentration in the body rises when synthetic HGH is present. Which test caught Tsikhan out has yet to be confirmed.
sent up in the next few months. The agency has said it aims to send a human into space by 2020. Iran’s space agency denies any military intentions, instead citing applications such as earthquake monitoring. Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation, which promotes ideas about the use of outer space, says Iran’s motivation is more likely to be to improve its national image than develop military capability. “I think prestige is the most likely because it’s the main reason why most countries pursue human spaceflight,” he says.
–Caught, years later–
“The house of Manhattan project director J. Robert Oppenheimer is expected to become an attraction” the most important buildings and artefacts. The reactors at Hanford and Oak Ridge, which produced plutonium and enriched uranium, are among 4 | NewScientist | 11 August 2012
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MOST of the thousands who worked in a remote cluster of wooden buildings and metal shacks in the New Mexico desert in the 1940s had no idea they were part of the Manhattan project. The buildings in which they researched and tested the nuclear bomb could get a new lease of life. Stripped of their classified laboratory equipment, many of the buildings at Los Alamos in New Mexico, Oak Ridge in Tennessee and Hanford in Washington are rusting and face being condemned. But the US Congress drafted bills in June to turn them into national parks. Archaeologists and historians have begun preserving some of
those that have been designated signature facilities to be restored and preserved. The house of Manhattan project director J. Robert Oppenheimer is likely to be an attraction at Los Alamos. If the bills pass, only US citizens will be allowed to visit the sites and cellphones and cameras will be prohibited. The Department of Energy has determined that although the three sites are still contaminated by nuclear waste today, lingering radiation will not harm visitors as tours would avoid contaminated areas.
IRAN’S space agency isn’t monkeying around. When Ramadan ends in mid-August, the nation intends to launch a Rhesus macaque into space, officials said last week. In 2010 an Iranian rocket carried worms, a mouse and two turtles as passengers, all of which were returned unharmed. Iranian forays into space have surprised international onlookers due to their speed and secrecy. It has launched three satellites in as many years, and a fourth is to be
Ebony spat ends PETER TOWNSHEND famously smashed these guitars up at the end of gigs. This week the Gibson Guitar Corporation resolved a criminal investigation into whether it had bought ebony boards illegally imported from Madagascar, in order to make fretboards. The US Department of Justice, which investigated the allegation, has now reached an agreement –Gibson pays out– with Gibson, in which the firm
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Historic ice loss
acknowledges that it failed to act on information that the ebony may have violated the Lacey Act. This forbids imports of wood that are in violation of the laws of the exporting country. Gibson, of Nashville, Tennessee, is now required to pay a penalty of $300,000 as well as $50,000 to the US National Fish and Wildlife Service to promote conservation of protected trees. It will also forfeit some wood seized in the investigation, worth $261,844. Gibson says it was “inappropriately targeted” but reached agreement in order to avoid an expensive court case.
that the ice sheet melted as rapidly between 1985 and 1993 as between 2005 and 2010 (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1220614). Kjær has already done a preliminary analysis of even earlier aerial photos, and thinks
EVEN in the Arctic circle, history repeats itself. The dramatic ice loss from Greenland between 2005 and 2010 drove up sea levels around the world – but it was not unprecedented. A similar retreat “Records show that the ice happened in the late 1980s. sheet melted as rapidly Greenland’s ice sheet has been monitored by satellites for just 20 between 1985 and 1993 as between 2005 and 2010” years, so researchers didn’t know whether the recent acceleration in ice loss was a new phenomenon that Greenland also lost a lot of ice in the 1930s. He says surges of ice or not. Using aerial photographs loss may be a regular occurrence, from the 1980s, Kurt Kjær of the although they may become more University of Copenhagen in common as the world warms. Denmark, and colleagues, found
Missing gorillas spotted
Higgs signal boost
THE Higgs boson is now even SOME of the gorillas caught in the midst of fighting within the more of a sure thing. Democratic Republic of the Congo ATLAS, one of two experiments have been located. Dozens more behind last month’s discovery of remain missing. the elusive particle, has carried Virunga National Park is home out a more complete analysis to around 200 of the estimated of its original result. This boosts 790 mountain gorillas (Gorilla the statistical significance of beringei beringei) remaining in ATLAS’s observed Higgs signal the wild. The primates are tracked from 5 sigma to nearly 6 sigma, daily under normal circumstances, meaning the chance of it being but the park’s rangers have been due to background processes has unable to monitor them for almost sunk to 2 in a billion. three months due to heavy fighting The experiments at the Large between a rebel militia called the Hadron Collider didn’t see the Higgs directly; it decays so quickly M23 and government forces. At the end of July, park authorities that they can detect only the were given permission to search for resulting sets of particles, known as decay channels. While the other the missing animals by the M23, now in control of Africa’s oldest national experiment, CMS, presented results for all five possible sets, ATLAS was initially only confident enough to present evidence in two channels: the photons and the Z bosons. But a paper posted online by the ATLAS team on 31 July now includes the rates for the W boson channel too, and this improves the team’s overall confidence level (arxiv.org/abs/1207.7214v1). With strong Higgs results in hand, an international team is proposing a new collider called LEP3 to study the particle in detail. The machine could be built within the next 10 years in the tunnel that –Found at last– houses the LHC, say its backers.
park. A census has located several missing families. “It was truly amazing to see the gorillas again after so long and so much fighting,” says Innocent Mburanumwe, warden of the park’s gorilla sector. “They had not seen us for a very long time and seemed calm and curious.” There is no evidence that the gorillas have been targeted in the fighting, although they have been in the past, but they are still under threat. Gorillas and humans are genetically close, which makes them vulnerable to many of the same diseases. That ups the chances that the gorillas could pick up an infection from the militia in the area – or vice versa.
Astronaut defects Syria’s first man in space, Mohammad Ahmad Faris, is among the latest in a string of high-profile defectors from President Bashar Assad’s regime. According to Turkish state media, the astronaut declared his support for the opposition and crossed into Turkey over the weekend. Faris, 61, visited the Soviet space station Mir in 1987.
Name that bat All major European bat species can now be identified from their echolocation calls. An online tool called iBatsID finds the best match for a call from a library of 34 species (Journal of Applied Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/j.13652664.2012.02182.x).
More early humans Three new human fossils from northern Kenya provide the best evidence yet that at least two species of Homo shared the African plains 2 million years ago. The face and two lower jaws may bolster previous claims that Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis are distinct species (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/ nature11322).
Huntingdon’s hope Methylene blue, a drug approved to treat malaria, might slow the progression of Huntington’s disease. The drug reduced the accumulation of misfolded proteins in brain cells, which underlie the disease, and improved behaviour in mice engineered to have the condition (Journal of Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.0895-12.2012).
Shuttle showdown NASA has charged three firms with creating replacements for its space shuttle, which retired last year. SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, Boeing of Chicago, Illinois, and Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado, all won contracts, but Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, did not.
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