American Research Universities Deal With Jump in Cyberattacks

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Known for their knowledge-sharing and openness, research universities in the United States are being forced to beef up security after a recent spike in cyberattacks that shows no signs of slowing down.

Of the millions of weekly hacking attempts universities deal with every week, most are believed to be from China and the successful hacks have involved the stealing of Social Security Numbers. However, because hackers are able to move their work all over the globe, it’s hard to know their exact country of origin or whether they are governmental or private, university officials say.

Defending against such attacks, and protecting valuable research, is difficult as schools often don’t realize they’ve been hacked, or what information has been pilfered, until much later.

“[That was] probably our greatest area of concern, that the hackers’ ability to detect vulnerabilities and penetrate them without being detected has increased sharply,” director of information technology policy at Cornell University Tracy B. Mitrano told the New York Times.

However, despite the challenges, universities are fighting back.

In addition to upgrading computer security systems and working with the FBI to improve security, some universities are using smaller vaults guarded by data encryption to store their most sensitive information. Professors from some schools are also banned from bringing their laptops to countries deemed a cybersecurity threat, something that goes against teachers’ usual practices of sharing and collaboration.

“There are some countries, including China, where the minute you connect to a network, everything will be copied, or something will be planted on your computer in hopes that you’ll take that computer back home and connect to your home network, and then they’re in there,” James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the New York Times. “Academics aren’t used to thinking that way.”

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via Lab Manager
 

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Stem cell research breakthrough in China; Japan stem cell trial approved

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The new breakthrough may allow for an easier way to create organs and tissues from stem cells.

Stem cell research has made new gains this week after a safe and easy way for them to be created was developed in China.

The new breakthrough may also allow for an easier way to create organs and tissues from stem cells.

The way in which the Chinese scientistsdeveloped the new method requires a familiarity with physiology and biology but suffice it to say that it involved the manipulation of certain molecules – small ones to be precise.

You can read exactly what they did here.

Small molecules have advantages because they can be cell permeable, non-immunogenic, more cost-effective, and can be more easily synthesized, preserved, and standardized,” researchers wrote in the paper.

“Moreover, their effects on inhibiting and activating the function of specific proteins are often reversible and can be finely tuned by varying the concentrations.”

Using the method the researchers were able to produce several healthy mice.

They believe that the findings will see the possibility of creating “functionally desirable cell types” for generating organs and tissues in humans by using drugs rather than gene manipulation.

Read more . . .

via Global Post
 

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VIDEO: Eric X. Li: A tale of two political systems

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right?

Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a successful modern nation.

A venture capitalist and political scientist, Eric X Li argues that the universality claim of Western democratic systems is going to be “morally challenged” by China.

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via TED
 

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Antifreeze, cheap materials may lead to low-cost solar energy

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This approach might also cook up the solar cells in a microwave oven similar to the one in most kitchens

A process combining some comparatively cheap materials and the same antifreeze that keeps an automobile radiator from freezing in cold weather may be the key to making solar cells that cost less and avoid toxic compounds, while further expanding the use of solar energy.

And when perfected, this approach might also cook up the solar cells in a microwave oven similar to the one in most kitchens.

Engineers at Oregon State University have determined that ethylene glycol, commonly used in antifreeze products, can be a low-cost solvent that functions well in a “continuous flow” reactor – an approach to making thin-film solar cells that is easily scaled up for mass production at industrial levels.

The research, just published in Material Letters, a professional journal, also concluded this approach will work with CZTS, or copper zinc tin sulfide, a compound of significant interest for solar cells due to its excellent optical properties and the fact these materials are cheap and environmentally benign.

“The global use of solar energy may be held back if the materials we use to produce solar cells are too expensive or require the use of toxic chemicals in production,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “We need technologies that use abundant, inexpensive materials, preferably ones that can be mined in the U.S. This process offers that.”

By contrast, many solar cells today are made with CIGS, or copper indium gallium diselenide. Indium is comparatively rare and costly, and mostly produced in China. Last year, the prices of indium and gallium used in CIGS solar cells were about 275 times higher than the zinc used in CZTS cells.

The technology being developed at OSU uses ethylene glycol in meso-fluidic reactors that can offer precise control of temperature, reaction time, and mass transport to yield better crystalline quality and high uniformity of the nanoparticles that comprise the solar cell – all factors which improve quality control and performance.

This approach is also faster – many companies still use “batch mode” synthesis to produce CIGS nanoparticles, a process that can ultimately take up to a full day, compared to about half an hour with a continuous flow reactor. The additional speed of such reactors will further reduce final costs.

“For large-scale industrial production, all of these factors – cost of materials, speed, quality control – can translate into money,” Herman said. “The approach we’re using should provide high-quality solar cells at a lower cost.”

Read more . . .

via Oregon State University
 

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Does China Have Enough Water to Burn Coal?

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China’s demand for coal continues to rise, but the parched country faces challenging finding enough water to cool its coal-fired power plants

By many measures, this northern Chinese city is an ideal candidate for being China’s Wyoming.

It has more brown coal reserves than any other Chinese region, and it is only 600 kilometers away from power-hungry Beijing. The sparsely populated landscape here provides enough space for new coal mines and downstream businesses.

There’s just one problem: The coal industry consumes huge amounts of water, while this land is one of China’s driest. Informal ads offering well-drilling services hang everywhere outside of Xilinhot’s coal fields, signaling how pressing the conflict is.

China’s demand for coal is creating a fierce competition for water. The nation has been scrambling for ways to ease the water scarcity, but proposed remedies raise more questions than answers.

Currently, more than half of China’s industrial water usage is in coal-related sectors, including mining, preparation, power generation, coke production and coal-to-chemical factories, according to China Water Risk, a nonprofit initiative based in Hong Kong. That means that the water demand of the Chinese coal industry surpasses that of all other industries combined.

A geographic mismatch worsens the water stress. Statistics from China Water Risk show that 85 percent of China’s coal lies in the north, which has 23 percent of the country’s water resources. As the majority of the Chinese coal industry is built where coal reserves are, those water-scarce regions are increasingly pressured to give more water.

To answer China’s rising appetite for power, Chinese policymakers have decided to establish 16 large-scale coal industrial hubs by 2015. If the plan materializes, those hubs are estimated to consume nearly 10 billion cubic meters of water annually, equivalent to more than one-quarter of the water the Yellow River supplies in a normal year, according to a report jointly issued last year by the environmental group Greenpeace and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from the two groups say that China is now running into a tough choice: Should it adjust the national coal development plan that is set to fuel the economy, or should it go ahead and build up large-scale coal industrial hubs that could cause a serious water crisis?

Water quality also at stake
Already, the Yellow River, China’s second-longest river and the cradle of ancient Chinese civilization, is at high alert due to overwithdrawal of water by riverside industries, most of which are related to coal.

Some coal businesses have dammed streams for their own water use, cutting off a lifeline to ecosystems downstream. In Inner Mongolia, the practice has turned the Wulagai wetland — once home to swans, red-crowned cranes and other species — into an immense desert region that is now the origin of sandstorms in Beijing.

Read more . . .

via Scientific American – Coco Liu and ClimateWire
 

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