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The Science of Art

New Method Reveals Unknown Details of Gauguin's Prints

February 18th 2015

French artist Paul Gauguin is well known for his colorful paintings of Tahitian life -- such as the painting that sold recently for nearly $300 million -- but he also was a highly experimental printmaker. Little is known, however, about the techniques and materials Gauguin used to create his unusual and complex graphic works.

Now a team of scientists and art conservators from Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago has used a simple light bulb, an SLR camera and computational power to uncover new details of Gauguin's printmaking process -- how he formed, layered and re-used imagery to make 19 unique graphic works in the Art Institute's collection.

Northwestern computer scientist Oliver S. Cossairt provided a a surprising new explanation of how Gauguin created one of these artworks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, last week. He provided the first report of the Northwestern-Art Institute study of the 3-D surface of the print "Nativity (Mother and Child Surrounded by Five Figures)," made by Gauguin in 1902. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Robot Surgeons Are Coming

February 15th 2015

Surgery

For much of its brief history, robot-assisted surgery has been synonymous with Intuitive Surgical, Inc.’s da Vinci system. It’s the only robot with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to help surgeons perform a number of laparoscopic soft-tissue procedures, including hysterectomies, gall bladder and kidney removals, prostate cancer treatment and heart valve operations. Da Vinci has improved vastly since Intuitive introduced it more than a decade ago. Like many new technologies, however, it has experienced growing pains, leading some engineers and medical professionals to question whether a single company can meet growing demand while still delivering a safe product.

A team of researchers is looking to address these issues by developing a robotic surgery system based on hardware designs and software that are freely available. In this open-source approach, the builders would keep whatever intellectual property they’ve invested in the project but must make their knowledge and discoveries available to others. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Yellowfin Tuna Shows Increased Concentrations of Deadly Mercury

February 9th 2015

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Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new University of Michigan-led study that suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxic substance are to blame.

Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining.

For decades, scientists have expected to see mercury levels in open-ocean fish increase in response to rising atmospheric concentrations, but evidence for that hypothesis has been hard to find. In fact, some studies have suggested that there has been no change in mercury concentration in ocean fish. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Breakthrough Blood Test Via SmartPhone

February 5th 2015

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A team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test.

Specifically, it performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone. It performs a triplexed immunoassay not currently available in a single test format: HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Black Death Plague Strain Differs from One that Killed Millions 800 Years Earlier

February 2nd 2015

Test Tubes

For the first time, researchers have sequenced the full genome of the bacterium that caused a plague that killed millions of people in the 6th century A.D., and discovered to their surprise that the outbreak was caused by a different strain of the same germ that was to blame for the more famous Black Death 800 years later. Their findings offer insight into the genetic factors that influence the virulence of the plague bacterium as well as other pathogens.
 
Estimates vary for the number of people killed by the plague during the so-called Black Death that ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351. But the number was certainly in the tens of millions; it is thought that as much as half of the entire European population at the time may have been killed by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague. Read more ..

Nano-Technology Edge

'Hedgehog Particles' Make for Environmentally Friendly Paint and Innovations

February 1st 2015

A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations.

Made by a team of University of Michigan engineers, the "hedgehog particles" are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope. Their development is detailed in a study published in Nature.

The new process modifies oily, or hydrophobic, particles, enabling them to disperse easily in water. It can also modify water-soluble, or hydrophilic, particles, enabling them to dissolve in oil or other oily chemicals.

The unusual behavior of the hedgehog particles came as something of a surprise to the research team, says Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering. Read more ..


Healthy Edge

Trust your Gut to Relieve Symptoms of Parkinsons' Disease

January 25th 2015

Escherichia coliform usually brings to mind food poisoning and beach closures, but researchers recently discovered a protein in E. coli that inhibits the accumulation of potentially toxic amyloids—a hallmark of diseases such as Parkinson's.

Amyloids are formed by proteins that misfold and group together, and when amyloids assemble at the wrong place or time, they can damage brain tissue and cause cell death, according to Margery Evans, lead author of the University of Michigan study, and Matthew Chapman, principal investigator and associate professor in the department of  U-M Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

How the Brain Responds to the Restoration of Eyesight

January 20th 2015

Recent scientific advances have meant that eyesight can be partially restored to those who previously would have been blind for life. However, scientists at the University of Montreal and the University of Trento have discovered that the rewiring of the senses that occurs in the brains of the long-term blind means that visual restoration may never be complete.

"We had the opportunity to study the rare case of a woman with very low vision since birth and whose vision was suddenly restored in adulthood following the implantation of a Boston Keratoprosthesis in her right eye," explained Giulia Dormal, who led the study.

"On one hand, our findings reveal that the visual cortex maintains a certain degree of plasticity - that is the capacity to change as a function of experience - in an adult person with low vision since early life. On the other, we discovered that several months after the surgery, the visual cortex had not regained full normal functioning." The visual cortex is the part of the brain that processes information from our eyes.

Scientists know that in cases of untreatable blindness, the occipital cortex - that is the posterior part of the brain that is normally devoted to vision - becomes responsive to sound and touch in order to compensate for the loss of vision. "This important brain reorganization represents a challenge for people encountering eye surgery to recover vision, because the deprived and reorganized occipital cortex may not be capable of seeing anymore after having spent years in the dark," Dormal said. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Root of Addiction in the Human Brain

January 9th 2015

Activating the brain's amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that processes emotions, can create an addictive, intense desire for sugary foods, a new University of Michigan study found.

Rewards such as sweet tasty food or even addictive drugs like alcohol or cocaine can be extremely attractive when this brain structure is triggered.

"One reason they can be so problematic for certain individuals is their ability to become almost the sole focus of their daily lives, at the cost of one's health, job, family and general well-being," said the study's lead author, Mike Robinson, a former postdoctoral U-M fellow and currently an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Most people encounter and consume highly delicious foods, such as chocolate chip cookies and candy, and addictive substances like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine on a regular basis. For many people, these rewards act as pleasurable treats that are both wanted and liked, but for the most part consumed in moderation.

Robinson said it is this moderation and balance of reward avenues that allows people to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, for a small portion of vulnerable individuals, these rewards progressively become intensely craved, skewing their normal balance of desires and leading to addiction, he said. Read more ..


The Animal Kingdom

Can Whales Teach Us how to Live Longer?

January 6th 2015

A whale that can live over 200 years with little evidence of age-related disease may provide untapped insights into how to live a long and healthy life. In the January 6 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Reports, researchers present the complete bowhead whale genome and identify key differences compared to other mammals.

Alterations in bowhead genes related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging may have helped increase its longevity and cancer resistance. "Our understanding of species' differences in longevity is very poor, and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes for future studies," says senior author Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães, of the University of Liverpool, in the UK.

"My view is that species evolved different 'tricks' to have a longer lifespan, and by discovering the 'tricks' used by the bowhead we may be able to apply those findings to humans in order to fight age-related diseases."

Also, large whales with over 1000 times more cells than humans do not seem to have an increased risk of cancer, suggesting the existence of natural mechanisms that can suppress cancer more effectively than those of other animals. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

New Software Predicts Evolution of Dangerous Super-Bugs

January 3rd 2015

With drug-resistant bacteria on the rise, even common infections that were easily controlled for decades -- such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections -- are proving trickier to treat with standard antibiotics. New drugs are desperately needed, but so are ways to maximize the effective lifespan of these drugs.

To accomplish that, Duke University researchers used software they developed to predict a constantly-evolving infectious bacterium's countermoves to one of these new drugs ahead of time, before the drug is even tested on patients. In a study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team used their program to identify the genetic changes that will allow methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, to develop resistance to a class of new experimental drugs that show promise against the deadly bug. Read more ..


Phase IV: Ants Rule

Pheidole: the Ants That Conquered the World

December 29th 2014

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About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ants," says Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University's Professor Evan Economo. Pheidole fill niches in ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts.

Yet until now, researchers have never had a global perspective of how the many species of Pheidole evolved and spread across the Earth. Economo, researchers in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, and colleagues at the University of Michigan compared gene sequences from 300 species of Pheidole from around the world. They used these sequences to construct a tree that shows when and where each species evolved into new species.

At the same time, in a parallel effort, they scoured the academic literature, museums around the world, and large databases to aggregate data on where all 1200 or so Pheidole species live on Earth, creating a range map for each species. Read more ..


Edge of Life Sciences

Scientists Create Precursors to Human Ova and Spermatozoa

December 27th 2014

Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with the Weizmann Institute have created primordial germ cells - cells that will go on to become egg and sperm - using human embryonic stem cells. Although this had already been done using rodent stem cells, the study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first time this has been achieved efficiently using human stem cells. When an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, the early stage of the embryo. Within this ball of cells, some cells form the inner cell mass - which will develop into the foetus - and some form the outer wall, which becomes the placenta.

Cells in the inner cell mass are 'reset' to become stem cells - cells that have the potential to develop into any type of cell within the body. A small number of these cells become primordial germ cells (PGCs) - these have the potential to become germ cells (sperm and egg), which in later life will pass on the offspring's genetic information to its own offspring. "The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development," says Dr Naoko Irie, first author of the paper from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. Read more ..


Ageing with Grace

Is Ibuprofen a Fountain of Youth for Ageing Adults?

December 20th 2014

Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug used to relieve pain and fever, could hold the keys to a longer healthier life, according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Buck Institute scientists showed that regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies. The research appears at PLOS Genetics.

"There is a lot to be excited about," said Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute, who said treatments, given at doses comparable to those used in humans, extended lifespan an average of 15 percent in the model organisms. "Not only did all the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy," he said. "The research shows that ibuprofen impacts a process not yet implicated in aging, giving us a new way to study and understand the aging process." Read more ..


Oil and Environment

Oil-dwelling Bacteria are Social Creatures in Earth's Deep Biosphere

December 13th 2014

Oil reservoirs are scattered deep inside the Earth like far-flung islands in the ocean, so their inhabitants might be expected to be very different, but a new study led by Dartmouth College and University of Oslo researchers shows these underground microbes are social creatures that have exchanged genes for eons.

The study, which was led by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Oslo, appears in the ISME Journal. A PDF is available on request.

The findings shed new light on the "deep biosphere," or the vast subterranean realm whose single-celled residents are estimated to be roughly equal in number and diversity to all the microbes inhabiting the surface's land, water and air. Deep microbial research may also help scientists to better understand life's early evolution on Earth and aid the search for life on Mars and other planets. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Isolation and Predators Shape Evolution of 'Island Tameness'

December 8th 2014

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Credit: Johannes Foufopoulos

Charles Darwin noted more than 150 years ago that animals on the Galapagos Islands, including finches and marine iguanas, were more docile than mainland creatures. He attributed this tameness to the fact that there are fewer predators on remote islands.

While "island tameness" is an old idea, there have been few rigorous studies of the phenomenon. Many aspects remain unclear, including the mechanisms behind it and the speed at which it evolves in island populations.

A new University of Michigan-led study of Aegean wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii) populations on 37 Greek islands shows that island tameness is determined by both the diversity of the local predator populations and the length of time an island has been separated from the mainland. Read more ..


The Way We Were

Climate Change Killed Off Ancient Americans

December 7th 2014

Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.

In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?

Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years. Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike. Read more ..


The Way We Were

New Insights into the Lives of Ancient Romans and International Trade

December 4th 2014

The first scientific evidence of frankincense being used in Roman burial rites in Britain has been uncovered by a team of archaeological scientists led by the University of Bradford. The findings - published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science - prove that, even while the Roman Empire was in decline, these precious substances were being transported to its furthest northern outpost.

The discovery was made by carrying out molecular analysis of materials previously thought to be of little interest - debris inside burial containers and residues on skeletal remains and plaster body casings. Until now, evidence for the use of resins in ancient funerary rites has rarely come to light outside of Egypt.

The samples came from burial sites across Britain, in Dorset, Wiltshire, London and York, dating from the third to the fourth century AD. Of the forty-nine burials analysed, four showed traces of frankincense - originating from southern Arabia or eastern Africa - and ten others contained evidence of resins imported from the Mediterranean region and northern Europe. Read more ..


New Materials

Innovative Heat-Conducting Plastic

December 2nd 2014

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The spaghetti-like internal structure of most plastics makes it hard for them to cast away heat, but a U-M research team has made a plastic blend that does so 10 times better than its conventional counterparts.

Plastics are inexpensive, lightweight and flexible, but because they restrict the flow of heat, their use is limited in technologies like computers, smartphones, cars or airplanes — places that could benefit from their properties but where heat dissipation is important.

The new U-M work could lead to light, versatile, metal-replacement materials that make possible more powerful electronics or more efficient vehicles, among other applications.

The new material, which is actually a blend, results from one of the first attempts to engineer the flow of heat in an amorphous polymer. A polymer is a large molecule made of smaller repeating molecules. Plastics are common synthetic polymers. Read more ..


Ancient Ways

Evidence Discovered of Earliest Consumption of Milk by Humans

December 1st 2014

Led by a University of Oklahoma professor, an international team of researchers has discovered the first evidence of milk consumption in the ancient dental calculus--a mineralized dental plaque--of humans in Europe and western Asia. The team found direct evidence of milk consumption preserved in human dental plaque from the Bronze Age to the present day.

"The study has far-reaching implications for understanding the relationship between human diet and evolution," said Christina Warinner, professor in the OU Department of Anthropology. "Dairy products are a very recent, post-Neolithic dietary innovation, and most of the world's population is unable to digest lactose, often developing the symptoms of lactose intolerance." Warinner led a group of researchers from the universities of York and Copenhagen, and the University College London. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Electron Scans Reveal Origins of Teotihuacan Stone Faces

November 28th 2014

Laser burst

Dramatic stone masks, iconic finds in the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan, were supposed to be made from a jadelike stone. Many researchers also thought the large faces were made on the site of the pre-Columbian metropolis. Instead, they seem to have been made in workshops a great distance to the south of the city. And they are made of softer stone like serpentinite and polished with quartz. Quartz does not appear around Teotihuacan, bolstering the notion that the masks were made far away. “Almost everything that has been written about the making of the Teotihuacan masks is untrue,” says Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

New details about the manufacture of these old and valuable masks are coming to light, thanks to modern technology: a special analytical scanning electron microscope that can identify the atoms and minerals that make up the stone, and show miniscule marks left by the artisans who carved them. Timothy Rose, a geologist at the Smithsonian, presented the results of microscope studies last week at the annual meeting of the American Vacuum Society, a group of material scientists, in Baltimore. “We examined about 150 of these masks with good provenance, from several museum collections,” says Rose, who works with Walsh.

Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Sunlight Controls Fate of Carbon Released from Thawing Arctic Permafrost

November 24th 2014

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Sagavanirktok River, Alaska. Credit: George W. Kling

Just how much Arctic permafrost will thaw in the future and how fast heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be released from those warming soils is a topic of lively debate among climate scientists.

To answer those questions, scientists need to understand the mechanisms that control the conversion of organic soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas. Until now, researchers believed that bacteria were largely responsible.

But in a study scheduled for online publication in Science, University of Michigan researchers show for the first time that sunlight, not microbial activity, dominates the production of carbon dioxide in Arctic inland waters. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

The Early Role of Serotonin in Childhood Brain Development

November 20th 2014

A lot of research has shown that poor regulation of the serotonin system, caused by certain genetic variations, can increase the risk of developing psychiatric illnesses such as autism, depression, or anxiety disorders. Furthermore, genetic variations in the components of the serotonin system can interact with stress experienced during the foetal stages and/or early childhood, which can also increase the risk of developing psychiatric problems later on.

In order to better understand serotonin's influence in the developing brain, Alexandre Dayer's team in the Psychiatry and Fundamental Neuroscience Departments of UNIGE's Faculty of medicine examined a particular receptor for this neurotransmitter, and its role in the formation of brain circuits.

The researchers were able to show that this receptor, which is expressed in inhibitory interneurons (cells that regulate excitement in order to avoid potentially pathological cerebral over activity), was indispensable in order for neurons to find their correct location in the developing cortex. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Ancient New Zealand 'Dawn' Whale Identified as a New Genus

November 19th 2014

University of Otago palaeontologists are rewriting the history of New Zealand's ancient whales by describing a previously unknown genus of fossil baleen whales and two species within it.

Otago Department of Geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker and his supervisor Professor Ewan Fordyce have named the new genus Tohoraata, which translates as 'Dawn Whale' in Māori.

The two whales, which lived between 27-25 million years ago, were preserved in a rock formation near Duntroon in North Otago. At that time the continent of Zealandia was largely or completely under water and the whales were deposited on a continental shelf that was perhaps between 50 to 100 metres deep.

The new genus that the fossils represent belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Graphene/Nanotube Hybrid Improves Flexible Solar Cells

November 18th 2014

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Rice University scientists have invented a novel cathode that may make cheap, flexible dye-sensitized solar cells practical.

The Rice lab of materials scientist Jun Lou created the new cathode, one of the two electrodes in batteries, from nanotubes that are seamlessly bonded to graphene and replaces the expensive and brittle platinum-based materials often used in earlier versions.

The discovery was reported online in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Dye-sensitized solar cells have been in development since 1988 and have been the subject of countless high school chemistry class experiments. They employ cheap organic dyes, drawn from the likes of raspberries, which cover conductive titanium dioxide particles. Read more ..


Ancient Days and Modern Ways

The Perennial Problem of Water Scarcity in the Mideast

November 15th 2014

The Assyrian Empire once dominated the ancient Near East. At the start of the 7th century BC, it was a mighty military machine and the largest empire the Old World had yet seen. But then, before the century was out, it had collapsed. Why? An international study now offers two new factors as possible contributors to the empire's sudden demise - overpopulation and drought.

Adam Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and Selim Adalı of Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, have just published evidence for their novel claim.

"As far as we know, ours is the first study to put forward the hypothesis that climate change - specifically drought - helped to destroy the Assyrian Empire," said Schneider, doctoral candidate in anthropology at UC San Diego and first author on the paper in the Springer journal Climatic Change. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Supercomputers Reveal Surprising European Ancestors and Stuns Geneaologists

November 13th 2014

What if you researched your family's genealogy, and a mysterious stranger turned out to be an ancestor? That's the surprising feeling had by a team of scientists who peered back into Europe's murky prehistoric past thousands of years ago. With sophisticated genetic tools, supercomputing simulations and modeling, they traced the origins of modern Europeans to three distinct populations.

The international research team published their September 2014 results in the journal Nature.

Genomic analysis code ran on Stampede, the nearly 10 petaflop Dell/Intel Linux supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). The research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

"The main finding was that modern Europeans seem to be a mixture of three different ancestral populations," said study co-author Joshua Schraiber, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuels

Protecting Bees Promotes Biofuel Capacity

November 12th 2014

Bioenergy policies based strictly on economic or energy considerations that lack attention to biodiversity impacts will likely have serious consequences for the conservation of wild bees and their pollination services, according to a newly published scientific journal paper.

The new research explores how bees might respond to two contrasting bioenergy production scenarios: annual row crops such as corn or soybeans, and perennial grasslands such as switchgrass or diverse prairie. The projections are strikingly different – pollinators are expected to have a highly favorable response to grassland bioenergy production and an unfavorable reaction to increasing amounts of annual row crop production.

Michigan State University postdoctoral scientist Ashley Bennett, lead author of the paper published in PLOS-ONE, collaborated on the project with scientists at MSU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read more ..


Energy and Environment

Outgoing Infrared Radiation is the Missing Piece of the Global Climate Change Puzzle

November 11th 2014

In classrooms and everyday conversation, explanations of global warming hinge on the greenhouse gas effect. In short, climate depends on the balance between two different kinds of radiation: The Earth absorbs incoming visible light from the sun, called “shortwave radiation,” and emits infrared light, or “longwave radiation,” into space.

Upsetting that energy balance are rising levels of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), that increasingly absorb some of the outgoing longwave radiation and trap it in the atmosphere. Energy accumulates in the climate system, and warming occurs. But in a paper out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, MIT researchers show that this canonical view of global warming is only half the story Read more ..


The LED edge

Live Long and Phosphor: Advances in OLED Displays

November 10th 2014

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In a step that could lead to longer battery life in smartphones and lower power consumption for large-screen televisions, researchers at the University of Michigan have extended the lifetime of blue organic light emitting diodes by a factor of 10.

Blue OLEDs are one of a trio of colors used in OLED displays such as smartphone screens and high-end TVs. The improvement means that the efficiencies of blue OLEDs in these devices could jump from about 5 percent to 20 percent or better in the near future. OLEDs are the latest and greatest in television technology, allowing screens to be extremely thin and even curved, with little blurring of moving objects and a wider range of viewing angles. In these "RGB" displays, each pixel contains red, green and blue modules that shine at different relative brightness to produce any color desired. Read more ..


Environment on Edge

Important Food Sources Endangered by Loss of Freshwater Fish Habitat

November 7th 2014

What sounds counter-intuitive to an activity commonly perceived as quiet is the broad recommendation of scientists at Michigan State University recommending that small-scale fishing in the world’s freshwater bodies must have a higher profile to best protect global food security. In this month’s journal Global Food Security,scientists note that competition for freshwater is ratcheting up all over the world for municipal use, hydropower, industry, commercial development and irrigation.

Rivers are being dammed and rerouted, lakes and wetlands are being drained, fish habitats are being altered, nutrients are being lost, and inland waters throughout the world are changing in ways, big and small, that affect fish. Yet while the commercial fishing enterprises in oceans are accounted for, millions of individuals who fish for subsistence, livelihoods, or recreation are largely unaccounted for. It’s a collective voice researchers say need to be heard. Read more ..


The Cosmos

European Satellite May Discover Thousands of Planets in the Milky Way

November 6th 2014

A recently launched European satellite could reveal tens of thousands of new planets within the next few years, and provide scientists with a far better understanding of the number, variety and distribution of planets in our galaxy. 

Researchers from Princeton University and Lund University in Sweden calculated that the observational satellite Gaia could detect as many as 21,000 exoplanets, or planets outside of Earth's solar system, during its five-year mission. If extended to 10 years, Gaia could detect as many as 70,000 exoplanets, the researchers report. The researchers' assessment was accepted in the Astrophysical Journal and was published at arXiv, a preprint database run by Cornell University. Read more ..


The Race for Hydropower

Innovative Synthetic Fish Provides Data to Design Fish-Friendly Hydropower

November 5th 2014

In the Pacific Northwest, young salmon must dodge predatory birds, sea lions and more in their perilous trek toward the ocean. Hydroelectric dams don't make the trip any easier, with their manmade currents sweeping fish past swirling turbines and other obstacles. Despite these challenges, most juvenile salmon survive this journey every year.

Now, a synthetic fish is helping existing hydroelectric dams and new, smaller hydro facilities become more fish-friendly. The latest version of the Sensor Fish — a small tubular device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stresses fish experience — measures more forces, costs about 80 percent less and can be used in more hydro structures than its predecessor, according to a paper published in the American Institute of Physics' Review of Scientific Instruments.

"The earlier Sensor Fish design helped us understand how intense pressure changes can harm fish as they pass through dam turbines," said lead Sensor Fish developer Daniel Deng, a chief scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Read more ..


The Way We Were

Ancient Romano-Britons had Healthier Teeth than Modern Brits

November 2nd 2014

The Roman-British population from c. 200-400 AD appears to have had far less gum disease than we have today, according to a study of skulls at the Natural History Museum led by a King's College London periodontist. The surprise findings provide further evidence that modern habits like smoking can be damaging to oral health.

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the result of a chronic inflammatory response to the build-up of dental plaque. Whilst much of the population lives with mild gum disease, factors such as tobacco smoking or medical conditions like diabetes can trigger more severe chronic periodontitis, which can lead to the loss of teeth. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Warring Amazonian Bands of Brothers-in-Law Lend Clues to the Nature of Violence

November 2nd 2014

When Yanomamö men in the Amazon raided villages and killed decades ago, they formed alliances with men in other villages rather than just with close kin like chimpanzees do. And the spoils of war came from marrying their allies' sisters and daughters, rather than taking their victims' land and women.

Those findings – which suggest how violence and cooperation can go hand-in-hand and how culture may modify any innate tendencies toward violence – come from a new study of the so-called "fierce people" led by provocative anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and written by his protégé, University of Utah anthropologist Shane Macfarlan. Read more ..


Genetics Edge

Study Reveals Flaws in Claims that Complete Genes Pass from Food to Human Blood

November 1st 2014

Laboratory contaminants likely explain the results of a recent study claiming that complete genes can pass from foods we eat into our blood, according to a University of Michigan molecular biologist who re-examined data from the controversial research paper.

Richard Lusk said his findings highlight an underappreciated problem—contamination of laboratory samples—with one of the most popular and powerful new tools of the discipline: high-throughput sequencing, in which the exact sequences of billions of pieces of DNA are determined simultaneously.

Lusk said the technique has generated some extraordinary biological insights, as well as a few puzzling results, including a July 2013 paper in the journal PLOS ONE concluding that complete genes from some of the foods we eat—including tomatoes, soybeans, rice and corn—manage to survive digestion intact and make it into our bloodstream. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Adolescent Drinking Binges Lead to Brain Death

October 29th 2014

Heavy drinking during adolescence may lead to structural changes in the brain and memory deficits that persist into adulthood, according to an animal study published October 29 in The Journal of Neuroscience. The study found that, even as adults, rats given daily access to alcohol during adolescence had reduced levels of myelin — the fatty coating on nerve fibers that accelerates the transmission of electrical signals between neurons.

These changes were observed in a brain region important in reasoning and decision-making. Animals that were the heaviest drinkers also performed worse on a memory test later in adulthood. The findings suggest that high doses of alcohol during adolescence may continue to affect the brain even after drinking stops. Further research is required to determine the applicability of these findings to humans. Read more ..


Global Warming

Past Climate Change was Caused by the Ocean

October 26th 2014

Most of the concerns about climate change have focused on the amount of greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere. ut in a new study published in Science, a group of Rutgers University researchers have found that circulation of the ocean plays an equally important role in regulating the earth’s climate.

In their study, the researchers say the major cooling of Earth and continental ice build-up in the Northern Hemisphere 2.7 million years ago coincided with a shift in the circulation of the ocean – which pulls in heat and carbon dioxide in the Atlantic and moves them through the deep ocean from north to south until it’s released in the Pacific.

The ocean conveyor system, Rutgers scientists believe, changed at the same time as a major expansion in the volume of the glaciers in the northern hemisphere as well as a substantial fall in sea levels. It was the Antarctic ice, they argue, that cut off heat exchange at the ocean's surface and forced it into deep water. They believe this caused global climate change at that time, not carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Read more ..


The Robotic Edge

Murata Cheerleaders Demonstrate Sensors, Swarm Intelligence

October 24th 2014

Terminator Robot

The Murata cheerleaders are a team of small robots that use both sensing and communications to achieve stability and group synchronization. They are the latest creations from Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (Kyoto, Japan), a supplier of passive, RF and power components, that also developed Murata Boy and Murata Girl as platforms to prove out the compony's components.

Murata Boy rode a bicycle while Murata Girl rode a unicycle. The Murata cheerleaders are self-balancing on top of a ball and can move in any direction while remaining upright using three gyroscope sensors that incorporate inverted-pendulum control technology, to detect tilt angles.

Each robot is equipped with four infrared sensors and five ultrasonic microphones to detect surrounding objects, even in the dark. Based on the differing speeds of sound and light waves, this system is capable of determining the relative positions of the robots within a 16 square meter space. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

New Analysis Methodology Revolutionizes Breast Cancer Therapy

October 22nd 2014

Stroma cells are derived from connective tissue and may critically influence tumour growth. This knowledge is not new. However, bioanalyst Christopher Gerner and an interdisciplinary team from the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna have developed a novel methodology for investigation. Using modern mass spectrometry, tumour-promoting activities from breast fibroblasts were directly determined from needle biopsy samples. Recently this experimental break-through is published in the renowned Journal of Proteome Research.

The potential contribution of stroma cells to tumour growth has been widely recognised. It is not easy to understand whether a diseased stroma state supports tumour initiation or, alternatively, tumour- stroma cells are responsible for the formation of such diseased stroma. Read more ..



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