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So here we are—2,000 years later—slogging our way along with Portland cement-based concrete, building bridges and seawalls that are constantly damaged by the corrosive motion of the ocean. Meanwhile, Roman seawalls and harbors just sit there, smug, sturdy, and blatantly mocking our technical abilities like they have for thousands of years.
But we’re onto you and your concrete secrets, Romans. In a paper published this week in American Mineralogist, an international team of researchers unveiled part of the Romans’ recipe for success.
Drilling into a Roman-era seawall in Tuscany. J.P. Oleson
Part of the success comes down to materials. There are plenty of ash-spewing volcanoes near Roman territories. (Yeah, I’m looking at you Vesuvius.) Like many scientists do today, researchers back then also took their cues from nature, and noticed that some ash near these volcanoes could harden into a rock called tuff that was, yes, very tough.
Way back in 30 B.C., a Roman engineer and architect called Vitruvius noticed that when you combined tuff with ash, lime (the building material, not the fruit), and seawater, you started getting really strong concrete. The mixture created a chemical reaction called a pozzolanic reaction, which could give off heat (about 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit) for two years after the concrete was poured.
“We’re looking at a system that’s contrary to everything one would not want in cement-based concrete,” lead study author and University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson said in a statement. “We’re looking at a system that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater.”
That’s a surprise because seawater tends to be better at tearing things down than building things up. Given enough time, water can carve huge canyons in the Earth, and seawater in particular is full of minerals and salts that can eat away at structures and boat hulls.
By drilling into Roman structures and analyzing the samples in a synchrotron beamline at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Jackson and colleagues found evidence that when seawater permeated the concrete, minerals in the seawater reacted with minerals in the ash, forming minerals like Al-tobermorite and phillipsite.
Those minerals can be formed during pozzolanic reactions, when high temperatures dominate. Researchers have created them in labs at high temperatures too. But the minerals in roman concrete were created by a more gradual process, long after the pozzolanic reaction ended.
“No one has produced tobermorite at 20 degrees Celsius [68 degrees Fahrenheit],” Jackson said in a statement. “Oh—except the Romans!”
The result: concrete that strengthens over time, in some of the toughest conditions for construction on Earth.
We still don’t know the exact formula for Roman concrete—it remains entirely lost to history—but Jackson is working with colleagues to create an analogue.
“Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with,” Jackson said in a statement. “They observed that volcanic ash grew cements to produce the tuff. We don’t have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made.”
Currently, they’re looking to use ash and seawater from the western United States in their new mixture. If they succeed, the concrete won’t be perfect for use in all situations. When first poured, the concrete is much less strong than modern concretes used in buildings, etc. But it could be valuable for structures that are designed to have extremely long lifetimes in the sea, like renewable power stations, or for storing hazardous waste—including nuclear material—for long periods of time.
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It’s happening again. BA.5, one of close to a half dozen strains of the Omicron variant, now accounts for about half of all COVID infections in the United States. Both confirmed cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, and more than half of all US counties are at medium or high levels of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Could its ability to evade our immune systems drive yet another summer surge?
Forgive yourself for feeling some deja vu. The first strains of Omicron, including BA.1 and BA.2, were discovered in southern Africa in late November 2023. BA.1 had a slight head start in its global spread, and drove the winter wave in the United States; BA.1 drove a minor bump; and BA.2.12.1 followed shortly after that. Although 73 percent of Americans ended up protected against the OG Omicron after the first wave, those following Omicron strains carried slightly different spikes that antibodies, the body’s first-line immune response couldn’t always recognize.
Each of those other Omicron sublineages have caused local outbreaks in the US. And those waves have meant that deaths remain persistently high, with around 300 people dying every day since mid-April.What makes a BA.5 surge different?
While BA.5 is spreading widely, it’s doing so in the context of widespread immunity, making it challenging to predict its course.
“The immunological landscape is getting so complex at this point,” says Fox. “We have people with different combinations of natural infections, vaccine types, and vaccine doses, and timings.” As of February, two-thirds of Americans had caught COVID at least once, and currently, two-thirds have finished a primary vaccine series.
That said, a recent 27-person trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the antibodies of vaccinated individuals are less effective against BA.5 than earlier Omicron strains. “Our data show that BA.5 escapes antibody responses approximately three times more effectively than BA.1 and BA.2, and about 20 times more effectively than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2,” Dan Barouch, an immunologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an author on the study, told PopSci in an email. So even if most of the country has had COVID, it’s reasonable to expect BA.5 is equipped to spread, though perhaps less widely. In South Africa, which experienced the first BA.4/BA.5 wave, daily case totals peaked at one-third the level of the initial Omicron wave.
By evading existing immunity, BA.5 can spread in a larger population. “Think of someone’s immune system as a door with a whole bunch of locks,” says Jeremy Kamil, a virologist who has led sequencing work at LSU-Health Shreveport. “You know that the virus can pick seven out of nine locks, and then all of a sudden, BA.5 comes up with a key that can pick an eighth lock.” For some people, even some who were previously infected, that will be enough for the virus to get inside.How dangerous is BA.5?
Fortunately, reinfections are less likely to kill or hospitalize. Unreviewed research from a team in Qatar found that Qataris who’d been infected once were 20 times less likely to experience severe symptoms during a reinfection. That was true even when the second infection was caused by an Omicron strain, and if the patient was older than 50. It’s important to note, however, that BA.4 and BA.5 entered Qatar at the very tail end of the study, so it’s possible that they’ll cause slightly more severe illness.
A study in hamsters suggested that BA.5 could be more likely to cause severe illness. But that doesn’t seem to be playing out in people. In South Africa, the risk of hospitalization and death was the same as in the initial Omicron wave. And, according to a late June technical briefing from the UK Health Security Agency, there’s currently little data to suggest that vaccines are less effective at preventing serious illness from BA.5.
The reason that a variant like BA.5 can be so well-equipped to dodge antibodies, but still not cause severe disease, has to do with the complexity of the immune system. Antibodies stop the coronavirus from infecting cells, while other immune cells, called T-cells, are key in stopping that initial infection from exploding into serious illness. T-cells can recognize more parts of a SARS-CoV-2 virus than an antibody, and so they aren’t easily thrown off by mutations. Although there haven’t been any studies on how T-cells in vaccinated or previously infected people respond to BA.5, previous work has found that T-cells respond strongly to new variants in young, healthy people.What happens next
Still, in the US, hospitalizations have climbed steadily since mid-April, with the sharpest summer increases in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast. Most of that spike is among people 70 or older, who are more likely to have waning immune responses that make them particularly vulnerable without boosters. More than 90 percent of people over 65 have had their primary two shots, while 63 percent have had a first booster, and just 21 percent have had a second booster.
The BA.5 wave may not overwhelm hospitals to the degree seen last winter, although emergency rooms and ICUs are already stretched thin. “But there’s definitely going to be an increase to some degree,” says Kamil.
Death rates, even outside a peak, are still high. “The current daily death toll, projected over the course of a year, roughly equates to two to three times our normal flu epidemic mortality,” says Fox. “In some ways, the overall goal is to get to a place where we can handle surges in a manageable way, but I worry that means that vulnerable people will take the brunt of a surge. And most people in the general public won’t really feel it, which will exacerbate disparities.”
The positive news on the horizon is that the Food and Drug Administration has asked vaccine manufacturers to include BA.5-specific shots in new boosters, and intends to roll them out this fall. “We might be entering a phase where these boosters really are looking like seasonal flu vaccinations,” says Fox, “where we’re updating them alongside the pandemic as new variants emerge.”
Making TB the Next Polio BU team lands $21 million NIH grant to study the disease
MED’s Jerrold Ellner hopes his team of international researchers will find biomarkers that identify who is at risk of developing TB and who is cured of the infectious disease. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi
When Jerrold Ellner started working in infectious disease, schistosomiasis was a greater concern to international health professionals than tuberculosis. Fast forward a few decades and TB is now among the greatest public health threats worldwide.
There are nine million new cases and three million deaths annually from the disease, says Ellner, a BU School of Medicine professor of medicine and chief of Boston Medical Center‘s infectious diseases section. Most troubling is that 500,000 of these cases are multidrug-resistant, meaning they don’t respond to the most effective antibiotics and are more complicated and expensive to treat. An overwhelming majority of these cases and almost all deaths occur in resource-limited nations.
One third of the world’s population has had a positive skin test for tuberculosis, but only 5 percent of those who test positive move from a latent to an active infection. The mystery for scientists like Ellner is: which 5 percent? Right now, he and his colleagues have no way of identifying these individuals, who are essentially the needles in a haystack of two to three billion people.
The good news is that once people develop active TB, the vast majority of them can be cured with a six-month regimen of antibiotics. Those TB infections that are multidrug-resistant require a more toxic cocktail of antibiotics over a longer period of time, up to 24 months for particularly stubborn cases. People fighting drug-resistant TB in developing nations usually must quit working, travel long distances to medical facilities, and adhere strictly to a costly drug regimen that often has debilitating side effects, but no guarantee of a cure. It’s enough to make patients throw in the towel before treatment is complete, and make doctors wish there were a concrete way to determine when a patient is cured.
Resolving these two issues—finding a way to identify which people with a latent TB infection will develop an active case, and determining an endpoint for successful TB treatment—are the goals of a seven-year, $21 million grant that Ellner and his international team of scientists received from the National Institutes of Health last summer. Their research is divided into four projects; two studying latent and persistent TB in humans in Brazil, China, and South Africa, and two studying latent and persistent TB in rabbits, which, Ellner says, “reflects human disease and allows us to look at drug treatment and penetration into tissue in lesions.” The lab work will also help scientists answer key questions about the bacteria’s genetics and how or where the disease strikes.
“What I consider the current Holy Grail of TB research is a biomarker that you could use to take someone that you know is infected with TB and predict that this person is at risk of developing active TB,” Ellner says. “If we could say this person is at risk or this person is cured, we could talk about treatment, or preventive therapy.”
If Ellner’s team is successful, TB could be the world’s next polio. “We could eliminate TB by 2050,” he says. “If you can eradicate the latent reservoir, it means you prevent further transmission. When people reactivate their TB, they infect another 20 people, and then the problem exists for another generation. But if you treat the people and prevent them from developing infectious TB, then you can really stop it.”
Brazil, South Africa, and China were chosen as research sites because of TB’s large presence in their populations, Ellner says, and because they are middle-income countries with strong research infrastructures. South Africa and China have a greater percentage of multidrug-resistant cases, while Brazil has more cases that respond to first-line antibiotics. “There’s so much TB in these countries,” he says, “and you’d rather work in an area where it’s a major public health problem, because the things that you find will be relevant in those populations.”
Patients will be followed over the course of their treatment at each site. Researchers will collect blood samples and conduct PET/CT scans, which detect inflammation in soft tissues like the lung and lymph nodes. “The more activity on PET scans, the more likelihood of a patient developing active TB down the line,” says grant coinvestigator Karen Jacobson, a MED assistant professor of medicine.
Ellner’s Holy Grail could help resolve the mystery of the 5 percent whose latent infections will become active. “If we could try to identify the many infected and target preventive therapies for those few, then we’d really be in business,” says Edward Jones-Lopez, a MED assistant professor of medicine, another grant coinvestigator.
For patients already undergoing treatment for active TB, “PET scans could be used as interim indicators of relapse,” Jacobson says. “We could find biomarkers in the blood to correlate with these PET scan results. Blood biomarkers could then be used to better stratify who looks really cured versus who’s more at risk of relapse.” Doctors could then adjust treatment regimens to fit patients’ progress.
“We hope that we can eliminate the disease in the United States and then abroad,” says Robert Horsburgh, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and medicine and a member of Ellner’s team. “But without better tools, we’re never going to make any progress eliminating it in the rest of world. We did it with smallpox and polio, and we’d like to do it with TB.”
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One of the more interesting problems facing startups today is the double bind that cloud computing offers innovative new software companies.
On the one hand, deploying new innovative software in the cloud is a godsend for startups trying to appease the IT department’s often obstructive attitude toward new software. This is particularly true of anything that requires IT resources to install and manage.
On the other hand, being able to support a newly developed cloud-based offering means building and deploying a cloud infrastructure with the up-time and redundancy that cloud customers have come to expect, before a single contract is signed and a single customer dollar has been put in the bank. It’s a daunting dilemma for those three guys in a garage with a great idea that they’re trying to turn into a software product.
Herein lies Microsoft’s biggest cloud opportunity: Azure has a role to fill as a low-cost, Windows-ready deployment option for new cloud computing offerings. With Azure as the deployment platform, startups can offer 99%-plus up time, failover capacity, and all the other terms and conditions that can make a fledgling startup’s support infrastructure look like a seasoned cloud-based offering.
This isn’t just good for start-ups and Microsoft. The beauty of having an enterprise-class cloud infrastructure at the disposal of software startups is that this partnership will go a long way toward facilitating the uptake of innovative new software inside the enterprise.
The problem is that the innovator’s dilemma in many companies revolves around the shifting roles of IT and the line of business in the acquisition of new capabilities – a shift aided and abetted by the companies that are developing new, exciting software products.
More and more, the line of business has the budget and authority to acquire new software that can provide specific business value to a specific business function or class of business user. If only they can convince IT to let them deploy the software they want.
The problem is that IT tends to be wary of new software from small startups that requires IT support and IT resources. In many cases the line of business user that wants to work with a start-up has to run an IT gauntlet. This gauntlet is intended to preserve the sanctity of the IT department’s security and privacy rules. But in the end it also does an excellent job of short-circuiting attempts to acquire best-of-breed applications from unknown start-up companies.
The fact that it’s a Microsoft cloud – built on top of the company’s multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment – will attract a lot to developers looking for a secure, safe, scalable cloud infrastructure, and then some. Azure offering of key Microsoft stack services like SQL Server, Communications Services, and other .NET services makes it an attractive development environment for new software startups eager to focus their resources on their specific IP and leave the infrastructure/back office issues to Microsoft.
How soon will Azure start to impact the start-up world – and thereby the consumption of innovative software in the line of business?
Based on what I saw last fall at Microsoft’s developers’ conference, it won’t be until later this year at best. The issue of how fast a complex application can be deployed on Azure needs to be resolved – the demo I saw took minutes to deploy a simple application that displayed “Hello World” on a user’s screen. The ability of Azure to offer service levels that a startup can literally bet its company on remains to be seen as well.
But once these and several other basic issues are resolved, Microsoft has a helluva opportunity on its hands. The innovators/developers desperately need a platform that will off-load a lot of cloud deployment issues to a big partner, and the innovators/consumers need their software to be running in a cloud environment that won’t give IT conniptions.
Azure could be just the ticket to bring these two needs together in a single cloud-based offering. And the sooner they can do it, the better for customers, start-ups, and Microsoft itself.
These brief TikTok “dorm mead” tutorials instruct users to funnel about a tablespoon of active yeast and a cup of sugar into what appears to be a gallon-sized juice bottle. They then leave the cap slightly loose or attach a balloon to the opening and let the hooch sit for around a week.
The process likely succeeds in producing an alcoholic beverage, says John Wilson, a food scientist at Colorado State University, thanks to the molecular interaction between the yeast and sugar within the juice.
“If you are pitching yeast into sugar, you will certainly get fermentation and alcohol production,” Wilson says.
Yeast uses sugar to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that provides energy for many biological processes. Essentially, the fungi break the sugar down by trading bonds back and forth—the flurry of activity within the yeast cell then produces carbon dioxide and ethanol (what we know as alcohol) as byproducts.
All that carbon dioxide clustered within the juice bottle could trigger an explosion in your fridge, Wilson says, though the balloon can relieve pressure within the container.
And though it may get you drunk, that doesn’t mean the DIY booze is safe.
Homemade, yeast-based alcohol is nothing new—the illicit brew is known by many names, including pruno, hooch, and prison wine. The practice of cooking it up has circulated within US prisons for at least two decades (it’s mentioned in a 1995 poem), though probably for far longer, and has poisoned inmates in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mississippi, according to the CDC.
Though most brews will probably turn out perfectly safe, the homemade drink can sicken people with botulism, an illness triggered by bacterial toxins that sometimes bloom within the liquor. When the juice’s pH falls above the ideal number of 4.6—making it less acidic—it fosters an ideal environment for bacteria spores to divide and grow.
Though juice usually arrives to store shelves with a balanced pH, Wilson says, adding yeast and spices in the brewing process increases the likelihood of developing botulism poisoning.
If experimenters add a low yet potent quantity of yeast and keep their materials and environment clean, they’re good to go. It’s important not to overly dilute the liquid, Joseph says, which could boost the formerly stable juice’s pH and render it dangerous to drink.
Symptoms of botulism poisoning include blurred vision, difficulty breathing, and a thick-feeling tongue. When left untreated, people may experience muscle paralysis in the arms, legs, and torso. The poisoning can even be fatal.
Some TikTok mixologists appear to use Fleischmann’s Yeast, a product with historical ties to the alcohol industry. Before prohibition, Fleischmann’s specialized in lager beer; limited by the federal alcohol ban, the company shifted into the baking industry. Bakeries and breweries were once inherently linked: They commonly shared yeast in the 19th and early 20th centuries, because beer-making generates plenty of leftover fungus.
Long before John Wilson worked in a brewing research lab, he admits he homebrewed juice-based hooch in his youth—which he refers to with the more genteel name of “country wine.”
Despite the beverage’s loving nicknames and serious appeal to underage drinkers, it’s still a potentially dangerous experiment, especially for teens in messy dorm rooms without knowledge of the potential for contamination. Though TikTok labels certain videos that “could result in serious injury,” the disclaimer is currently absent on the #prisonwine clips. With the app’s copycat nature, users can easily try it out while oblivious to the small but serious risk of botulism poisoning.
This post has been updated to provide more information on safe home brewing.
These top AIOps companies are exploding the IT industry in 2023
Managing the day-to-day growing volumes of company data with traditional practices seems next to impossible. That’s where “Datadog
Datadog is a SaaS-based data analytics platform for monitoring servers, databases, tools, and services. It automatically collects logs from all your apps and services and allows you to seamlessly navigate between logs, metrics, and request traces. There are numerous visualization tools and drag-drop widgets, which you can use to customize your dashboards as per your needs. See business metrics and performance overviews side-by-side for easy correlation. You can even explore infrastructure, UX, logs, network, and security performance together for complete visibility.Dynatrace
Powered by Cisco, AppDynamics is on a mission to help companies see their technology through the lens of the business so they can work as one to prioritize what matters most. We’re reinventing the observability space and simplifying the challenge of digital transformation for the world’s largest enterprises. In this era of unprecedented digital growth, the AppDynamics Business Observability Platform transforms organizations faster by providing business context deep into the technology stack, aligning teams around shared priorities, and enabling technologists to act with confidence and control. AppDynamics has been recognized by Gartner as a leader in the APM market for more than eight years and was positioned highest in ‘ability to execute’ in Gartner’s 2023 Magic Quadrant Report for APM.Instana
Instana’s Enterprise Observability Platform, powered by automated Application Performance Monitoring, discovers and maps all services, infrastructure, and their inter-dependencies automatically. Instana ingests all observability metrics, traces each request, profiles every process, and updates application dependency maps in real-time to deliver the context and actionable feedback needed by Dev+Ops to optimize application performance, enable innovation, and mitigate risk to help them add value and efficiency to the pipeline.Turbonomic
Turbonomic, an IBM Company, provides software used by customers to assure application performance and governance by dynamically resourcing applications across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Turbonomic Network Performance Management (NPM) provides modern monitoring and analytics solutions to help assure continuous network performance at scale across multivendor networks for enterprises, carriers, and managed services providers.Moogsoft
Moogsoft lets you mitigate risk, increase agility, and fast-track your innovation goals. Moogsoft consolidates visibility and control of monitoring tools to help entire IT Ops and DevOps teams reduce noise, prioritize incidents, reduce escalations and ensure uptime. Working from anywhere, users can easily find and resolve the root cause of incidents before they become outages. With patented AI analyzing billions of events daily across the most complex IT environments, Moogsoft helps IT teams work faster and smarter.BigPanda
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