MI weekly selection #1

The Sun in the X-ray. A discrepancy in the spectrum of the Sun could be due to the atomic model used |Credit: GOES Satellite

Three new primate species verified in Borneo

A new small primate with a toxic bite and distinctive facial fur markings has been discovered in the jungles of Borneo. Two previously known subspecies of slow loris have also been accorded full species status.

The slow loris (Nycticebus) is a primate genus closely related to the lemur. Found across South East Asia, from Bangladesh and China’s Yunnan province to the island of Borneo, the slow loris is rare amongst primates for having a toxic bite, and is rated as Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

More information:


R. Munds, S. Ford, K.A.I. Nekaris, “Taxonomy of the Bornean Slow Loris, with New Species Nycticebus Kayan (Priamtes Lorisdae)”, American Journal of Primatology, December 2012

Pico gold clusters break catalysis record

Chemists at the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain have shown that small clusters of gold atoms are excellent inorganic catalysts with record-breaking efficiency. The clusters, which have been used in the hydration of alkynes, exhibit catalytic turnover frequencies of up to 100,000 per hour at room temperature, that is, converting 100,000 substrate molecules per gold cluster per hour. Such catalytic activity is nearly five orders of magnitude higher than that previously reported.

The researchers focused on the ester-assisted hydration of alkynes. In this reaction water turns alkynes into ketones; it used to be used by industry to form acetaldehyde for the production of acetic acid and other chemicals from acetylene using a mercury catalyst.

More information:

Chemistry World

Judit Oliver-Meseguer, Jose R. Cabrero-Antonino, Irene Domínguez, Antonio Leyva-Pérez, Avelino Corma, “Small Gold Clusters Formed in Solution Give Reaction Turnover Numbers of 107 at Room Temperature” Science 14 December 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6113 pp. 1452-1455 DOI: 10.1126/science.1227813

A discrepancy in the spectrum of the Sun could be due to the atomic model used

The discrepancy arises whenever an X-ray telescope examines the light spectrum of the Sun or that of any star. Highly charged iron should dominate the spectrum in certain wavelengths. But the iron is weaker than expected.

New research from an international team, led by the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, suggests it’s the atomic model to blame.

More information:


S. Bernitt et al., “An unexpectedly low oscillator strength as the origin of the Fe xvii emission problem” Nature 492, 225–228 (13 December 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11627

Earliest representation of a pharaoh offer a window on Dynasty 0

The oldest-known representations of a pharaoh are carved on rocks near the Nile River in southern Egypt. The style of the carvings and hieroglyphics place the creation of the images around 3200 B.C. to 3100 B.C. This would have been the reign of Narmer, the first pharaoh to unify Upper and Lower Egypt.

More Information:


Stan Hendrickx, John Coleman Darnell and Maria Carmela Gatto, “The earliest representations of royal power in Egypt: the rock drawings of Nag el-Hamdulab (Aswan)” Antiquity December 2012 Volume: 86 Number: 334 Page: 1068–1083 Link

The algorithmic origin of life

Although it has been notoriously difficult to pin down precisely what is it that makes life so distinctive and remarkable, there is general agreement that its informational aspect is one key property, perhaps the key property.

Using a chemical definition of life — for instance, requiring DNA — may limit the hunt for extraterrestrial life, and it also may wrongly include nonliving systems, for instance, a petri dish full of self-replicating DNA. We don’t have a rigorous mathematical way of identifying it.

Researchers have created a simple mathematical model to capture the transition from a nonliving to a living-breathing being. According to the researchers, all living things have one property that inanimate objects don’t: Information flows in two directions.

More information:

Blue Marble Space

Sara Imari Walker and Paul C. W. Davies “The Algorithmic origin of life” Published online December 12, 2012 J. R. Soc. Interface 6 February 2013 vol. 10 no. 79 20120869 doi:10.1098/rsif.2012.0869

A new theory on long term unemployment

Those who had been out of work for more than six months had been faring significantly worse in finding a new job than those who had been unemployed for a brief period of time. At the end of the 2007 recesion, vacancies in the US started increasing without any change in unemployment, which led many economists to blame the slack in the labor market on ‘structural factors,’ meaning the people out of work were not qualified for the jobs that were available.

It’s hard to imagine a big skills or incentives gap between people unemployed for five months and people unemployed for six months. But it’s not hard to imagine companies treating their resumes differently. Overrun HR departments might just toss the resumes of applicants who have been out of work for six months or more, because they assume there must be something wrong with people who have been out of work that long. Sadly, this isn’t a hypothetical.

More Information:

The Atlantic

Brad DeLong

Ran Ghayad and William Dickens “What Can We Learn by Disaggregating the Unemployment-Vacancy Relationship?“ Public Policy Brief 12-3 Federal Reserve-Boston Link

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