2011年1月28日 星期五

Tools Suggest Earlier Human Exit From Africa

Tools Suggest Earlier Human Exit From Africa

A cache of stone tools found on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula has reopened the critical question of when and how modern humans escaped from their ancestral homeland in eastern Africa.


Artifacts unearthed in the United Arab Emirates dating back more than 100,000 years suggest that modern humans first left Africa much earlier than scientists originally believed.


The present view, based on both archaeological and genetic evidence, holds that modern humans, although they first emerged in Africa some 200,000 years ago, were hemmed in by deserts and other human species like Neanderthals and did not escape to the rest of the world until some 50,000 years ago.

An archaeological team led by Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen in Germany now reports the discovery of stone tools 127,000 years old from a site called Jebel Faya in what is now the United Arab Emirates, just south of the entrance to the Persian Gulf. If the new tools were made by modern humans, as the researchers assert, then modern humans got out of Africa much earlier than believed.

The finding, reported in Thursday’s issue of Science, points to the importance of Arabia in understanding the human story. “This is a huge milestone, but unfortunately it raises more questions than it answers,” said Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist at the University of Birmingham in England.

The major question is whether the people who reached Jebel Faya, if they were indeed modern humans, traveled farther and spread throughout the rest of the world, or whether they died out and got no farther.

The most comprehensive genetic data so far available, based on material called mitochondrial DNA, indicates that all modern humans outside Africa are descended from a single, small population that left Africa less than 60,000 years ago.

Dr. Uerpmann said that the genetic data was unreliable and that, in any case, mitochondrial DNA is a tiny fraction of the whole human genome.

Another question raised by the new finding is whether some social or cultural advance, possibly an evolutionary one, was required for modern humans to escape from Africa.

In Dr. Uerpmann’s view, the Jebel Faya tools are similar to ones found in Africa, showing that no cultural advance was required for the escape, just an improvement in climate that for a short time converted the Arabian Desert into a grassland that hunter-gatherers could cross.

This idea is at odds with a proposal advanced by Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, that the emergence of some social or behavioral advantage — like the perfection of the faculty for language — was required for modern humans to overcome the surrounding human groups. Some kind of barrier had to be surmounted, it seems, or modern humans could have walked out of Africa 200,000 years ago.

Dr. Klein said that the Uerpmann team’s case for an earlier out-of-Africa expansion was “provocative, but in the absence of human remains, it’s not compelling.”

The stone tools of this era are all much alike, and it is hard to tell whether early modern humans or Neanderthals made them. At the sites of Skhul and Qafzeh in what is now Israel, early modern humans were present around 100,000 years ago and Neanderthals at 60,000 years, but archaeologists cannot distinguish their stone tools, Dr. Klein said.

A warmer and wetter climate around this time let modern humans get as far as Israel but apparently no farther, and the new findings from Jebel Faya could represent a second limited excursion. But in this case, it is Africa that is expanding, or at least the African ecological zone, and not modern humans, Dr. Klein said. “The key issue is whether this is an early out-of-Africa movement, but if so, it was far more limited than the modern human expansion to Eurasia roughly 45,000 years ago,” he said.

Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said that Arabia had long been a black hole in terms of early human migrations and that the new discovery was an impressive first start. He, like Dr. Klein, said it was hard to say who made the tools without having any fossil bones from the same site. But the tools are “suggestive” of having been made by people who came out of Africa, Dr. Stringer said.

Stone tools hewn by unknown makers 75,000 years ago have been found in central India, so possibly the people at Jebel Faya did get farther east rather than dying out, Dr. Stringer said. Adding to the complexity, the stone tools at Jebel Faya do not resemble those made by early modern humans at the Skhul and Qafzeh sites.

The new finding has stirred discussion of whether modern humans could have interbred with Neanderthals, an assertion made last year by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, and David Reich of Harvard Medical School after statistical analysis of the recently decoded Neanderthal genome. They calculated that between 1 and 4 percent of the genomes of Europeans and Asians, but not Africans, are derived from Neanderthals.

This puzzling result, if true, means that the interbreeding may have occurred just as modern humans were moving out of Africa — in other words, after the migrating group had split from the ancestral human population in Africa, but before the ancestors of Europeans and Asians had separated.

Although fossils of both modern humans and Neanderthals have been found at the Skhul and Qafzeh sites, it is not clear if both were there at the same time, or if modern humans were there in warm periods and the cold-adapted Neanderthals took over when freezing weather returned.

If the tools found at Jebel Faya were made by modern humans, the finding would increase the geographical area over which possible interbreeding with Neanderthals might have taken place before the separation of Europeans and Asians.

Jebel Faya is near the Persian Gulf, which is now a shallow sea. But before 8,000 years ago, when the sea level was about 330 feet lower than today, the gulf area was a low-lying plain, with the Euphrates running through it. The region would have been an oasis that served as a refuge during dry periods. Neanderthal sites are known from central Iraq, so perhaps Neanderthals came down the river to the gulf oasis before it was inundated, making it “an interesting candidate for the place of hybridization,” Dr. Rose said.

2011年1月26日 星期三

Caffeine Concerns

Q & A

Caffeine Concerns

Q. Can too much caffeine kill you?

A. In very rare cases, overdoses of caffeine have been fatal. The estimated fatal oral dose, which varies because of factors like weight, is 5 grams to 10 grams.

It would be very hard, probably impossible, to ingest enough caffeine to kill yourself by drinking ordinary coffee. According to government estimates, an eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 60 to 120 milligrams of caffeine. Assuming a caffeine content on the high side and a fatal dose on the low side, you would have to drink at least 42 cups at a sitting.

But caffeine is found in higher amounts in energy drinks, medications and herbal preparations.

Concentrations of caffeine in blood plasma that are higher than 15 milligrams per liter of blood can cause toxic reactions, and caffeine overdoses are a relatively common cause of poisoning emergencies, with 4,183 such cases reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers in 2007.Only one death occurred among those cases.

When caffeine does kill, the reported causes are abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and breathing in vomit.

Toyota Tries to Be More Entertaining

January 14, 2011, 5:39 am

Toyota Tries to Be More Entertaining

The in-dash interface of Toyota’s Entune entertainment system.

While you want to keep your car’s wheels firmly in touch with the ground, if you drive a new Toyota later this year, you may find your entertainment system routed in the clouds.

As my colleague, Stephen Williams, wrote about last week, Toyota’s Entune system, to be introduced on select models this year, will use your smartphone to transmit information and entertainment held in the company’s servers into your vehicle.

After downloading the Entune app to compatible phones, the information will be transmitted via Bluetooth to the car’s screen. Toyota will offer Bing search, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and Pandora; plus sports, weather, stocks and traffic information.

You can’t use the Bing app to go to Web sites; rather, Bing lets drivers search for various points of interest like restaurants, and then get driving directions if one also has a built-in GPS system. The other apps perform as expected, except that some functionality is restricted (for safety reasons) to only when the car is stopped. For example, when moving, you can use OpenTable to check on a previously made reservation. You’ll need to pull over to type in another one.

Because all the information resides in the cloud, Toyota can add new features in the future. New apps will be included at Toyota’s discretion; there’s no app store to allow consumers to bring in their own content.

The cloud-based nature of the content also brings its own limitations. The system uses your smartphone’s data plan to download information, so if you spend hours listening to Pandora, you could find your bill going up. Also, the system only works when you’ve got a signal to your phone. Enter a long tunnel or an area without cell coverage and Entune stops (there is no data buffer in the system).

Still, the fact that Toyota has opted to include this type of entertainment and information system in their vehicles shows that the company doesn’t expect outages to be much of a problem. And it also shows how truly ubiquitous smartphones have become.

Nonfiction: Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated

Roger Vila

A male Acmon blue butterfly (Icaricia acmon). Vladimir Nabokov described the Icaricia genus in 1944. More Photos »

Vladimir Nabokov
Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.

尼古拉·果戈理 --纳博科夫
The Portable Nabokov

2011年1月25日 星期二

More to a Smile Than Lips and Teeth

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
漫畫來源: Ted Goff

More to a Smile Than Lips and Teeth

In the middle of a phone call four years ago, Paula Niedenthal began to wonder what it really means to smile. The call came from a Russian reporter, who was interviewing Dr. Niedenthal about her research on facial expressions.
Christian Northeast

Science Times Podcast

This week: Behind that 24-karat smile, the perils of overdiagnosis, and birds with bling.

Science Update

LINKS When the zygomaticus major muscles in our cheeks contract, they draw up the corners of our mouths. But there’s much more to a smile than that. A chimpanzee will sometimes grin and show its teeth to assert power.

Readers' Comments

“At the end he said, ‘So you are American?’ ” Dr. Niedenthal recalled.

Indeed, she is, although she was then living in France, where she had taken a post at Blaise Pascal University.

“So you know,” the Russian reporter informed her, “that American smiles are all false, and French smiles are all true.”

“Wow, it’s so interesting that you say that,” Dr. Niedenthal said diplomatically. Meanwhile, she was imagining what it would have been like to spend most of her life surrounded by fake smiles.

“I suddenly became interested in how people make these kinds of errors,” Dr. Niedenthal said. But finding the source of the error would require knowing what smiles really are — where they come from and how people process them. And despite the fact that smiling is one of the most common things that we humans do, Dr. Niedenthal found science’s explanation for it to be weak.

“I think it’s pretty messed up,” she said. “I think we don’t know very much, actually, and it’s something I want to take on.”

To that end, Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have surveyed a wide range of studies, from brain scans to cultural observations, to build a new scientific model of the smile. They believe they can account not only for the source of smiles, but how people perceive them. In a recent issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, they argue that smiles are not simply the expression of an internal feeling. Smiles in fact are only the most visible part of an intimate melding between two minds.

“It’s an impressive, sophisticated analysis,” said Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Northwestern University.

Psychologists have studied smiles carefully for decades, but mostly from the outside. When the zygomaticus major muscles in our cheeks contract, they draw up the corners of our mouths. But there’s much more to a smile than that.

“A smile is not this floating thing, like a Cheshire Cat,” said Dr. Niedenthal. “It’s attached to a body.” Sometimes the lips open to reveal teeth; sometimes they stay sealed. Sometimes the eyes crinkle. The chin rises with some smiles, and drops in others.

Cataloging these variations is an important first step, said Dr. Niedenthal, but it can’t deliver an answer to the enigma of smiles. “People like to make dictionaries of the facial muscles to make a particular gesture, but there’s no depth to that approach,” she said.

Some researchers have tried to move deeper, to understand the states of mind that produce smiles. We think of them as signifying happiness, and indeed, researchers do find that the more intensely people contract their zygomaticus major muscles, the happier they say they feel. But this is far from an iron law. The same muscles sometimes contract when people are feeling sadness or disgust, for example.

The link between feelings and faces is even more mysterious. Why should any feeling cause us to curl up our mouths, after all? This is a question that Darwin pondered for years. An important clue, he said, is found in the faces of apes, which draw up their mouths as well. These expressions, Darwin argued, were also smiles. In other words, Mona Lisa inherited her endlessly intriguing smile from the grinning common ancestor she shared with chimpanzees.

Primatologists have been able to sort smiles into a few categories, and Dr. Niedenthal thinks that human smiles should be classified in the same way. Chimpanzees sometimes smile from pleasure, as when baby chimps play with each other. but chimpanzees also smile when they’re trying to strengthen a social bond with another chimpanzee.

Dr. Niedenthal thinks that some human smiles fall into these categories as well. What’s more, they may be distinguished by certain expressions. An embarrassed smile is often accompanied by a lowered chin, for example, while a smile of greeting often comes with raised eyebrows.

Chimpanzees sometimes smile not for pleasure or for a social bond, but for power. A dominant chimpanzee will grin and show its teeth. Dr. Niedenthal argues that humans flash a power grin as well — often raising their chin so as to look down at others.

“ ‘You’re an idiot, I’m better than you’—that’s what we mean by a dominant smile,” said Dr. Niedenthal.

But making a particular facial expression is just the first step of a smile. Dr. Niedenthal argues that how another person interprets the smile is equally important. In her model, the brain can use three different means to distinguish a smile from some other expression.

One way people recognize smiles is comparing the geometry of a person’s face to a standard smile. A second way is thinking about the situation in which someone is making an expression, judging if it’s the sort where a smile would be expected.

But most importantly, Dr. Niedenthal argues, people recognize smiles by mimicking them. When a smiling person locks eyes with another person, the viewer unknowingly mimics a smile as well. In their new paper, Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues point to a number of studies indicating that this imitation activates many of the same regions of the brain that are active in the smiler.

A happy smile, for example, is accompanied by activity in the brain’s reward circuits, and looking at a happy smile can excite those circuits as well. Mimicking a friendly smile produces a different pattern of brain activity. It activates a region of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, which distinguishes feelings for people with whom we have a close relationship from others. The orbitofrontal cortex becomes active when parents see their own babies smile, for example, but not other babies.

If Dr. Niedenthal’s model is correct, then studies of dominant smiles should reveal different patterns of brain activity. Certain regions associated with negative emotions should become active.

Embodying smiles not only lets people recognize smiles, Dr. Niedenthal argues. It also lets them recognize false smiles. When they unconsciously mimic a false smile, they don’t experience the same brain activity as an authentic one. The mismatch lets them know something’s wrong.

Other experts on facial expressions applaud Dr. Niedenthal’s new model, but a number of them also think that parts of it require fine-tuning. “Her model fits really well along the horizontal dimension, but I have my doubts about the vertical,” said Dr. Galinsky. He questions whether people observing a dominant smile would experience the feeling of power themselves. In fact, he points out, in such encounters, people tend to avoid eye contact, which Dr. Niedenthal says is central to her model.

Dr. Niedenthal herself is now testing the predictions of the model with her colleagues. In one study, she and her colleagues are testing the idea that mimicry lets people recognize authentic smiles. They showed pictures of smiling people to a group of students. Some of the smiles were genuine and others were fake. The students could readily tell the difference between them.

Then Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues asked the students to place a pencil between their lips. This simple action engaged muscles that could otherwise produce a smile. Unable to mimic the faces they saw, the students had a much harder time telling which smiles were real and which were fake.

The scientists then ran a variation on the experiment on another group of students. They showed the same faces to the second group, but had them imagine the smiling faces belonged to salesclerks in a shoe store. In some cases the salesclerks had just sold the students a pair of shoes — in which they might well have a genuine smile of satisfaction. In other trials, they imagined that the salesclerks were trying to sell them a pair of shoes — in which case they might be trying to woo the customer with a fake smile.

In reality, the scientists use a combination of real and fake smiles for both groups of salesclerks. When the students were free to mimic the smiles, their judgments were not affected by what the salesclerk was doing.

But if the students put a pencil in their mouth, they could no longer rely on their mimicry. Instead, they tended to believe that the salesclerks who were trying to sell them shoes were faking their smiles — even when their smiles were genuine. Likewise, they tended to say that the salesclerks who had finished the sale were smiling for real, even when they weren’t. In other words, they were forced to rely on the circumstances of the smile, rather than the smile itself.

Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have also been testing the importance of eye contact for smiles. They had students look at a series of portraits, like the “Laughing Cavalier” by the 17th-century artist Frans Hals. In some portraits the subject looked away from the viewer, while in others, the gaze was eye to eye. In some trials, the students looked at the paintings with bars masking the eyes.

The participants rated how emotional the impact of the painting was. Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues found, as they had predicted, that people felt a bigger emotional impact when the eyes were unmasked than when they were masked. The smile was identical in each painting, but it was not enough on its own. What’s more, the differences were greater when the portrait face was making direct eye contact with the viewer.

Dr. Niedenthal suspects that she and other psychologists are just starting to learn secrets about smiles that artists figured out centuries ago. It may even be possible someday to understand why Mona Lisa’s smile is so powerful. “I would say the reason it was so successful is because you achieve eye contact with her,” said Dr. Niedenthal, “and so the fact that the meaning of her smile is complicated is doubly communicated, because your own simulation of it is mysterious and difficult.”

2011年1月21日 星期五

Report: iPhone 5 Will Be 'Completely Redesigned'

This summer, Apple is expected to launch its next iPhone, and new reports describe it as a "completely redesigned handset" as well as a "total rethink from a design standpoint." To start, the iPhone 5's internals will be different - the device will run on a new, combined CDMA/GSM/UTMS chipset from Qualcomm, which will support both AT&T and Verizon here in the U.S., as well as other carriers worldwide - perhaps even an expanded lineup, as would now be possible. Along with the iPad 2, this chipset change represents the transition away from Infineon as the iPhone and iPad chipset maker. Going forward, Qualcomm will make the chips for all Apple mobile devices.

But as of this morning, it seems that the most notable thing about the iPhone 5 is not a sum of its features but the fact that it will be the first iPhone that will launch without Steve Jobs' daily presence. Although the ailing Apple CEO stated via press release this a.m. that he will continue his role during his medical absence, COO Tim Cook will be in charge of day-to-day operations at Apple.

Consider the iPhone 5's 2011 launch as Apple's dry run for a future without Steve Jobs at the helm. Can it still be "magical?"

From the sound of the note, there's no reason to expect this is any short-term illness for Jobs. He writes that "Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011" so he can focus on his health. Jobs previously had pancreatic cancer and received a liver transplant in 2009, so this news is not surprising. However, it's decidedly upsetting, both from a financial point of view and from the point of view from of someone who has upheld the CEO as one of our era's greatest visionaries.

But for now, let's just focus on the iPhone 5. Without Jobs' daily involvement, Apple execs may be launching the most impressive device yet, if our suspicions play out. Here's what we know so far:

Details on iPhone 5 are Minimal

An Engadget exclusive from last week cites "reliable sources" in detailing the latest rumors about the upcoming iPhone 5 and iPad 2. The iPhone is currently being tested by senior staff on Apple's campus, it said. But even the sources aren't giving out details on what the phone will be like, only saying it's a "compete redesign."

However, we can put together a list of Apple's latest acquisitions, hires and patents to start giving us an idea of the iPhone's future.

iPhone 5 Expected to Support NFC

For starters, a 2010 Apple hire of a notable NFC (near field communication) expert Benjamin Vigier and the filing of several related patents, including one for a mobile payments service, suggest that the next iPhone will include an NFC chip inside - the same technology that Google's latest flagship Android phone, the Nexus S, has now. With Android's newest release, Android 2.3 (code-named Gingerbread), support for NFC has been built-in.

This short-range, high frequency wireless technology allows for data exchanges between two devices in close proximity to each other. It will soon form the basis of Google (and others') upcoming mobile payments initiatives.

But Apple, too, appears to have plans in this area. Patents point towards ideas for things like iPay, iBuy and iCoupons, all of which suggest Apple is building some sort of mobile wallet.

iPhone 5 Becomes Intelligent, Thanks to Siri?

Among Apple's other high-profile acquisitions was April 2010's buyout of Siri, a personal mobile assistant that was spun out of SRI International, and whose core technology came from a DARPA-funded artificial intelligence project called CALO. Siri was transformed into an iPhone application that could listen to questions either spoken aloud or typed in and then provide answers. At first, the focus was on the sort of out-and-about questions you may have, e.g. When does that movie show? What Chinese restaurants are nearby? Can I get a table at my favorite Italian place? What's the phone number for a taxi company?

Only a few months post-acquisition, the app was updated to integrate results provided by the computational knowledge engine, Wolfram Alpha. For those unaware, Wolfram Alpha is a new sort of search technology which can provide factual answers to questions, as opposed to a list of search results. It currently consists of 10 trillion-plus pieces of curated, objective data from primary sources, and it can perform calculations on the fly - over 50,000 types of algorithms and equations are now possible.

With this sort of technology built into Apple's next iPhone, assuming that's the case, the device could easily go head-to-head with Google Android's voice search and voice actions, the former which directs you to results from related Google Search properties and the latter which helps you perform actions on your phone, including sending text messages, routing a trip on a map, pulling up a map of nearby attractions or businesses, launching the phone's music player to play a certain song or artist and more.

Will iPhone 5 up the feature set of its competitor? It's likely. One of the interesting things about Siri is that it integrates with third-party data sources like OpenTable for restaurant reservations and Yelp for local business listings. Those services, incidentally, also exist as iPhone apps. What if Apple tied together this new voice interface to the device not only with the services themselves, but could also direct you to the appropriate app to learn more? You would then have a whole new interface for locating and launching apps - a search engine of sorts, even, where the focus isn't on what app name you need to find (as iPhone's native search does today), but on what action you need to take.

iPhone 5 Ships with "Cloud iTunes?"

Another Apple acquisition from April 2010, was Lala.com, a cloud-based music streaming service. No doubt this talent-hire was for the purpose of gaining insight and knowledge into the details of building a solid music streaming service like the popular, but now defunct, Lala.

iTunes, the centralized repository of music, videos, apps and more is quickly becoming outdated as new streaming-only services crop up left and right. Some, like Rdio, provide access to your own content library along with 7 million or so digital tracks while others, like MOG, forgo access to your own tracks entirely, offering only its catalog of 10 million songs. Rdio and MOG, as well as Napster, Rhapsody and (the still-yet-to-launch stateside) Spotify, are reasonably priced subscription services where around $10 a month provides you with all-you-can-eat access to music.

Apple has never offered a subscription model for iTunes, but with the Lala acquistion, that appears to be in its future. With iPhone 5, you may be able to purchase, download and stream everything from your phone, no desktop software required, and all for one low monthly fee.

iPhone 5 to Offer Facial Recognition?

In September, Apple acquired facial-recognition firm Polar Rose, whose technology was previously used in a consumer-facing service that automatically tagged your Facebook and Flickr photos with your friends' names. While speculation at the time focused on how Apple could use the facial recognition to improve its desktop products like Aperture and iPhoto, there's no reason why it would ignore its mobile products.

Integrating facial recognition into the iPhone could mean a device that knows its owner, for example, and unlocks the phone just for them. Or whose photos are automatically tagged with the names of friends and family, which are then synced to iPhoto on the Mac.

Can Apple Execs Deliver Jobs' Vision for iPhone 5?

In summary, that's a very smart smartphone we've just described: one that knows who owns it, unlocking just for them, one that can listen and respond to your questions, that can provide factual answers or point you to a related mobile app, one where your music library (and maybe more) is stored online, one that includes NFC for mobile payments, and one that works on whatever carrier you choose. Frankly, that sounds downright magical.

Steve Jobs has long been a visionary for this industry, and his ideas and creations have dramatically impacted how people interact with technology. iPhone 5, assuming it offers all the above, could do that yet again. But we'll have to see if Apple can pull it all off without Jobs' day-to-day presence at Apple.

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2011年1月20日 星期四

Beijing Tightens Its Control of Vital Minerals


HONG KONG — The Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources has invoked a seldom-used law to take control of 11 rare earth mining districts in southern China, the latest sign of Beijing’s efforts to manage more tightly the production and export of crucial minerals used in a wide range of technologies and products vital to the West.

The ministry said in a statement, posted on its Web site Wednesday and briefly mentioned Thursday by the state media, that rare earth mining in these districts, all at the southern end of Jiangxi Province, had been placed under its national planning authority.

That step removes administrative oversight of mining from provincial and municipal control; local officials in southern China are widely suspected of collusion with crime syndicates responsible for illegal strip-mining and refining of rare earths.

The ease of digging up and refining some of the most valuable rare earths from the clay hills of southernmost Jiangxi Province and northernmost Guangdong Province, together with soaring prices, has led to a surge in illegal strip-mining that has turned many hillsides into lunar landscapes. Crime syndicates have dumped the mine tailings, including powerful acids and other materials, into local waterways. The fields and water supplies of peasant farmers who live downstream have been contaminated.

The land ministry, which has inspectors, hinted that it planned to place additional districts under the control of the national government. It said repeatedly in the statement that this was the first or initial designation of national rare earth mining areas. A legal notice dated Jan. 4 was posted with the statement and invoked China’s obscure, decades-old planning statute.

American officials had said before the current visit of President Hu Jintao of China to Washington that they wanted some assurance that China would continue to supply rare earths. But Chinese officials have been leery of international commitments on mining output, and the 41-point joint statement issued Wednesday by the United States and China after the meeting of President Obama and Mr. Hu made no mention of rare earths.

China produces 92 percent of the world’s light rare earths like cerium and lanthanum, which are used in applications like glass manufacturing and oil refining, and 99 percent of the world’s heavy rare earths like dysprosium, which are used in trace amounts but are vital for products like smartphones and compact fluorescent bulbs.

Most of the heavy rare earths come from an unusual geological formation that straddles the hilly, sometimes lawless southern border area of Jiangxi Province with Guangdong Province. According to geologists, it is the only known commercial deposit of rare earths in the world that has virtually no contamination from thorium, which is radioactive.

Many companies in the West indirectly depend on illegal mining and smuggling. Industry experts estimate that illegal production accounts for about a seventh of the supply of light rare earths in the world and as much as half of heavy rare earths.

Smuggling is less common for light rare earths, partly because they are less valuable. They sell for about $20 a pound outside China, compared with more than $100 a pound for some of the heavy rare earths.

Most of China’s light rare earths come from a large state-owned iron ore mine in a desert near Baotou, in northern China, where illegal mining and smuggling are more difficult and are becoming harder. Security forces have begun erecting electrified fences to discourage trespassers.

China has repeatedly cut its quotas for exports of rare earth minerals from government-approved mines and refineries in the last two years, while raising taxes on the exports. It separately imposed a two-month, unannounced ban on exports of rare earths to Japan during a territorial dispute last September and carefully checked other countries’ orders for rare earths to discourage trans-shipment to Japan.

The United States Energy Department concluded in a report last month that clean energy industries in America relied heavily on imports of rare earths and would be highly vulnerable to supply disruptions for as long as the next 15 years. Efforts to dig mines elsewhere face many legal and environmental obstacles.

The Obama administration has included China’s export restrictions on rare earths in a broad investigation of whether China has violated World Trade Organization rules to help its clean energy exports; the United Steelworkers union has accused China of limiting exports of rare earths to force manufacturers to move their factories to China, an accusation supported by comments in 2009 by Chinese provincial officials saying exactly that.

W.T.O. rules ban most export quotas and taxes and require countries to provide foreign buyers with the same access to natural resources as the best-connected domestic buyers. But China has recently defended the export quotas and taxes as needed for environmental protection, invoking an exception in W.T.O. rules that allows the conservation of natural resources.

Alan Wolff, a former senior United States trade official and now the chairman of the international trade practice at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, said the crackdown against illegal mining, which has included numerous police raids in northern Guangdong Province, could buttress its defense against W.T.O. cases by showing Beijing’s concern for the environment.

In addition to seizing control of the rare earth mining districts in southern Jiangxi Province, the Ministry of Land and Resources announced that it was imposing national planning authority on an iron ore mining area in the western Chinese province of Sichuan that has two other scarce and valuable metals, titanium and vanadium. Titanium has many applications in aerospace and other industry sectors, while vanadium is used in the production of sulfuric acid, which is the main material needed to refine rare earth ores.

Vanadium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Vanadium is a chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a soft, silvery gray, ductile transition metal. The formation of an oxide layer ...
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本文強調釩(vanadium)暴露對人體的健康影響,美國環境保護署已經鑑定了1177處重要有害廢棄物棄置場址,列入“國家優先整治表”中,其中已經發現至少有23場含有釩。 ...

2011年1月17日 星期一

豐田開發新型馬達 擺脫中國稀土依賴


田汽車公司(Toyota Motor Corp.)正在努力開發一種新型的電動馬達﹐試圖擺脫與中國把持稀土資源相關的貿易沖突暗湧。







據 稀土資源研究專家利夫頓(Jack Lifton)介紹﹐汽車製造業的採購量佔全球釹供給的40%﹐而豐田汽車的採購量比其它任何一家公司都要多。利夫頓同時也是位於美國伊利諾伊州 Carpentersville的技術金屬研究公司(Technology Metals Research)的創始人。據他介紹﹐每製造一輛豐田普銳斯(Prius)就要用掉大約一公斤的釹。對此數據豐田拒絕置評。


上 個月剛剛推出Volt電動車的通用汽車公司(General Motors Co.)也正在考慮使用其它類型的馬達。據通用汽車混合動力操控系統部門的負責人薩維吉恩(Pete Savagian)介紹﹐通用汽車一直在電動機領域進行研發﹐他們也認為異步電動機可以替代傳統電動機。

全球最大的汽車配件廠家之一德國馬牌公司(Continental AG)稱已成功研製出不用稀土金屬的馬達﹐這款馬達將會用在今年歐洲發售的某款電動汽車上。這款馬達類似發電廠中使用的電動馬達﹐但略有不同。

據馬牌公司混合動力車和電動車項目的負責人克萊恩(Mike Crane)介紹﹐研製這款馬達的部分原因是想避免使用稀土金屬﹐但主要還是想降低成本。



澳大利亞Lynas Corp.說﹐過去一年﹐釹的價格翻了兩番。這家公司正在開發一個大型釹礦和提煉廠。



豐田全球首席工程師內山田竹志(Takeshi Uchiyamada)說﹐利用新技術﹐我們可以不使用磁鐵﹐同時又能生產尺寸更小、性能高超的發動機﹐這項技術將很快推出。



豐田發言人漢森(John Hanson)說﹐新發動機可能會在“近期”推出。他還說﹐我們有望降低成本、重量和尺寸﹐並避開有關稀土的地緣政治問題。

密 歇根州立大學(Michigan State University)電氣工程學教授斯特朗加斯(Elias Strangas)說﹐豐田用來作為研發基礎的異步發動機造價便宜﹐而且極其結實﹐但效率不是特別高﹐而且尺寸不小﹔其改進相當於發動機領域的一個“聖 杯”﹐也就是業內一直想實現的目標。


過去10 年間﹐汽車生產商為電動車和混動車尋找效率更高、動力更強的發動機﹐永磁發動機才流行起來。


與此同時﹐豐田旗下從事稀土進口的豐田通商株式會社(Toyota Tsusho Corp.)去年10月份說﹐它將與越南公司開展合作﹐從當地礦藏開採稀土。



這迫使整個汽車行業開發更好的稀土供應渠道﹐因為包括日產(Nissan Motor Co.)聆風(Leaf)在內的一系列全電動汽車剛剛推出﹐或按計劃即將推出。


Mike Ramsey



2011年1月16日 星期日

NEC unit unveils 'mirror thermometer'

NEC unit unveils 'mirror thermometer'



photoThe Thermo Mirror produced by NEC Avio Infrared Technologies Co. displays the brow temperature seconds after a person looks into it. (Shu Nomura)

Feeling feverish? Taking your temperature can now be as easy as looking in the mirror.

The Thermo Mirror, marketed by NEC Avio Infrared Technologies Co., measures the forehead temperature using infrared sensors.

The user's face must be within 30 centimeters of the device for two seconds. It buzzes an alarm if the temperature is higher than normal.

Since there is no touching required, the device is considered useful to fight the spread of influenza and other diseases. It also displays the time and room temperature when idle.

The device uses the same mechanism as thermographic imaging sensors used at airports to screen arriving passengers for signs of fever.

The thermographic machines used at airports read a full human figure and cost around 1 million yen ($12,000), while NEC Avio's Thermo Mirror costs much less at 102,900 yen and 126,000 yen, including tax.

生物紙漿廠(永豐餘)Taiwan firm to make wheat, rice stalk paper: media













Taiwan firm to make wheat, rice stalk paper: media

TAIPEI — A leading Taiwanese paper company has developed a technique to make paper from wheat and rice stalks, a report said Sunday.

Yuen Foong Yu is to introduce what it says is "revolutionary" technology to its plant in Yangzhou, in China's eastern Jiangsu province, in the second half of 2011, the Economic Daily News said on its website.

The technology is considered environmentally friendly as it uses materials which have long been thrown away and fewer trees will be cut down, the conglomerate's chairman Ho Shou-chuan was cited as saying.

The normal wood pulp manufacturing process uses 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of lumber to make 20 kilograms of paper, but the new technology can turn the same quantity of stalk pulp into four times as much paper, the report said.

"The new manufacturing process will be more energy saving and cause less carbon dioxide," Ho said.

2011年1月13日 星期四



  東京大學等宣佈在全球首次成功地直接觀察到了氫(H)原子。氫原子是原子序數為1的元素,直徑約0.1nm,是所有原子中最小的。東京大學等表示,此次的成果將加快貯氫技術及矽器件等的研發。有關論文已刊登在日本應用物理學會的英文雜誌《Applied Physics Express(APEX)》于2010年11月5日發行的在線版上。

  上述結果是東京大學研究所工學系研究科綜合研究機構幾原雄一教授及柴田直哉副教授的研究小組與日本精細陶瓷中心(JFCC)奈米構造研究所齊藤智浩副 主任研究員以及日本產業技術綜合研究所研究員松田潤子等共同實施的研究獲得的。通過高解析度電子顯微鏡觀察了貯氫金屬的一種即氫化釩(VH2)的結晶。

  電子顯微鏡是通過對2009年上述研究小組與日本電子共同開發出來的「角度控制環狀明視野——掃描透射電子顯微鏡(ARABF-STEM)」進行進一 步改進而獲得的產品。通過對顯微鏡的透鏡進行球面像差補償處理,並通過邏輯計算求出最佳觀察角度等,實現了0.1nm(1埃)以下的解析度。

  2010年5月,東京大學、JFCC、豐田宣佈利用此次的方法對鋰離子充電電池的正極材料LiCoO2的結晶進行了觀察,成功地拍攝到了其中的鋰離子、氧離子及鈷離子。鋰離子是原子序號為3的元素,直徑僅大於氫及氦(He)。(記者:野澤 哲生)


2011年1月10日 星期一

Consumer Electronics Show,2011

Eye-Catching Products in a Hall of Gadgetry

LAS VEGAS — The throngs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, which ended Sunday, jammed this city’s streets, hotels and cellular networks. At times it seemed it might have been easier to stay at home and read about it on the Web. But that might have meant missing out on an unexpected discovery or the buzz of something big. Technology editors and reporters of The New York Times who attended share snippets from their notebooks below. Complete coverage of the show is at nytimes.com/gadgetwise.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.


David Becker/Getty Images

A counter using inductive power to create heat, so a can of chicken noodle soup can be prepared on the spot.

Android Rising

Several floors above the rows of slot machines in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Matias Duarte sat on a gold velvet couch overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Mr. Duarte, the head designer and interface architect of Android, Google’s mobile operating system, had just helped demonstrate the latest version of the software to an enthusiastic audience.

Just a few years ago, industry experts and analysts doubted that Android’s one-size-fits-all approach to software would be successful with phone makers eager to differentiate their devices from one another. But now, many hardware manufacturers are focusing on creating products that run on Android.

This year at C.E.S., it seemed impossible to turn around without bumping into a smartphone, tablet or kitchen appliance running a version of Android, which Google gives away free.

“It’s the beauty of the open-source model,” said Mr. Duarte. “Anyone and anything can work on it.”

The popularity of the Google-powered phones helped the market share of Android phones slip past Apple’s in November, according to the analytics firm comScore.

Some industry experts say that may not last, especially as the iPhone becomes available on carriers other than AT&T.

“The success of Android hasn’t been put to a test,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. When popular smartphones like the iPhone migrate to other carriers, he said, “we’ll see how it plays out.”

But Mr. Duarte was undeterred.

“It seemed like a crazy idea when Andy came up with it,” he said, referring to Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android. “But this C.E.S is proof that Android is a juggernaut, that it works.” JENNA WORTHAM

Hot and Cold

Every once in a while at a trade show, you get to see a magic trick. At the booth of a company called Fulton Innovation, there were two.

Fulton, based in Ada, Mich., specializes in inductive power systems. The most well-known applications of inductive power are pads that can charge smartphones without wires and cooktops that can heat pots and pans, but otherwise remain cool to the touch.

Fulton has taken the inductive concept and run with it. Its booth showcased products with inductive inks in their packaging: when placed on a shelf with an inductive coil, things like cereal boxes and printed labels can light up or flash in patterns.

Fulton also has systems intended for homes. Induction cooktops have been around for years, but Fulton has broken down the components and placed them under the countertop, converting any surface into an invisible inductive cooktop that can heat pots and pans.

The technology can also heat up packages like soup containers, using the inductive ink. In theory (the technology is real, the commercial partners at this point less so), someone could buy a can of Chef Boyardee, slap it down on an inductive countertop and cook Beefaroni on the spot.

The same system can power small appliances. Fulton showed off toasters and blenders retrofitted with inductive-power bases. Place the blender on the surface and it runs as if it were plugged in. The same surface remains otherwise inert and can be treated like any kitchen countertop.

C.E.S. was mostly underwhelming this year (3-D TVs, again; tablets, again; Internet-connected TVs, again), but in a small corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center, there was a little slice of Tomorrowland. SAM GROBART

Two Touch Screens

The tablet is a simple idea: a computer that, from the outside, is little more than a pane of touch-sensitive glass. During a week in which dozens of companies showed variations on this concept, few devices stood out. This was particularly true since many tablets, like the Motorola Xoom, perhaps the one that got the most attention, were not available for full demonstrations.

Acer, a company that makes low-cost personal computers, distinguished itself from the crowd on novelty factor alone. It moved perhaps the furthest away from the basic tablet idea with the Iconia. The device, which will run Windows 7, resembles a laptop, but opens up to reveal two 14-inch touch screens. Acer first announced the tablet-laptop hybrid in November and plans to begin selling it in March for under $1,000.

The Iconia gives users a large amount of screen space, making for easy multitasking. And the two screens mean that a user can look at one while typing on a virtual keyboard on the other. Some people will see this as an advantage compared with tablets, and others will see it as a disadvantage compared with laptops.

There is also a major tradeoff in size. The device is enormous compared with other tablets and weighs more than a notebook.

“This is meant to go to the kitchen and the bedroom. It’s not meant to go East to West Coast,” said Ray Sawall, a senior product manager for Acer.

Despite its quirks, or perhaps because of them, the Iconia won a contest at C.E.S. called Last Gadget Standing, in which audience members cheered for their favorite from a list of 10 finalists. JOSHUA BRUSTEIN

2011年1月2日 星期日

the most low-tech of problems: long waits

An underground high-tech nerve center at Disney World addresses the most low-tech of problems: long waits.

數理/模擬 queuing theory/ wating-line theory 似乎沒幫得上忙

Disney Tackles Major Theme Park Problem: Lines

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel

Visitors wait in line at the Space Mountain attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Disney has installed game stations along the way to entertain visitors while they wait.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Deep in the bowels of Walt Disney World, inside an underground bunker called the Disney Operational Command Center, technicians know that you are standing in line and that you are most likely annoyed about it. Their clandestine mission: to get you to the fun faster.

Walt Disney World

Phil Holmes, right, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, in the theme park’s underground control room.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

Crowds line the way to Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

To handle over 30 million annual visitors — many of them during this busiest time of year for the megaresort — Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more. A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.

And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.

In one corner, employees watch flat-screen televisions that depict various attractions in green, yellow and red outlines, with the colors representing wait-time gradations.

If Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride that sends people on a spirited voyage through the Spanish Main, suddenly blinks from green to yellow, the center might respond by alerting managers to launch more boats.

Another option involves dispatching Captain Jack Sparrow or Goofy or one of their pals to the queue to entertain people as they wait. “It’s about being nimble and quickly noticing that, ‘Hey, let’s make sure there is some relief out there for those people,’ ” said Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship Disney World park.

What if Fantasyland is swamped with people but adjacent Tomorrowland has plenty of elbow room? The operations center can route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” into the less-populated pocket to siphon guests in that direction. Other technicians in the command center monitor restaurants, perhaps spotting that additional registers need to be opened or dispatching greeters to hand out menus to people waiting to order.

“These moments add up until they collectively help the entire park,” Mr. Holmes said.

In recent years, according to Disney research, the average Magic Kingdom visitor has had time for only nine rides — out of more than 40 — because of lengthy waits and crowded walkways and restaurants. In the last few months, however, the operations center has managed to make enough nips and tucks to lift that average to 10.

“Control is Disney’s middle name, so they have always been on the cutting edge of this kind of thing,” said Bob Sehlinger, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide: Walt Disney World 2011” and a writer on Disney for Frommers.com. Mr. Sehlinger added, “The challenge is that you only have so many options once the bathtub is full.”

Disney, which is periodically criticized for overreaching in the name of cultural dominance (and profits), does not see any of this monitoring as the slightest bit invasive. Rather, the company regards it as just another part of its efforts to pull every possible lever in the name of a better guest experience.

The primary goal of the command center, as stated by Disney, is to make guests happier — because to increase revenue in its $10.7 billion theme park business, which includes resorts in Paris and Hong Kong, Disney needs its current customers to return more often. “Giving our guests faster and better access to the fun,” said Thomas O. Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, “is at the heart of our investment in technology.”

Disney also wants to raise per-capita spending. “If we can also increase the average number of shop or restaurant visits, that’s a huge win for us,” Mr. Holmes said.

Disney has long been a leader in technological innovation, whether that means inventing cameras to make animated films or creating the audio animatronic robots for the attraction It’s a Small World.

Behind-the-scenes systems — typically kept top secret by the company as it strives to create an environment where things happen as if by magic — are also highly computerized. Ride capacity is determined in part by analyzing hotel reservations, flight bookings and historic attendance data. Satellites provide minute-by-minute weather analysis. A system called FastPass allows people to skip lines for popular rides like the Jungle Cruise.

But the command center reflects how Disney is deepening its reliance on technology as it thinks about adapting decades-old parks, which are primarily built around nostalgia for an America gone by, for 21st century expectations. “It’s not about us needing to keep pace with technological change,” Mr. Staggs said. “We need to set the pace for that kind of change.”

For instance, Disney has been experimenting with smartphones to help guide people more efficiently. Mobile Magic, a $1.99 app, allows visitors to type in “Sleeping Beauty” and receive directions to where that princess (or at least a costumed stand-in) is signing autographs. In the future, typing in “hamburger” might reveal the nearest restaurant with the shortest wait.

Disney has also been adding video games to wait areas. At Space Mountain, 87 game stations now line the queue to keep visitors entertained. (Games, about 90 seconds in length, involve simple things like clearing runways of asteroids). Gaming has also been added to the queue for Soarin’, an Epcot ride that simulates a hang glider flight.

Blogs that watch Disney’s parks have speculated that engineers (“imagineers,” in the company’s parlance) are also looking at bigger ideas, like wristbands that contain information like your name, credit card number and favorite Disney characters. While Disney is keeping a tight lid on specifics, these devices would enable simple transactions like the purchase of souvenirs — just pay by swiping your wristband — as well as more complicated attractions that interact with guests.

“Picture a day where there is memory built into these characters — they will know that they’ve seen you four or five times before and that your name is Bobby,” said Bruce E. Vaughn, chief creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. “Those are the kinds of limits that are dissolving so quickly that we can see being able to implement them in the meaningfully near future.”

Dreaming about the future was not something on Mr. Holmes’s mind as he gave a reporter a rare peek behind the Disney operations veil. He had a park to run, and the command center had spotted trouble at the tea cups.

After running smoothly all morning, the spinning Mad Tea Party abruptly stopped meeting precalculated ridership goals. A few minutes later, Mr. Holmes had his answer: a new employee had taken over the ride and was leaving tea cups unloaded.

“In the theme park business these days,” he said, “patience is not always a virtue.”

Living and Studying Alopecia

Living and Studying Alopecia

Angela Christiano, 45, an associate professor of dermatology and genetics at Columbia University Medical Center, studies hair. Last summer, she announced the discovery of the genes implicated in alopecia areata, the hair-loss disease that she herself suffers from. We spoke for two hours in her Washington Heights laboratory and then later on the telephone. An edited version of the two conversations follows.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

HAND OF FATE Angela Christiano studied alopecia soon after her diagnosis.

    Dr. Angela Christiano on living with hair loss and why treating alopecia is more than just treating a cosmetic issue.

Q. When did you first learn that you had alopecia?

A. In 1995, a time of big transitions in my life. After doing highly successful postdoctoral research on genetic blistering skin diseases at Jefferson Medical College, I’d arrived here at Columbia to start my own laboratory. I had just turned 30. I was getting a divorce. When you start your first lab, a researcher is expected to find something different from their postdoc work. For my first six months here, I sat thinking, “What am I going to do when I grow up?”

In the midst of all this, I went to a beauty parlor and the stylist said: “What’s happened here? You have a big patch of hair missing from the back of your head.” I ignored that. But the next day at the lab, I asked a colleague to take a look. She let out a bloodcurdling scream: “You have a huge bald spot!”

I immediately went over to the clinic here. They said: “Oh, you have alopecia. There’s not much we can do to treat it.”

Q. Alopecia is genetic. Do you have relatives with it?

A. My mom and her mother had hair loss from a young age. I have a cousin also who lost all of her hair. Ironically, hair is a big part of my family’s life. My grandfather was a barber in Italy and then later in New Jersey. And my mother was a hairdresser before retiring. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and graduate school: Rutgers. My mother now says, “You’re just another hair person — you just do it differently.”

Q. How did this history lead to your research?

A. In the months after my diagnosis, I went through panic and shock. Every morning, I’d wake up wondering if it was all going to fall out. And new spots did show up. I’d cover them with the most careful combing. Then there’d be a new one. It was like plugging holes in a dam. It finally stopped after two years.

I began reading all the papers on alopecia. In my training, nobody had talked much about hair. I thought maybe the reason was because it had all been figured out. When I started digging, I saw the opposite was true. I thought, “Maybe this is the hand of fate directing me to a topic? This is a wide-open field.” If I could identify the genes involved in alopecia, then maybe we could figure out what they did, and that might be the way to a treatment.

Having the chance to work it through in the lab was one of the things that kept me sane in this period of my life. The disease was very destabilizing.

Q. Why had hair loss been so minimally researched?

A. I suspect it’s because it’s seen as a “cosmetic” problem. It’s the life-threatening diseases that get priority — and money. The other problem was that in 1996, the tools weren’t ready. The Human Genome Project hadn’t finished its work. There were no road maps. Nobody had yet solved a complex disease where multiple genes are involved, which is what alopecia is.

Q. So how’d you overcome that?

A. You could see the tools were on their way. Every year, you’d go to conventions and there was excitement about what was coming. My plan was to get all the ducks in a row for when the genome was mapped. While we waited, we tried to lay some groundwork by trying to find single genes that control the normal hair growth cycle. By looking for rare hair-loss diseases where only one gene was the factor, we learned some of that. My lab found six such genes.

The other thing we did was to line up a patient registry for alopecia. That way, when the time was right, we could compare the genomes of people with the disease to those of people without it. An advocacy group, National Alopecia Areata Foundation, N.A.A.F., helped us connect with patients.

Q. When were you able to actually do the study?

A. In 2008. We published our findings this past July. Ours was the first study of alopecia to use a genome-wide approach. By checking the DNA of 1,000 alopecia patients against a control group of 1,000 without it, we identified 139 markers for the disease across the genome.

We also found a big surprise. For years, people thought that alopecia was probably the stepchild of autoimmune skin diseases like psoriasis and vitiligo. The astonishing news is that it shares virtually no genes with those. It’s actually linked to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes 1 and celiac disease.

Q. What will this new information mean for patients?

A. It should have amazing benefits. There are existing drugs on the market for several of these diseases. Based on the overlapping genetics, we have a chance of pushing forward with clinical trials for potentially effective drugs much sooner than we’d thought. One approach would be as a new indication for an already approved drug.

Going the other way, our research opens up possibilities for the three related diseases. With them, till now it’s been hard to study aspects of how the immune response goes wrong because it is difficult to biopsy the pancreas or a joint. But now researchers might be able to use a patient’s skin, a much more accessible organ.

Already, the finding has helped with diagnosis. At Columbia, we have large clinics for diabetes and celiac disease. Since we’ve published our paper, those clinics are asking patients, “Have you experienced hair loss?” About 10 percent say, “Oh, yes, I lose hair in clumps.”

Q. What does it feel like to have accomplished this?

A. It’s wonderful, of course. This summer, I spoke at the patient conference of N.A.A.F. and told the young people there, for the first time, about their genes. Before I could finish my talk, they gave me a standing ovation. I was in tears. Many of them later said, “We wouldn’t wish this on you, but we’re glad you got this disease.”

I understood what they meant. Without it, a serious geneticist might never have given their attention to what was thought of as a cosmetic disease.

2011年1月1日 星期六


レアメタルの代替、新合金開発に成功 京大教授グループ



 京都大の北川宏教授らのグループが、レアメタルとよばれる希少な金属の一つ「パラジウム」と似た性質を持つ合金を作ることに成功した。2種の金属を超微 細加工技術で混ぜ合わせた。この方法を使うとパラジウムの安い代替として、燃料電池用の水素を蓄える材料や触媒の開発につながる可能性があるという。


 グループは、パラジウムより電子の数が1個少ないロジウム、逆に1個多い銀に注目。ロジウムと銀が含まれる水溶液を熱して、霧ふきのようなものでアル コールに少しずつ混ぜることで、それぞれが均一に混ざった状態の合金を作った。高温で溶かす従来の方法では合金にはならないという。

 ロジウムや銀は水素を蓄えることができないが、この合金は水素を蓄える能力がパラジウムの半分ほどあることがわかった。パラジウムの触媒の働きを代替で きることも確かめた。北川教授は「ほかの金属の組み合わせでも、パラジウムの代替品ができる可能性がある」と話している。(瀬川茂子)