- Video Games
By Justin Madden
A University of Kentucky professor was part of the team that discovered what is thought to be a new species of human ancestor.
Andrew Deane, UK paleoanthropologist and associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology, served as a member of the Rising Star Expedition, a group of international scientists who described more than 1,500 fossils exhumed from a cavern in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, South Africa, according to the university.
Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, led the expeditions that recovered the fossils called Homo naledi.
Deane was one of 30 experts invited by Berger to help examine the fossils for six months. Deane focused on the hand and the foot.
"It's really remarkable and really a big privilege to be involved in something this unique, not only because the find itself is so overwhelming, its scope and the amount of material and representation that we have, but also because this is a fairly unique species," Deane said. "We're not yet clear 100 percent on where this thing fits in the human family tree. There are certainly a lot of questions that remain unanswered that we're still working on, but it certainly adds another member to our family."
The hand and foot of the Homo naledi resemble those of modern-day humans. But they are also primitive, Deane said. The fingers and toes are much longer and curved, but the rest of the hand and foot appear to mirror those of modern humans. The wrists appear to be stable and suited for making tools.
The skull, shoulders and chest of the Homo naledi also appear to have characteristics both primitive and modern, Deane said.
"The significance of this find, in a addition to the volume of material, is that it adds yet more evidence to suggest that human evolution is a much more diverse thing than what we previously thought," Deane said.
Kentucky Press News Service
High-speed Internet access will become available to 62,000 more Kentucky residents thanks to funds from the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC fund called Connect America will pay $21 million a year to Windstream Communictions to make broadband available in locations where it would otherwise be too expensive to extend service. Monthly fees should run about what people in other parts of the U.S. pay for the service, an FCC spokesman said.
About a third of rural Americans lack access to high-speed Internet, the FCC said in a news release. In all, Windstream is receiving almost $175 million in annual, ongoing support from the Connect America fund to provide broadband service to 800,000 rural residents of 17 states, including Kentucky.
Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.
WASHINGTON—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a draft assessment today on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States. The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water. The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal [http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/hydraulic-fracturing-water-cycle].
“EPA’s draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes and local communities and industry around the country a critical resource to identify how best to protect public health and their drinking water resources,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.”
EPA’s review of data sources available to the agency found specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but they were small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities, some of which are not unique to hydraulic fracturing, to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.
These vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:
water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources;
and spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.
Also released today were nine peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports (www.epa.gov/hfstudy). These reports were a part of EPA’s overall hydraulic fracturing drinking water study and contributed to the findings outlined in the draft assessment. Over 20 peer-reviewed articles or reports were published as part of this study [http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/published-scientific-papers].
States play a primary role in regulating most natural gas and oil development. EPA’s authority is limited by statutory or regulatory exemptions under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Where EPA’s exemptions exist, states may have authority to regulate unconventional oil and gas extraction activities under their own state laws.
EPA’s draft assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement conducted across the country with states, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the public to ensure that the draft assessment reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and utilizes all data and information available to the agency.
The study will be finalized after review by the Science Advisory Board and public review and comment. The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday June 5, 2015.
For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.
By Grace Schneider
The University of Louisville has signed a joint development agreement with a South Carolina company to create a coal-like product made from fallen timber and biomass.
In an announcement Thursday, U of L officials said that deal involves Greenville, S.C.-based Integro Earth Fuels Inc., the developer of a product made from wood waste that can be burned with or in place of coal by heat and power generators.
Work on developing the densified wood, called NuCoal, and piloting production facilities will be performed at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, part of the university’s Speed School of Engineering.
“Conn Center’s expertise is crucial in making this technology work at any scale,” said Conn director Mahendra Sunkara.
“The use of this product as a substitute for coal can help extend the life of Kentucky’s coal-fired power plants while significantly reducing pollutant and carbon emissions,” Sunkara said.
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities has agreed to provide a $256,890 grant over two years to the Conn Center through its Consortium for Advanced Wood to Energy Solutions — a joint venture between the endowment and the U.S. Forest Service.
U of L officials said that Conn Center would invest about $135,000. Researchers Jagannadh Satyavolu and Thad Druffel will lead the research and develop pilot models of production facilities, officials said in a release.
Integro agreed to provide funding to the research center for a series of test projects. That includes $80,000 worth of equipment to support research and development of the process called “torrefaction,” which roasts wood and biomass to strip out moisture and volatile compounds to create a bio-coal product.
“We are looking at markets for NuCoal plants in Kentucky and other parts of the U.S., Europe and South America,” Integro founder Walt Dickinson said in the announcement. “This partnership is critical to making that happen.”
Forestry endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen called the partnership “foundational to our commitment to keep forests as forests, keep them healthy and add family-wage jobs in rural forest-rich communities.”
Conn Center, which focuses on innovation in advanced materials, including catalysts, recently had two startup businesses spun from its labs. NuCoal is envisioned to create another, potentially more visible Kentucky-based company.
“This one is a really big deal,” businessman Hank Conn, whose donations have funded and will sustain the center created in 2009, said in an email.
“Not only is the market potential for NuCoal huge, expected to be $200 billion by 2040, but the product also helps address the problem of forest fires in the U.S. by removing dying or dead trees and turning them into this coal-like product, one that is carbon-neutral and significantly reduces air pollutants,” Conn said.
The digital divide, the disparity in adoption of broadband between rural and urban households, has increased, especially for the elderly and the poor. High broadband adoption rates bring about economic growth in rural areas, and federal policies to address the problem usually involve funding initiatives to provide more broadband access. "In fact, of the $7.2 billion made available for broadband funding during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over 90 percent was focused on providing infrastructure," Brian Whitacre reports for The Daily Yonder.
However, according to recent research, the problem needs to be addressed through encouraging broadband adoption, not just increasing availability. A Current Population Survey asked why people don't use broadband. "No need" was the top response for rural households, and "not available" accounted for fewer than 5 percent of the responses in 2011. "The 'no need' response has increased over time while the 'not available' response has decreased," Whitacre writes. Lack of demand—not supply—of broadband is the chief reason behind the gap.
The Daily Yonder chart showing respondents' reasons for not using broadband.
To further examine the divide, "we used a technique that allows us to predict hypothetical broadband adoption rates," Whiteacre writes. "If we gave rural characteristics (such as education, income, age, etc.) to urban households—what would happen to the urban adoption rate? . . . Similarly, if we replaced urban levels of broadband availability (which are typically very good) with those found in rural areas (which are typically not as good), what would happen to the urban adoption rates?"
The results of the study predict that if rural households had socioeconomic characteristics typical of urban ones, 52 percent of the percentage point gap in the digital divide would vanish, and if urban households had broadband infrastructures typical of rural areas, 38 percent of the gap would vanish. (Read more)
Written by Melissa Landon