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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 ..


Edge of Nanotechnology

Resistance is Futile: Unlocking the Power of Super-Conducting Computer Chips

October 19th 2014

Computer chips with superconducting circuits — circuits with zero electrical resistance — would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today's chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption of the massive data centers that power the Internet's most popular sites.

Superconducting chips also promise greater processing power: Superconducting circuits that use so-called Josephson junctions have been clocked at 770 gigahertz, or 500 times the speed of the chip in the iPhone 6.

But Josephson-junction chips are big and hard to make; most problematic of all, they use such minute currents that the results of their computations are difficult to detect. For the most part, they've been relegated to a few custom-engineered signal-detection applications. Read more ..


The Ebola Pandemic

Where Does Ebola Hide?

October 16th 2014

Bat and moth

The people of Guinea have been locked in a life-and-death struggle with Ebola virus since last December. Nearly 60 percent of Guineans infected with the virus since then have died. To cope with the unprecedented disease, the government went so far as to ban soup made from bats.

Why bats? Because three kinds of bats from the region are believed to harbor the deadly filovirus. That's based on a survey of small animals in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Ebola virus seems to be endemic. The DRC even hosts the Ebola River that gave the virus its name. (It is a tributary of the Congo River that gives the country its name.)

Although Ebola does not kill the bats as far as scientists know, it does kill more than humans: the virus has devastated chimpanzee and gorilla populations as well. So intrepid researchers from the International Center for Medical Research of Franceville in Gabon set out to trap small animals that might harbor the disease from forest regions that had recently been devastated, starting in 2001.

  Read more ..


Ancient Days

Archaeologists find the Largest Shipwreck of Antiquity

October 11th 2014

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Antikythera mechanism

An international team of divers and archaeologists has retrieved stunning new finds from an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera. The rescued antiquities include tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.

The Antikythera wreck was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers who were blown off course by a storm. They subsequently recovered a spectacular haul of ancient treasure including bronze and marble statues, jewellery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism. But they were forced to end their mission at the 55-meter-deep site after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered if more treasure remains buried beneath the sea bed.

Now a team of international archaeologists including Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have returned to the treacherous site using state-of-the-art technology. Read more ..


The Edhe of Health

Tumors Might Grow Faster At Night

October 9th 2014

Sleeping at computer

They emerge at night, while we sleep unaware, growing and spreading out as quickly as they can. And they are deadly. In a surprise finding that was recently published in Nature Communications, Weizmann Institute of Science researchers showed that nighttime is the right time for cancer to grow and spread in the body. Their findings suggest that administering certain treatments in time with the body’s day-night cycle could boost their efficiency.

This finding arose out of an investigation into the relationships between different receptors in the cell – a complex network that we still do not completely understand. The receptors – protein molecules on the cell’s surface or within cells – take in biochemical messages secreted by other cells and pass them on into the cell’s interior. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

China's Economic Boom Thwarts its Carbon Emissions Goals

October 6th 2014

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Efforts to reduce China’s carbon dioxide emissions are being offset by the country’s rampant economic growth, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Research published in Nature Climate Change reveals how carbon efficiency has improved in nearly all Chinese provinces. But the country’s economic boom has simultaneously led to a growth in CO2-emitting activities such as mining, metal smelting and coal-fired electricity generation – negating any gains.

According to the study, China, the world’s largest producer of CO2 emissions, increased its carbon intensity by 3 per cent during a period of unprecedented economic growth. This was despite its pledge to reduce carbon intensity by up to 45 per cent by 2020 (relative to the 2005 level). Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Air Pollution Increases River Flows

October 5th 2014

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A study published in Nature Geoscience shows that air pollution has had a significant impact on the amount of water flowing through many rivers in the northern hemisphere.

The paper shows how such pollution, known as aerosols, can have an impact on the natural environment and highlights the importance of considering these factors in assessments of future climate change.

The research resulted from a collaboration between scientists at the Met Office, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, University of Reading, Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France, and the University of Exeter. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

New Light Emerges on Mankind's African Origins

October 5th 2014

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What can DNA from the skeleton of a man who lived 2,330 years ago in the southernmost tip of Africa tell us about ourselves as humans? A great deal when his DNA profile is one of the 'earliest diverged' – oldest in genetic terms – found to-date in a region where modern humans are believed to have originated roughly 200,000 years ago.

The man's maternal DNA, or 'mitochondrial DNA,' was sequenced to provide clues to early modern human prehistory and evolution. Mitochondrial DNA provided the first evidence that we all come from Africa, and helps us map a figurative genetic tree, all branches deriving from a common 'Mitochondrial Eve'.

When archaeologist Professor Andrew Smith from the University of Cape Town discovered the skeleton at St. Helena Bay in 2010, very close to the site where 117,000 year old human footprints had been found – dubbed "Eve's footprints" – he contacted Professor Vanessa Hayes, a world-renowned expert in African genomes. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

Body Motion Drives Implantable Energy Harvester

October 3rd 2014

johnathon prince

The new concept combines MEMS microfluidics and piezoelectric micro-belts that convert changes in pressure (from random real-world vibrational sources) into electricity. Under the alternating pressure waves from the harnessed vibrations, a pressurized fluid in micro-channels synchronizes the random input vibrations into pre-defined resonance frequencies that make the most of the piezoelectric elements for charge generation, despite the irregularity and randomness of the vibrations.

MEMS energy harvesters are not new, but most concepts rely on vibrating piezoelectric cantilevers or micro-electrets, which only operate efficiently within very narrow frequency bands, if not only at one frequency. This limitation discards these concepts in most practical environments.

Dr Alex Gu, Technical Director of IMEs Sensors and Actuators Microsystems Programme, found an interesting way to expand the range of vibration frequencies within which the MEMS energy harvesters would be receptive. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Tracking One Virus Making Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees

September 29th 2014

Honeybee

When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.

And this is likely bad news for its new host, the honeybee, matchmaker of crops and bringer of honey.  These are two services for which humans are both eternally indebted, and, in the case of the former, possibly unable to live without. Bees pollinate the majority of our fruit and nut crops and many vegetables — some 90 all told — without which humanity would be nutritionally impoverished. Yet shortages are a possibility we are confronting, as bee populations in America have declined in recent years for reasons that seem to be both diverse and elusive. Colony collapse disorder, as whatever it is is called, was first reported in 2006 and has spread globally. Many viruses, parasites, and pesticides have been implicated, but no smoking gun has emerged. Read more ..


The Battery Edge

Great Steps Made in Wearable Computers with Self-Contained Power Source

September 28th 2014

Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas have created technology that could be the first step toward wearable computers with self-contained power sources or, more immediately, a smartphone that doesn’t die after a few hours of heavy use.

This technology, published online in Nature Communications, taps into the power of a single electron to control energy consumption inside transistors, which are at the core of most modern electronic systems.

Researchers from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science found that by adding a specific atomic thin film layer to a transistor, the layer acted as a filter for the energy that passed through it at room temperature. The signal that resulted from the device was six to seven times steeper than that of traditional devices. Steep devices use less voltage but still have a strong signal.

“The whole semiconductor industry is looking for steep devices because they are key to having small, powerful, mobile devices with many functions that operate quickly without spending a lot of battery power,” said Dr. Jiyoung Kim, professor of materials science and engineering in the Jonsson School and an author of the paper. “Our device is one solution to make this happen.” Read more ..


Ancient Days

The Water We Drink is Older Than the Sun

September 26th 2014

Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, University of Michigan astronomers theorize.

The researchers' work, published in the current issue of Science, helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago? Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk?

Between 30 and 50 percent came from the molecular cloud, says Ilse Cleeves, a doctoral student in astronomy at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. That would make it roughly a million years older than the solar system. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Significant War Damage Done to Syrian World Heritage Sites

September 25th 2014

Great Mosque of Aleppo before its destruction.

In war-torn Syria, five of six World Heritage sites now "exhibit significant damage" and some structures have been "reduced to rubble," according to new high-resolution satellite image analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS analysis, offering the first comprehensive look at the extent of damage to Syria's priceless cultural heritage sites, was completed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the analysis provides authoritative confirmation of previous on-the-ground reports of damage to individual sites. Read more ..


The Edge of Agriculture

Bio-Char Provides Contradictory but Beneficial Results for Marginal Soils

September 25th 2014

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As more gardeners and farmers add ground charcoal, or biochar, to soil to both boost crop yields and counter global climate change, a new study by researchers at Rice University and Colorado College could help settle the debate about one of biochar's biggest benefits -- the seemingly contradictory ability to make clay soils drain faster and sandy soils drain slower.

The study, available online this week in the journal PLOS ONE, offers the first detailed explanation for the hydrological mystery.

"Understanding the controls on water movement through biochar-amended soils is critical to explaining other frequently reported benefits of biochar, such as nutrient retention, carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions," said lead author Rebecca Barnes, an assistant professor of environmental science at Colorado College, who began the research while serving as a postdoctoral research associate at Rice. Read more ..


The Way We Were

Chimpanzee Rivalries Produced Natural-Born Killers

September 22nd 2014

Man's nearest relatives kill each other in order to eliminate rivals and gain better access to territory, mates, food or other resources—not because human activities have made them more aggressive.

That is the conclusion of an international analysis of lethal aggression among different groups of chimpanzees in Africa studied over five decades. The research appears in the current issue of Nature.

"Observations that chimpanzees kill members of their own species have influenced efforts to understand the evolution of human violence," said University of Michigan anthropologist John Mitani, who helped to initiate and conceive the ambitious study that was conducted with 30 colleagues from around the world. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Faster Image Processing for Low Radiation CT Scans Fights Cancer Better

September 19th 2014

A new $1.9 million study at the University of Michigan seeks to make low-dose computed tomography scans a viable screening technique by speeding up the image reconstruction from half an hour or more to just five minutes.

The advance could be particularly important for fighting lung cancers, as symptoms often appear too late for effective treatment. The grant comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In December 2013, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended lung cancer screens for everyone between 55 and 80 years old who has been a smoker within the past 15 years. Roughly 90 percent of cases are related to smoking, and the health care costs are approximately $12 billion per year in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the CT scans that reliably identify tumors by creating 3D images of the lungs also expose the patient to an X-ray dose comparable to about five to eight months' worth of natural background radiation.

"It's known that a radiation dose can increase the risk of cancer, but nobody knows exactly how much," said Jeffrey Fessler, U-M professor of electrical and computer engineering who leads the project. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Repairing the Muscles, not the Genetic Defect which Causes Muscular Dystrophy

September 19th 2014

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A potential way to treat muscular dystrophy directly targets muscle repair instead of the underlying genetic defect that usually leads to the disease.

Muscular dystrophies are a group of muscle diseases characterized by skeletal muscle wasting and weakness. Mutations in certain proteins, most commonly the protein dystrophin, cause muscular dystrophy in humans and also in mice.

A University of Michigan team led by cell biologist Haoxing Xu, discovered that mice missing a critical calcium channel inside the cell, called TRPML1, showed similar muscle defects as those present in muscular dystrophy patients. Though these mice did not have the defect in dystrophin, they still developed muscular dystrophy-like muscle characteristics.

When researchers increased the activity of the calcium channel in the muscular dystrophic mice, it improved muscle membrane repair and restored muscle function. Read more ..


Nano Technology Edge

Nano-Ribbon Film Keeps Glass Ice-Free and Transparent to Radio Waves

September 17th 2014

Rice University scientists who created a deicing film for radar domes have now refined the technology to work as a transparent coating for glass.

The new work by Rice chemist James Tour and his colleagues could keep glass surfaces from windshields to skyscrapers free of ice and fog while retaining their transparency to radio frequencies (RF).

The technology was introduced this month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

The material is made of graphene nanoribbons, atom-thick strips of carbon created by splitting nanotubes, a process also invented by the Tour lab. Whether sprayed, painted or spin-coated, the ribbons are transparent and conduct both heat and electricity. Read more ..


Behavioral Science

The Smell of Fear: How Trauma's Effects Last for Generations

September 14th 2014

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When University of Michigan psychiatrist and neuroscientist Jacek Debiec, MD/PhD, worked with the grown children of Holocaust survivors in Poland, he was fascinated to discover they experienced nightmares, avoidance instincts, and even flashbacks related to traumatic experiences they never had themselves. While the survivors’ children would have learned about the Holocaust from their parents, this deeply ingrained fear indicated something more was at work in the population.

Debiec, who hails from Poland himself, went on to lead a study that suggests babies can learn what to fear in the first days of life just by smelling the odor of their distressed mothers. And not just “natural” fears: If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her baby will quickly learn to fear it too — through the odor she gives off when she feels fear.   Read more ..


Ancient Days

Mysterious Viking Fortress Found in Denmark

September 11th 2014

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It is the first time for over 60 years that a new Viking fortress is found in Denmark, says curator Nanna Holm of The Danish Castle Centre. Søren Sindbæk, professor of medieval archeology at Aarhus University, explains: "The Vikings have a reputation as a berserker and pirates. It comes as a surprise to many that they were also capable of building magnificent fortresses. The discovery of the new Viking fortress is a unique opportunity to gain new knowledge about Viking war and conflicts, and we get a new chance to examine the Vikings' most famous monuments. " The previously excavated Trelleborg-type fortresses – Fyrkat, Aggersborg and Trelleborg – are nominated for inscription in UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Read more ..


Edge of the Cosmos

A New Method for Measuring Dark Matter

September 8th 2014

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Astrophysicists believe that about 80 percent of the substance of our universe is made up of mysterious “dark matter” that can’t be perceived by human senses or scientific instruments.

“Dark matter has not yet been detected in a lab. We infer about it from astronomical observations,” said Mikhail Medvedev, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, who has just published breakthrough research on dark matter that merited the cover of Physical Review Letters, the world’s most prestigious journal of physics research.

Medvedev proposes a novel model of dark matter, dubbed “flavor-mixed multicomponent dark matter.”

“Dark matter is some unknown matter, most likely a new elementary particle or particles beyond the Standard Model,” Medvedev said. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Take Short Walks and Reverse Effects of Prolonged Sedentary Activities

September 8th 2014

An Indiana University study has found that three easy -- one could even say slow -- 5-minute walks can reverse harm caused to leg arteries during three hours of prolonged sitting.

Sitting for long periods of time, like many people do daily at their jobs, is associated with risk factors such as higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference that can lead to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. When people sit, slack muscles do not contract to effectively pump blood to the heart. Blood can pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow.

This study is the first experimental evidence of these effects, said Saurabh Thosar, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Science University, who led the study as a doctoral candidate at IU's School of Public Health-Bloomington. Read more ..


The Edge of Light

Ultra-thin Detector Captures Unprecedented Range of Light

September 7th 2014

Graphene carbon mesh

New research at the University of Maryland could lead to a generation of light detectors that can see below the surface of bodies, walls, and other objects. Using the special properties of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon that is only one atom thick, a prototype detector is able to see an extraordinarily broad band of wavelengths. Included in this range is a band of light wavelengths that have exciting potential applications but are notoriously difficult to detect: terahertz waves, which are invisible to the human eye.

A research paper about the new detector was published Sunday, September 07, 2014 in Nature Nanotechnology.  Lead author Xinghan Cai, a University of Maryland physics graduate student, said a detector like the researchers’ prototype “could find applications in emerging terahertz fields such as mobile communications, medical imaging, chemical sensing, night vision, and security.”

The light we see illuminating everyday objects is actually only a very narrow band of wavelengths and frequencies. Terahertz light waves’ long wavelengths and low frequencies fall between microwaves and infrared waves. The light in these terahertz wavelengths can pass through materials that we normally think of as opaque, such as skin, plastics, clothing, and cardboard. It can also be used to identify chemical signatures that are emitted only in the terahertz range. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

India's 'Climate Smart' Villages Target Sustainable Agriculture

September 6th 2014

haitian farmer

Scientists warn that agriculture around the world can be significantly affected by climate change, and are now teaching farmers new technologies to adapt.

At one “climate smart” village in northern India, farmers are changing age-old practices to overcome the challenge of increasingly erratic weather patterns.

Harpreet Singh of Taraori village in northern Haryana state says recent years of failed rains and rising temperatures have damaged the paddy of wheat crop on his sprawling 30-hectare farm. But unlike other farmers, this year’s weak monsoon rains did not worry him.

Singh has abandoned the age-old method of transplanting rice saplings after sprouting them in a nursery. Instead he planted “direct-seeded rice,” where seeds are sown and sprouted directly in the field. Singh smiles as he looks upon his lush rice crop, explaining the new laser-leveling technique that helps him conserve 25 to 30 percent more water. The high-tech approach to preparing soil reduces the need for irrigation by ensuring uniform distribution of moisture. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Super-Massive Dinosaur Species Discovered in Argentina

September 5th 2014

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Scientists have discovered and described a new supermassive dinosaur species with the most complete skeleton ever found of its type. At 85 feet long and weighing about 65 tons in life, Dreadnoughtus schrani is the largest land animal for which a body mass can be accurately calculated.

Its skeleton is exceptionally complete, with over 70 percent of the bones, excluding the head, represented. Because all previously discovered super-massive dinosaurs are known only from relatively fragmentary remains, Dreadnoughtus offers an unprecedented window into the anatomy and biomechanics of the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.

"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," said Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences, who discovered the Dreadnoughtus fossil skeleton in southern Patagonia in Argentina and led the excavation and analysis. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Electric Current May Boost Memory in People with Cognitive Disorders

September 2nd 2014

Alzheimer

People with cognitive problems - including memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease - may someday be able to have their memory boosted with electric current.  Researchers used a non-invasive procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to jumpstart a region of the brain that’s involved in forming memories.

Known as TMS, the technique uses a mild electrical current through the skull to strengthen communication among brain cells involved in memory. It could lead to new treatments for memory impairments caused by trauma, illness or aging. Current therapies - such as surgery and drugs - have not proven effective.

The neurons targeted by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are part of a pathway to the hippocampus, a deep brain region that’s involved in the formation of memories. Neuroscientist Joel Voss at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois explained that the stimulation is painless and non-invasive.

“What the TMS coil does is it produces a volley of pulses of this stimulation.  And so it sounds like a high frequency tapping sound - like a duh, duh, duh, duh tapping sound - with about 20 clicks per second.  And those clicks are aimed at the back part of the person’s head over the parietal cortex, and each one feels like a very slight tapping sensation on the outside of the head,” said Voss. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

A New Way to Diagnose Malaria

September 1st 2014

mosquito biting

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and looks under a microscope for the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease. This approach gives an accurate count of how many parasites are in the blood — an important measure of disease severity — but is not ideal because there is potential for human error.

A research team from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) has now come up with a possible alternative. The researchers have devised a way to use magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), a close cousin of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to detect a parasitic waste product in the blood of infected patients. This technique could offer a more reliable way to detect malaria, says Jongyoon Han, a professor at MIT. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

New Technology May End Medication Errors

August 31st 2014

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MIT alumni entrepreneurs Gauti Reynisson MBA ’10 and Ívar Helgason HS ’08 spent the early 2000s working for companies that implemented medication-safety technologies — such as electronic-prescription and pill-barcoding systems — at hospitals in their native Iceland and other European countries.

But all that time spent in hospitals soon opened their eyes to a major health care issue: Surprisingly often, patients receive the wrong medications. Indeed, a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine found that 1.5 million hospitalized patients in the United States experience medication errors every year due, in part, to drug-administration mistakes. Some cases have adverse or fatal results.

Frustrated and seeking a solution, the Icelandic duo quit their careers and traveled to MIT for inspiration. There, they teamed up with María Rúnarsdóttir MBA ’08 and devised MedEye, a bedside medication-scanning system that uses computer vision to identify pills and check them against medication records, to ensure that a patient gets the right drug and dosage. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Strange Neutrinos from the Sun Detected for the First Time

August 30th 2014

Sun-Atmosphere

Deep inside the sun pairs of protons fuse to form heavier atoms, releasing mysterious particles called neutrinos in the process. These reactions are thought to be the first step in the chain responsible for 99 percent of the energy the sun radiates, but scientists have never found proof until now. For the first time, physicists have captured the elusive neutrinos produced by the sun’s basic proton fusion reactions.
 
Earth should be teeming with such neutrinos—calculations suggest about 420 billion of them stream from the sun onto every square inch of our planet’s surface each second—yet they are incredibly hard to find. Neutrinos almost never interact with regular particles and usually fly straight through the empty spaces between the atoms in our bodies and all other normal matter. Read more ..

The Edge of Weather

NASA's TRMM Analyzes Hurricane Cristobal

August 29th 2014

Hurricane Irene 28 Aug 0900

NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM Satellite provided a look under the hood of Hurricane Cristobal as it continues moving north and paralleling the U.S. East Coast. NASA's HS3 hurricane mission also investigated the storm. Cristobal is now close enough to the coast to trigger high surf advisories.

On August 28, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for high surf of 6 to 12 feet and rip currents on the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cristobal, still a minimal Category 1 hurricane on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, has been slowly making its way northward up from the southeastern Bahamas on a track generally parallel to the eastern seaboard. The storm now appears poised to recurve away from the U.S. East Coast and head for the central Atlantic as it begins to feel the effects of an approaching shortwave trough (elongated area of low pressure) embedded in the westerlies (winds) that are moving eastward out of the Great Lakes Region.  Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

August 28th 2014

Surgeons

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility.

Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer that usually attacks children and young adults, causing severe pain.  It can lead to deformity and even death. Twelve-year-old Qin’s second vertebra was so damaged by the cancer that doctors had to remove it.

But instead of replacing it with a simple titanium tube, surgeons made a computer-aided scan of the area and used special software to print a perfect replica on a 3-D printer. Instead of plastic, this printer uses biocompatible titanium powder, which does not trigger rejection. The director of orthopedics at Beijing University, who led the surgical team, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, said 3-D printing has a huge advantage for artificial implants. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Western US Drought Causing Earth's Crust to Rise

August 26th 2014

Arid Desert 2

The major drought gripping the western United States is not only drying the landscape, it’s causing the land to rise.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego used GPS data to determine the drought has caused the land to rise, on average, 4 millimeters across the western states. The Sierra mountains of California rose over half an inch.

Duncan Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor and co-author of the paper said that “in areas of deep soil, the material behaves like a sponge. When the water dries out, it shrinks or goes down.”

“If you’re not on deep spoil the effect is that the earth is like a spring,” he said “The water is no longer pressing down on that area so it rises.” That’s what’s happening in the western U.S., and the findings quantify the staggering water loss wrought by the drought. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Origin of Tuberculosis Contagion is Revealed

August 24th 2014

Tuberculosis is one of the most persistent and deadliest infectious diseases in the world, killing one to two million people each year.

Scientists who study tuberculosis have long debated its origins. New research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native people there before Europeans landed on the continent.

The paper, "Pre-Columbian Mycobacterial Genomes Reveal Seals as a Source of New World Human Tuberculosis," was published in Nature. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Tiny Robots 'Swarm' Themselves Into Shapes

August 18th 2014

Lego robots

Scientists have created an army of small robots capable of taking the shape of various objects. They’re called “Kilobots.”

But before that name causes you conjure up images of a Terminator-like killer robots able to morph into nearly anything, the “flash mob” of these 1,024 tiny, minimalist robots have only so far morphed into simple shapes like a starfish, the letter K and a wrench.

The various shapes the robots take are drawn on a computer and then sent to each robot via an infrared light. Once the information is delivered the robots begin to organize themselves into the shape, each following the edge of the group until it reaches a desired location, each knowing its position relative to the others. They also self-correct. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Electric Engines Keep Many Satellites in Orbit

August 16th 2014

STEREO solar observing satellites

Among the challenges of deep-space travel is the amount of fuel needed for long flights. One of the solutions could be the electrical engine, powered by electricity from solar panels. Such engines already are in use aboard many satellites.

Physicists consider gravity a weak force. After all, we overcome its pull each morning when we get out of bed

However, launching a satellite requires more effort: a large rocket and a lot of chemical fuel, which is quickly burned as it powers upward. Once the payload reaches about 160 kilometers above the earth, the effect of gravity has weakened enough for it to stay in orbit.

A one-way mission into deep space would require even more fuel, according to NASA senior technologist for space propulsion, Michael Patterson. “For any mission application, particularly in deep space, the energy required to do the mission is huge, so the propellant fraction is typically quite large," he said.

Patterson said in the 1950s, the space agency started experimenting with so-called electric propulsion, or EP - - a jet of electrically charged particles that does not require too much power. Once in space, an EP-craft would keep gradually accelerating toward its destination, moving faster and faster the longer it travels. After four years, for example, it could be travelling at 10 kilometers a second. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Questions Raised About Evolution of Dinosaurs in North America

August 15th 2014

Click to select Image

The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were the golden age of dinosaurs, during which the prehistoric giants roamed the Earth for nearly 135 million years. Paleontologists have unearthed numerous fossils from these periods, suggesting that dinosaurs were abundant throughout the world. But where and when dinosaurs first came into existence has been difficult to ascertain.

Fossils discovered in Argentina suggest that the first dinosaurs may have appeared in South America during the Late Triassic, about 230 million years ago — a period when today’s continents were fused in a single landmass called Pangaea. Previously discovered fossils in North America have prompted speculation that dinosaurs didn’t appear there until about 212 million years ago — significantly later than in South America. Scientists have devised multiple theories to explain dinosaurs’ delayed appearance in North America, citing environmental factors or a vast desert barrier. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

High Rate of Opiod Use Uncovered Among Social Security Disability Recipients

August 15th 2014

Consistent with reports of an "opioid epidemic" in the United States, the results showed high and rising prevalence of opioid use by SSDI recipients. The percentage of beneficiaries taking opioids increased from 2007 through 2010. In 2011, the most recent year with available data, prevalence dipped slightly to 43.7 percent.

The percentage of these beneficiaries with chronic opioid use rose steadily, from 21.4 percent in 2007 to 23.1 percent in 2011. Chronic opioid users received numerous opioid prescriptions—at least six and generally 13 per year—typically prescribed by multiple doctors. Women were at greater risk of becoming chronic opioid users than men.

Among chronic opioid users, the average "morphine equivalent dose" (MED) also dipped in 2011. Still, nearly 20 percent of chronic users were taking a dose of at least 100 milligrams MED, while ten percent were taking 200 milligrams. Read more ..



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