Friday, July 27, 2012

A ray of hope for millions living with HIV/AIDS

Timothy Ray Brown, believed to be the only man to have been cured of AIDS, plans to join the search for a cure for others by founding an AIDS research foundation.
Timothy Ray Brown
“I am living proof there could be a cure for AIDS,” Mr. Brown told a press conference in Washington on Tuesday. “I am now choosing to dedicate my life, my body, and my story to finding a cure for AIDS.” Mr. Brown said he would partner with the World AIDS Institute to raise money for research into a cure.
Six years ago, Mr. Brown was HIV-positive. During treatment for leukaemia, he underwent a stem cell transplant in Berlin.
A few years later, doctors could no longer find HIV in his body.  Some doctors declared the “Berlin patient” cured. But they emphasised that Mr. Brown’s was a unique and complicated case, not immediately applicable to other patients.
They also surmised that the virus may still be present in his body, but in such small quantities that it is no longer detectable.
“I am the first, and I believe the first of many people who will be cured of the AIDS virus,” said Mr. Brown.
“There is undoubtedly a certain amount of scepticism, but that is the way science progresses.”


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Scientists hope to find cure for dreaded disease

Scientists at the International AIDS Conference 2012 hope for a cure for HIV.  Led by French virologist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, Nobel Prize recipient in 2008 for her role in the discovery of the Human Immuno Virus, the group of scientists have a road map in place for moving research for a cure forward. Some of the tasks involved are: Investigating where and how the virus hides in the body and studying the immune system response of people who are naturally immune to the virus
A person living with AIDS
Deeks, who worked with Barre-Sinoussi to develop the research plan, said:  “I think these drugs have gotten as good as they’re going to get. We need to shift from blocking the virus from replicating to essentially getting rid of the virus.”
Dr. David Margolis, director of the Program in Translational Clinical Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said: “It’s just practically difficult to treat people all their life with therapy, even if it’s very simple therapy.”
For a long time researchers believed there was no cure. Even five years ago a scientist who wanted to work on HIV cure research was laughed at. Timothy Brown’s case   is giving hope of finding a cure. Cannon said:
“There’s nothing like success to galvanize the research. People are daring to hope again that with a lot of hard work and ingenuity, scientists can deliver.”

Dr Jay Levy, who co-discovered the AIDS virus in 1983 and directs the Laboratory for Tumour and AIDS Virus Research at UCSF, said even if a cure were discovered, it could take years before people in low and middle income countries could afford it. But right now, he said, finding a cure is like “the four-minute mile — what we need to do is just show it’s possible” — and after that, “there’s enough creativity out there to find a way of having it applied in all parts of the world.”
Billionaire Bill Gates has said there had been significant advances in the fight against

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Viva Mandela !!!

Nearly 12 million children across South Africa kicked off celebrations Wednesday for the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the country's deeply loved anti-apartheid icon, with resounding choruses of Happy Birthday.

Mandela is expected to spend the day privately with his family at their homestead in his southeastern birth village of Qunu. Meanwhile, communities in South Africa and around the world were dedicating 67 minutes of the day to volunteer work and projects for the needy — one minute to mark each of Mandela's 67 years in public service.

On this special day, the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela, one of Africa's greatest heroes and first president of post-apartheid South Africa, I join the rest of Africa and the world in saying Happy Birthday to Madiba.

Read some of the birthday wishes from well wishers across the world here

Saturday, July 14, 2012

UNESCO to give science prize financed by Equatorial Guinea dictator

President Teodoro Obiang
Over the objections of the United States and other Western nations, Unesco will award on Tuesday a prize financed by the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, who has been accused by rights groups of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from his tiny, impoverished but oil-rich West African state, Unesco officials and Western diplomats said Friday.

The award no longer bears the name of the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Instead, it is called the Unesco-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, and it is scheduled to be awarded during a day of seminars and celebrations here in the presence, according to a draft schedule, of Mr. Obiang himself.
But it is not yet clear that he will attend, Unesco officials said, in part because of the legal troubles facing his son, the country’s vice president. A French court on Friday issued a warrant for the arrest of the son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, after he refused to be interviewed by magistrates about allegations of money laundering and embezzlement, claiming diplomatic immunity.
President Obiang with UN's Ban Ki-moon
Since 2010, French judges have been looking into claims of corruption under President Obiang, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Omar Bongo, a president of Gabon who died in 2009.
The prize was first proposed in 2008. The United States and other countries blocked the award for years, but in March, the 58-nation executive board of Unesco — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — voted to go ahead.
The executive board also chose to dismiss concerns by the organization’s legal counsel that the award violated protocols by being financed directly by the government and not by the nongovernmental organization listed in the prize statutes. The counsel had recommended that the funds not be disbursed for the prize.
Obiang Mangue, the playboy son of President Obiang
The director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, also opposed the award but felt she had to follow the wishes of the executive board, Unesco officials said. Ms. Bokova, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on Friday. But in a letter to the chairman of a group of Western European and North American diplomats on Thursday, Ms. Bokova wrote that she was “constitutionally obliged to implement the decisions of the executive board,” and that had the board not acted, “I would have continued to suspend the implementation of the prize.” The group had complained in a letter to Ms. Bokova on Monday that “the prize is detrimental to the reputation of Unesco,” and that the board ignored the advice of Unesco’s legal office.

Prominent Ethopian blogger sentenced to 18 years

Twenty Ethiopians, including a prominent blogger and opposition figures were jailed for between eight years to life on Friday on charges of conspiring with rebels to topple the government.
Ethiopia, a major recipient of Western aid, has said it is fighting separatist rebel movements and armed groups backed by its arch-foe Eritrea.
But rights groups say the Horn of Africa country, sandwiched between volatile Somalia and Sudan, is using broad anti-terrorism legislation to crack down on dissent and media freedoms. Addis Ababa denies the charge.
Eskinder Nega
Blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega, who was arrested last year and accused of trying to incite violence with a series of online articles, was jailed for 18 years.
Five other exiled journalists and a blogger were sentenced in absentia to between 15 years to life.
Opposition official Andualem Arage was jailed for life. Two other prominent opposition figures Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige, who are out of the country, also received life sentences.
"The court has given due considerations to the charges and the sentences are appropriate," Judge Endeshaw Adane said during the proceedings in Addis Ababa.
The 20 were charged last year, most of them in absentia, with six counts including conspiracy to dismantle the constitutional order, recruitment and training for terror acts and aiding Eritrea and a rebel group to disrupt security.
They were also accused of belonging to Ginbot 7, a group branded a "terrorist" organisation by the Ethiopian government.
Another four people charged alongside them were not sentenced on Friday and were being treated as a separate case, said court officials.
Exiled opposition leader Berhanu Nega, was also jailed for life on charges of treason in the aftermath of 2005's disputed parliamentary election, but was later pardoned.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Declining interest in sciences worries Nigerian varsity president

The Nigerian government’s directive that 60 per cent of admission spaces in its universities be reserved for prospective science students — and the remaining 40 per cent for Arts — may be a tall order after all, going by the realities on ground, especially at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka, which, on Friday, announced that it would be admitting 4,000 students this academic session.
The results of the screening test, otherwise known as post –Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UMTE), which was reportedly uploaded on the internet this weekend, show that of more than simple majority of the 52,000 prospective students that sat for the entrance examination, offered to study Arts-related courses, a development that raises concern for the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Boniface Egboka.
According to the Vice Chancellor, who regretted the dwindling interest in sciences, only about 76 offered to read Mathematics.  He, however, said only 4, 000 would be offered admission in the university based on the directives of the National Universities Commission (NUC).
Egboka urged government at all levels to create new incentives, including scholarships and bursaries, for students willing to read Applied Sciences in Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities
The Vice Chancellor also wants the FG to guarantee job opportunities for Science students on graduation, saying that such measures would gradually  engender increased interest in basic sciences.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why is the 'God Particle' such a big deal?

Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva were cheered like rock stars on July 4 when they formally announced that they had almost certainly nabbed thebiggest and most elusive catch in modern physics: the Higgs boson. Dubbed the "God particle," the Higgs boson is "the missing cornerstone of particle physics,"said CERN director Rolf Heuer. This "milestone in our understanding of nature" essentially confirms that the universe was formed the way scientists believe it was. Two teams of atom-smashing researchers at CERN's Large Hadron Collider independently verified, with 99.99997 percent certainty, the new subatomic particle, which is a near-perfect fit for what physicists have expected of the Higgs boson since its existence was first theorized 48 years ago. "It's the Higgs," British physicist Jim Al-Khalili tells Reuters. "The announcement from CERN is even more definitive and clear-cut than most of us expected. Nobel prizes all round." So what does this all mean, and where does it leave us? Here, four questions answered about the God particle:
1. Why is this such a big deal?
Finding a Higgs-like boson validates much of how scientists believe the universe was formed. The media calls the Higgs boson the God particle because, according to the theory laid out by Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others in 1964, it's the physical proof of an invisible, universe-wide field that gave mass to all matter right after the Big Bang, forcing particles to coalesce into stars, planets, and everything else. If the Higgs field, and Higgs boson, didn't exist, the dominant Standard Model of particle physics would be wrong. "There's no understating the significance" of this discovery: says Jeffrey Kluger at TIME. "No Higgs, no mass; no mass, no you, me, or anything else."
2. Have they found the Higgs boson, or something else?
As momentous as this discovery is, "missing entirely from all of the high-fives and huzzahs today was a single, tiny word: 'the,'" says TIME's Kluger. Instead of claiming to have found "the Higgs boson," the scientists were only willing to say they'd found "a Higgs." That's pretty typical of "the most skeptical profession on earth," says Martin White at Australia's The Conversation. But scientists have been busy on theories that "may one day supersede the Standard Model," and many of them do "predict more than one Higgs boson," each with different masses, energy levels, and other attributes. If this new discovery turns out to be "an exotic Higgs rather than the common garden variety," that will be "as popular as it would be earth-shattering."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Scientists discover evidence of 'God Particle'

Humanity's understanding of the origin of the universe after the big bang has taken a historic leap forward with the discovery of a subatomic particle that scientists have been searching for and theorising about for almost 50 years.
In jubilant scenes in Geneva and Melbourne, physicists learned that scientists working at the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland had found what they believe to be the Higgs boson or "God particle".
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced the "milestone in the understanding of nature", saying it had found a new subatomic particle consistent with the Higgs boson.
"The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe," a CERN statement said.
Peter Higgs, 83, the shy and softly spoken British physicist who, along with two other groups, published the conceptual groundwork for the particle in 1964, expressed his joy yesterday. He said he was "astounded at the amazing speed with which these results have emerged".
"They are a testament to the expertise of the researchers and elaborate technologies in place," he said.

"I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall ask my family to put some champagne in the fridge."
In Melbourne, at the High Energy Physics Conference, where, along with Geneva, the results were announced, young physicists Anna Kropivnitskaya, Konstantin Toms and Maria Toms laughed and said the new particle, or boson, was science, not science fiction.
"But it does improve our knowledge of the universe, the basis, the foundations," Konstantin Toms said.
"It means the Standard Model of particle physics is true and complete and we have discovered the last missing piece."
The discovery, by two separate teams, is hailed as virtual confirmation that the Standard Model of physics is correct, as the Higgs is a cornerstone of the model that describes the interactions of all known subatomic particles and forces.
The Standard Model is a highly successful theory but has had several gaps, the biggest of which is why some particles have mass but some, such as the photon, do not.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can free online courses transform the higher education industry?

When Bilal Shah got his doctorate in computer science from the University of Southern California back in 2010, the job market wasn't exactly welcoming. "I graduated into the Great Recession. Nothing would test my mettle more," says Shah.
Around that time, he heard about a free massive online open course (MOOC) on machine learning -- a branch of artificial intelligence related to the design of certain computer algorithms -- taught by Stanford's Andrew Ng. Since Shah had plenty of spare time, he gave it a try. Every morning for three months, he sat in Peet's Coffee & Tea in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, drinking coffee and watching lectures on his laptop. He took pop quizzes, did programming assignments and checked his work on the course's online discussion board. "It was an easy, convenient way to learn something new," notes Shah, who is in his early 30s.
Soon after getting certification from the class, he landed a job interview with ID Analytics, the San Diego-based identity fraud and credit risk modeling company. "They prodded my knowledge [of machine learning] and they could tell I knew the material well," he says. "I got the job. It was a great feeling."
Amid a sputtering recovery that has shone a spotlight on the dearth of qualified workers in particular segments of the economy, many in the business community view MOOCs as a key part of the solution. And at a time when rising college costs and growing income inequality occupy the national debate, some say the platforms that offer MOOCs could potentially transform higher education.
Giving millions of students around the world access to high quality classes could help shrink the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
A number of start-ups and prominent colleges have recently gotten in on the game. Coursera, an online learning system created by Ng and Daphne Koller, both Stanford computer scientists, has partnerships with four universities: Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton. Coursera delivers MOOCs in math, science and the humanities. Udacity, another online education company, launched in February by Sebastian Thrun, a former Stanford professor, offers MOOCs mainly in computer programming and software design. Harvard and MIT recently announced edX, a joint online education partnership, which begins classes this fall.
"Higher education will change; the system is unstable," says Kevin Werbach, a Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor, who is teaching a MOOC on Coursera this summer. "It's an industry that will be in severe turmoil in the next decade. There are so many schools in distress, and the student loan burden is [huge]. In that environment, online platforms like Coursera are an interesting opportunity."
But while Coursera and others hold out the promise of bringing higher education to the masses and leveling the playing field between rich schools and those with fewer resources, some ask whether these platforms have rigorous enough curriculum standards. 
They question whether the credentials issued for course completion are meaningful in the job market. There is also skepticism around the sustainability of their business models since, for now at least, the classes offered by these platforms are free.

'It's a Facebook World'
Over the years, many schools have attempted online education. Fathom, Columbia University's for-profit online learning venture, shut down in 2003 just a few years after its launch. AllLearn, a similar effort backed by Yale, Princeton and Stanford, was founded in 2000 and closed in 2006.
Why might Coursera or another of the new enterprises succeed where others have failed? For one, the technology has evolved. Video and audio are crisper. Desktop sharing tools and discussion boards are easier to navigate. There is greater access to Internet libraries. 
Course developers also have a more nuanced understanding of how people learn online and the best ways to present information in that format. Coursera, for example, slices lectures into digestible 10- or 15-minute segments and provides online quizzes as part of each section. Professors answer questions from students in online forums. This is a vast improvement from previous online education ventures that offered a less dynamic learning model where students watched canned lectures, with no interaction.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Scientists push for solar geoengineering to whiten our skies

The latest scheme to combat global warming is to increase the amount of chemtrails (aerosols) in the atmosphere. The thinking behind this endeavor is that this will scatter incoming solar energy from the Earth’s surface.
The side effect is that there will be an increased whitening of the sky during the daytime.  Researchers, Ben Kravitz and Ken Caldeira, from the Carnegie Institute for Science, have found that by blocking a mere 2% of sunlight would cause the sky to become 3 – 5 times brighter, and whiter.
Climate change alarmists assert that carbon dioxide emissions have caused the Earth’s surface temperature to rise. While volcanic eruptions emit small particles into the stratosphere that cool the temperature, these particles take years to fall to Earth.
Scientists are looking for a faster way to change the temperature of the Earth.  By using solar geoengineering scientists could “mimic” volcanic eruptions by constantly replenishing the stratosphere with nano particles to reflect sunlight back into space.
Kravtiz and Calderia, working with Douglas MacMartin from the California Institute of Technology, studied sky color ad brightness by utilizing a sulfate-based aerosols. They surmised that using these chemicals in the atmosphere would cause the daytime skies to be whiter and the sunsets to glow brighter.

Kenya church attacks 'kill 15' in Garissa

Fifteen people have been killed in attacks on churches in the Kenyan town of Garissa near Somalia, say the Kenyan Red Cross and a medical official.
Regional deputy police chief Philip Ndolo said balaclava-clad "goons" attacked the town's Catholic church and the African Inland Church (AIC).
A combination of grenades and gunfire was used, police said.  Kenya's border region has been tense since it sent troops into Somalia to pursue al-Shabab Islamic militants.
Kenya said the operations, launched last October, were designed to bring an end to kidnappings on Kenyan soil and other violence which it blamed on al-Shabab.
But since then, al-Shabab has been blamed for a further string of grenade and bomb blasts across Kenya - though it has never admitted to carrying out any such attack on Kenyan territory.
No group has yet said it carried out these latest attacks, but the finger of blame will once again undoubtedly be pointed at al-Shabab or sympathisers, says the BBC's Kevin Mwachiro in Nairobi.
"We condemn this act in the strongest terms possible," Mr Ndolo said.
The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims also condemned Sunday's church attacks, saying that "all places of worship must be respected", reported the AFP news agency.

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