The Digital Edge
|Ana Blackaby||November 21st 2012|
University of Warwick
Engineers pave the way towards 3D printing of personal electronics Scientists are developing new materials which could one day allow people to print out custom-designed personal electronics such as games controllers which perfectly fit their hand shape.
The University of Warwick researchers have created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers designed for use by hobbyists and even in the home.
The material, nicknamed 'carbomorph', enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure – allowing the printer to create touch-sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.
So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as computer game controllers or a mug which can tell how full it is. The next step is to work on printing much more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Virginia Bell||November 20th 2012|
An experimental device converted energy from a beating heart to provide enough electricity to power a pacemaker in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012. The findings suggest that patients could power their pacemakers — eliminating the need for replacements when batteries are spent.
In a preliminary study, researchers at the University of Michigan Department of Aerospace Engineering and U-M’s C.S. Mott Childrens Hospital Congenital Heart Center tested an energy-harvesting device that uses piezoelectricity — electrical charge generated from motion. The approach is a promising technological solution for pacemakers, because they require only small amounts of power to operate, says M. Amin Karami, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research fellow in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Read more ..
The Edge of Mars
|Conel Alexander||November 19th 2012|
A team of scientists, including Carnegie's Conel Alexander and Jianhua Wang, studied the hydrogen in water from the Martian interior and found that Mars formed from similar building blocks to that of Earth, but that there were differences in the later evolution of the two planets. This implies that terrestrial planets, including Earth, have similar water sources--chondritic meteorites. However, unlike on Earth, Martian rocks that contain atmospheric volatiles such as water, do not get recycled into the planet's deep interior. Their work will be published in the December 1 issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters. It is available online.
Much controversy surrounds the origin, abundance and history of water on Mars. The sculpted channels of the Martian southern hemisphere speak loudly of flowing water, but this terrain is ancient. Consequently, planetary scientists often describe early Mars as "warm and wet" and current Mars as "cold and dry." Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Sean Bellam||November 19th 2012|
A University of Toronto-led team of anthropologists has found evidence that human ancestors used stone-tipped weapons for hunting 500,000 years ago – 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. "This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species," says Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and lead author of a new study in Science. "Although both Neandertals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species," says Wilkins.
Attaching stone points to spears – known as 'hafting' – was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans. Hafted tools require more effort and foreplanning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Kate McAlpine||November 18th 2012|
University of Michigan
A thin, flexible electrode developed at the University of Michigan is 10 times smaller than the nearest competition and could make long-term measurements of neural activity practical at last. This kind of technology could eventually be used to send signals to prosthetic limbs, overcoming inflammation larger electrodes cause that damages both the brain and the electrodes.
The main problem that neurons have with electrodes is that they make terrible neighbors. In addition to being enormous compared to the neurons, they are stiff and tend to rub nearby cells the wrong way. The resident immune cells spot the foreigner and attack, inflaming the brain tissue and blocking communication between the electrode and the cells.
The new electrode developed by the teams of Daryl Kipke, a professor of biomedical engineering, Joerg Lahann, a professor of chemical engineering, and Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering, is unobtrusive and even friendly in comparison. It is a thread of highly conductive carbon fiber, coated in plastic to block out signals from other neurons. The conductive gel pad at the end cozies up to soft cell membranes, and that close connection means the signals from brain cells come in much clearer. "It's a huge step forward," Kotov said. "This electrode is about seven microns in diameter, or 0.007 millimeters, and its closest competitor is about 25 to 100 microns."
The gel even speaks the cell's language, he said. Electrical impulses travel through the brain by movements of ions, or atoms with electric charges, and the signals move through the gel in the same way. On the other side, the carbon fiber responds to the ions by moving electrons, effectively translating the brain's signal into the language of electronic devices. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Kevin Gavin||November 18th 2012|
University of Michigan
Are you good at coping when life gets tough? Do people call you a straight-shooter? Will you help others without expecting anything in return?
Those personality traits might do more than help you win a popularity contest. According to new University of Michigan-led neuroscience research, those qualities also might make you more likely to get pain relief from a placebo – a fake medicine.
And, the researchers show, it’s not just your mind telling you the sham drug is working or not. Your brain’s own natural painkiller chemicals may actually respond to the pain differently depending on your personality.
If you’re more of an angry, hostile type, they find, a placebo won’t do much for you.
For the first time, the new findings link specific, established personality traits with an individual’s susceptibility to the placebo effect from a sham medicine for pain. The researchers showed a significant link between certain personality traits and how much relief people said they felt when given the placebo – as well as the level of a specific chemical that their brains released.
The work, published online today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, was done by a team of U-M Medical School researchers and their colleagues at the University of North Carolina and University of Maryland. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Daniel Kelson||November 17th 2012|
A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Daniel Kelson have set a new distance record for finding the farthest galaxy yet seen in the universe. By combining the power of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and one of nature's own natural "zoom lenses" in space, they found a galaxy whose light traveled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth. Their work will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The diminutive blob--only a tiny fraction of the size of our Milky Way galaxy--offers a peek back in time to when the universe was 3 percent of its present age (13.7 billion years). The light from this newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is from 420 million years after the Big Bang.
Eight billion years into its journey, this light took a detour along multiple paths around a massive galaxy cluster called MACS J0647+7015. Due to the gravitational lensing, the research team, led by Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute, observed three magnified images of MACS0647-JD with the Hubble telescope. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear brighter than they otherwise would, enabling astronomers to detect them more efficiently and with greater confidence. Without the cluster's magnification powers, astronomers would not have seen this remote galaxy. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Mike Williams||November 16th 2012|
A device that looks like a tiny washboard may clean the clocks of current commercial products used to manipulate infrared light.
New research by the Rice University lab of Qianfan Xu has produced a micron-scale spatial light modulator (SLM) like those used in sensing and imaging devices, but with the potential to run orders of magnitude faster. Unlike other devices in two-dimensional semiconducting chips, the Rice chips work in three-dimensional "free space."
Xu and his Rice colleagues detailed their antenna-on-a-chip for light modulation this week in Nature's open-access, online journal Scientific Reports.
The manipulation of light has become central to the information economy. Think about light-reflecting compact discs and their video variants and all the ways lasers are used, from sensing to security to surgery. Light carries data through optical fibers for telecommunications and signals on the molecular scale as photonics techniques improve. Light-emitting diodes power television displays (for viewers clutching infrared remotes) and are beginning to replace the inefficient light bulbs in homes. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Abigail Klein Leichman||November 15th 2012|
Pluristem’s PLX placenta-based cell therapies may provide hope for patients who have reached the end of the line.
A seven-year-old girl with aplastic anemia, a 54-year-old woman with lymphoma and a 45-year-old man with acute myeloid leukemia all walked out the doors of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center in the past several months after receiving an experimental treatment with an Israeli placenta-based cell therapy to beef up their bone marrow.
The Israeli Health Ministry had approved each of these patients for compassionate use of Pluristem Therapeutics’ Placental eXpanded (PLX) cells because their medical conditions were grave despite conventional treatments. Though the youngest of the three patients died four months after the Pluristem therapy, the startup is still banking on the product’s potential. “This is a real breakthrough,” said Dr. Reuven Or, Hadassah’s director of bone marrow transplantation and cancer immunology, commenting on the condition of Hana, the lymphoma patient. Read more ..
The Edge of Water
|Viva Sarah Press||November 14th 2012|
A better filtration membrane could make all the difference in the race to prevent a global shortage of potable water.
For many people, a glass of water seems like such a simple thing. But if forecasts are correct that the demand for drinking water will exceed supply by 40 percent within the next two decades, it could become a prized commodity.
And while dozens of water technology innovation companies are working to close the supply-demand gap, Israel’s Advanced Mem-Tech may have a significant contribution toward turning more H2O into potable water. This blue-and-white startup makes advanced membranes for water treatment. Like a colander in the kitchen, these membranes stop bacteria, microbes and parasites from passing into the water supply.
This process of pumping water through a membrane – a thin film-like polymer sheet with tiny holes in it – is not new. What is innovative is Mem-Tech’s “high permeability” product that the company says is far more effective than other filtration membranes used in water treatment systems.
“Because of the polymer of our membrane, you can process more water with less pressure,” VP business development Maura Rosenfeld said. “Less energy is needed to pump the water through, fewer membranes are required and there are less capital and operating expenses. Any time the system is smaller, everything can be downscaled.” Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Sean Nealon||November 13th 2012|
University of California Riverside
Two professors at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering have developed a new method that doubles the efficiency of wireless networks and could have a large impact on the mobile Internet and wireless industries.
Efficiency of wireless networks is key because there is a limited amount of spectrum to transmit voice, text and Internet services, such as streaming video and music. And when spectrum does become available it can fetch billions of dollars at auction.
The “spectrum crunch” is quickly being accelerated as customers convert from traditional cell phones to smartphones and tablets. For example, tablets generate 121 times more traffic than a traditional cell phone.
Without making networks more efficient, customers are likely to drop more calls, pay more money for service, endure slower data speed and not see an unlimited data plan again. The UC Riverside findings were outlined in a paper titled “A method for broadband full-duplex MIMO radio” recently published online in the journal IEEE Signal Processing Letters. Read more ..
The Robotic Edge
|Matthew Hilburn||November 12th 2012|
Researchers at Cornell University have developed a flying robot they say is “as smart as a bird” because it can maneuver to avoid obstacles. They say it eventually could be used in search-and-rescue operations because of its ability to maneuver through forests, tunnels or inside damaged buildings.
“Most previous robots assumed perfectly known location of obstacles,” said Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science who led the team developing the robot. “Some of the recent ones used 3-D cameras to navigate indoors. However, these techniques did not apply to outdoor environments with unstructured obstacles like trees, branches and poles. In that sense, this is a first one that can learn to avoid such obstacles.” Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Diane Swanbrow||November 10th 2012|
|Roast pork - Puerto Rican style.|
Latinos are more likely than other Americans to have ideal blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, engage in more physical activity and refrain from smoking. But like most other Americans, they have challenges with maintaining a heart-healthy diet and weight.
Those are the main findings of a study conducted by Hector M. González, an adjunct faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research who is also affiliated with Wayne State University.
González and other researchers examined information from nearly 16,000 adults of Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Central and South American ethnicity to study cardiovascular health. They used the seven indicators of ideal cardiovascular health identified by the American Heart Association: blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, physical activity, nonsmoking status, diet, and weight. Read more ..
The Race for Biofuel
|Kate McAlpine||November 9th 2012|
It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude. "We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.
Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Chris Chipello||November 8th 2012|
To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.
Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics.
The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. This steady progress makes it possible to carry around computers in our pockets, but poses serious challenges. As feature sizes dwindle to the level of atoms, the resistance to current no longer increases at a consistent rate as devices shrink; instead the resistance "jumps around," displaying the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics, says McGill Physics professor Peter Grütter. Read more ..
The Edge of Earth
|Christa Stratton||November 7th 2012|
Climate change and extreme weather events grab the headlines, but there is another, lesser known, global change underway on land, in the seas, and in the air: acidification.
It turns out that combustion of fossil fuels, smelting of ores, mining of coal and metal ores, and application of nitrogen fertilizer to soils are all driving down the pH of the air, water, and the soil at rates far faster than Earth's natural systems can buffer, posing threats to both land and sea life.
"It's a bigger picture than most of us know," says Janet Herman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Herman and her colleague, Karen Rice of the USGS, discovered that despite the fact that they worked on different kinds of acidification in the environment, they were not well informed about the matter beyond their own specialties. So they have done an extensive review of science papers about all kinds of environmental acidification and are presenting their work in a poster session on Tuesday, 6 Nov., at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Acidification is both a local and global problem, since it can be as close as a nearby stream contaminated by mine tailings or as far-reaching as the world's oceans, which are becoming more acidic as sea water absorbs higher concentrations of carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. Read more ..
The Environmental Edge
|Thekla Hritz||November 7th 2012|
Rubber residues can be downcycled to floor coverings and safety crashpads, and for the first time, also processed into high-quality plastics. A new kind of material makes it possible: the environmentally-friendly material mix is called EPMT.
Each year throughout the world, up to 22 million tons of rubber are processed and a large portion of it goes into the production of vehicle tires. Once the products reach the end of their useful life, they typically land in the incinerator. In the best case, the waste rubber is recycled into secondary products.
Ground to powder, the rubber residues can be found, for example, in the floor coverings used at sports arenas and playgrounds, and in doormats. But until now, the appropriate techniques for producing high-quality materials from these recyclables did not exist. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Chris Capello||November 7th 2012|
Surprising findings could influence material choices in nanoelectronics. To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.
Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics. The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. Read more ..
The Edge of Earth
|Barbra Gonzalez||November 6th 2012|
A new study by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science uses Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) data to investigate deformation prior to the eruption of active volcanoes in Indonesia's west Sunda arc. Led by geophysicist Estelle Chaussard and UM Professor Falk Amelung, the study uncovered evidence that several volcanoes did in fact 'inflate' prior to eruptions due to the rise of magma. The fact that such deformation could be detected by satellite is a major step forward in volcanology; it is the first unambiguous evidence that remotely detected ground deformation could help to forecast eruptions at volcanoes.
"Surveying entire volcanic regions using satellite data is of primary importance to the detection of ground deformation prior to the onset of eruptions. If volcanic inflation is observed, it can help us to predict where the next eruption may occur. Moreover, in regions like Indonesia, where volcanoes are prevalent and pose a threat to millions of people, and where ground-based monitoring is sparse, remote sensing via satellite could become a major forecasting tool," said Chaussard. Read more ..
|William Raillant-Clark||November 6th 2012|
Common medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies can have a negative impact on memory or concentration in the elderly, according to Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Research Chair at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM, Montreal Geriatric University Institute) and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Montreal (UdeM).
Up to ninety percent of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication. Eighteen percent of people in this age group complain of memory problems and are found to have mild cognitive deficits. Research suggests there may be a link between the two.
Dr. Tannenbaum recently led a team of international researchers to investigate which medications are most likely to affect amnestic (memory) or non-amnestic (attention, concentration, performance) brain functions. After analyzing the results from 162 experiments on medications with potential to bind to cholinergic, histamine, GABAergic or opioid receptors in the brain, Dr. Tannenbaum concluded that the episodic use of several medications can cause amnestic or non-amnestic deficits. This potential cause is often overlooked in persons who are otherwise in good health. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Sam Orez||November 6th 2012|
Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun's protoplanetary disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet. This might sound surprising because asteroids are considered a nuisance due to their potential to impact Earth and trigger mass extinctions. But an emerging view proposes that asteroid collisions with planets may provide a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Jules Asher||November 5th 2012|
The brain holds in mind what has just been seen by synchronizing brain waves in a working memory circuit, an animal study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests. The more in-sync such electrical signals of neurons were in two key hubs of the circuit, the more those cells held the short-term memory of a just-seen object.
Charles Gray, Ph.D., of Montana State University, Bozeman, a grantee of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and colleagues, report their findings Nov. 1, 2012, online, in the journal Science Express. "This work demonstrates, for the first time, that there is information about short term memories reflected in in-sync brainwaves," explained Gray.
"The Holy Grail of neuroscience has been to understand how and where information is encoded in the brain. This study provides more evidence that large scale electrical oscillations across distant brain regions may carry information for visual memories," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|John Chapin||November 5th 2012|
A new study finds prolonged antibiotic use by beekeepers might play a role in the mysterious drop in honey bee populations in the United States.
Yale researchers found genetic evidence that helpful bacteria, which normally live the bellies of honeybees, have become highly resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline, possibly weakening the bees’ ability to fight disease.
Researchers say decades of use may have unknowingly encouraged antibiotic resistance by genetically altering the beneficial bacteria. Past studies show helpful bacterial play an important role in protecting the honeybee by neutralizing toxins found in their diets while also helping fight off various pathogens. The researchers have identified eight different tetracycline resistance genes among U.S. honeybees that were exposed to antibiotics. Those same resistance genes were missing in bees from countries where antibiotic use is banned. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Dan Levin||November 4th 2012|
Millions of years ago fire and water forged the gypsum rocks locked in at Cuatro Ciénegas, a Mexican valley similar to the Martian crater where NASA's Rover Curiosity roams. A team of researchers have now analysed the bacterial communities that have survived in these inhospitable springs since the beginning of life on Earth.
"Cuatro Ciénegas is extraordinarily similar to Mars. As well as the Gale crater where Curiosity is currently located on its exploration of the red planet, this landscape is the home to gypsum formed by fire beneath the seabed," as explained to SINC by Valeria Souza, evolutionary ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
The researcher states that sulphur components from magma and minerals from the sea (carbonates and molecules with magnesium) are required to form gypsum. In the case of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, the magma under the seabed was very active. In fact, it allowed for the continent displacement during the Jurassic Period: "Here was where the supercontinent Pangea opened up some 200 million years ago, pushing the hemisphere north from the equator where it is now." Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Kim Luke||November 4th 2012|
The most-distant, super-luminous supernovae found to date have been observed by an international team, including Raymond Carlberg of the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stellar explosions would have occurred at a time when the universe was much younger and probably soon after the Big Bang.
"The objects are both unusually bright and unusually slow to fade. These are properties that are consistent with what is known as pair-instability supernova, a rare mechanism for explosion which is expected to happen for high-mass stars with almost no metal content. That is, the very first stars to form," said Carlberg.
The two supernovae, identified as SN2213 and SN1000+2016, were discovered in image data obtained via the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey. In recent years, various surveys have enabled astronomers to open new windows on the universe, including the discovery over the past decade of super-luminous supernovae that are tens to hundreds of times more luminous than regular supernovae. "The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey stands out as the first really deep survey of the sky, covering large volumes of the universe," said Carlberg, a Canadian leader of the Survey. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Emma Rayner||November 3rd 2012|
World-leading experts in Magnetic Resonance Imaging from The University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre have made a key discovery which could give the medical world a new tool for the improved diagnosis and monitoring of neuro-degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reveals why images of the brain produced using the latest MRI techniques are so sensitive to the direction in which nerve fibres run.
The white matter of the brain is made up of billions of microscopic nerve fibres that pass information in the form of tiny electrical signals. To increase the speed at which these signals travel, each nerve fibre is encased by a sheath formed from a fatty substance, called myelin. Previous studies have shown that the appearance of white matter in magnetic resonance images depends on the angle between the nerve fibres and the direction of the very strong magnetic field used in an MRI scanner. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Jessica Berman||November 3rd 2012|
We knows that smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products is bad for your health... and for those around you. Now, there’s new evidence from studies with lab rats that the habit can cause asthma not only in smokers' children, but in their grandchildren, as well. Researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, have found evidence of a generational effect of tobacco-smoking on lung development. The scientists gave a group of pregnant rats injections of nicotine, the amount an average smoker would receive, exposing the animals' unborn pups to the chemical. Nicotine is one of more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke known to adversely affect lung development. As predicted, the injections caused changes in the fetal animals' upper and lower airway development consistent with asthma. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Martin Bertelsen||November 2nd 2012|
National History Museum of Denmark
THE SOLAR SYSTEM Some 4.567 billion years ago, our solar system’s planets spawned from an expansive disc of gas and dust rotating around the sun. While similar processes are witnessed in younger solar systems throughout the Milky Way, the formative stages of our own solar system were believed to have taken twice as long to occur. Now, new research lead by the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, suggests otherwise. Indeed, our solar system is not quite as special as once believed.
Using improved methods of analysis of uranium and lead isotopes, the current study of primitive meteorites has enabled researchers to date the formation of two very different types of materials, so-called calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (or CAI’s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar system’s development has been altered. The study has just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Science. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Sam Orez||November 1st 2012|
Results of a project that has mapped the genetic material, or genomes, of 1,092 individuals from 14 countries will help researchers interpret genetic changes in people with disease. The first phase of the so-called '1,000 Genomes Project,' published in the journal Nature, profiles the rare and common genetic variations in the human species.
Scientists believe that rare variants in human DNA - found in just one of every 100 people or fewer - are the major contributors to common complex diseases such as cancer, heart ailments and diabetes. The multinational team of researchers divided the sample populations into four ancestry groups - European, African, East Asian and the Americas - and found that these rare gene variants tend to be restricted to specific geographic regions. Data from the study, which is available on a public database, already is being used to screen cancer genomes for mutations that might suggest new therapy approaches, and to speed diagnoses of diseases. The next phase of the project will include as many as 3,000 individuals. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Matthew Hilburn||October 31st 2012|
The soil on Mars appears to be very similar to the volcanic soils of Hawaii, according to scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.
The results come after the first chemical and mineralogy tests performed on Martian soil scooped up and taken aboard NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity. NASA said the soil analysis was carried out by the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin). The U.S. space agency said the study concluded that the Mars soil sample “is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.”
"Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument," said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "They heighten our anticipation for future [chemistry and mineralogy] analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity." Curiosity scooped up the sample in an area of Mars called NASA scientists call “Rocknest.” The sample was then sifted to exclude any particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 micrometers), roughly the width of a human hair. Scientists said the sample contained two basic components dust and sand. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Steve Koppes||October 31st 2012|
University of Chicago
The Cretaceous Period of Earth history ended with a mass extinction that wiped out numerous species, most famously the dinosaurs. A new study now finds that the structure of North American ecosystems made the extinction worse than it might have been. Researchers at the University of Chicago, the California Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum of Natural History will publish their findings Oct. 29 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The mountain-sized asteroid that left the now-buried Chicxulub impact crater on the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is almost certainly the ultimate cause of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which occurred 65 million years ago. Nevertheless, "Our study suggests that the severity of the mass extinction in North America was greater because of the ecological structure of communities at the time," noted lead author Jonathan Mitchell, a Ph.D. student of UChicago's Committee on Evolutionary Biology.
Mitchell and his co-authors, Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences and Kenneth Angielczyk of the Field Museum, reconstructed terrestrial food webs for 17 Cretaceous ecological communities. Seven of these food webs existed within two million years of the Chicxulub impact and 10 came from the preceding 13 million years. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Robert Sanders||October 30th 2012|
Social animals usually congregate for protection or mating or to capture bigger prey, but a University of California, Berkeley, biologist has found that the terrestrial hermit crab has a more self-serving social agenda: to kick another crab out of its shell and move into a larger home.
All hermit crabs appropriate abandoned snail shells for their homes, but the dozen or so species of land-based hermit crabs – popular terrarium pets – are the only ones that hollow out and remodel their shells, sometimes doubling the internal volume. This provides more room to grow, more room for eggs – sometimes 1,000 more – and a lighter home to lug around as they forage.
But empty snail shells are rare on land, so the best hope of moving to a new home is to kick others out of their remodeled shells, said Mark Laidre, a UC Berkeley Miller Post-Doctoral Fellow who reported this unusual behavior in this month's issue of the journal Current Biology. Read more ..
Energy vs Environment
|Daniel Cochlin||October 30th 2012|
US carbon dioxide emissions from domestic energy have declined by 8.6% since a peak in 2005, the equivalent of 1.4% per year. However, the researchers warn that more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the power sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal.
Dr. John Broderick, lead author on the report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, comments: "Research papers and newspaper column inches have focussed on the relative emissions from coal and gas. "However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called "golden age" would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future."
Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre notes: "Since 2008 when the shale gas supply became significant, there has been a large increase in US coal exports. This increases global emissions as the UK, Europe and Asia are burning the coal instead.
Earlier Tyndall analysis suggests that the role for gas in a low carbon transition is extremely limited, with shale gas potentially diverting substantial funds away from genuinely low and zero carbon alternatives" This Co-operative commissioned report "Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions?" is the third on shale gas from the Tyndall Centre – and builds on several years of research and submissions to the UK and European Parliaments as well as the International Energy Agency. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Rachel Seroka||October 30th 2012|
Children with migraine are more likely to have below average school performance than kids who do not have headaches, according to new research published in the October 30, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study of 5,671 Brazilian children ages 5 to 12 found that those with migraine were 30 percent more likely to have below average school performance than those with no headaches.
"Studies have looked at the burden of migraine for adolescents, but less work has been done to determine the effect of migraine on younger children," said study author Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, of Merck & Co. in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Matthew Hilburn||October 29th 2012|
Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. state of Tennessee have unveiled what could be the world’s fastest supercomputer.
The new computer, named Titan, is capable of making more than 20,000 trillion calculations each second (20 petaflops), according to officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). That is roughly equivalent to each of the world’s seven billion people being able to carry out three million calculations per second, according to ORNL. Titan also has more than 700 terabytes of memory.
“The numbers just end up so big that I struggle to come up with a way to explain it,” said Buddy Bland, the project director of ORNL’s Leadership Computing Facility. “It’s unimaginable. Twenty petaflops is [the number] 20 followed by 15 zeros.” Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Markus Bauer||October 29th 2012|
The heat-seeking capabilities of the international Cassini spacecraft and two ground-based telescopes have provided the first look at the aftermath of Saturn’s ‘Great Springtime Storm’. Concealed from the naked eye, a giant oval vortex is persisting long after the visible effects of the storm subsided.
The ground-based observations were made by the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
The vivid cloud structures that wreaked havoc across wide swathes of the mid-northern latitudes of Saturn’s atmosphere captured the imaginations of amateur and professional astronomers alike, from its first appearance in December 2010 through much of 2011. But in new reports that focus on the temperatures, winds and composition of Saturn’s atmosphere, scientists find that the spectacular cloud displays were only part of the story. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Barnard Banks||October 28th 2012|
from SMU and agencies
A new species of coelacanth fish has been discovered in Texas.
Pieces of tiny fossil skull found in Fort Worth have been identified as 100 million-year-old coelacanth bones, according to paleontologist John F. Graf, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
The coelacanth has one of the longest lineages — 400 million years — of any animal. It is the fish most closely related to vertebrates, including humans.
The SMU specimen is the first coelacanth in Texas from the Cretaceous, said Graf, who identified the fossil. The Cretaceous geologic period extended from 146 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Graf named the new coelacanth species Reidus hilli.
Coelacanths have been found on nearly every continent
Reidus hilli is now the youngest coelacanth identified in the Lone Star State. Previously the youngest was a 200 million-year-old coelacanth from the Triassic. Reidus hilli is the first coelacanth ever identified from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Layne Cameron||October 28th 2012|
Warmer oceans in the future could significantly alter populations of phytoplankton, tiny organisms that could have a major impact on climate change.
In the current issue of Science Express, Michigan State University researchers show that by the end of the 21st century, warmer oceans will cause populations of these marine microorganisms to thrive near the poles and may shrink in equatorial waters. Since phytoplankton play a key role in the food chain and the world’s cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and other elements, a drastic drop could have measurable consequences.
“In the tropical oceans, we are predicting a 40 percent drop in potential diversity,” said Mridul Thomas, MSU graduate student and one of the co-authors. “If the oceans continue to warm as predicted, there will be a sharp decline in the diversity of phytoplankton in tropical waters and a poleward shift in species’ thermal niches, if they don’t adapt to climate change.” Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|John Zimmer||October 28th 2012|
Malaria causes up to 3 million deaths each year, predominantly afflicting vulnerable people such as children under five and pregnant women, in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Treatments are available for this disease, but the Plasmodium parasite is fast becoming resistant to the most common drugs, and health authorities say they desperately need new strategies to tackle the disease. This new potential treatment uses molecules that interfere with an important stage of the parasite's growth cycle and harnesses this effect to kill them. The impact is so acute it kills ninety per cent of the parasites in just three hours and all those tested in laboratory samples of infected human blood cells, within twelve hours.
The research was carried out by chemists at Imperial College London and biological scientists from the research institutions Institut Pasteur and CNRS in France. Their work is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Toni Baker||October 27th 2012|
While powerful magnetic stimulation of the frontal lobe of the brain can alleviate symptoms of depression, those receiving the treatment did not report effects on sleep or arousal commonly seen with antidepressant medications, researchers say.
"People's sleep gets better as their depression improves, but the treatment doesn't itself cause sedation or insomnia." said Dr. Peter B. Rosenquist, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University.
The finding resulted from a secondary analysis of a study of 301 patients at 23 sites comparing the anti-depressive effects of the Neuronetics Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy System to sham (placebo) treatment in patients resistant to antidepressant medications. TMS sessions were given for 40 minutes, five days a week for six weeks. Initial findings, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2007, were the primary evidence in the Food and Drug Administration's approval of TMS for depression. Read more ..
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