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The Digital Edge

Progress Made in Deveoping Nanoscale Electronics

April 22nd 2014

nanowire

Scientists are facing a number of barriers as they try to develop circuits that are microscopic in size, including how to reliably control the current that flows through a circuit that is the width of a single molecule.

Alexander Shestopalov, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, has done just that, thereby taking us one step closer to nanoscale circuitry.

"Until now, scientists have been unable to reliably direct a charge from one molecule to another," said Shestopalov. "But that's exactly what we need to do when working with electronic circuits that are one or two molecules thin."

Shestopalov worked with an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) powered by a microscopically small, simple circuit in which he connected a one-molecule thin sheet of organic material between positive and negative electrodes. Recent research publications have shown that it is difficult to control the current traveling through the circuit from one electrode to the other in such a thin circuit. As Shestopalov explains in a paper published in the journal Advanced Material Interfaces, the key was adding a second, inert layer of molecules. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

DNA Clues Suggest How Chickens Came to Be

April 21st 2014

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Ancient DNA adds a twist to the story of how barnyard chickens came to be, finds a study to be published April 21 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Analyzing DNA from the bones of chickens that lived 200-2300 years ago in Europe, researchers report that just a few hundred years ago domestic chickens may have looked far different from the chickens we know today.

The results suggest that some of the traits we associate with modern domestic chickens -- such as their yellowish skin -- only became widespread in the last 500 years, much more recently than previously thought.

"It's a blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective," said co-author Greger Larson at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

The study is part of a larger field of research that aims to understand when, where and how humans turned wild plants and animals into the crops, pets and livestock we know today.

Generally, any mutations that are widespread in domestic plants and animals but absent from their wild relatives are assumed to have played a key role in the process, spreading as people and their livestock moved across the globe. But a growing number of ancient DNA studies tell a different tale. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Flipping the Switch

April 19th 2014

Fiber Optics

Harvard researchers have succeeded in creating quantum switches that can be turned on and off using a single photon, a technological achievement that could pave the way for the creation of highly secure quantum networks.

Built from single atoms, the first-of-their-kind switches could one day be networked via fiber optic cables to form the backbone of a "quantum Internet" that allows for perfectly secure communications, said Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin, who led a team consisting of graduate student Jeff Thompson and post-doctoral fellow Tobias Tiecke to construct the new system. Their research is detailed in a recently published paper in Nature.

"From a technical standpoint, it's a remarkable accomplishment," Lukin said of the new advance. "Conceptually, the idea is very simple – push the conventional light switch to its ultimate limit. What we've done here is to use a single atom as a switch that, depending on its state, can open or close the flow of photons…and it can be turned "on" and "off" using a single photon." Read more ..


A Green Future

Cork Trees Provide Green Alternative Source for Polyester

April 17th 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out how to extract a natural, waterproof, antibacterial version of the first material from the latter. Their new technique, which could have applications in medical devices, appears in the ACS journal Biomacromolecules.

Cristina Silva Pereira and colleagues explain that polyesters are ubiquitous in modern life, and not just as a practical fabric for clothing. Their durability and other traits make them ideal for use in cushioning and insulating materials, in liquid crystal displays, holograms, filters, and as a high-gloss finish on guitars and pianos. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Heartbleed Challenges the Internet of Things

April 15th 2014

Trendy Kitchen

The Heartbleed security bug is a key example of the fundamental security challenge for the Internet of Things says Green Hills Software as it launches a new security group. The Heartbleed SSL hack is a prime example, its almost a daily occurrence, said Chris Smith, vice president of marketing for Europe for Green Hills Software. The challenge is, what we are going to do about it? How do we secure all these internet connected devices and do all these companies developing products understand how they will be interacting with other products and making sure they are not inadvertently building in insecurities?
Green Hills Software last week launched a programme of IoT security consultants to tackle embedded security and the Internet of Things. The IoT Security Advisors group uses security experts from all ofGreenHillsSoftwares business units to provide security services. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Massive Aquifers Under the Sea Could Sate Thirst

April 14th 2014

Ocean scene

In a new paper, hydrologists suggest at least part of the answer to the Earth's future water woes may be buried underneath the oceans. Over the past several decades, massive aquifers beneath the seabed have been found off coastlines across the globe, filled with water that ranges from fresh to about two-thirds less saline than seawater.

In a review article recently published online in the journal Nature, researchers arrived at a new estimate for total usable global offshore groundwater: 500,000 cubic kilometers -- a quantity 100 times greater than the amount of water extracted from land aquifers since 1900, the study states. Not all of this water is cheap or easy to access and turn into potable water, outside experts warn, and pumping this water may have onshore impacts. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Anthropogenic Global Warming is a Certainty

April 13th 2014

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The odds that global warming is due to natural factors are slim to none, since statistical analysis rules out natural-warming hypothesis with more than 99 percent certainty

An analysis of temperature data since 1500 all but rules out the possibility that global warming in the industrial era is just a natural fluctuation in the earth's climate, according to a new study by McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy.

The study, published in the journal Climate Dynamics, represents a new approach to the question of whether global warming in the industrial era has been caused largely by man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Rather than using complex computer models to estimate the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions, Lovejoy examines historical data to assess the competing hypothesis: that warming over the past century is due to natural long-term variations in temperature. Read more ..


Destination Mars

NASA Says Human Landing on Mars on Track for 2030s

April 10th 2014

Curiosity uses ChemCham

The U.S. space agency’s head of human space exploration has outlined broad brush plans to put humans on Mars in the 2030s.

William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, likened the steps the agency is taking to the Mercury and Gemini programs, both of which were building blocks toward putting men on the Moon with the Apollo missions.

Wednesday, before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee, Gerstenmaier said NASA is taking steps to “that will allow us to make sustained progress toward a human presence on the surface of Mars.” "There is real hardware in manufacture for the path to Mars," Gerstenmaier told senators. Read more ..


The Race for AltFuel

The Bio-Fuel Potential of Bio-Engineered Poplar Trees

April 9th 2014

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What began 20 years ago as an innovation to improve paper industry processes and dairy forage digestibility may now open the door to a much more energy- and cost-efficient way to convert biomass into fuel.

The research, which appears in the current issue of Science, focuses on enhancing poplar trees so they can break down more easily, improving their viability as a biofuel. The long-term efforts and teamwork involved to find this solution can be described as a rare, top-down approach to engineering plants for digestibility, said Curtis Wilkerson, Michigan State University plant biologist and the lead author.

“By designing poplars for deconstruction, we can improve the degradability of a very useful biomass product,” said Wilkerson, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientist. “Poplars are dense, easy to store and they flourish on marginal lands not suitable for food crops, making them a non-competing and sustainable source of biofuel.” Read more ..


Ancient Days

New Method Sheds Light on Interbreeding among Neanderthals and Homo sapiens

April 9th 2014

Technical objections to the idea that Neandertals interbred with the ancestors of Eurasians have been overcome, thanks to a genome analysis method described in the April 2014 issue of the journal GENETICS. The technique can more confidently detect the genetic signatures of interbreeding than previous approaches and will be useful for evolutionary studies of other ancient or rare DNA samples.

"Our approach can distinguish between two subtly different scenarios that could explain the genetic similarities shared by Neandertals and modern humans from Europe and Asia," said study co-author Konrad Lohse, a population geneticist at the University of Edinburgh.

The first scenario is that Neandertals occasionally interbred with modern humans after they migrated out of Africa. The alternative scenario is that the humans who left Africa evolved from the same ancestral subpopulation that had previously given rise to the Neandertals. Read more ..


Nano-Technology Edge

Nano-Tube Reinforcement Bars Strenghten Case for Graphene Materials

April 8th 2014

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Carbon nanotubes are reinforcing bars that make two-dimensional graphene much easier to handle in a new hybrid material grown by researchers at Rice University.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour set nanotubes into graphene in a way that not only mimics how steel rebar is used in concrete but also preserves and even improves the electrical and mechanical qualities of both.

The technique should make large, flexible, conductive and transparent sheets of graphene much easier to manipulate, which should be of interest to electronics manufacturers, Tour said. He suggested the new hybrid could, upon stacking in a few layers, be a cost-effective replacement for expensive indium tin oxide (ITO) now used in displays and solar cells.

The research appears this month in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Non-Invasive Imaging for Monitoring of Prostrate Cancer

April 6th 2014

Prostate Cancer

Your body's cells have two major interconnected energy sources: the lipid metabolism and the glucose metabolism. Most cancers feed themselves by metabolizing glucose, and thus can be seen in Positron Emission Topography (PET) scans that detect radiolabeled glucose. However, prostate cancers tend to use the lipid metabolism route and so cannot be imaged in this way effectively. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study being presented today at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2014 describes a novel method to "manipulate the lipid metabolism in the cancer cell to trick them to use more radiolabeled glucose, the basis of PET scanning," says Isabel Schlaepfer, PhD.

The current study used the clinically safe drug etomoxir to block prostate cancer cells' ability to oxidize lipids. With the lipid energy source removed, cells switched to glucose metabolism and both cells and mouse models roughly doubled their uptake of radiolabeled glucose.  Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Methane-Spewing Microbes Caused Ancient Die-Off

April 5th 2014

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MIT scientists say almost everything on Earth died 252 million years ago in the largest mass extinction on the planet.

While scientists have come up with a number of theories — from asteroids to volcanoes and raging coal fires — the research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the culprit was a methane-spewing microbe.

According to the team's lead researcher, Daniel Rothman, MIT Professor of Geophysics, massive volcanic eruptions and chemical changes coincided to dramatically change the climate and the chemistry of the ocean.

“When one examines old rocks that were deposited at the time, the results of those geochemical analyses indicate that there was a large influx of carbon into the Earth’s system — that is, the oceans and the atmosphere — and that carbon likely entered system as CO2," Rothman says, explaining that the change happened in the geological blink of an eye — about 60,000 years — killing 96 percent of life in the ocean and 70 percent of life on land in what's known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event — or, simply put, the Great Dying. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge of

Microbes Trigger Largest Mass Extinction Ever

April 4th 2014

Nyasasaurus Parringtoni

MIT scientists say almost everything on Earth died 252 million years ago in the largest mass extinction on the planet.

While scientists have come up with a number of theories — from asteroids to volcanoes and raging coal fires — the research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the culprit was a methane-spewing microbe.

According to the team's lead researcher, Daniel Rothman, MIT Professor of Geophysics, massive volcanic eruptions and chemical changes coincided to dramatically change the climate and the chemistry of the ocean.

“When one examines old rocks that were deposited at the time, the results of those geochemical analyses indicate that there was a large influx of carbon into the Earth’s system — that is, the oceans and the atmosphere — and that carbon likely entered system as CO2," Rothman says, explaining that the change happened in the geological blink of an eye — about 60,000 years — killing 96 percent of life in the ocean and 70 percent of life on land in what's known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event — or, simply put, the Great Dying. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

How Electrodes Charge and Discharge

April 3rd 2014

Battery-single-use

The electrochemical reactions inside the porous electrodes of batteries and fuel cells have been described by theorists, but never measured directly. Now, a team at MIT has figured out a way to measure the fundamental charge transfer rate — finding some significant surprises.

The study found that the Butler-Volmer (BV) equation, usually used to describe reaction rates in electrodes, is inaccurate, especially at higher voltage levels. Instead, a different approach, called Marcus-Hush-Chidsey charge-transfer theory, provides more realistic results — revealing that the limiting step of these reactions is not what had been thought.

The new findings could help engineers design better electrodes to improve batteries' rates of charging and discharging, and provide a better understanding of other electrochemical processes, such as how to control corrosion. The work is described this week in the journal Nature Communications by MIT postdoc Peng Bai and professor of chemical engineering and mathematics Martin Bazant. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Map Human, Mouse Brains

April 2nd 2014

Invisible Brain

Scientists have published two of the most detailed brain maps to date: one tracing the wiring diagram of the mouse brain and the other, an atlas of gene activity in the developing human brain.

The maps are a key tool for researchers seeking to better understand how this incredibly complex organ works, and to study what goes wrong in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism.

The publication falls on the first anniversary of a major Obama administration brain research initiative.

The human brain contains roughly 100 billion nerve cells connecting our senses, thoughts, motions, emotions, memories and automatic responses.  A good map would help explain how these circuits communicate with each other.

So far, researchers have unraveled the complete mental circuitry of exactly one organism: a tiny worm with just 302 neurons.  Other creatures’ brains have been mapped in bits and pieces. New research published in Nature puts together a complete map of the brain of a mouse. Read more ..


Edge of Astronomy

Plugging Stephen Hawkings' Black Hole Theory

March 31st 2014

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Recently physicists have been poking holes again in Stephen Hawking’s black hole theory – including Hawking himself. For decades physicists across the globe have been trying to figure out the mysteries of black holes – those fascinating monstrous entities that have such intense gravitational pull that nothing – not even light – can escape from them. Now Professor Chris Adami, Michigan State University, has jumped into the fray.

The debate about the behavior of black holes, which has been ongoing since 1975, was reignited when Hawking posted a blog on Jan. 22, 2014, stating that event horizons – the invisible boundaries of black holes – do not exist. Hawking, considered to be the foremost expert on black holes, has over the years revised his theory and continues to work on understanding these cosmic puzzles. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Build Artificial Chromosome

March 30th 2014

Chromosomes magnified

In what is being called a major step forward in genetic engineering, scientists have built a customized copy of an entire yeast chromosome.  Experts say it may lead to a better understanding of how the thousands of genes contained in these packages of genetic material work together in everything from yeast to humans.  And it may make it easier to make designer yeast, creating living factories that churn out everything from antibiotics to biofuels. 

Geneticist Jef Boeke says it started with a coffee shop conversation with a colleague.

“I mentioned casually to him that, of course we could make the yeast chromosome if we wanted to, but why on Earth would we want to do that? And he practically literally started jumping up and down with excitement when I told him that,” he said. So Boeke, the colleague, Srinivasan Chandrasegaran and a third partner, Joel Bader, spent the next year discussing how they could engineer the chromosome to make it worth the enormous investment of time and money it would take. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Vietnamese Consumers Shop for 'Safe' Vegetables on Internet

March 29th 2014

onions peppers parsley radish

In Vietnam, there are rising concerns about the excessive use of pesticides on crops. To ensure their vegetables are safe, some consumers are now shopping for produce online.

Billboards carry the message “don’t abuse pesticides, think of the consumer,” but a lack of government regulation has done little to combat the overuse of pesticides, and consumers are taking note.  As a result, many are turning to the Internet to be better informed.

Out shopping in Hanoi’s city center, 30-year-old mother Tran Thuy Nhat expressed concerns many people can identify with.

She said she only buys vegetables from people she knows in her village on the outskirts of the city. She is worried about chemicals in vegetables and fruit and said if she buys these from someone she does not know, they could be harmful to her baby. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to farmers they know well. But a website dedicated to providing information about shops which sell “safe vegetables” in Hanoi aims to address this lack of trust. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Revolutionary Solar Cells Double as Lasers

March 28th 2014

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Commercial silicon-based solar cells - such as those seen on the roofs of houses across the country - operate at about 20% efficiency for converting the Sun's rays into electrical energy. It's taken over 20 years to achieve that rate of efficiency.

A relatively new type of solar cell based on a perovskite material - named for scientist Lev Perovski, who first discovered materials with this structure in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century - was recently pioneered by an Oxford research team led by Professor Henry Snaith.

Perovskite solar cells, the source of huge excitement in the research community, already lie just a fraction behind commercial silicon, having reached a remarkable 17% efficiency after a mere two years of research - transforming prospects for cheap large-area solar energy generation. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Edible, Biodegradable Batteries in the Offing

March 27th 2014

Baby Boomer

A biodegradable, implantable battery could help in the development of biomedical devices that monitor tissue or deliver treatments before being reabsorbed by the body after use.

“This is a really major advance,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research and development center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Until recently, there has not been a lot of progress in this area.”

In 2012, materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign unveiled a range of biodegradable silicon chips that could monitor temperature or mechanical strain, radio the results to external devices, and even heat up tissue to prevent infection (see ‘Biodegradable electronics here today, gone tomorrow’). Some of those chips relied on induction coils to draw wireless power from an external source. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Woolly Mammoth Neck Bones Provide Clues About Species' Extinction

March 26th 2014

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Researchers recently noticed that the remains of woolly mammoths from the North Sea often possess a 'cervical' (neck) rib—in fact, 10 times more frequently than in modern elephants (33.3% versus 3.3%). In modern animals, these cervical ribs are often associated with inbreeding and adverse environmental conditions during pregnancy. If the same factors were behind the anomalies in mammoths, this reproductive stress could have further pushed declining mammoth populations towards ultimate extinction.

Mammals, even the long-necked giraffes and the short-necked dolphins, almost always have seven neck vertebrae (exceptions being sloths, manatees and dugongs), and these vertebrae do not normally possess a rib. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

3D Images from Inside Flying Insect Captured

March 25th 2014

Tabletop-Accelerator

A ground-breaking new scanning technique has allowed scientists to film the insides of a live, flying insect, capturing the first-ever high-speed 3D images of the flight muscles of flies. 

Researchers from Oxford University, Imperial College and the Paul Scherrer Institute used a particle accelerator to capture the images, which could one day lead to the development of micro medical devices.

The scientists developed the technique in order to study the blowfly’s complicated joint system.

"The insect is very fast and very small, with wings that beat 150 times a second," said Oxford University professor Graham Taylor, a member of the research team. "Each one of those wing beats is controlled by some tiny muscles, some of which are as thin as a human hair. So this is really an enormous technical challenge to understand this, and a particularly challenging target for understanding biological systems.”  Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Trapping Phosphorus with Magnets Captures Valuable Materials in Waste Water

March 24th 2014

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Phosphorus can be found in fertilizers, drinks and detergents. It accumulates in waterways and pollutes them. For this reason the German Phosphorus Platform has the goal to recover this valuable, but at the same time, harmful element from water. How this can be done will be shown by researchers at the Hannover Trade Fair / IndustrialGreenTec from April 7 – 11 in Hannover where visitors can try out the method for themselves.

Using magnets the superparamagnetic particles in the water can be removed along with their phosphorus load. Not only plants, but also humans and animals need phosphorus, which is a building block of DNA. Many biological processes in our body can only take place if phosphorus atoms are also present. But farmers and industrial enterprises use so much of this element that soil is over-fertilized and waterways are contaminated. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Superconducting Graphene Revealed

March 20th 2014

Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have discovered a potential way to make graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms with great promise for future electronics – superconducting, a state in which it would carry electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Researchers used a beam of intense ultraviolet light to look deep into the electronic structure of a material made of alternating layers of graphene and calcium.

While it's been known for nearly a decade that this combined material is superconducting, the new study offers the first compelling evidence that the graphene layers are instrumental in this process, a discovery that could transform the engineering of materials for nanoscale electronic devices. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Active MRI Shows How Joints Work

March 19th 2014

MRI Machine

Since its introduction in the 1980s, magnetic resonance imaging machines, commonly known as MRI scanners, have become a highly valuable tool in diagnostic medicine.  Researchers in California now say they have developed a new method that enables them to see moving images of body joints.

With the MRI scanner, the part of the patient’s body that needs to be observed is exposed to a very strong magnetic field which excites hydrogen atoms in its tissues.

Different tissues emit different radio frequencies which a computer turns into images.  For the image to be as clear as possible, the patient has to lie perfectly still. Researchers at the University of California Davis developed a procedure for getting moving images of body parts, like joints.

Professor Robert Boutin, who leads the research team, says the procedure called ‘Active MRI’, captures multiple images per second. Those images, he says, will help doctors analyze the mechanics of the patient's joint before and after the surgery. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Bioresorbable Splints Made by 3D Printer Saves Endangered Baby's Life

March 18th 2014

In his 18 months of life, Garrett Peterson has never gone home, spending his days in hospital beds tethered to ventilators that even at the highest settings couldn’t prevent his breathing from periodically stopping.

His condition was so tenuous that often his parents could not hold him for fear of compromising his breathing. But after surgeons at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital implanted 3D printed devices to open up Garrett’s airways, his parents are now planning to take their son home to their house in Utah for the very first time.

Garrett is just the second person whose life was saved with a new, bioresorbable device developed at the University of Michigan by Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology and Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Scientists Slow Development of Alzheimer's Trademark Cell-Killing Plaques

March 17th 2014

Alzheimer

University of Michigan researchers have learned how to fix a cellular structure called the Golgi that mysteriously becomes fragmented in all Alzheimer's patients and appears to be a major cause of the disease.

They say that understanding this mechanism helps decode amyloid plaque formation in the brains of Alzheimer's patients—plaques that kills cells and contributes to memory loss and other Alzheimer's symptoms.

The researchers discovered the molecular process behind Golgi fragmentation, and also developed two techniques to 'rescue' the Golgi structure.

"We plan to use this as a strategy to delay the disease development," said Yanzhuang Wang. "We have a better understanding of why plaque forms fast in Alzheimer's and found a way to slow down plaque formation." The paper appears in an upcoming edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gunjan Joshi, is the lead author. Wang said scientists have long recognized that the Golgi becomes fragmented in the neurons of Alzheimer's patients, but until now they didn't know how or why this fragmentation occurred. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Stable Region of Greenland Ice Sheet Losing Mass

March 16th 2014

Glacier calving

A new study finds dramatic new thinning in the Greenland ice sheet in a region that was considered stable until now.

Last July, Kurt Kjaer was collecting sample sediment cores from a lake bed in southeastern Greenland when his science team witnessed a dramatic event.

“We landed and suddenly you could feel that the ground was starting to shake," he remembers. 

The research director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen is co-author of the new study about the Greenland ice sheet.

“We turned around and we could see, ‘Oh, there’s a calving event.' Two huge icebergs that are 700 meters deep that are coming out of there, that has been released from the glacier and that is turning around," Kjaer said. "And you can actually pick up the signal from seismic space due to the shaking of the earth all the way down to Japan.”  Read more ..


Oil Addicition

Majority of Sand in Canadian Oil Sands Comes from Eastern North America

March 15th 2014

EarthMovers

They're called the Alberta oilsands but most of the sand actually came from the Appalachian region on the eastern side of the North American continent, a new University of Calgary-led study shows.

The oilsands also include sand from the Canadian Shield in northern and east-central Canada and from the Canadian Rockies in western Canada, the study says. This study is the first to determine the age of individual sediment grains in the oilsands and assess their origin.

"The oilsands are looked at as a Western asset," says study lead author Christine Benyon, who is just completing her Master's degree in Geoscience in the Faculty of Science.

"But we wouldn't have oilsands without the sand, and some of that sand owes its origin to the Appalachians and other parts of Canada."

The research, which also involved study sponsor Nexen Energy ULC and the University of Arizona LaserChron Center, was published last week in the Journal of Sedimentary Research. The findings contribute to geologists' fundamental understanding of the oilsands.

They also help oilsands companies better understand the stratigraphy, or layers, of sand and the ancient valleys where sediment was deposited, "and that could lead to better production techniques," Benyon says.

To determine the origin of the sand, the researchers used a relatively new technique called "detrital zircon uranium-lead geochronology." Read more ..


The Way We Are

Emotion Detectors Could Make Driving Safer

March 14th 2014

Angry man

Technology now allows us to read facial expressions and identify which of the seven universal emotions a person is feeling: fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, or suspicion. This is very useful in video game development, medicine, marketing, and, perhaps less obviously, in driver safety. We know that in addition to fatigue, the emotional state of the driver is a risk factor.

Irritation, in particular, can make drivers more aggressive and less attentive. EPFL researchers, in collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroën, have developed an on-board emotion detector based on the analysis of facial expressions. Tests carried out using a prototype indicate that the idea could have promising applications.

It's not easy to measure emotions within the confines of a car, especially non-invasively. The solution explored by scientists in EPFL's Signal Processing 5 Laboratory (LTS5), who specialize in facial detection, monitoring and analysis, is to get drivers' faces to do the job. In collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroën, LTS5 adapted a facial detection device for use in a car, using an infrared camera placed behind the steering wheel. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

25 Years Old, the World Wide Web’s Potential Still Untapped

March 13th 2014

Computer User India

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web. What started as a way for scientists to share research has changed life worldwide forever.

In March 1989, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland.

Scientists would come to CERN from all over the world, but others could not view their research because their computers were not compatible. Berners-Lee thought it would be easier if all the computers could talk to one another and swap information directly.

So he proposed linking the machines. The response from his bosses to his proposal, titled Information Management: A Proposal?  “Vague, but exciting.” Little did they know. Berners-Lee’s proposal would later become known as the World Wide Web. It took two years before he and a colleague could successfully link a computer server and a web browser through the Internet.  It would be officially launched in August 1991.By 1993 there were more than 500 web servers. Today, there are more than 1.7 billion people on the web worldwide. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear Power

Revolutionary Radiation Detector Comes to the Marketplace

March 12th 2014

A handheld radiation camera developed by University of Michigan engineering researchers offers nuclear plant operators a faster way to find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods.

The new 'Polaris-H' detector lays a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, pinpointing radiation sources with unprecedented precision. At least four U.S. nuclear power plants are using versions of the camera, which is now available commercially through the U-M spinoff company H3D.

"This technology enables people to 'see' radiation," said Zhong He, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at U-M and CEO of H3D. "This should enable the early detection of leaks by locating abnormal radiation, a much better understanding of radiation sources to protect workers, and it could be a tool for the cleanup effort of nuclear waste and fallout, such as in Fukushima in Japan." Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Sea Turtles' ‘Lost Years’ Mystery Unfolds

March 11th 2014

Loggerhead turtle

Satellite tracking devices attached to young sea turtles have provided new information on the so-called ‘lost years’ of this endangered species. As soon as the hatchlings emerge from their sandy nest, they scurry down the beach to the ocean and disappear into the deep for many years before returning to the beach to mate. 

The young turtles are tiny and always on the move, making them almost impossible to track.  A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to report their early behavior and movement.

Lead author Kate Mansfield, a marine biologist at the University of Central Florida, credits small remote sensing devices. Loggerhead turtles were tagged and released from Florida’s Atlantic coast, then followed for up to 220 days.

“Because they were solar powered, they did not require huge batteries in order to communicate with overhead satellites,” she explained. “So we were able to use much smaller tags that had become available [to put] on smaller turtles.”  Read more ..


Edge of Space

Distant Black Hole Rotates at Half the Speed of Light

March 10th 2014

Astronomers at the University of Michigan have for the first time directly measured the spin of a distant supermassive black hole.

The findings, published online in Nature, provide insights into how these black holes and their host galaxies grow and change over time.

Supermassive black holes are believed to lurk at the cores of most, if not all, galaxies. They are millions or billions of times more massive than our sun and they play an important role in how galaxies evolve.

"The growth history of a supermassive black hole is encoded in its spin, so studies of spin versus time can allow us to study the co-evolution of black holes and their host galaxies," said study co-author Mark Reynolds, assistant research scientist in astronomy at the U-M College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Atomically Thin Solar Cells

March 9th 2014

Photovoltaic graphene sheets

It does not get any thinner than this: The novel material graphene consists of only one atomic layer of carbon atoms and exhibits very special electronic properties. As it turns out, there are other materials too, which can open up intriguing new technological possibilities if they are arranged in just one or very few atomic layers. Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have now succeeded for the first time in creating a diode made of tungsten diselenide. Experiments show that this material may be used to create ultrathin flexible solar cells. Even flexible displays could become possible.

Thin Layers are Different
At least since the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded in 2010 for creating graphene, the "two dimensional crystals" made of carbon atoms have been regarded as one of the most promising materials in electronics. In 2013, graphene research was chosen by the EU as a flagship-project, with a funding of one billion euros. Graphene can sustain extreme mechanical strain and it has great opto-electronic properties. With graphene as a light detector, optical signals can be transformed into electric pulses on extremely short timescales. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Research on 3D Scaffolds Sets New Bar in Lung Regeneration

March 8th 2014

Black lung

In end-stage lung disease, transplantation is sometimes the only viable therapeutic option, but organ availability is limited and rejection presents an additional challenge. Innovative research efforts in the field of tissue regeneration, including pioneering discoveries by University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues, hold promise for this population, which includes an estimated 12.7 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

In the past year alone, Weiss and colleagues published four articles in Biomaterials, the leading bioengineering journal, as well as two March 2014 articles by first author Darcy Wagner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Weiss’ lab, reporting their development of new methods and techniques for engineering lungs for patients with COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.

Weiss and his team’s work focuses on lung tissue bioengineering, which involves the use of a scaffold – or framework – of lungs from human cadavers to engineer new lungs for patients with end-stage disease. Their studies have examined multiple perspectives on the process of stripping the cellular material from these lungs – called decellularizing – and replacing it with stem cells (recellularization), in an effort to grow new, healthy lungs for transplantation.

Working in animal and human models, Wagner, Weiss and colleagues have addressed numerous challenges faced during the lung tissue bioengineering process, such as the storage and sterilization of decellularized cadaveric scaffolds and the impact of the age and disease state of donor lungs on these processes. In one of the latest Biomaterials studies, the researchers report on novel techniques that increase the ability to perform high-throughput studies of human lungs.    Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Cars of the Near Future on Display in Geneva

March 7th 2014

BMW M1

Car shows around the world increasingly suggest that in the not-too-distant future, cars will feature autopilots handling some of the driving. The auto show now under way in Geneva, Switzerland, is showcasing other possible trends - including cars manufactured by 3D printers.

The future of automobile travel - for the wealthy, at least - may look like very different. Swiss design firm Rinspeed is exhibiting a luxury vehicle, based on the U.S. electric car Tesla Model S, with swiveling recliner seats, a large TV screen and an espresso maker.

Rinspeed’s CEO Frank Rinderknecht says, in a car with autopilot, he does not want to just sit and watch the steering wheel turn left and right. “I want to sleep, relax, watch movies, news, anything else. So that's the vision, which we have," he said. "That one day on the boring motorway traffic, you just do anything which makes your life better.” Read more ..


The Edge of the Ocean Depths

New 'Exosuit' Allows Deeper Diving

March 6th 2014

Arctic Ocean

A new diving suit will allow oceanographers to explore the underwater world up to four times deeper than today’s most advanced compressed air gear. In addition, the new suit will allow divers to stay underwater for hours, so they can explore marine life up close as never before.

The so-called Exosuit is made of aluminum alloy, stands about two meters tall and weighs more than 240 kilograms. It is designed to protect divers below 300 meters, where the pressure is 30 times greater than on the surface.

The Exosuit, unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has 18 rotary joints, providing better freedom of movement than similar suits.

Still, says Michael Lombardi, the museum's diving safety officer who tested the suit, it takes some time to get used to. “It takes an effort to find a comfortable spot in the suit, but at the same time you don't feel claustrophobic. I get that question all the time because it's so tight," said Lombardi. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

A New Way to Profile Immune Cells in Blood

March 5th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

When a person becomes sick or is exposed to an unwelcome substance, the body mobilizes specific proportions of different immune cells in the blood. Methods of discovering and detecting those profiles are therefore useful both clinically and in research. In a new paper in the journal Genome Biology, a team of scientists describes a new and uniquely advantageous way to detect them.

All the current means of counting immune cells in a blood sample require whole cells, said Karl Kelsey, professor of epidemiology at Brown and corresponding author, but the new system relies on something far less ephemeral: DNA. Its use of hardy strands of genetic material allows it to handle even archived samples where cells have lost their physical integrity.

All of a person’s immune cells — in fact, nearly all of their cells — have exactly the same DNA, but what makes a kidney cell different from a brain cell or a T-cell distinct from a B-cell are chemical alterations known as epigenetic marks. Those cause a cell’s genes to be expressed in the particular way that makes them different. One type of those alterations is methylation, and every kind of cell has its own methylation signature.  Read more ..



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