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A Leading Suspect In The Honeybee Calamity

The culprit behind the mysterious collapse of honeybee colonies across the U.S. may be an insect pathogen called Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), says a team of scientists at Columbia University, Penn State University, and elsewhere. They reached this conclusion after comparing the genome sequences found in and on normal and afflicted honeybees, using computer programs to hunt for microbial genes uniquely associated with the stricken insects. "IAPV is the only organism that emerged" as a likely culprit, says one team member, Columbia neurologist Ian Lipkin. But it's unlikely the virus is acting alone. Additional factors may include other pathogens and agricultural chemicals. To learn more, the Agriculture Dept. plans to infect healthy bees with IAPV in secure facilities, and also expose some of them to other factors. The good news: Some naturally transgenic bees appear to be resistant to IAPV.

A determined data thief has lots of ways to steal sensitive information such as passwords or PIN codes. He can plant "keylogging" hardware or software on his victim's PC, or just watch from behind while such data is entered on a computer keyboard or bank ATM machine--a technique called shoulder surfing.

Computer scientist Manu Kumar and his colleagues at Stanford University have a new way to outsmart the snoops and protect your security codes. Dubbed the EyePassword, it uses infrared technology to track the orientation of your pupils and figure out which numbers and letters you're selecting as you stare at an on-screen keyboard.

For maximum accuracy, you either hold your gaze on each character in a password about 8 letters long for half a second or look at a character and click a trigger to confirm your choice. This approach takes a lot more time than typing the characters by hand. In tests on 18 users, it took about 10 seconds to input a gaze-based password, as opposed to 2 seconds typing. Even so, test subjects preferred EyePassword because it made them feel more secure.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have combined four technologies into a multilayer system that dramatically boosts the cooling capabilities of roofs and attics, which tend to swelter under hot sun. By helping to keep the whole house cooler, the system can cut a home's summer electric bills by 8%, says William Miller, the project's co-leader.

On the outside layer are shingles that, though dark, heat up slowly because of a special coating that reflects back much of the sun's infrared energy. The next layer of the roof is structured to encourage steady air flow so that warm air vents from the peak, drawing in cooler air from the eves. Below that, a thin barrier of aluminum slows the transfer of heat from the roof into the attic.

At the bottom is a layer of "phase-change" insulation. Packed with tiny capsules filled with a chemical that goes from solid to liquid as it warms--at around 85F--the insulation absorbs heat by day and releases it back into the air at night. On a 92F day, ORNL's prototype system cut attic temperatures by 22F, to 105F.

-- Sheets of artificial muscle that contract with the same amount of power as living heart tissue could prove useful to designers of robots and medical devices. Scientists at Harvard University took muscle cells from rat hearts and grew them on thin sheets of film. They then turned the films into 3D devices that can move and grip other objects, says a report in the Sept. 7 issue of Science.

-- One reason 17% of America's kids are overweight is that 98% of all TV food ads viewed by children age 2 to 11 and close to 90% of ads watched by teenagers are for products laden with sugar and fat. So says a study funded by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which monitored top-rated shows for children over a nine-month period from 2003 to 2004 and assessed every food ad shown. In total, they found that almost half the calories of the products advertised came from sugar. Previous studies show kids are heavily influenced by ads, which "makes it incumbent on food companies to change their practices," says Lisa M. Powell of the University of Illinois in Chicago.

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