Scientific discoveries this week: 1-30-12

San Mateo, California – A team of researchers at the Standford Linear Accelerator Center has succeeded in creating an x-ray laser beam from neon atoms by bombarding them with energy from a precisely calibrated laser. Conventional lasers produce light by the excitation of atoms between a set of mirrors, one of which is only partially reflective. When the atoms fall back down to a lower energy state again, they emit light. The new laser produces x-ray laser light, which requires more energy than a hand-held laser can produce. But by firing the excitation laser beam through a series of magnets, the team was able to make a laser beam that produces x-ray light in a much smaller package than previously possible.

Boston, Massachusetts – Scientists have been studying the effects of calorie restriction and protein deprivation before surgery, and have noticed that post-surgery organ damage is minimized when the patients have a restricted diet prior to the operation. Withholding protein from the body causes an increase in resistance to stress. The researchers are unsure as to why the body responds in this way, but it appears that the calorie restriction activates a secondary “program” which increases the body’s natural response stress.

Almeria, Spain – Researchers in Spain have begun studying how owls communicate with each other when a threat is near their nest. The researchers found that when a predator is close by, the owls will communicate with other owls, even of other species, and warn them of the impending danger. The increase in communication lowered the likelihood that the owls nest would be attacked.

Menlo Park, California – The earthquake that rocked and devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, two years ago may be part of a larger cycle of earthquakes. Geologists with the US Geological Survey believe they have identified a possible pattern, based off of a series of earthquakes in the 1700s. They caution that while seismic activity cannot be used to determine the future, it can be a good indicator of regional tendencies. As a result, geologists are cautioning Haitians that there may be more earthquakes in the future.

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