Welcome to the ITBHU Chronicle, August 2009 Edition Chronicle Extra Section.
Six free alternatives to Microsoft office
@ Aug 08, 2009
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6 Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Posted on March 13, 2008, 9:55 pm, by Pranjal.

Over the years, Microsoft Office has become the most preferred and advanced office suite. However the high price tags attached to legal and licensed copies of Microsoft Office can become a burden in the long run.

Fear no more recently lots of alternative office suites have sprouted up. They not maybe as comprehensive as Microsoft Office, but they still manage to get the work done. Here are my 6 alternative office suite picks.


1. Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) – Google Docs is probably your best bet against the monopoly of Microsoft office. Assuming you a decent internet connection, Google Docs includes a web-based Word Processor, Spreadsheet application, and a Presentation app. Best of all its free.

2. Zoho (http://www.zoho.com/)- Zoho is another great online office productivity suite. It features a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps, but also includes online project management, CRM solutions, web conferencing, online database with reports, online planner, group chat, wiki, and lots more. Every things online!Only thing you need is a decent connection.

3. OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org/) – OpenOffice.org is a free and open source office suite, including word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, vector drawing and database management. It is available for many different platforms, including Microsoft Windows, Unix-like systems with the X Window System including GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris and Mac OS X.

4. Thinkfree (http://product.thinkfree.com/office) – ThinkFree Office is another application suite comprised of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics software-all usable online and off. ThinkFree also has advanced collaboration features such that users can share, edit, and contribute their ideas remotely.

5. StarOffice (http://www.sun.com/software/staroffice/index.jsp) – StarOffice 8 is a full-featured office suite that contains a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, applications for presentations, databases, math formulas and drawing. It has support for most Microsoft Office formats (except for the formats introduced in Office 2007), but it can also export documents as PDF out of the box. The software normally costs $70, but it’s available for free in Google Pack.

6 Ajax Write (http://ajaxwrite.com/) - AjaxWrite is a web-based word processor that can read and write Microsoft Word and other standard document formats. Simply point your favourite browser to ajaxwrite.com and in seconds a full-featured program will be available for you to open, edit, print and save. Best part it’s free.



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Photo Gallery
Three Khel Ratnas shine bright at Rashtrapati Bhawan
@ Aug 08, 2009
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PTI 29 August 2009, 06:08pm IST

NEW DELHI: Olympic heroes boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar, along with four-time world champion woman pugilist M C Mary Kom, were on Saturday conferred the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in a glittering ceremony.

( Watch Video )

For the first time in the history of national sports awards, three sportspersons were individually bestowed India's highest sporting honour, which comes with an enhanced cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh and a newly-designed statuette.

It was also a red letter day for 15 other sportspersons, who received the Arjuna award from President Pratibha Patil at the Ashok Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

(To view full story, open the link above.)


(M C Mary Kom receiving Award)


(Shushil Kumar receiving Award)


(Vijender Singh receiving Award)


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BP Makes "Giant" Oil Find in Gulf of Mexico, USA
@ Aug 08, 2009
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by Tom Bergin

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 provided by




LONDON (Reuters) - Oil major BP Plc said it has made an oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico, which analysts believe could contain over 1 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, reaffirming the Gulf's strategic importance to the industry.

BP said in a statement on Wednesday that it had made the "giant" find at its Tiber Prospect in the Keathley Canyon block 102, by drilling one of the deepest wells ever sunk by the industry.

Further appraisal will be required to ascertain the size of volumes of oil present, but a spokesman said the find should be bigger than its Kaskida discovery which has over 3 billion barrels of oil in place.

Estimates of recoverable reserves range from around 20 percent of oil in place.

(To view full story, open the link above.)


732-oil well.png


(Giant oil field discovered in Gulf of Mexico, USA)



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Amazing Bollywood song dance by American artists on American reality show
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Amazing and energetic dance by American dancers,  dancing to the tune of Bollywood song “Dholna”. Over six minutes.

Dance by a group of dancers called “Girls 10”. Choreography by Nakul Dev Mahajan.

733-bollywood dance.png


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PowerPoint Presentation for Kailash and Ajanta Caves
@ Aug 08, 2009
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(Forwarded by Milan Bikram Shah (Chemical 1974). Email: rajamilan@gmail.com)

* Kailash


*Ajanta caves



734-ajanta caves.png

Ajanta caves, Maharashtra

734-manasa lake.png

Different colors of Manasa Lake


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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy died in helicopter crash
@ Aug 08, 2009
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735-ysr reddy.png


  (YSR Reddy) 


735-andhra pradesh.png


            (Map of Andhra Pradesh)

The popular Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR Reddy) died on September 2, 2009 in helicopter crash in the state.

Y.S.R. Reddy killed in helicopter crash


Additional links:

* 67 YSR fans die of shock, son appeals for restraint


* YSR Reddy in Wikipedia




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Topics- Business & Economy
The Greenback Effect-by Warren E. Buffet
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Published: August 18, 2009

724a-warren buffet.png

(Warren Buffet - Investor, Philosopher, Philanthropist)

IN nature, every action has consequences, a phenomenon called the butterfly effect. These consequences, moreover, are not necessarily proportional. For example, doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society. Realizing this, the world properly worries about greenhouse emissions.

The butterfly effect reaches into the financial world as well. Here, the United States is spewing a potentially damaging substance into our economy — greenback emissions.

To be sure, we’ve been doing this for a reason I resoundingly applaud. Last fall, our financial system stood on the brink of a collapse that threatened a depression. The crisis required our government to display wisdom, courage and decisiveness. Fortunately, the Federal Reserve and key economic officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations responded more than ably to the need.

They made mistakes, of course. How could it have been otherwise when supposedly indestructible pillars of our economic structure were tumbling all around them? A meltdown, though, was avoided, with a gusher of federal money playing an essential role in the rescue.

The United States economy is now out of the emergency room and appears to be on a slow path to recovery. But enormous dosages of monetary medicine continue to be administered and, before long, we will need to deal with their side effects. For now, most of those effects are invisible and could indeed remain latent for a long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as that posed by the financial crisis itself.

To understand this threat, we need to look at where we stand historically. If we leave aside the war-impacted years of 1942 to 1946, the largest annual deficit the United States has incurred since 1920 was 6 percent of gross domestic product. This fiscal year, though, the deficit will rise to about 13 percent of G.D.P., more than twice the non-wartime record. In dollars, that equates to a staggering $1.8 trillion. Fiscally, we are in uncharted territory.

Because of this gigantic deficit, our country’s “net debt” (that is, the amount held publicly) is mushrooming. During this fiscal year, it will increase more than one percentage point per month, climbing to about 56 percent of G.D.P. from 41 percent. Admittedly, other countries, like Japan and Italy, have far higher ratios and no one can know the precise level of net debt to G.D.P. at which the United States will lose its reputation for financial integrity. But a few more years like this one and we will find out.

An increase in federal debt can be financed in three ways: borrowing from foreigners, borrowing from our own citizens or, through a roundabout process, printing money. Let’s look at the prospects for each individually — and in combination.

The current account deficit — dollars that we force-feed to the rest of the world and that must then be invested — will be $400 billion or so this year. Assume, in a relatively benign scenario, that all of this is directed by the recipients — China leads the list — to purchases of United States debt. Never mind that this all-Treasuries allocation is no sure thing: some countries may decide that purchasing American stocks, real estate or entire companies makes more sense than soaking up dollar-denominated bonds. Rumblings to that effect have recently increased.

Then take the second element of the scenario — borrowing from our own citizens. Assume that Americans save $500 billion, far above what they’ve saved recently but perhaps consistent with the changing national mood. Finally, assume that these citizens opt to put all their savings into United States Treasuries (partly through intermediaries like banks).

Even with these heroic assumptions, the Treasury will be obliged to find another $900 billion to finance the remainder of the $1.8 trillion of debt it is issuing. Washington’s printing presses will need to work overtime.

Slowing them down will require extraordinary political will. With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required. A revived economy can’t come close to bridging that sort of gap.

Legislators will correctly perceive that either raising taxes or cutting expenditures will threaten their re-election. To avoid this fate, they can opt for high rates of inflation, which never require a recorded vote and cannot be attributed to a specific action that any elected official takes. In fact, John Maynard Keynes long ago laid out a road map for political survival amid an economic disaster of just this sort: “By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.... The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

I want to emphasize that there is nothing evil or destructive in an increase in debt that is proportional to an increase in income or assets. As the resources of individuals, corporations and countries grow, each can handle more debt. The United States remains by far the most prosperous country on earth, and its debt-carrying capacity will grow in the future just as it has in the past.

But it was a wise man who said, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so I’ll never go there.” We don’t want our country to evolve into the banana-republic economy described by Keynes.

Our immediate problem is to get our country back on its feet and flourishing — “whatever it takes” still makes sense. Once recovery is gained, however, Congress must end the rise in the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio and keep our growth in obligations in line with our growth in resources.

Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar’s destiny lies with Congress.

Warren E. Buffett is the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, a diversified holding company.


Related Reading:

Till Debt Does Its Part- by Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist of NY Times



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New frugality is the new normal, by necessity
@ Aug 08, 2009
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By ASHLEY M. HEHER, AP Retail Writer Ashley M. Heher, Ap Retail Writer – 43 mins ago. September 07, 2009

CHICAGO – A year after "shop 'til you drop" stopped, the nation fixates on this question: Will consumer spending ever return to pre-recession levels?

Increasingly, the answer appears to be no. Belt-tightening in bad times is normal. And after every other recession since World War II, penny-pinching quickly fell out of fashion and Americans resumed their demand for houses, cars and everything else.

724b-sale sign.png

(Store sale sign during recession times)

This time it's different. Like the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Great Recession seems destined to turn many Americans into lasting coupon-cutters, scrimpers and savers. Consumers dug a debt hole over the past decade from which there's no easy climb out. The population segment that drives spending the most — baby boomers — faces special pressure: Boomers are running out of time.

A study by research firm AlixPartners concluded that once a new normal sets in after this recession ends, Americans will spend at about 86 percent of their pre-downturn level.

In an economy driven by consumption, the implications are far-reaching if that forecast proves correct:

* For every kitchen not remodeled, there will be lost sales of appliances and supplies, and fewer jobs for designers and contractors. As homeowners do work around the house themselves, there will be less work for gardeners, plumbers and handymen.

* For every shopper who trades down from luxury stores to discount stores, it will mean less profit for retailers and manufacturers. Retailers will continue to offer few product choices and leaner inventories, and they'll reassess store locations and advertising.

* If sales of cars and trucks average closer to the recession level of 10 million a year than the 16 million in boom times, more suppliers will fail and further consolidation among automakers could occur. Taxes not paid on lost vehicle sales will continue to stress budgets of state and local governments.

Frugality may be good for family budgets, but it's bad for the national economy. And that has the potential to reinforce and continue the miserly mood. A Gallup survey last month found seven in 10 Americans are cutting weekly expenses — a number that has been consistent through the summer.

A year after last fall's financial meltdown turned a garden-variety recession into the worst downturn since the Depression, thriftiness is still driven by the twin engines of necessity and fear. Unemployment, now at 9.7 percent, is still rising and expected to reach double digits before year's end for the first time since 1982. Many who still have jobs are getting paid less, and investments have a long way to go before they return to pre-meltdown levels.

Kathy Haney, 46, of Orland Park, Ill., has a job but is scaling back her shopping and packing her lunch.

"You put your priorities in different places because you never know if you're going to have a job tomorrow," the legal secretary says. "You think twice now. I have six TVs in the house. Do I really need a new flat screen?"

For her and many other Americans, the answer is no. The underlying causes of the meltdown and where it left millions financially suggests a fundamental change is under way. Personal spending has fallen in four of the last six quarters — the only time that's happened since quarterly records were first compiled in 1947.

In a normal recession, a vicious downward cycle of reduced spending by consumers and layoffs by employers finally eases and a virtuous cycle begins. Consumers start spending again. Factories ramp back up to meet the demand and hire workers. Incomes rise, fueling greater spending, more production and more jobs.

Until the Great Recession, the worst recession since World War II was in 1981-82. Unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent in December 1982, a month after the recession had ended.

The recovery that followed was powered by baby boomers, they were mostly in their 20s and early 30s then. Their careers were taking off, they were starting families, and they were spending freely. On homes, furniture, cars — and everything else. Saving for retirement was the last thing on their minds.

Fueled by boomers, when the recession ended, growth was explosive. Consumer spending rose 5.7 percent in 1983. GDP rose 4.5 percent in '83 and 7.2 percent in 1984.

"If someone gets more comfortable, they spend a little more," says Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. "As they spend a little more, someone else spends more."

Jump to today. For most of this decade, Americans enjoyed a credit-fueled binge that allowed them to spend more than they made. They snatched up everything from gadgets to houses.

Those houses soared in value and became as valuable a source of cash as a bank ATM. Home equity was tapped to pay for vacations, new cars and kitchen renovations. The rising stock market gave people an inflated sense of wealth as they watched their retirement accounts grow.

Not unlike the Roaring '20s, which preceded the Great Depression three generations ago, people believed the good times would never end. Per capita personal spending ballooned 25 percent from 2003 to 2005, according to data from Euromonitor International.

When the party ended, the nation was left with more than just a hangover. Personal debt had doubled in a decade. As of July, it stood at $13.8 trillion, or about $124,000 per household. Despite months of frugality, that was only slightly below its 2008 peak.

It will take years to work down the debt, which will prolong people's thriftiness. Paying it down will be harder because of the layoffs, pay cuts, freezes and furloughs. Personal income has fallen or been flat eight of the past 10 months.

On the asset side of their balance sheets, plunging stock prices and home values have made Americans feel poorer. Their net worth — the difference between the value of what they own and what they owe — has taken a staggering $12.2 trillion hit in the Great Recession. Net worth fell from $62.6 trillion at the end of 2007 to $50.4 trillion at the end of this year's first quarter, figures from the Federal Reserve show.

The result: Consumer spending adjusted for inflation fell 0.2 percent in 2008 — the first annual drop since 1980. Hardest hit from the first half of last year to the first half of this year: Motor vehicles and parts (down 17.2 percent); furnishings and durable household equipment (down 8.8 percent); clothing and footwear (down 5.8 percent).

"There will be a fundamental shift in the kind of cars we buy, a fundamental shift in the homes we buy, and a fundamental shift in consumption generally," says Matt Murray, an economist at the University of Tennessee. "And that is not something that took place in the 1980s."

As in the 1980s, much of that shift will be driven by baby boomers. For the 78 million people born from 1946 through 1964, the Great Recession hit at a particularly inopportune time — during peak years of earning and saving before retirement. Boomers range from 44 to 63 today — the youngest is nearly 10 years older than the oldest was in 1982. They are running out of time and are most likely to remain cautious spenders and become aggressive savers even as the economy improves.

The housing bubble mistakenly led boomers and millions of others to believe their home was their retirement nest egg. If they left their home equity alone during the boom, they've taken a hit the last couple years but are still ahead. But many treated their home like a personal bank and spent the gains by tapping a home equity line of credit.

Some now feel disgusted with the great national buying binge and are reacting against it. Last month, Chicago playwright Maureen Riley began giving away what she amassed.

"I felt this tremendous clarity as I looked around and saw my space emptying out and my closet emptying out," the 55-year-old says.

Despite all the battered personal balance sheets, thriftiness will abate somewhat as the economy continues to recover. There will still be vacations and home remodeling. But there will be caution, too.

Sanda Schramm, 63, a second-grade school teacher from Florham Park, N.J., and her husband Rob, 64, made changes after their retirement funds fell 20 percent below their peak. They considered themselves frugal before the recession. Now, they are even more tightfisted.

Instead of scouring for 40 percent discounts at Macy's and other department stores, she looks for 75 percent markdowns and shops more at consignment stores. They go out to dinner once a month instead of twice a week. And most everything they buy is paid for in cash, not with a credit card.

When the economy bounces back and her retirement accounts recover, Schramm says she'll continue to shop at consignment shops but will probably go to restaurants more.

"When the housing market and stocks were booming, everybody felt wealthy," she says. "But when everything goes down, you feel you're vulnerable ... I have always been careful, but now I am even more careful."


AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio contributed to this report from New York.


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Topics- PC, Internet & Information Technology
TIMELINE: Internet Turns 40 Today... Or Does It?
@ Aug 08, 2009
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First Network Connection between Two Computers Took Place Sept. 2, 1969


Sept. 2, 2009

The Internet is officially over the hill.

The Pew Internet Project's Lee Rainey says portable devices are the way.

Though it might try to hide its graying hairs, it was 40 years ago today that computer scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, established a network connection between two computers, creating the very first node of what we now know as the Internet.

At the time, Leonard Kleinrock and his colleagues were charged with developing the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (or ARPANET), a government-funded research project in global computer communications that eventually grew into the Internet.

On Sept. 2, 1969, Kleinrock and his team succeeded in getting two computers to exchange data over a network for the first time.

The First Message Sent Over the Internet

Although some celebrate the net's birthday today, others say it didn't really have life until October 29 of the same year. On that day, a message was typed by Kleinrock and sent to the second node at Stanford Research Institute. That, Kleinrock has said, "was the first breath of life the Internet ever took."

It's hardly surprising that a system so complex has a hard-to-pin-down date of birth and many say either date suffices.

"It's valid to consider either one because each involved transmission between computers," said Michael A. Banks, a technology writer and author of "On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders."

Bottom of Form

Since its academic beginnings, the Internet has come a long way, revolutionizing nearly every aspect of human interaction.

In honor of the occasion, here's a walk down memory lane and a look at some the Internet's most significant milestones.

October 29, 1969 – Kleinrock sends first the message between two nodes, from UCLA to Stanford. The message was supposed to be "login" but Kleinrock was only able to type "lo" before the system crashed.

1971 – Ray Tomlinson, an engineer with BBN Technologies, sent the first network e-mail, choosing the @ symbol to separate the user's name from the host computer name. Why? "Mostly because it seemed like a neat idea," he has said.

ARPANET Goes Global, Grows Into the Internet

1973 – ARPANET goes global with two international nodes, one in the U.K. and one in Norway.


Some say the Internet was born Sept. 2, 1969.

(ABC News Photo Illustration)

1979 – CompuServe and The Source offer the first online services. Users paid an initial fee and then hourly fees to read news or financial information or read news or chat.

These services marked a "really big step" in bringing consumers – not just academics and government officials – online, Banks said. Although the users couldn't communicate with users of other networks or access information hosted on other networks, they still formed some of the first vibrant emerging online communities.

1980 – CB Simulator, the first online chat service, goes online. The service was hatched by CompuServe and was named after the Citizens' Band radio, an extremely popular radio service that let individuals communicate via radio over short distances.

Bottom of Form

"Lives were changed immediately. People stayed online longer and later, fascinated with the ability to interact with several people at once," Banks writes in his book, "On the Way to the Web." "The online world and its denizens took on a new aura of reality, and the online experience grew far more entertaining and unpredictable."

The Internet's First Worm

1988 – Robert T. Morris, a graduate student at Cornell, unleashed the first widely known computer "worm" (or virus that spreads over the Internet). Morris said it was a benign experiment gone awry but prosecutors said he caused hundreds – if not tens of thousands – of dollars in lost productivity for each computer affected.

He was sentenced to three years' probation, community service, and a fine of $10,000 plus legal costs. Despite his run-in with the law, he went on to great success, eventually joining a startup that was bought out by Yahoo.

Now, he's a professor in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at M.I.T.

1989 – Quantum Computer Services, which is now AOL, introduces America Online. The service included games and chat services. By 1994, it had reached 1 million users, or about a third of the consumer online population, Bank said.

Tim Berners-Lee Introduces the 'World Wide Web'

1990 – Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, coins the phrase the "World Wide Web." Though digital denizens now may use the "Internet" and the "Web" interchangeably, there are actually not synonymous. The Internet hosts the Web, which is Berners-Lee's breakthrough.

While working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, he devised the Web as a way to organize, address and link information on the Internet.

Bottom of Form

1990 – The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is founded by Mitch Kapor, John Gilmore and John Perry Barlow, three technologists who were part of the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) community. David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, pointed out the importance of this group that, since its inception, has advocated for the public interest in digital rights issues.

1993 – Mosaic, the first Web browser to display images with text, is released by Marc Andreessen and his colleagues at the University of Illinois.

1994 – Some of the founders of Mosaic launch Netscape, the first commercial browser.

Yahoo!, Amazon and Google Come Online

1994 – Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang found Yahoo.

1995 – Jeff Bezos brings Amazon.com online, helping to revolutionize online retail.

1998 – Larry Page and Sergey Brin, computer science engineers who met at Stanford, incorporate Google (named for "googol," a mathematical term for the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros).

1999 -- Three friends launch Blogger, a user-friendly, free blogging platform. Although Weinberger emphasizes that the blogging movement can't be traced back to one particular moment, he said that in terms of the popularization and rise of blogging, "the creation of Blogger was really important."

1999 – Craig Newmark incorporates Craiglist.org as a for-profit online classifieds site. It started in 1995 as an e-mail list for friends and co-workers about San Francisco Bay Area events. As of August 2009, it had expanded to more than 700 cities in 70 countries.

2005 – YouTube is launched and helps drive user-generated content to the mainstream.

Smart Phones Bring Mobile Internet to Millions

2006 – Facebook expands to include anyone over college age. Although Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook (initially called thefacebook.com) in 2004 while a student at Harvard, it didn't become an online force until it expanded beyond college students.

Bottom of Form

"When it launched it was a Facebook replacement for college. The day it became a genuine platform was when they opened it up," said Harvard's Weinberger.

2006 -- The one millionth article is published on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It launched in 2001 and quickly became the reference site of choice for Internet users. By contrast, Weinberger said that Britannica contains 65,000 articles.

2007 – Apple launches the iPhone. On June 29, Apple's hotly-anticipated smart phone went on sale, making wireless Internet access accessible to millions more. Just 74 days after its introduction, Apple sold the 1 millionth iPhone. Now, more than 40 million users access the Internet from iPhone and iPod touch models, in addition to millions of others who go online with BlackBerries and other mobile devices.

2008 – ComScore, an online analytics firm, reports that the global internet audience (aged 15 and older from home and work computers) surpassed 1 billion visitors in December 2008. The company reported that China topped the list of the most connected countries, with 179.7 million users. The United States came in at second with 163.3 million users.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Topics- Science & Technology
'Green goo' biofuel gets a boost
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Updated 10:28 p.m. EDT, Sun August 23, 2009

By Steve Mollman


 (CNN) -- Three years ago many would have dismissed the notion that a significant supply of the world's automotive fuel could come from algae. But today the idea, while still an adventurous one, is getting much harder to ignore.


Making green from green: Biofuel from algae has been given a boost in investment in recent years.

Back then there were only a handful of companies seriously focused on producing algae fuel. Now there are well over 50, according to Samhitha Udupa, a research associate with Lux Research.

The number should double within the next year or two, she adds, and private investment in algae fuel ventures has at least doubled every year since 2006, a trend likely to continue.

Last month ExxonMobil-- which has been publicly skeptical of other biofuels in the past -- invested up to $600 million into a collaborative R&D program with Synthetic Genomics, a startup founded by J. Craig Venter.

Venter's previous firm, Celera Genomics, was a key player in sequencing the human genome. Synthetic Genomics is looking at, among other approaches, the use of tweaked metabolic pathways in algae to boost the plant's oil production. The startup received an earlier investment from BP a few years ago, but this one by ExxonMobil has raised eyebrows both for its size and because of the giant's track record.

"ExxonMobil has always been like the grinch that stole clean tech," says Udupa. "And then all of a sudden they're investing a lot of money in this one algae company."

The company kept enthusiasm tempered at a press call last month. "We need to be realistic," said Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D at the oil giant's research and engineering unit. "This is not going to be easy, and there are no guarantees of success."

But after years of careful research ExxonMobil concluded that algae, among all the alternatives, has the most potential in terms of scalability and fitting into the vast infrastructure of existing refineries and filling stations. (It can also produce far more fuel per acre than palm, sugar cane, or corn.) Other big oil companies have recently invested into algae ventures as well, including Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.

The airline industry, plagued by high jet-fuel prices, is also investing and testing, with players including Boeing, GE Aviation, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines and Continental Airlines, among others. (Algae fuel has already helped power planes, cars, and other vehicles in various tests and demonstrations.)

Yet the idea isn't new. From 1978, the U.S. Department of Energy's Aquatic Species Program focused on it before closing down in 1996 in the face of persistently low petroleum prices and the relatively high cost of making algae fuel.

Making it economically competitive

Economic competitiveness remains the key challenge, and the hunt is on to find the best strains of algae for producing oil, as some are better than others. But it does appear that algae fuel, once an idea limited to mostly academic circles, will now get the kind of funding and attention that would be needed to turn it into a competitive industry.

A wide variety of approaches are being tried by different ventures to make algae fuel cost competitive -- and it's no easy task.

A startup near San Francisco called Solazyme (whose investors include Chevron) is growing algae in big dark tanks and feeding them sugar. Another in Israel called Seambiotic is growing marine microalgae using smokestack flue gas (or more specifically its carbon dioxide, which algae feed on) from a coal-burning power plant.

NASA and Google have invested in an effort using semi-permeable membrane enclosures of sewage floating in the ocean. Only clean water leaks out, and the algae feed on the nutrients. Other methods range from growing algae in bioreactors to open ponds.

One environmental advantage of algae over other biofuel sources -- like palm for biodiesel, or sugar cane or corn for ethanol -- is it doesn't have to be grown in places that can otherwise serve for food production or endangered species habitat. This helps it skirt the "food vs. fuel" debate.

Algae can be fed sewage and carbon dioxide and grown in many places, including deserts, ponds, and oceans.

Algae fuel fits relatively easily into the vast infrastructure of refineries and distribution channels that already exists for fossil fuel. Ethanol by contrast is more corrosive and thus requires flex-fuel cars and costly system-wide modifications.

How "green" is it?

But algae fuel is not environmentally perfect. It still creates pollution when burned, like regular fuel. Its marketing as a "green" energy source rankles some environmentalists, who prefer a more profound switch to cleaner options like solar and wind. Algae fuel, they note, requires far less change from Big Oil.

"This is a nice way to say, 'Oh don't worry, you don't have to change anything -- we're just going to make a new way to make the existing system work," says Gillian Madill at Friends of the Earth.

Algae fuel does burn cleaner than fossil fuel, according to J.B. Hunt, a large U.S. trucking company that's looking to go greener. It recently tested a fuel blend containing algae fuel from a California startup called SunEco and found an 82 percent reduction in particulate emissions with no loss of power. The company says it might soon become a significant purchaser.

Huge sales of algae fuel are unlikely, though, over the next few years. ExxonMobil says its project is five or ten years away from producing large quantities of fuel.

And like forgotten startups of the dot-com boom, many ventures of this "algal bloom" will surely not survive. A high-profile one called GreenFuel Technologies -- which took the approach of pumping carbon dioxide into bioreactors -- went out of business this spring after costs and technical problems spun out of control.

But there's another way for algae companies to thrive before the industry scales up to massive fuel production, if it ever does: co-products. These include things that consumers are hardly aware of but that can be higher-value products, like excipients used in pharmaceutical products: Seambiotic make food additives in addition to biofuels; Solazyme has made nutraceuticals, additives and soaps using algae.

"The possibilities are endless," says Udupa. "I think the overall benefits of using algae technology initially will be realized through the co-products."

By contrast, the ethanol industry doesn't have a similarly wide range of fall-back alternatives, she notes. The ethanol industry in the U.S. has long been subsidized by the government, and some lawmakers are fighting to redirect that funding to next-gen biofuels instead.

Meanwhile ExxonMobil seems prepared to spend substantially more on its algae project once certain benchmarks are met. The initial $600 million would help the project get to "a certain level of completion in the work," said Jacobs in the press call last month.

But much more will be needed for final development and early commercialization, he added: "That could amount to, you know, billions of dollars after that."

That's small change for the likes of ExxonMobil, but it represents a big change for the status of algae fuel.


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A cordless future for electricity?
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Updated 12:22 p.m. EDT, Wed September 2, 2009

By John D. Sutter


 (CNN) -- Electronics such as phones and laptops may start shedding their power cords within a year.


Wireless electricity may soon make tangled power cords a thing of the past.

That's the prediction of Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity, a company that's able to power light bulbs using wireless electricity that travels several feet from a power socket.

WiTricity's version of wireless electricity -- which converts power into a magnetic field and sends it sailing through the air at a particular frequency -- still needs to be refined a bit, he said, but should be commercially available soon.

Giler, whose company is a spinoff of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research group, says wireless electricity has the potential to cut the need for power cords and throw-away batteries.

"Five years from now, this will seem completely normal," he said.

"The biggest effect of wireless power is attacking that huge energy wasting that goes on where people buy disposable batteries," he said. Watch Giler demonstrate the idea

It also will make electric cars more attractive to consumers, he said, because they will be able to power up their vehicles simply by driving into a garage that's fitted with a wireless power mat.

Electric cars are "absolutely gorgeous," he added, "but does anyone really want to plug them in?"

Ideas about wireless electricity have been floating around the world of technology for more than a century. Nikola Tesla started toying with the ability to send electricity through the air in the 1890s. Since then, though, making wireless electricity technology safe and cheap enough to put on the market has been an arduous task for researchers.

Engineers have developed several ways to convert electricity into something that's safe to send through the air without a wire. Some of their technologies are available on commercial scales, but they have some limits.

Low-level power

One set of researchers is able to send power over long distances but in very small amounts.

For example, in 2003, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, company called Powercast used radio waves to light a low-power LED bulb that was 1.5 miles from its power source, said Harry Ostaffe, spokesman for the company.

Now, Powercast's technology is used in office buildings to power temperature sensors that regulate air conditioning systems and in other low-power applications. The company also has sold wireless artificial Christmas trees strung with LED lights for about $400, Ostaffe said.

But radio waves can't transfer the larger amounts of electricity needed to power laptops or mobile phones, he said.

Power pads

Another type of wireless electricity technology can send large amounts of power over very small distances, often not more than a few centimeters.

Such technology is available today, but only in minimal ways. Think, for instance, about electric toothbrushes that sit on charging cradles but don't actually plug in.

One problem with the high-power, small-distance idea is that each device requires its own charging pad, and consumers hate that, said Menno Treffers, chairman of the steering group at the Wireless Power Consortium. The group formed in late 2008 to promote standardization of the technology.

Treffers said consumers soon should be able to buy one power pad that would charge all of their electronic devices. It might look like a placemat, and cell phones, remote controls and appliances would charge automatically when they're placed on the pad.

"The key reason to do it is convenience, because if you want to get rid of all the different power supplies, there are other ways that are cheaper," he said.

The pads, which would rely on electrical sockets as their initial sources of power, also would be more energy efficient than plugging all of the devices into power sockets directly, he said. The pads would shut off automatically when a device has finished charging and are about 70 percent to 90 percent as efficient as transferring power through a wire, he said.

Wire-free chargers for a single item are relatively cheap: about $10 to build, he said. But it's unclear how much pads that could power a living room worth of equipment would cost, he said.

'Magnetically coupled resonance'

Ultimately, Giler's group from MIT wants to combine the best of both worlds: large amounts of power sent over long distances.

Their technology is called "magnetically coupled resonance," and it basically sends a magnetic field through the air at a specific frequency that an an enabled phone or TV can pick up and turn back into electricity. It works kind of like sound. Think about how an opera singer can break a wine glass if he sings at just the right frequency.

Adding the technology to cell phones, mp3 players and other devices should not increase their cost much, he said.

Despite Giler's optimism, there are some doubts about magnetically coupled resonance.

Treffers said there may be health risks associated with the magnetic fields created in the MIT process. Giler said the technology would produce magnetic fields that are "about the same density as the earth's magnetic field."

He said wireless electricity has many environmental benefits. Companies make about 40 billion disposable batteries each year, he said, and wireless electricity could do away with that.

The biggest barrier to the technology's adoption, he said, is that people just aren't familiar with the idea.


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Telescopes to show universe soon after Big Bang
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Updated 9:01 a.m. EDT, Tue August 18, 2009

By A. Pawlowski


"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better" -- Albert Einstein


(This galaxy, as seen by Hubble, is 50 million light years away. The new telescopes promise even sharper images.)

(CNN) -- It may not be possible to travel back in time, but seeing stars and galaxies as they looked millions or even billions of years ago is no problem thanks to telescopes, the closest thing we have to time machines.

Now, astronomers are holding their breath to see what they'll observe and discover with a new generation of huge telescopes set to be built around the world.

Peering ever deeper into space and further back in time, the powerful devices will be able to show what the universe was like when it was just a few hundred million years old and emerging from a period of total darkness after the Big Bang.

"[We'll be] looking at the first generation of stars forming in the universe, which is kind of a cool idea: The time when the lights went on in the universe. There was no light before that time," said Daniel Fabricant, associate director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

His institution is one of several research organizations and universities developing the Giant Magellan Telescope, to be built in Las Campanas, Chile, by 2018.

'Eye on the sky'

Bigger is better in the world of reflecting telescopes, which rely on primary mirrors to collect light. The bigger the primary mirror, the more light it can gather and the fainter the objects astronomers can see.

The world's largest optical and infrared telescopes have primary mirrors that measure about 10 meters (32 feet) across. But the Giant Magellan Telescope will more than double that diameter, with a monster primary mirror spanning almost 25 meters (80 feet).

If the Magellan is the first new-generation star gazer to be built, it may not remain the record holder for long. Another consortium of organizations and universities is preparing to construct the aptly named Thirty Meter Telescope on the Mauna Kea summit in Hawaii, also scheduled for completion in 2018.

Source: NASA.gov

Trumping them all may be the European Extremely Large Telescope, dubbed "the world's biggest eye on the sky," which is to have a primary mirror 42 meters (137 feet) in diameter and is also scheduled to start operation in 2018. No site has been chosen, though Argentina, Chile, Morocco and Spain are being considered.

Astronomers hope these giants will fill in gaps in knowledge about key moments in the early days of the universe. See some of the amazing photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

"Right now, we can see to almost 13 billion years [back], but our best models tell us the age of the universe is almost 14 billion years, so it's this whole epoch when galaxies are actually first starting to form that we can't really see very well," said Elizabeth Barton, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of the Science Advisory Committee for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

"So the Thirty Meter Telescope will let us do things like find some of the first galaxies to form and characterize them to figure out what the conditions were actually like and how big these things were when they were forming."

Seeing the past

Looking so far back in time may sound like science fiction, but it's possible because light travels at a finite speed and takes a certain amount of time to get from one place to another, said Marla Geha, an assistant professor of astronomy at Yale University.

In our own cosmic neighborhood, it takes the light from the sun eight minutes to reach Earth, so when you look at a beautiful sunrise, you see the star as it appeared eight minutes ago. If the sun were to suddenly go dark, you wouldn't know it for those several minutes.

The same concept of seeing objects as they appeared in the past holds true on a much bigger scale.

"The light from the nearest star [outside the solar system] takes a couple of years to get to us. The light from the farthest star in the Milky Way takes 100,000 years to get to us," Geha said.

"Since the universe is about 14 billion years old, and as we're looking at things that are farther away, we're looking at light that's taken half or more than half of the age of the universe to get to us."

Some of that light is from the first stars to ever form -- fascinating to astronomers because they were probably much larger and brighter than those we find in the present-day universe, Fabricant said.

Closer to home, astronomers hope to see planets orbiting other stars -- perhaps young "Earths" in the process of formation -- and observe other solar systems, he added.

Sharper than Hubble

The pictures will likely be spectacular. Despite being ground-based, all of the next-generation telescopes promise images several times sharper than those produced by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope thanks to adaptive optics, technology that corrects for the "wiggling" of the Earth's atmosphere. Twinkling stars may be romantic to look at, but they're a big headache for astronomers trying to get a sharp picture.

One way to combat the distortion is to shoot laser beams into the sky to create fake stars and then measure how their appearance is changed by the atmosphere and take the appropriate counter-measures -- all at hundreds of times a second.

"You know what a perfect image looks like, you know what you observe, and then you know what you need to do to correct the image," Fabricant said.

"The idea is ... to have the mirror wiggle exactly opposite to take out the twinkling," Geha added.

Until the ground-based giants are built, Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be helping to answer key questions about the universe. Webb is scheduled to be launched in 2014, about the time Hubble's mission will end.

Operating much farther from Earth and equipped with a primary mirror more than twice the diameter of Hubble's, Webb is designed to look deeper into space to see the earliest stars and galaxies, according to NASA.

Researchers on the competing projects say there's a certain rivalry about making the big discoveries but emphasize that the most important thing is that somebody makes them.

"It's a competition where you want the other guy to succeed as well," Fabricant said.


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World population projected to reach 7 billion in 2011
@ Aug 08, 2009
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updated 12:56 p.m. EDT, Wed August 12, 2009

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The world's population is forecast to hit 7 billion in 2011, the vast majority of its growth coming in developing and, in many cases, the poorest nations, a report released Wednesday said.

725a-world population.png

(Riders cram into a train last month in New Delhi, India. India's population is expected to be 1.7 billion by 2050.)

A staggering 97 percent of global growth over the next 40 years will happen in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Population Reference Bureau's 2009 World Population Data Sheet.

"The great bulk of today's 1.2 billion youth -- nearly 90 percent -- are in developing countries," said Carl Haub, a co-author of the report. Eight in 10 of those youth live in Africa and Asia.

"During the next few decades, these young people will most likely continue the current trend of moving from rural areas to cities in search of education and training opportunities, gainful employment, and adequate health care," Haub continued, calling it one of the major social questions of the next few decades.

In the developed world, the United States and Canada will account for most of the growth -- half from immigration and half from a natural increase in the population -- births minus deaths, according to the report.

High fertility rates and a young population base in the developing world will fuel most of the growth, especially in Africa, where women often give birth to six or seven children over a lifetime, the report says. The number is about two in the United States and 1.5 in Canada.

A stark contrast can be drawn between Uganda and Canada, which currently have about 34 million and 31 million residents, respectively. By 2050, Canada's population is projected to be 42 million, while Uganda's is expected to soar to 96 million, more than tripling.

"Even with declining fertility rates in many countries, world population is still growing at a rapid rate," said Bill Butz, president of the bureau. "The increase from 6 billion to 7 billion is likely to take 12 years, as did the increase from 5 billion to 6 billion. Both events are unprecedented in world history."

By 2050, India is projected to be the world's most populous nation at 1.7 billion, overtaking current leader China, which is forecast to hit 1.4 billion. The United States is expected to reach 439 million for No. 3 on the list.


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Topics-Health & Life Sciences
Your Baby Is Smarter Than You Think
@ Aug 08, 2009
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Published: August 15, 2009

Berkeley, Calif.


Brian Rea

GENERATIONS of psychologists and philosophers have believed that babies and young children were basically defective adults — irrational, egocentric and unable to think logically. The philosopher John Locke saw a baby’s mind as a blank slate, and the psychologist William James thought they lived in a “blooming, buzzing confusion.” Even today, a cursory look at babies and young children leads many to conclude that there is not much going on.

New studies, however, demonstrate that babies and very young children know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible. In some ways, they are smarter than adults.

Three recent experiments show that even the youngest children have sophisticated and powerful learning abilities. Last year, Fei Xu and Vashti Garcia at the University of British Columbia proved that babies could understand probabilities. Eight-month-old babies were shown a box full of mixed-up Ping-Pong balls: mostly white but with some red ones mixed in. The babies were more surprised, and looked longer and more intently at the experimenter when four red balls and one white ball were taken out of the box — a possible, yet improbable outcome — than when four white balls and a red one were produced.

In 2007, Laura Schulz and Elizabeth Baraff Bonawitz at M.I.T. demonstrated that when young children play, they are also exploring cause and effect. Preschoolers were introduced to a toy that had two levers and a duck and a puppet that popped up. One group was shown that when you pressed one lever, the duck appeared and when you pressed the other, the puppet popped up. The second group observed that when you pressed both levers at once, both objects popped up, but they never got a chance to see what the levers did separately, which left mysterious the causal relation between the levers and the pop-up objects. Then the experimenter gave the children the toys to play with. The children in the first group played with the toy much less than the children in the second group did. When the children already knew how the toy worked, they were less interested in exploring it. But the children in the second group spontaneously played with the toy, and just by playing around, they figured out how it worked.

In 2007 in my lab at Berkeley, Tamar Kushnir and I discovered that preschoolers can use probabilities to learn how things work and that this lets them imagine new possibilities. We put a yellow block and a blue block on a machine repeatedly. The blocks were likely but not certain to make the machine light up. The yellow block made the machine light up two out of three times; the blue block made it light up only two out of six times.

Then we gave the children the blocks and asked them to light up the machine. These children, who couldn’t yet add or subtract, were more likely to put the high-probability yellow block, rather than the blue one, on the machine.

We also did the same experiment, but instead of putting the high-probability block on the machine, we held it up over the machine and the machine lit up. Children had never seen a block act this way, and at the start of the experiment, they didn’t think it could. But after seeing good evidence, they were able to imagine the peculiar possibility that blocks have remote powers. These astonishing capacities for statistical reasoning, experimental discovery and probabilistic logic allow babies to rapidly learn all about the particular objects and people surrounding them.

Sadly, some parents are likely to take the wrong lessons from these experiments and conclude that they need programs and products that will make their babies even smarter. Many think that babies, like adults, should learn in a focused, planned way. So parents put their young children in academic-enrichment classes or use flashcards to get them to recognize the alphabet. Government programs like No Child Left Behind urge preschools to be more like schools, with instruction in specific skills.

But babies’ intelligence, the research shows, is very different from that of adults and from the kind of intelligence we usually cultivate in school. Schoolwork revolves around focus and planning. We set objectives and goals for children, with an emphasis on skills they should acquire or information they should know. Children take tests to prove that they have absorbed a specific set of skills and facts and have not been distracted by other possibilities.

This approach may work for children over the age of 5 or so. But babies and very young children are terrible at planning and aiming for precise goals. When we say that preschoolers can’t pay attention, we really mean that they can’t not pay attention: they have trouble focusing on just one event and shutting out all the rest. This has led us to underestimate babies in the past. But the new research tells us that babies can be rational without being goal-oriented.

Babies are captivated by the most unexpected events. Adults, on the other hand, focus on the outcomes that are the most relevant to their goals. In a well-known experiment, adults saw a video of several people tossing a ball to one another. The experimenter told them to count how many passes particular people made. In the midst of this, a person in a gorilla suit walked slowly through the middle of the video. A surprising number of adults, intent on counting, didn’t even seem to notice the unexpected gorilla.

Adults focus on objects that will be most useful to them. But as the lever study demonstrated, children play with the objects that will teach them the most. In our study, 4-year-olds imagined new possibilities based on just a little data. Adults rely more on what they already know. Babies aren’t trying to learn one particular skill or set of facts; instead, they are drawn to anything new, unexpected or informative.

Part of the explanation for these differing approaches can be found in the brain. The young brain is remarkably plastic and flexible. Brains work because neurons are connected to one another, allowing them to communicate. Baby brains have many more neural connections than adult brains. But they are much less efficient. Over time, we prune away the connections we don’t use, and the remaining ones become faster and more automatic. Moreover, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls the directed, planned, focused kind of intelligence, is exceptionally late to mature, and may not take its final shape until our early 20s.

In fact, our mature brain seems to be programmed by our childhood experiences — we plan based on what we’ve learned as children. Very young children imagine and explore a vast array of possibilities. As they grow older and absorb more evidence, certain possibilities become much more likely and more useful. They then make decisions based on this selective information and become increasingly reluctant to give those ideas up and try something new. Computer scientists talk about the difference between exploring and exploiting — a system will learn more if it explores many possibilities, but it will be more effective if it simply acts on the most likely one. Babies explore; adults exploit.

Each kind of intelligence has benefits and drawbacks. Focus and planning get you to your goal more quickly but may also lock in what you already know, closing you off to alternative possibilities. We need both blue-sky speculation and hard-nosed planning. Babies and young children are designed to explore, and they should be encouraged to do so.

The learning that babies and young children do on their own, when they carefully watch an unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from it, ceaselessly manipulate a new toy or imagine different ways that the world might be, is very different from schoolwork. Babies and young children can learn about the world around them through all sorts of real-world objects and safe replicas, from dolls to cardboard boxes to mixing bowls, and even toy cellphones and computers. Babies can learn a great deal just by exploring the ways bowls fit together or by imitating a parent talking on the phone. (Imagine how much money we can save on “enriching” toys and DVDs!)

But what children observe most closely, explore most obsessively and imagine most vividly are the people around them. There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play.


Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology at Berkeley and the author of “The Philosophical Baby.”


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Does stress really make your hair go gray faster?
@ Aug 08, 2009
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by Molly Edmonds


(This woman had dark hair when the day started.)

Though a little stress can be good for you, an overabundance of it has been linked with a host of dangerous health conditions, including heart disease, headaches, stomach problems, sleep disorders and a compromised immune system, to name just a few. Stress can also have an effect on our personal appearance -- it can cause skin to break out with acne or psoriasis and trigger conditions like telogen effluvium or alopecia areata, both of which cause chunks of hair to fall out.

But can stress turn hair gray faster, as an old wives' tale would have you believe? Onlookers were shocked when Marie Antoinette showed up for her date with the guillotine with gray hair; it was believed that her hair color changed overnight as she stressed about her fate. Every U.S. president in recent times has been subjected to a before-and-after treatment purporting to show how the world's most stressful job can take its toll.

In the case of the French queen, the sudden graying was likely due to wig removal or lack of access to hair dye. And since current U.S. President Barack Obama's barber swears that the president has never used hair dye, it's more likely that we're seeing the signs of normal aging; about 50 percent of 50-year-olds are halfway on their way to gray [source: Parker-Pope]. Gray hairs usually start appearing between the ages of 30 and 35, but the rate of graying differs according to factors like race (white people tend to go gray before Asian or black people).

Since stress causes hair loss, it's possible that losing some pigmented hair can make those gray hairs more noticeable. In this article, however, we're interested in whether stress can cause a hair to grow out from the root as gray or white. Before we get delve into some current theories on this process, let's review why our hair has color at all.

Our heads contain hundreds of thousands of follicles, and each follicle is charged with producing one hair. Cells known as keratinocytes build the keratin that becomes our hair (our skin and fingernails are also composed of keratin). Before hair emerges from the follicle, though, other cells known as melanocytes inject a pigment called melanin into the keratin. When our hair turns gray, it's due to lowered amounts of melanin, and when hair is completely white, our hair lacks melanin altogether. But why do our cells stop producing melanin as we age? And should we remain in our homes at all times, free from any form of stress, to prevent the process from happening faster?

Why Hair Goes Gray

There is no direct link between stress and gray hair. Rather, if you want to figure out when you'll go gray, you need look no further than your parents, as our genes seem to have power over what comes out of each hair follicle. In recent years, though, scientists have been digging a little deeper to determine what's happening with our genes and cells when hair goes gray. Not because they want to solve the mysteries of gray hair, but rather because our hair might reveal information that's useful in treating other conditions related to aging.

In 2004, for example, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston were studying melanoma, which involves an overproduction of melanocytes in the skin, which can lead to skin cancer. While trying to learn more about the nature of melanocytes, the researchers found that hair might go gray as the supply of melanocyte stem cells is depleted. Even before those stem cells are completely gone, though, they begin to make errors, such as depositing the pigment at the wrong place in the follicle, so that it has no effect on the hair [source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute]. The next task for these researchers? Figuring out why the amount of melanocyte stem cells decrease when it comes to our hair while they reproduce at high levels in the skin and form cancerous tumors.

The results of a 2009 Japanese study indicated that stress did in fact cause gray hair, but not the type of stress that comes with a teenage driver or an impending job interview. Rather, researchers found that genotoxic stress, in the form of ultraviolet light and chemicals, damages our DNA and could cause the depletion of those melanocyte stem cells. Again, this finding holds promise for other conditions, as the same thing has been demonstrated to occur in blood stem cells and cardiac and skeletal muscle [source: Cell Press]. Though research seems to indicate that we could stop the DNA damage by removing the genotoxic stress, the researchers estimate that just one mammalian cell is subjected to 100,000 such stressors in one day, making complete avoidance impossible [source: Dell'Amore].

One last theory about graying hair ignores the stem cells altogether. In 2009, European researchers claimed that hair goes gray because the amount of hydrogen peroxide in our follicles builds up over time [source: Parker-Pope]. Their next step is figuring out if stress can increase these hydrogen peroxide levels or if it's driven by chemicals. Even if there is a link between the hydrogen peroxide build-up and stress, researchers caution that it all goes back to those genes from your parents. Our abilities to handle large amounts of stress may in fact be wired into our genes, meaning that where gray hair is concerned, there may be no way of escaping your genetic destiny.


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