Take a Peek into FBI’s UFO Files

Posted May 6th, 2011 at 1:22 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s just become a little easier to access some of the FBI’s most intriguing files.

The FBI has files on phenomena like flying saucers, Extra Terrestrials and Extra Sensory Perception. And now you can see them for yourself.

The bureau recently overhauled its Freedom of Information and Privacy website.  Among the items that were updated is the bureau’s Electronic Reading Room, which they call “The Vault”.

It contains FBI information on the famous and the infamous. You can read actual FBI records on such luminaries as John Lennon, Al Capone, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe and many more.

Since going online, one section of The Vault has generated news and grabbed quite a bit of attention. It’s the section on “Unexplained Phenomenon” which includes FBI records on topics such as UFOs, extra terrestrials and extra-sensory perception (ESP).

Although it was only occasionally involved in investigating reports of UFOs and extraterrestrials over the years, the FBI says citizens would call them regularly to report sightings of the strange and unusual.

The bureau’s involvement with UFOs began around the time of the legendary incident in Roswell, New Mexico.  The “Roswell incident” centered around reports of a UFO crashing near the tiny New Mexican farming and ranching community on July 1947.

According to the unconfirmed reports, the wreckage of a UFO was found on a ranch with the  bodies of aliens discovered nearby. The Roswell incident boosted worldwide interest in the UFO phenomenon.

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the FBI checked into reports of flying objects  shaped like flapjacks, saucers, discs and even a large circular saw blade that supposedly hit a lightning rod on top of a church.  While the US military initially sought the help of the bureau, the FBI soon distanced itself.

It released a statement in 1950 that said, “The jurisdiction and responsibility for investigating flying saucers have been assumed by the United States Air Force. Information received in this matter is immediately turned over to the Air Force, and the FBI does not attempt to investigate these reports or evaluate the information furnished.”

Still it’s quite fascinating to look back at what many would consider the beginning of the UFO phenomenon and to read observations such as one dated March 22, 1950.  Guy Hottel,  a special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, sent a brief (and, to me at least, kind of a skeptical sounding) memo about flying saucers to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Mr. Hottel reported that, “An investigator for the Air Force stated that three so-called flying saucers described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter.  Each one occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of very fine texture.”

Other entries included in the “Unexplained Phenomenon” section include the Roswell UFO, animal mutilation, extra-sensory perception and the controversial Project Blue Book, an 18-year US Air Force study of UFOs.

See for yourself. Visit “The Vault” at the FBI website.


Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Mind-controlled computer operation

Posted May 2nd, 2011 at 3:15 pm (UTC-4)
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Mouse and keyboard… that’s how most of us interact with our computer. You either click at or type in your data.  We’ve pretty much have gotten used to operating our PC’s and other like devices this way… for some its become second nature.  But, how about a new way interact with that computer? Can you imagine being able to operate a computer or some sort of robotic device by just thinking about it?  Well, it could be a reality sooner than you realize.

For the last 10 to 15 years, scientists from around the world have been hard at work on  a new form of technology called the Brain Computer Interface (BCI).  The BCI is a piece of equipment designed to oversee and interpret the electrical impulses of the user’s thoughts. It then converts that information into some kind of machine control – which in turn, can operate those computers and robotic devices.

A number of experiments conducted over the past several years have produced results – in both animal and human subjects – where such machine control is accomplished with brain signals alone.

According to a new study published in the Institute of Physics Journal of Neural Engineering, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, recently demonstrated that humans can control a cursor on a computer screen using words spoken out loud and in their head. This could lead to the development of a variety of applications for those who may have limited physical ability but also those who lost their speech through brain injury.

Scientists found that by directly connecting a patient’s brain to a computer via a technique called electrocortiography (ECoG) – which involves placing electrodes directly onto a patient’s brain – the computer could be controlled with up to 90 percent accuracy, even when no prior training was given.

The trials involved patients sitting in front of a screen and trying to move a cursor toward a target using predefined words that were associated with specific directions. For instance, saying or thinking of the word “Ah” would move the cursor right.

The researchers hope that, at some point in the future, they can permanently insert implants into a patient’s brain to help restore functionality and, even more impressively, read someone’s mind.

“This is one of the earliest examples, to a very, very small extent, of what is called ‘reading minds’ — detecting what people are saying to themselves in their internal dialogue,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Eric C Leuthardt from the Washington University School of Medicine. “We want to see if we cannot just detect when you’re saying ‘dog,’ ‘tree’, ‘tool’ or some other word, but also learn what the pure idea of that looks like in your mind. It’s exciting and a little scary to think of reading minds, but it has incredible potential for people who can’t communicate or are suffering from other disabilities.”

Watch a video featuring Dr. Leuthardt on this topic – “The Emerging World of ECoG Neuroprosthetics”


Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

This Week on Science World

Posted April 29th, 2011 at 6:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Endeavour’s Mission and the Matter of Antimatter

Scientists hope to learn more about the origins of the universe once a sophisticated particle detector arrives at the earth-orbiting International Space Station and starts searching for antimatter and dark matter. Researchers explained their goals for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and the upcoming Shuttle Endeavour mission at a NASA mission preview briefing in late March.


US Space Program Goes Commercial

While current attention is focused on the Endeavour mission, on June 28, Atlantis will become the last space shuttle ever to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center, marking the end of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program. NASA is getting out of the business of sending astronauts on missions using its own spacecraft. Instead, the US space agency will rely on privately designed and owned rockets to ferry cargo and crew to the orbiting International Space Station.


Global Organizations Make Push for Vaccinations

Preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea are among the leading causes of childrens’ deaths in the developing world. This week, people around the world are taking action to put an end to deaths from these diseases by promoting vaccination campaigns for children and adults.


India Aims to Calm Nuclear Power Anxiety

India’s prime minister says he will soon submit legislation to parliament on establishing a new organization to supervise nuclear safety in India. It is one of several steps by the government aimed at calming public anxiety over a planned coastal nuclear complex some fear could produce a repeat of Japan’s nuclear catastrophe.


US to Supply Healthier Food to World’s Hungry

A new report from US Agency for International Development suggests significant changes should be made in the content of foods the United States delivers to the world’s hungry. The recommendations are intended to make US food aid more nutritious. Steve Baragona fills us in with the details.


One on One: Physicist Dejan Stojkovic

When many of us think of the beginning of the universe, the so called “big bang” we think of just that…  one huge explosion that created the universe into the three-dimensional existence we live in today.  In our “One-on-One” segment this week we ask… is it possible that the universe began as a single line or even a dot and evolved into “3D”?  Is the evolution of the universe continuing into the fourth, fifth and even eleventh dimension?

Last year, physicist Dejan Stojkovic and colleagues theorized this to be so. Now, in a new paper that appears in “Physical Review Letters”, Professor Stojkovic and Loyola Marymount University physicist Jonas Mureika describe a test that could prove or disprove what has become known as the “vanishing dimensions” hypothesis.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.