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Graphite + water = the future of energy storage

Dr. Dan Li, of the Monash University Department of Materials Engineering, and his research team have been working with a material called graphene, which could form the basis of the next generation of ultrafast energy storage systems.
 Graphene sheets

“Once we can properly manipulate this material, your iPhone, for example, could charge in a few seconds, or possibly faster.” said Dr. Li.

Graphene is the result of breaking down graphite, a cheap, readily available material commonly used in pencils, into layers one atom thick. In this form, it has remarkable properties.

Graphene is strong, chemically stable, an excellent conductor of electricity and, importantly, has an extremely high surface area.

Dr. Li said these qualities make graphene highly suitable for energy storage applications.
“The reason graphene isn’t being used everywhere is that these very thin sheets, when stacked into a usable macrostructure, immediately bond together, reforming graphite. When graphene restacks, most of the surface area is lost and it doesn’t behave like graphene anymore.”

Now, Dr. Li and his team have discovered the key to maintaining the remarkable properties of separate graphene sheets: water. Keeping graphene moist – in gel form – provides repulsive forces between the sheets and prevents re-stacking, making it ready for real-world application.

“The technique is very simple and can easily be scaled up. When we discovered it, we thought it was unbelievable. We’re taking two basic, inexpensive materials – water and graphite – and making this new nanomaterial with amazing properties,” said Dr. Li.

When used in energy devices, graphene gel significantly outperforms current carbon-based technology, both in terms of the amount of charge stored and how fast the charges can be delivered.

Dr. Li said the benefits of developing this new nanotechnology extend beyond consumer electronics.
“High-speed, reliable and cost-effective energy storage systems are critical for the future viability of electricity from renewable resources. These systems are also the key to large-scale adoption of electrical vehicles.

“Graphene gel is also showing promise for use in water purification membranes, biomedical devices and sensors.”

From physorg

Shining a light on the elusive 'blackbody' of energy research

A "blackbody" object represents a theorized ideal of performance for a material that perfectly absorbs all radiation to strike it and also emits energy based on the material's temperature. According to this blackbody law, the energy absorbed is equal to the energy emitted in equilibrium.

 A designer metamaterial has shown it can engineer emitted "blackbody" radiation with an efficiency beyond the natural limits imposed by the material’s temperature, a team of researchers report in Physical Review Letters. Illustration shows design of the infrared metamaterial absorber. (a) Top view of a single band metamaterial absorber unit cell. (b) Schematic of a dual-band metamaterial absorber. (c & d) Perspective view for single and dual-band metamaterial absorbers.

The breakthrough reported by Padilla and colleagues from Duke University and SensorMetrix, Inc., could lead to innovative technologies used to cull energy from waste heat produced by numerous industrial processes. Furthermore, the man-made metamaterial offers the ability to control emissivity, which could further enhance energy conversion efficiency.

"For the first time, metamaterials are shown to be able to engineer blackbody radiation and that opens the door for a number of energy harvesting applications," said Padilla. "The energy a natural surface emits is based on its temperature and nothing more. You don't have a lot of choice. Metamaterials, on the other hand, allow you to tailor that radiation coming off in any desirable manner, so you have great control over the emitted energy."

Researchers have long sought to find the ideal "blackbody" material for use in solar or thermoelectric energy generation. So far, the hunt for such a class of thermal emitters has proved elusive. Certain rare earth oxides are in limited supply and expensive, in addition to being almost impossible to control. Photonic crystals proved to be inferior emitters that failed to yield significant efficiencies.

Constructed from artificial composites, metamaterials are designed to give them new properties that exceed the performance limits of their actual physical components and allow them to produce "tailored" responses to radiation. Metamaterials have exhibited effects such as a negative index of refraction and researchers have combined metamaterials with artificial optical devices to demonstrate the "invisibility cloak" effect, essentially directing light around a space and masking its existence.

Three years ago, the team developed a "perfect" metamaterial absorber capable of absorbing all of the light that strikes it thanks to its nano-scale geometric surface features. Knowing that, the researches sought to exploit Kirchoffs's law of thermal radiation, which holds that the ability of a material to emit radiation equals its ability to absorb radiation.

Working in the mid-infrared range, the thermal emitter achieved experimental emissivity of 98 percent. A dual-band emitter delivered emission peaks of 85 percent and 89 percent. The results confirmed achieving performance consistent with Kirchoff's law, the researchers report.

"We also show by performing both emissivity and absorptivity measurements that emissivity and absorptivity agree very well," said Padilla. "Even though the agreement is predicted by Kirchoff's law, this is the first time that Kirchoff's law has been demonstrated for metamaterials."

The researchers said altering the composition of the metamaterial can results in single-, dual-band and broadband metamaterials, which could allow greater control of emitted photons in order to improve energy conversion efficiency.

"Potential applications could lie in energy harvesting area such as using this metamaterial as the selective thermal emitter for thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cells," said Padilla. "Since this metamaterial has the ability to engineer the thermal radiation so that the emitted photons match the band gap of the semiconductor – part of the TPV cell – the converting efficiency could be greatly enhanced.

From physorg

Inside the Innards of a Nuclear Reactor: Tiny Robots May Monitor Underground Pipes for Radioactive Leaks

That study found that three-quarters of the country's nuclear reactor sites have leaked radioactive tritium from buried piping that transports water to cool reactor vessels, often contaminating groundwater. According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the industry has limited methods to monitor underground pipes for leaks.

 A spherical robot equipped with a camera may navigate underground pipes of a nuclear reactor by propelling itself with an internal network of valves and pumps.

"We have 104 reactors in this country," says Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of MIT's d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology. "Fifty-two of them are 30 years or older, and we need immediate solutions to assure the safe operations of these reactors."

Asada says one of the major challenges for safety inspectors is identifying corrosion in a reactor's underground pipes. Currently, plant inspectors use indirect methods to monitor buried piping: generating a voltage gradient to identify areas where pipe coatings may have corroded, and using ultrasonic waves to screen lengths of pipe for cracks. The only direct monitoring requires digging out the pipes and visually inspecting them -- a costly and time-intensive operation.

Now Asada and his colleagues at the d'Arbeloff Laboratory are working on a direct monitoring alternative: small, egg-sized robots designed to dive into nuclear reactors and swim through underground pipes, checking for signs of corrosion. The underwater patrollers, equipped with cameras, are able to withstand a reactor's extreme, radioactive environment, transmitting images in real-time from within.

The group presented details of its latest prototype at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

At first glance, Asada's robotic inspector looks like nothing more than a small metallic cannonball. There are no propellers or rudders, or any obvious mechanism on its surface to power the robot through an underwater environment. Asada says such "appendages," common in many autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are too bulky for his purposes -- a robot outfitted with external thrusters or propellers would easily lodge in a reactor's intricate structures, including sensor probes, networks of pipes and joints. "You would have to shut down the plant just to get the robot out," Asada says. "So we had to make [our design] extremely fail-safe."
He and his graduate student, Anirban Mazumdar, decided to make the robot a smooth sphere, devising a propulsion system that can harness the considerable force of water rushing through a reactor. The group devised a special valve for switching the direction of a flow with a tiny change in pressure and embedded a network of the Y-shaped valves within the hull, or "skin," of the small, spherical robot, using 3-D printing to construct the network of valves, layer by layer. "At the end of the day, we get pipelines going in all … directions," Asada says. "They're really tiny."

Depending on the direction they want their robot to swim, the researchers can close off various channels to shoot water through a specific valve. The high-pressure water pushes open a window at the end of the valve, rushing out of the robot and creating a jet stream that propels the robot in the opposite direction.

As the robot navigates a pipe system, the onboard camera takes images along the pipe's interior. Asada's original plan was to retrieve the robot and examine the images afterward. But now he and his students are working to equip the robot with wireless underwater communications, using laser optics to transmit images in real time across distances of up to 100 meters.

The team is also working on an "eyeball" mechanism that would let the camera pan and tilt in place. Graduate student Ian Rust describes the concept as akin to a hamster ball.

"The hamster changes the location of the center of mass of the ball by scurrying up the side of the ball," Rust says. "The ball then rolls in that direction."

To achieve the same effect, the group installed a two-axis gimbal in the body of the robot, enabling them to change the robot's center of mass arbitrarily. With this setup, the camera, fixed to the outside of the robot, can pan and tilt as the robot stays stationary.

Asada envisions the robots as short-term, disposable patrollers, able to inspect pipes for several missions before breaking down from repeated radiation exposure.

"The system has a simplicity that is very attractive for deployment in hostile environments," says Henrik Christensen, director of the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Christensen, who was not involved in the work, observed that robots such as Asada's could be useful not only for monitoring nuclear reactors, but also for inspecting other tight, confined spaces -- sprawling city sewer pipes, for example. "One would like to have a system that can be deployed at a limited cost and risk, so an autonomous system of minimal size is very attractive," he says.


Pure Nanotubes by the Kilo

An improved process for making large amounts of pure metallic carbon nanotubes could hold the key to overhauling the electrical power grid with more efficient transmission lines.

Researchers at Rice University plan to generate a large quantity of this material by the end of summer. They'll use these nanotubes to make long and highly conductive fibers that could be woven into more efficient electrical transmission lines.

 Amped up: This jumble of carbon nanotubes has tripled in volume after two runs through a growth process called amplification.

There are a few different classes of carbon nanotube, each with slightly different properties and different potential uses. Unfortunately, existing production methods result in a mixture of different nanotubes, with varying dimensions and wildly different electrical properties. Purely semiconducting nanotubes, useful for future integrated circuits, are in the mix with metallic nanotubes that could be used to make highly conductive wires. So nanotubes have to be separated by type, a slow and expensive process, says Andrew Barron, professor of chemistry and materials science at Rice.

"There is a subset of nanotubes that are the best conducting materials to be found, that don't lose any energy to heat," says Barron.

Barron is part of a group at Rice that wants to make something very large from these nanotubes: miles and miles of highly conductive electrical transmission lines for a more efficient energy grid, which will be important as the use of renewable energy grows. This was one vision of the late Rice professor Richard Smalley, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his codiscovery of fullerenes, a new type of carbon structure. The Rice researchers have made long, pure carbon nanotube fibers, but since they have been working from impure samples, these fibers are not as conductive as they could be.

Barron and his colleagues have now improved on a method for making pure nanotubes that they first developed in 2006. Called "amplification," it should eventually allow them to turn a nanogram of pure carbon nanotubes into a gram, then a kilogram, then a ton. They start by separating a small amount of pure metallic nanotubes from a mixture, and then attach a catalyst to the tip of each tube. They then put the nanotubes into a pressurized, temperature-controlled chamber and feed in a mixture of gases. Under these conditions, the nanotubes double in size, growing from the catalyst at the tip. The existing nanotube acts as a template that dictates the diameter, structure, and properties of the extra length of the nanotube. The nanotubes are then cut and the process is repeated.

Barron and colleagues first demonstrated amplification a few years ago, but it wasn't very efficient. In a paper published online in June in the journal Nano Letters, they described a combination of the right catalysts and growth conditions that would ensure that every single nanotube would be amplified. Previously they'd assumed these conditions should be identical to the ones used to make the starting batch of nanotubes, but it didn't work very well. Barron says they have now found the conditions to make amplification work.

The Rice researchers are using the amplification process to accumulate enough pure metallic nanotubes to make a fiber of the type that would be used to make an electrical transmission line. They've made long, conductive nanotube fibers in the past using a spinning process also developed at Rice, but they've had to use impure nanotubes to make any great length of the material.

Aaron Franklin, a researcher at IBM's Watson Research Center, says the new study probably doesn't "reveal the golden ticket for achieving high volumes of metallic-only tubes." The amplification process is still not producing very large quantities of the material, Franklin notes. 

While the Rice group continues to work on amplification, other researchers are exploring alternative ways of making pure nanotubes in quantity. Mark Hersam, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, developed what is now one of the most commonly used separation methods. He founded a company called NanoIntegris to sell pure nanotubes. He says ramping up production "is now essentially an industrial optimization exercise."

By Katherine Bourzac
From Technology Review

Drug Discovery with Computational Chemistry

Most pharmaceutical companies use software to model chemical interactions, with the hope of speeding up the drug development process. But it's typically a small component of a complex array of approaches. Nimbus Discovery, a startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is using computational chemistry to drive the entire process. 

Unhappy water: Chemical modeling software called WaterMap can predict how water molecules, shown here in red and green, can influence how strongly drug candidates bind to their intended target. 

The company emerged from a partnership with Schrödinger, a maker of computational drug discovery software, and venture capital firm Atlas Venture. Nimbus will use Schrödinger's software, computing power, and modeling experts to develop drugs for disease-linked proteins that have historically been difficult to target.
If successful, this computationally driven approach could make drug development faster and cheaper by making much of the trial and error process virtual.  Nimbus recently raised $24 million in venture funding. Bill Gates was one of the investors.

Schrödinger's software, which is used by many pharmaceutical companies, models the various chemical forces that drive a candidate drug molecule to bind to a specific spot on the target protein. That allows drug developers to predict how well various candidate molecules bind to targets of interest. While this approach has been in use for about two decades, it has yet to truly transform the drug-discovery process.  

Nimbus researchers think that part of the reason is that most tools fail to incorporate the thermodynamics of the resident water molecules in the protein's binding site. "The need for improved water models is a widely acknowledged yet seldom-addressed limitation of current methods," says Christopher Snow, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech who is not involved with the company. It's difficult to model the energy of water molecules. 

WaterMap, a new tool from Schrödinger that predicts how water will affect the binding reaction, could overcome that barrier. "We think we can use our technology to transform the way drug development is done," says Ramy Farid, president of Schrödinger and cofounder of Nimbus. Researchers have used WaterMap to explain the success or failure of some molecules, as well as to develop new candidate molecules. "It led in a number of cases to rapid development of drug candidates that were of higher quality than what appeared to be otherwise possible," says Farid.

The startup spent its first year using the software to narrow down a list of 1,200 potential drug targets, chemical binding sites on different disease-linked proteins, to a list of 20 that looked most amenable to the technology. (That depended on a number of factors, including knowledge of the protein's three-dimensional structure, its desirability as a target for disease, as well as the number of water molecules that reside in the binding site.) The company will focus on targets involved in inflammation, oncology, metabolic disease, and antibiotics.

The most advanced target to date is called IRAK4, a kinase enzyme that plays a role in inflammation and drives an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Researchers conducted a virtual drug screen, looking for molecules that would bind to IRAK4, and then put those virtual molecules to the test by synthesizing them and running real chemical reactions. "We have been able to quickly find a highly selective molecule with drug-like properties," says Rosana Kapeller, Nimbus's chief scientific officer. It took just nine months to go from virtual screening to testing in animal models of disease.

"We have seen powerful examples of how minor changes to the molecule can result in profound changes in binding," says Bruce Booth, one of Nimbus's cofounders. By displacing one "unhappy" molecule, a high-energy water molecule in the binding site, "we can improve binding a hundred-fold," he says.

While WaterMap is available to pharmaceutical companies for purchase, Farid says, the newness of the technology, and the fact that it requires intense computing power, has made it difficult to implement effectively. Part of the reason for founding Nimbus, he says, was to demonstrate how powerful the tool can be. 

But it remains to be seen how significantly the WaterMap tool will speed drug discovery or how broadly applicable it will be. It may turn out to be very useful for some targets but not others. 

By Emily Singer
From Technology Review

Gastric Bacterium Helicobacter Pylori Protects Against Asthma

Allergy-induced asthma has been on the increase in the industrialized world for decades and has virtually taken on epidemic proportions. The rapid rise in allergic airway disease is attributed to air pollution, smoking, the hygiene hypothesis and the widespread use of antibiotics. The hygiene hypothesis states that modern hygiene measures have led to a lack of exposure to infectious agents, which is important for the normal maturation of the immune system. In an article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, scientists from the University of Zurich and the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz now reveal that the increase in asthma could be put down to the specific disappearance of the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from Western societies.

 Electron micrograph of H. pylori.

H. pylori is resistant to gastric acid. According to estimates, around half of the world's population might be infected with the bacteria. The affliction often has no symptoms, but under certain conditions can cause gastritis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and stomach cancer. Consequently, H. pylori is often killed off with antibiotics as a precaution, even if the patient does not have any complaints.

Early infection with H. pylori protects against asthma
For their study, the researchers infected mice with H. pylori bacteria. If the mice were infected at the age of a few days old, they developed immunological tolerance to the bacterium and even reacted insignificantly -- if at all -- to strong, asthma-inducing allergens. Mice that were not infected with H. pylori until they had reached adulthood, however, had a much weaker defense. "Early infection impairs the maturation of the dendritic cells and triggers the accumulation of regulatory T-cells that are crucial for the suppression of asthma," says Anne Müller, a professor of molecular cancer research at the University of Zurich, explaining the protective mechanism.

If regulatory T-cells were transferred from infected to uninfected mice, they too enjoyed effective protection against allergy-induced asthma. However, mice that had been infected early also lost their resistance to asthma-inducing allergens if H. pylori was killed off in them with the aid of antibiotics after the sensitization phase. According to lung and allergy specialist Christian Taube, a senior physician at III. Medical Clinic of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the new results confirm the hypothesis that the increase in allergic asthma in industrial nations is linked to the widespread use of antibiotics and the subsequent disappearance of micro-organisms that permanently populate the human body: "The study of these fundamental mechanisms is extremely important for us to understand asthma and be able to develop preventative and therapeutic strategies later on."

From sciencedaily

New Laser Technology Could Kill Viruses and Improve DVDs

Ultraviolet semiconductor diode lasers are widely used in data processing, information storage and biology. Their applications have been limited, however, by size, cost and power. The current generation of ultraviolet lasers is based on a material called gallium nitride, but Jianlin Liu, a professor of electrical engineering, and his colleagues have made a breakthrough in zinc oxide nanowire waveguide lasers, which can offer smaller sizes, lower costs, higher powers and shorter wavelengths.

 From left, Guoping Wang, a graduate student, Jianlin Liu, a professor of electrical engineering, and Sheng Chu, a graduate student.

Until now, zinc oxide nanowires couldn't be used in real world light emission applications because of the lack of p-type, or positive type, material needed by all semiconductors. Liu solved that problem by doping the zinc oxide nanowires with antimony, a metalloid element, to create the p-type material.

The p-type zinc oxide nanowires were connected with n-type, or negative type, zinc oxide material to form a device called p-n junction diode. Powered by a battery, highly directional laser light emits only from the ends of the nanowires.

"People in the zinc oxide research community throughout the world have been trying hard to achieve this for the past decade," Liu said. "This discovery is likely to stimulate the whole field to push the technology further."
Liu's findings have been published in the July issue of Nature Nanotechnology. Co-authors are: Sheng Chu, Guoping Wang, Jieying Kong, Lin Li and Jingjian Ren, all graduate students at UC Riverside; Weihang Zhou, a student at Fudan University in China; Leonid Chernyak, a professor of physics at the University of Central Florida; Yuqing Lin, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida; and Jianze Zhao, a visiting student from Dalian University of Technology in China.

The discovery could have a wide-range of impacts.
For information storage, the zinc oxide nanowire lasers could be used to read and process much denser data on storage media such as DVDs because the ultraviolet has shorter wavelength than other lights, such as red. For example, a DVD that would store two hours of music could store four or six hours using the new type of laser.

For biology and medical therapeutics, the ultra-small laser light beam from a nanowire laser can penetrate a living cell, or excite or change its function from a bad cell to a good cell. The light could also be used to purify drinking water.

For photonics, the ultraviolet light could provide superfast data processing and transmission. Reliable small ultraviolet semiconductor diode lasers may help develop ultraviolet wireless communication technology, which is potentially better than state-of-the-art infrared communication technologies used in various electronic information systems.

While Liu and the students in his laboratory have demonstrated the p-type doping of zinc oxide and electrically powered nanowire waveguide lasing in the ultraviolet range, he said more work still needs to be done with the stability and reliability of the p-type material.

The work on the ZnO device was in part supported by Army Research Office Young Investigator Program and the National Science Foundation. The work on p-type ZnO was supported by the Department of Energy.

From sciencedaily

Research brings more efficient spintronics

As the size of conventional transistors - as predicted by Moore's Law - rapidly approaches the theoretical minimum, Cambridge University physicists say they've made a major step forward in spintronics - a possible successor to the transistor. Spintronics exploits the electron's tiny magnetic moment, or 'spin', instead of its charge, as at present. It offers potential for high-speed, high-density and low-power consumption.
The new research sheds light on how to make 'spin' more efficient.

One of the unique properties in spintronics is that spins can be transferred without the flow of electric charge currents. This is called 'spin current' and, unlike other ways of harnessing electrons,  allows information to be transferred without generating heat in electric devices. 

But one major remaining obstacle to a viable spin current technology is the difficulty of creating a volume of spin current large enough to support current and future electronic devices.

However, the Cambridge researchers say they've now cracked this problem. In order to create enhanced spin currents, the researchers used the collective motion of spins called spin waves (the wave property of spins). By bringing spin waves into interaction, they have demonstrated a new, more efficient way of generating spin current.

"You can find lots of different waves in nature, and one of the fascinating things is that waves often interact with each other," says Dr Hidekazu Kurebayashi, from the University'sCavendish Laboratory. 

"Likewise, there are a number of different interactions in spin waves. Our idea was to use such spin wave interactions for generating efficient spin currents."

One of these, he says, called three-magnon splitting, generates spin current ten times more efficiently than using pre-interacting spin-waves. 

By Kate Taylor
From tgdaily

Oxford team develops bionic specs

Oxford University scientists are protptyping glasses that could help people with severely limited vision see again. Using video cameras, position detectors, face recognition and tracking software, the team is working on a normal-looking pair of glasses that could help those who have just a small area of vision left, have cloudy or blurry vision, or can’t process detailed images.

They'd be suitable for common types of visual impairment such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. 

"We want to be able to enhance vision in those who’ve lost it or who have little left or almost none," says Dr Stephen Hicks of the Department of Clinical Neurology. 

"The glasses should allow people to be more independent – finding their own directions and signposts, and spotting warning signals."

The glasses have video cameras mounted at the corners to capture what the wearer is looking at, while a display of tiny lights embedded in the lenses feed back extra information about objects, people or obstacles in view. Different colors could represent different people or objects, and brightness indicate how close an object is.

A pocket computer recognises objects in the video image or tracks where a person is, driving the lights in the display in real time.

"The glasses must look discreet, allow eye contact between people and present a simplified image to people with poor vision, to help them maintain independence in life,’ says Hicks.

"These guiding principles are important for coming up with an aid that is acceptable for people to wear in public, with eye contact being so important in social relationships."

The team is also working on including optical character recognition, allowing everything from newspaper headlines to barcodes to be read.

Hicks reckons the glasses could cost as little as £500. The team is planning a year-long feasibility study starting later this year.

By Kate Taylor  
From tgdaily

A Futures Market for Computer Security

Information security researchers from academia, industry, and the U.S. intelligence community are collaborating to build a pilot "prediction market" capable of anticipating major information security events before they occur.

A prediction market is similar to a regular stock exchange, except the "stocks" are simple statements that the exchange's members are encouraged to evaluate. Traders will buy and sell "shares" of a stock based on the strength of their confidence about the future outcome—with an overall goal of increasing the value of their portfolios, which will in turn earn them some sort of financial reward. Traders may choose to buy or sell additional shares of a stock, and that buying and selling activity pushes the stock price up or down, just as in a real market.

Some of the stocks being considering cover a few months, such as: "The volume of spam e-mail will increase by 10 percent in the third quarter of 2011." Others will ask participants to gauge the likelihood of far-off events, such as the chance that the U.S. House of Representatives will pass a bill with "cyber" and "security" in its title in the first session of the 112th Congress, or whether broadly used encryption algorithms will be defeated within the next 24 months.

Greg Shannon, chief scientist of the CERT program at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute, who is involved with the project, says the purpose is to provide actionable data.

"If you're Verizon, and you're trying to pre-position resources, you might want to have some visibility over the horizon about the projected prevalence of mobile malware," Shannon said. "That's something they'd like to have an informed opinion about by leveraging the wisdom of the security community."

Predictions markets have effectively forecasted all manner of events and trends, from the success of sports teams to the sales of new products. The pilot project will rely on software and services provided by Consensus Point, a Nashville-based company that has helped to build employee-driven prediction markets for several major companies, including General Electric, Best Buy, and Qualcomm. Best Buy's prediction market—called "TagTrade"—is designed to give management an early indicator of which new products or ideas are likely to succeed, and whether specific new stores will open on time. The University of Iowa's Iowa Electronic Markets, one of the earliest prediction markets, has significantly outperformed the polls in every presidential election when forecasting more than 100 days in advance: Compared to 964 polls over the five presidential elections since 1988, the Iowa market was closer to the eventual outcome 74 percent of the time. The University of Iowa also uses prediction markets to forecast seasonal flu outbreaks.

Prediction markets have a major built-in bias—those answering the questions are not polled randomly—but respondents also have an incentive to respond only to those questions they feel confident in answering with accuracy.

"Prediction markets aren't just surveys that ask everyone to speak up," Robin Hanson, chief scientist at Consensus Point. " People tend to speak up only when they're reasonably sure they know the answer."

Consensus Point CEO Linda Rebrovick says the goal of the project is to attract a network of about 250 experts, although the organizers are still deciding how to compensate for correct answers.

"There will be some combination of rewards and financial incentives for participating," Rebrovick says.

Even if questions generate only tepid responses, such responses can be informative, says Dan Geer, chief information security officer at In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Geer is also involved in the project. "It may be that this tells us there is ambiguity, or that we are, in effect, measuring disagreement on a question that doesn't have a quantitative aspect to it," Geer says. "Straight-out surveys are vulnerable to idiot answers, and prediction markets are vulnerable to stupid questions."

While the pilot project will be limited to invited information security experts, the consensus decisions reached by the group will be made public. "Even if we can't find something useful in all of this, we feel that's a valuable result. It's the way you make progress," Geer says.

By Brian Krebs
From Technology Review

Navy monitoring system powered by microbes

Not to be outdone by the Army or Air Force, the Navy is also focusing on being environmentally friendly.
Its most recent project has been the Zero Power Ballast Control (ZPBC), that utilizes microbial energy harvesting developments to power underwater sensors in both surfacing and reporting capabilities. The device will act much like a traditional Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) and monitor ocean temperatures over weeks, months and eventually years, which is reportedly much longer than traditional XBTs. 

The Navy tested the ZPBC over the course of a week in Thailand to gauge readings and energy efficiency. 

According to Dr. Justin Biffinger, who looks to be involved in the project, "the device surfaced and submerged periodically as designed via hydrogen gas...proving the device generated gas in sufficient quantity to produce buoyancy."

The ZPBC will surface either with an on-board, low-energy timer or go the zero power route and depend on the rate of microbial growth rate. 

Various sensors can be attached to the device to detect and classify, monitor rise to the surface, report and re-submerge. 

The information reported by the ZPBC could provided in-water optical data "for underwater visibilities, laser penetration depths, diver and target vulnerability assessments, electro-optical system performance predictions, and refining numerical models."

The ZPBC is still in testing mode, but eventually the information provided by this device could greatly help both scientific and military sectors.

Currently, the devices need to remain tethered, but the naval scientists hope to eventually add geo-referencing to eliminate this need.

By Jasmine Greene, EarthTechling
From tgdaily

A Smarter, Stealthier Botnet

A new kind of botnet—a network of malware-infected PCs—behaves less like an army and more like a decentralized terrorist network, experts say. It can survive decapitation strikes, evade conventional defenses, and even wipe out competing criminal networks.

The botnet's resilience is due to a super-sophisticated piece of malicious software known as TDL-4, which in the first three months of 2011 infected more than 4.5 million computers around the world, about a third of them in the United States.

The emergence of TDL-4 shows that the business of installing malicious code on PCs is thriving. Such code is used to conduct spam campaigns and various forms of theft and fraud, such as siphoning off passwords and other sensitive data. It's also been used in the billion-dollar epidemic of fake anti-virus scams.

"Ultimately TDL-4 is simply a tool for maintaining and protecting a compromised platform for fraud," says Eric Howes, malware analyst for GFI Software, a security company. "It's part of the black service economy for malware, which has matured considerably over the past five years and which really needs a lot more light shed on it."

Unlike other botnets, the TDL-4 network doesn't rely on a few central "command-and-control" servers to pass along instructions and updates to all the infected computers. Instead, computers infected with TDL-4 pass along instructions to one another using public peer-to-peer networks. This makes it a "decentralized, server-less botnet," wrote Sergey Golovanov, a malware researcher at the Moscow-based security company Kaspersky Lab, on this blog describing the new threat.

"The owners of TDL are essentially trying to create an 'indestructible' botnet that is protected against attacks, competitors, and antivirus companies," Golovanov wrote. He added that it "is one of the most technologically sophisticated, and most complex-to-analyze malware."

The TDL-4 botnet also breaks new ground by using an encryption algorithm that hides its communications from traffic-analysis tools. This is an apparent response to efforts by researchers to discover infected machines and disable botnets by monitoring their communication patterns, rather than simply identifying the presence of the malicious code.

Demonstrating that there is no honor among malicious software writers, TDL-4 scans for and deletes 20 of the most common forms of competing malware, so it can keep infected machines all to itself. "It's interesting to mention that the features are generally oriented toward achieving perfect stealth, resilience, and getting rid of 'competitor' malware," says Costin Raiu, another malware researcher at Kaspersky.

Distributed by criminal freelancers called affiliates, who get paid between $20 and $200 for every 1,000 infected machines, TDL-4 lurks on porn sites and some video and file-storage services, among other places, where it can be automatically installed using vulnerabilities in a victim's browser or operating system.

Once TDL-4 infects a computer, it downloads and installs as many as 30 pieces of other malicious software—including spam-sending bots and password-stealing programs. "There are other malware-writing groups out there, but the gang behind [this one] is specifically targeted on delivering high-tech malware for profit," says Raiu.

By David Talbot
From Technology Review