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China Cuts Rare Earth Exports; U.S. Concerned

China plans to slash its exports of rare earth minerals used worldwide in high-tech products and clean energy, a decision that could cause strain with the United States.

The Commerce Ministry said Tuesday that it will scale back the export quotas 11 percent in the first half of 2011.

China churns out 97 percent of the global supply of rare earth elements, which are essential components of high-technology products like cell phones, computer drives, and hybrid cars, AP reports.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office voiced concern over the move.

“We are very concerned about China’s export restraints on rare earth materials. We have raised our concerns with China and we are continuing to work closely on the issue with stakeholders,” a USTR spokeswoman said, according to Reuters.

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and China. China lowered its export quota by 40 percent in 2010 and last week shot down U.S. requests to end the restraints. The USTR says the United States may bring the dispute before the World Trade Organization, Reuters reports.

China is allocating 14,446 tons of rare earths among 31 companies.

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Men and Women Have Equal Math Skills

MADISON, Wis., Oct. 13 (UPI) — Men and women have equal skills in math, something widely accepted among social scientists, but not by parents and teachers, U.S. researchers said.

Chief author Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the meta-analysis involved looked systematically at 242 articles that assessed the math skills of 1,286,350 people from 1990 to 2007.

Hyde and colleagues looked at students in grade school to college and beyond. A second portion examined the results of several large, long-term scientific studies, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The meta-analysis, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, finds in both cases, the difference in math skills between the two sexes was so small as to be meaningless.

Nonetheless, teachers and parents often guide girls away from math-heavy sciences and engineering classes, Hyde says.

“Parents and teachers give little implicit messages about how good they expect kids to be at different subjects and that powerfully affects their self-concept of their ability,” Hyde says in a statement. “There is lots of evidence that what we call ‘stereotype threat’ can hold women back in math. If, before a test, you imply that the women should expect to do a little worse than the men, that hurts performance. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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University Researches Missile Software

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Oct. 12 (UPI) — U.S. academic researchers say they are working with the U.S. Defense Department on software meant to improve missile defense during an enemy attack.

Scientists at Purdue University say the work is meant to manage the large volume of incoming data during an enemy attack for better battle management and command and control of the missile defense system, a university release said Tuesday.

“New software algorithms are needed to determine if it’s a missile and what type, then engage our missile defense system to bring it down,” Saurabh Bagchi of Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering said.

The project will create software that will analyze data from radar, satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and ships and compare it to aerospace modeling of the flight characteristics of enemy missiles and interceptors, researchers say.

The Purdue research is being funded by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency with $4.8 million for the three-year project.

“The key aspect we’re reaching out to universities on is how to handle larger ballistic missile attacks, which we refer to as raid events,” Lt. Col. Reid Vander Schaaf, program manager, said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Blind Inventors Develop Computer Tool

SYDNEY, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Two blind Australian inventors have developed a way for the blind to access and use computers without needing expensive technology, observers say.

Faced with the prospect of spending upward of $1,000 to buy specialized “screen reader” software, Queensland University of Technology graduate James Teh and business partner Michael Curran developed a free program called NVDA, or NonVisual Desktop Access, which provides a synthetic voice to read the words on a computer screen as the cursor moves over them, a university release says.

Teh, who majored in software engineering, said most blind students typically don’t have the money to purchase screen reader technology at the period in their life when they most need it.

“We really are in the information age — everything is online these days,” Teh said. “So access to computers for the blind and vision impaired is incredibly important, which is why we wanted our software to be free.”

NVDA can be downloaded on to anyone’s personal computer free of charge.

“It can also be copied to a USB stick, which can be used on any PC at school or university, with no installation required,” Teh said.

Teh and Curran have used their own experiences as blind computer users to develop a product with innovative features.

For example, as the mouse cursor moves up and down the screen, a small beeping sound becomes higher and lower in pitch to let you know where the cursor is located.

NVDA has been translated into 27 languages, thanks to volunteer translators, and has already been downloaded more than 50,000 times.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Optical Technique Could Spot Early Cancer

EVANSTON, Ill., Oct. 5 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say an optical scanning technology could detect early signs of lung cancer by examining cheek cells in human beings.

Researchers from Northwestern University say the pioneering “biophotonics” technology shows potential for pre-screening patients at his risk for the disease, a Northwestern release said.

“By examining the lining of the cheek with this optical technology, we have the potential to pre-screen patients at high risk for lung cancer, such as those who smoke, and identify the individuals who would likely benefit from more invasive and expensive tests versus those who don’t need additional tests,” said Dr. Hemant K. Roy, director of gastroenterology research at NorthShore HealthSystem, a partner with Northwestern in the research.

Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied science, developed the technique, called partial wave spectroscopic microscopy.

PWS can detect cell features as small as 20 nanometers, uncovering differences in cells not apparent using standard microscopy techniques, researchers say.

“Despite the fact that these cells appear to be normal using standard microscopy … there are actually profound changes in the nanoscale architecture of the cell,” Backman said. “PWS measures the disorder strength of the nanoscale organization of the cell, which we have determined to be one of the earliest signs of carcinogenesis and a strong marker for the presence of cancer in the organ.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Blind Inventors Develop Computer Tool

SYDNEY, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Two blind Australian inventors have developed a way for the blind to access and use computers without needing presently expensive technology, observers say.

Faced with the prospect of spending upwards of $1,000 to buy specialized “screen reader” software, Queensland University of Technology graduate James Teh and business partner Michael Curran developed a free program called NVDA, or NonVisual Desktop Access, which provides a synthetic voice to read the words on a computer screen as the cursor moves over them, a QUT release says.

Teh, who majored in software engineering, said most blind students typically don’t have the funds to purchase screen reader technology at the period in their life when they most need it.

“We really are in the information age — everything is online these days,” Teh said. “So access to computers for the blind and vision impaired is incredibly important, which is why we wanted our software to be free.”

NVDA can be downloaded on to anyone’s personal computer free of charge.

“It can also be copied to a USB stick, which can be used on any PC at school or university, with no installation required,” Teh said.

Teh and Curran have used their own experiences as blind computer users to develop a product with innovative features.

For example, as the mouse cursor moves up and down the screen, a small beeping sound becomes higher and lower in pitch to let you know where the cursor is located.

NVDA has been translated into 27 languages, thanks to volunteer translators, and has already been downloaded more than 50,000 times.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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'Nano-needle' Used for Cell Research

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Oct. 1 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve developed a needle so tiny it can deliver a research payload called quantum dots directly into the nucleus of a human cell.

Quantum dots are tiny specks of semiconductor material only a few molecules big that can be used to monitor microscopic processes and cellular conditions.

“Lots of people rely on quantum dots to monitor biological processes and gain information about the cellular environment,” Min-Feng Yu, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois, said.

“But getting quantum dots into a cell for advanced applications is a problem,” he said.

Now Yu and his colleagues have come up with a “nano-needle” so fine it can inject the dots into a pinpointed location within the nucleus, a university release said.

“This technique allows us to physically access the internal environment inside a cell,” Yu said. “It’s almost like a surgical tool that allows us to ‘operate’ inside the cell.”

The researcher coated a single nanotube, only 50 nanometers wide, with a very thin layer of gold, creating a nanoscale electrode probe.

They then loaded the needle with quantum dots. A small electrical charge releases the quantum dots from the needle.

This provides a level of control not achievable by other molecular delivery methods, they say.

“Location is very important in cellular functions,” researcher Ning Wang said. “Using the nano-needle approach you can get to a very specific location within the nucleus. That’s a key advantage of this method.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Rocket Pioneer Robert Truax Dies

VALLEY CENTER, Calif., Sept. 30 (UPI) — Robert C. Truax, considered one of the leading rocket scientists of the 20th century, has died in California, his family said.

Truax’s wife Marisol said he died Sept. 17 in Valley Center of prostate cancer at age 93, The New York Times reported.

Truax was a career naval officer lent to the Air Force for top-secret projects and later became a corporate aerospace executive and an entrepreneur, the Times said.

In early research for the Navy he laid the groundwork for the liquid-fuelled rockets vital to American space efforts and was a leader in developing the Thor, Viking and Polaris missile programs.

As president of the American Rocket Society, Truax was an indefatigable booster of the American space program.

Truax was born Sept. 3, 1917, in Gary, Ind., after which the family moved to Northern California and later settled in Alameda, where Truax completed 12 years of school in nine years and became an Eagle Scout.

He graduated from the Naval Academy with a degree in mechanical engineering, writing scientific articles on rockets.

Truax is survived by his third wife, Marisol Guzman, four children from his first marriage, two sons from his second, seven grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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World 'water Threats' Mapped in Study

NEW YORK, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Nearly 80 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with an “insecure” supply of fresh water due to scarcity and pollution, U.S. researchers say.

The study that mapped water availability and quality down to the regional level shows 3.4 billion people live in areas of severe “water threats,” the BBC reported Wednesday.

“What we’ve done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground — what is going on with respect to humanity’s water security and what the infrastructure that’s been thrown at this problem does to the natural world,” study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York said.

“What we’re able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape,” Vorosmarty said, referring to the dams, canals, aqueducts and pipelines employed by the developed world to safeguard drinking-water supplies.

Conserving water through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature, the researchers said, and they urged developing countries not to follow the same path.

Instead, they say governments should invest in water-management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and floodplains.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Electron 'reader' Step to New Computers

SYDNEY, Sept. 27 (UPI) — Australian researchers say they’ve made a major step toward a working quantum computer by developing a single-electron “reader.”

Quantum computers promise huge increases in processing speed over today’s computers by using the “spin”, or magnetic orientation, of individual electrons to represent data in their calculations.

In order to employ electron spin, the quantum computer needs both a way of changing the spin state — to “write”– and of measuring that change — to “read” — to form a qubit, the equivalent of the bits in a conventional computer.

University of New South Wales scientists have, for the first time, measured the spin of one electron in silicon in an experiment, a university release said.

“Our device detects the spin state of a single electron in a single phosphorus atom implanted in a block of silicon. The spin state of the electron controls the flow of electrons in a nearby circuit,” Andrea Morello of the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications at UNSW said.

“Until this experiment, no-one had actually measured the spin of a single electron in silicon.”

Now that they’ve created a single electron reader, the researchers say, they are working to complete a single electron writer and combine the two.

Then they will combine pairs of these devices to create a 2-bit logic gate — the basic processing unit of a quantum computer.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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