Cables could help protect buildings from bombs

Securing steel cables around the floors of existing buildings may be an effective way to prevent a catastrophic collapse caused by a terrorist bomb, according to test results released by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, and four of his civil engineering graduate students have successfully tested a system that would shift the gravity load of a collapsing floor to supporting cables if a column were destroyed by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, or a terrorist bomb.

'Periodic Table' of proteins helps make sense of structure

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken the first stab at a “periodic table” of the protein structures – an organized map of the building blocks used over and over again to construct the billions of complex proteins that make up life on Earth. The three-dimensional map depicts similarities and differences among the building blocks, letting scientists visualize the universe of possible protein structures – the many possible twists, turns and folds – and see evolutionary changes that may have occurred with time.

Methane Clouds Discovered at the South Pole of Titan

Teams of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered methane clouds near the south pole of Titan. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere. Like Earth’s atmosphere, the atmosphere on Titan is mostly nitrogen. Unlike Earth, Titan is inhospitable to life due to the lack of atmospheric oxygen and its extremely cold surface temperatures (-183 C; -297 F). Along with nitrogen, Titan’s atmosphere contains a significant amount of methane. Earlier spectroscopic observations had hinted at the existence of clouds on Titan, but gave no clue as to their location.

Fossil fuels for cooking, heating may be best for world’s 2 billion poor

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the use of fossil fuels for household cooking and heating may make more environmental sense for the estimated 2 billion rural poor in the world, according to a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley. Because they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels have been largely dismissed as a viable alternative for the one-third of the world’s population who now use coal and local biomass – including wood, crop residues and dung – for cooking and heating, said Kirk R. Smith, professor and chair of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. Efforts have been focused on equipping the rural poor with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

Scientists Detail Neural Circuit

Nearly 40 years ago scientists were startled to discover that the eye, far from being a still camera, actually has cells that respond to movement. Moreover, these cells are specialized to respond to movement in one direction only, such as left to right or right to left. Now, in a paper in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, have finally detailed the cellular circuit responsible for motion detection in the eye’s retina.

Brain’s perception depends upon the source of cues, researchers find

When the human brain is presented with conflicting information about an object from different senses, it finds a remarkably efficient way to sort out the discrepancies, according to new research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers found that when sensory cues from the hands and eyes differ from one another, the brain effectively splits the difference to produce a single mental image. The researchers describe the middle ground as a “weighted average” because in any given individual, one sense may have more influence than the other. When the discrepancy is too large, however, the brain reverts to information from a single cue – from the eyes, for instance – to make a judgment about what is true.

Popular weed killer feminizing America’s frogs

Bad news, guys. Native male leopard frogs throughout the nation’s Corn Belt are being feminized by an herbicide, atrazine, used extensively to kill weeds on the country’s leading export crops, corn and soybeans, according to a study at the University of California at Berkeley. The Berkeley biologists also report male frogs raised in laboratory tanks contaminated with atrazine develop egg cells in their testes and essentially turn into hermaphrodites.