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The Toxic Edge

Ocean Fish Acquire More Mercury at Depth

August 25th 2013

Tuna haul

Mercury—a common industrial toxin—is carried through the atmosphere before settling on the ocean and entering the marine food web.

Now, exciting new research from the University of Michigan and the University of Hawai'i at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) combines biogeochemistry and direct marine ecology observations to show how the global mercury cycle is colliding with ocean fish—and the human seafood supply—at different depths in the water.

Mercury accumulation in the ocean fish we eat tends to take place at deeper depths, scientists found, in part because of photochemical reactions that break down organic mercury in well-lit surface waters. More of this accessible organic mercury is also being generated in deeper waters. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Limited HIV Therapy Beneficial for Infants Immediately After Diagnosis

August 24th 2013

Nigerian baby with cap

Researchers have found that giving antiviral therapy for a limited time to HIV-infected babies soon after diagnosis prevents damage to their immune systems and delays the need for long-term drug therapy.

The South African study, which enrolled 377 HIV-positive infants between six and 12 weeks of age, divided the babies into three groups. Beginning at age seven weeks, one group received antiviral drugs, or ART, and stopped close to their first birthday. The second group of infants receiving ART stopped around the age of two.

Both groups were compared to a third group of young children who were not treated with ART until they began showing symptoms of HIV infection, such as a failure to develop, or when the levels of their immune system CD4 cells became too low.

Mark Cotton, a pediatrician at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town and a study co-author, said in a Skype interview that infants given the shorter, intermediate course of ART - until age one - did not need to restart therapy for about eight months. Those who were on the longer treatment course until age 2 did not need to resume ART for almost a year-and-a-half after temporarily discontinuing therapy. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

A Portable Device for Common Kidney Tests

August 23rd 2013

Docs and Tech

A lightweight and field-portable device invented at UCLA that conducts kidney tests and transmits data through a smartphone attachment may significantly reduce the need for frequent office visits by people with diabetes and others with chronic kidney ailments.

The smartphone-based device was developed in the research lab of Aydogan Ozcan. Weighing about one-third of a pound, the gadget can determine levels of albumin in the patient's urine and transmit the results within seconds. Albumin is a protein in blood that is a sign of danger when found in urine.

Ozcan's lab also developed the opto-mechanical phone attachment, disposable test tubes, Android app and software to transmit the data. The research was published this month by the peer-reviewed journal Lab on a Chip.

"Albumin testing is frequently done to assess kidney damage, especially for diabetes patients," Ozcan said. "This device provides an extremely convenient platform for chronic patients at home or in remote locations where cell phones work." Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Statistical Tool Predicts Arsenic Risk in Chinese Wells

August 22nd 2013

Child drinking water

About 140 million people around the world drink water contaminated with unsafe-levels of arsenic. The element is found naturally in rocks and soil, but exposure to it presents a major public health problem, especially in regions where untreated groundwater is the only reliable source of drinking water. Scientists have deployed a new statistical tool that can help predict the greatest risk of contamination.

Luis Rodriguez-Lado led the team that designed the method.  The soil scientist from University of Santiago de Compostela says the model was tested in China, where in 1994 the Chinese government declared arsenic poisoning an endemic disease.

Officials responded with an initiative to test all wells in the country.  Rodriguez-Lado says the effort is so massive that it could take decades to complete.  He says his model can help speed that up, while it complements traditional testing methods.

“Our model provides a quick overview of the areas potentially at risk," he said. "So it can be used to optimize the screening efforts at full scale and prioritize the analysis of the areas potentially at high risk, saving money and time." That model, described in the journal Science, identifies Chinese arsenic hot spots based on factors thought to be predictors of high levels of the chemical element, like soil moisture, salinity and topography.  Read more ..

The Digital Edge

ZMap Can Scan the Entire Internet in Just Forty-Five Minutes

August 21st 2013

Computers multiple

Three computer science researchers at the University of Michigan have released ZMap, a new open-source tool that can perform a scan of the entire public IPv4 address space on the Internet in less than 45 minutes. For researchers probing the entire public address space, existing tools have required painstaking and time-consuming configuration, as well as either months of data collection or the use of large clusters of computers. ZMap changes that by running on a single computer and producing results over 1000 times faster.

The researchers, Zakir Durumeric, Eric Wustrow, and Prof. J. Alex Halderman, have hopes that ZMap will spark network-based inquiry, enabling a multitude of studies where previously just a few carefully-crafted investigations could be made. Only a handful of Internet-wide scans have been reported in the research literature, but the ZMap team performed more than 200 scans themselves over the course of the last year while developing and experimenting with their new tool. Read more ..

The Robotic Edge

Robot With Human-Like Hands Could Tackle Dangerous Situations

August 20th 2013

Robots (Star Wars)

Robo Sally is a remotely controlled humanoid robot that may one day help law enforcement officials and emergency technicians defuse bombs, patrol large spaces and do guard duty. It was designed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory [APL], outside Washington, D.C.

The robot is a versatile moving platform with a humanoid attachment that looks like a modern day centaur. It can turn in tight spaces, climb over small obstacles, closely examine objects and even manipulate them with human-like hands.

But Robo Sally was not initially designed for sentry duties. Mike McLoughlin, the principal investigator for APL's Prosthetics Program, said, "The purpose of that program is to develop prosthetic arms that have all the capability of your natural arms, and you do all the complex motions that we can do with the natural arm - with the robot. We had this idea if we did this for prosthetics for humans, we could also put these on robotic platforms and enable the robots to go out into dangerous situations.”

It was a complex task. McLoughlin said the device not only had to have many small motors to mimic the flexibility of the human hand, it needed human-like strength. The thumb was especially difficult because it allows the hand to grasp objects. And everything had to fit into a space about the size of a hand. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Doctors Prevent Blindness With 'Revolutionary' Phone App

August 19th 2013


Since January hundreds of Kenyans have undergone eye tests, not in a clinic with a doctor, but on their own doorstep, using a smart-phone application.  The app uses a camera to scan the lens of the eye for cataracts, and its developers say it could save millions of people from blindness.

Dr. Andrew Bastawrous from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine developed the new application along with a small team. He is currently in Nakuru, Kenya, where he is testing the technology, and told VOA that it appears to be working.

“They are absolutely loving it.  They are all asking to have a go and have their vision tested.  So it is certainly very user friendly,” said Bastawrous. So far about 2,000 Kenyans have been given eye tests.  The developers estimate about 10 percent of those had cataracts and needed treatment.

Stewart Jordan is an independent application designer who helped develop the app called PEEK, or Portable Eye Examination Kit.  He says the kit includes a clip-on camera, which works with the app to check glasses prescription, diagnose cataracts or examine the back of the eye for diseases, from glaucoma to diabetes. In just a few seconds, he said, you can take a clear image of the back of the eye.  Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Cosmic Turbulences Result in Star and Black Hole Formation

August 18th 2013

Massive black hole disrupting star formation

Just how stars and black holes in the Universe are able to form from rotating matter is one of the big questions of astrophysics. What we do know is that magnetic fields figure prominently into the picture. However, our current understanding is that they only work if matter is electrically well conductive -- but in rotating discs this isn't always the case. Now, a new publication by Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf physicists in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters shows how magnetic fields can also cause turbulences within "dead zones," thus making an important contribution to our current understanding of just how compact objects form in the cosmos.

When Johannes Kepler first proposed his laws of planetary motion in the early days of the 17th century, he could not have foreseen the central role cosmic magnetic fields would play in planetary system formation. Today, we know that in the absence of magnetic fields, mass would not be able to concentrate in compact bodies like stars and black holes. One prominent example is our solar system, which formed 4.6 billion years ago through the collapse of a gigantic cloud of gas, whose gravitational pull concentrated particles in its center, culminating in the formation of a large disc. "These accretion discs are extremely stable from a hydrodynamic perspective as according to Kepler's laws of planetary motion angular momentum increases from the center towards the periphery," explains HZDR's own Dr. Frank Stefani. "In order to explain the growth rates of stars and black holes, there has to exist a mechanism, which acts to destabilize the rotating disc and which at the same time ensures mass is transported towards the center and angular momentum towards the periphery." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Mars Society Calls for Students Worldwide to Compete

August 17th 2013

Red Planet

The U.S.-based Mars Society called on university students around the world to help advance plans for a manned mission to the planet during the 16th Annual International Mars Society Convention in the U.S. state of Colorado.

It has been about six months since the non-profit Inspiration Mars Foundation, founded by space tourist and multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, proposed launching a manned mission toward Mars in five years. The plan calls for one man and one woman to fly within 160 kilometers of Mars and return to Earth.   

While the crew is slated to be American, the process of getting to Mars is an international endeavor. The president of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, announced a competition that calls on teams of students around the world to design a two-person Mars flyby mission that could be launched in 2018. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Fungicide for Plants May Hurt Honeybees

August 16th 2013

European honeybee and flower

A widely used chemical used to fight plant disease is hurting honeybees in an unexpected way, according to new research, and may be contributing to the widespread loss of honeybees that pollinate many fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops.

Die out
Honeybee hives in the United States and elsewhere are dying and researchers are trying to understand why.

“The number of colonies that die every winter has been one in three," said Dennis VanEngelsdorp at the University of Maryland. "So on average 30 percent of the colonies have died every winter over the last six winters. And that’s an astronomical number.”

VanEngelsdorp's research team examined the pollen that honeybees carried to their hives, and found that it was contaminated with high doses of 35 different pesticides. They also found that eating certain fungicides made bees more susceptible to infection by Nosema, a deadly microbe. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Hubble Explores the Orgins of Modern Galaxies

August 15th 2013

Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster

The Hubble Sequence classifies galaxies according to their morphology and star-forming activity, organising them into a cosmic zoo of spiral, elliptical, and irregular shapes with whirling arms, fuzzy haloes and bright central bulges. Two main types of galaxy are identified in this sequence: elliptical and spiral, with a third type, lenticular, settling somewhere between the two.

This accurately describes what we see in the region of space around us, but how does galaxy morphology change as we look further back in time, to when the Universe was very young?

"This is a key question: when and over what timescale did the Hubble Sequence form?" says BoMee Lee of the University of Massachusetts, USA, lead author of a new paper exploring the sequence. "To do this you need to peer at distant galaxies and compare them to their closer relatives, to see if they too can be described in the same way." The astronomers used Hubble to look 11 billion years back in time to when the Universe was very young, exploring the anatomy of distant galaxies. Read more ..

The Edge of Transportation

Hyperloop Proposed as Fifth Mode of Transport

August 14th 2013

Univ Michigan concept vehicle

Inventor Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and PayPal, is proposing what he’s calling a fifth mode of transportation after planes, trains, cars and boats.

In a release posted today on the Tesla Motors website, Elon calls the Hyperloop idea a “safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainable self-powering and resistant to earthquakes” mode of transport compared to the high-speed rail link that has been approved to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The solar-powered Hyperloop as conceived, would be a tube structure that would shoot pods filled with passengers through the tubes at speeds approaching 1,000 kilometers per hour. He wrote that the system could be “some enlarged version of the old pneumatic tubes used to send mail and packages within and between buildings. You could, in principle, use very powerful fans to push air at high speed through a tube and propel people sized pods all the way from LA [Los Angeles] to San Francisco.“ Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

New Discoveries in the Transmission of Viruses Between Animals and Humans

August 12th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Outbreaks such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) have afflicted people around the world, yet many people think these trends are on the decline. Quite the opposite is true.

The efforts to combat this epidemic are being spearheaded by a team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists. Led by Monica Borucki of LLNL's Biosciences and Biotechnology Division, the Lab researchers have made promising new discoveries that provide insight into the emergence of inter-species transmittable viruses.

They discovered that the genetic diversity of a viral population within a host animal could allow a virus to adapt to certain conditions, which could help it reach a human host. This discovery advances the scientific understanding of how new viruses produced from animal reservoirs can infect people. An animal reservoir is an animal species that harbors an infectious agent, which then goes on to potentially infect humans or other species. Borucki's team is investigating viruses related to SARS and MERS, but not the actual viruses themselves. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Capture Signitures with Tiny LEDs Created with Piezo-Phototronic Effect

August 11th 2013


Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology want to put your signature up in lights – tiny lights, that is. Using thousands of nanometer-scale wires, the researchers have developed a sensor device that converts mechanical pressure – from a signature or a fingerprint – directly into light signals that can be captured and processed optically.

The sensor device could provide an artificial sense of touch, offering sensitivity comparable to that of the human skin. Beyond collecting signatures and fingerprints, the technique could also be used in biological imaging and micro-electromechanical (MEMS) systems. Ultimately, it could provide a new approach for human-machine interfaces.

"You can write with your pen and the sensor will optically detect what you write at high resolution and with a very fast response rate," said Zhong Lin Wang, Regents' professor and Hightower Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech. "This is a new principle for imaging force that uses parallel detection and avoids many of the complications of existing pressure sensors." Read more ..

The Tecnology Edge

Puri Water Bottle Makes Potable Drinking Water at Sea

August 10th 2013

Ocean scene

During my travels throughout the Middle East and North Africa, I dreamed of having a magical bottle that could purify water without the need for any gross tasting tablets, and here it is: Puri.

Submitted to the 2013 IDEA Design Awards, this water bottle designed by designed by Younsun Kim, Kangkyung Lee, Byungsoo Kim and Minji Kim can literally separate salt from sea water in order to produce safe drinking water – even when stranded in the middle of the ocean.

While most desalination technology is complicated or takes up more space than a small water bottle can hold, the design team behind Puri devised a new system that is so system we wonder why nobody came up with it before. But isn’t that the case with all great inventions? Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Is Europa Inhabitable?

August 8th 2013


Europa, the ice-covered moon of the planet Jupiter, may be able to support life. NASA has commissioned a team of expert scientists to consider the science goals for a landed spacecraft mission to the surface of Europa, and to investigate the composition and geology of its icy shell and the potential for life within its interior ocean. The NASA-appointed Science Definition Team outlines the main priorities of a future lander mission to Europa to study its potential habitability in an article in Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Astrobiology website.

The article "Science Potential from a Europa Lander" presents the three main objectives of a future mission designed to land a robotic spacecraft on the surface of Europa and to investigate its potential to support life. NASA's Science Definition Team has clearly identified three main priorities: investigate the composition and chemistry of Europa's ocean; characterize the thickness, uniformity, and dynamics of its icy shell; and study the moon's human-scale surface geology. In addition, the NASA-appointed team describes the types of studies and payload of instruments recommended to achieve these objectives. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Flying Robots Compete

August 7th 2013

Flying Robot

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make a three-pound flying robot that takes off autonomously, enters a building through a window, avoids security lasers, navigates hallways, reads signs, enters the correct room, finds a specific flash drive, removes it from an inbox on a desk, replaces it with a decoy, and exits the building -- all in less than 10 minutes.

It seems like a scene from Mission Impossible, but those are the requirements for this year's International Aerial Robotics Competition. Indeed, the mission is almost impossible. "We came in first place last year as the only robot that both entered and exited the building, but we were not able to retrieve the flash drive," Johnathan Bendes, a University of Michigan computer science student leading one of the competing teams, told us. "This year, we have a retractable magnet that we hope will be able to retrieve the flash drive." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Explosion Illuminates Invisible Galaxy in the Dark Ages

August 6th 2013

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy

More than 12 billion years ago a star exploded, ripping itself apart and blasting its remains outward in twin jets at nearly the speed of light. At its death it glowed so brightly that it outshone its entire galaxy by a million times. This brilliant flash traveled across space for 12.7 billion years to a planet that hadn't even existed at the time of the explosion - our Earth. By analyzing this light, astronomers learned about a galaxy that was otherwise too small, faint and far away for even the Hubble Space Telescope to see.

"This star lived at a very interesting time, the so-called dark ages just a billion years after the Big Bang," says lead author Ryan Chornock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "In a sense, we're forensic scientists investigating the death of a star and the life of a galaxy in the earliest phases of cosmic time," he adds. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Stem Cells From Urine May Treat Human Diseases

August 5th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Researchers have isolated stem cells from urine as the latest potential source of treatment for human diseases. Investigators say using urine to collect and cultivate these master cells is easy and involves minimal processing.

Using proteins known as growth factors, researchers can manipulate stem cells - or master cells - to grow into any tissue in the body. Therapy using stem cells from a patient’s own body is desirable because it does not cause immune rejection, as can happen with tissues and organs from donors. 

Currently, most scientists use a complicated process to engineer regular skin and blood cells into specific cell types. That's because there are few pure sources of master cells - apart from human embryos, whose use is quite controversial.

Researchers are now finding small numbers of stem cells in urine. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said, “The advantage with urine is that you are getting approximately 2 liters of urine out every day. So you don’t have to keep going back and sticking the patient [with a needle] or doing biopsies on the patient.” Read more ..

The Mathematical Edge

Israeli Team Takes Medals in Math Olympiad

August 4th 2013


The team that represented Israel at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Santa Marta, Colombia, has won six medals—one gold, three silver, and two bronze, ranking 13th among 97 participating countries.

Team members are “graduates” of national Olympiads—the Joseph Gillis National Math Olympiad for high school and the Zuta Math Olympiad for junior high school students—held at the Davidson Institute of Science Education, the educational arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science. The team took part in a two-week training camp in early June, as well as training sessions held over the three months that preceded the competition. They were coached by Lev Radzivilovsky, together with Prof. Dmitry Novikov of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Mathematics.

Omri Solan of the Rishonim High School in Herzliya was the gold medal winner, and he was ranked 5th out of 45 gold medal winners. Amotz Oppenheim of the Shevah Mofet High School in Tel Aviv, Nitzan Tur of the Alliance—Kol Israel Haverim High School in Haifa, and Tom Kalvari of the Kfar Hayarok High School were silver medalists. Yoav Kraus of the Ephraim Katzir High School in Holon Ofer Grossman received the bronze medals. Read more ..

Broken Government

Industry Muscle Targets Federal 'Report on Carcinogens'

August 1st 2013

asbestos hazard

In the 1980s, toxicologist James Huff was a bane of industry’s existence.

A blunt Philadelphian, Huff helped supervise animal tests here at the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. Mice and rats were dosed with chemicals, and Huff and his colleagues publicized the results when tumors sprouted. People needed to know about “blowout” carcinogens, Huff said. He didn’t care who was upset.

Now, three decades later, Huff cites industry’s growing and “perverse” influence on science. “They’re more clever, more sophisticated,” said Huff, 75, who retired this year but remains a guest researcher at NIEHS. “They spend a lot of time in Congress.”

Increasingly, industry is targeting Huff’s former employer and its parent, the Department of Health and Human Services — in particular, HHS’s Report on Carcinogens. Two lobby groups sued the agency after two widely used chemicals were listed in the report. In a victory for industry, lawmakers mandated additional, ongoing scientific reviews of the document. And, a trade association representing makers of fiber-reinforced plastics claimed credit for a congressional hearing last year that evolved into an open airing of industry grievances. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient Halls of the Dead Found in Britain

July 31st 2013

Click to select Image

The remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been discovered by archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council -- in a UK first.

The sensational finds on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch in Herefordshire, were thought to be constructed between 4000 and 3600 BC.

Some of the burnt wood discovered at the site shows the character of the building's structure above ground level -- in another UK first. The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found – 70metres and 30m long. They were, say the team, deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Capturing Black Hole Spin Could Further Understanding of Galaxy Growth

July 29th 2013

Swift J1544+57 (black hole)

Astronomers have found a new way of measuring the spin in supermassive black holes, which could lead to better understanding about how they drive the growth of galaxies.

The scientists at Durham University, UK, observed a black hole - with mass 10 million times that of our Sun - at the centre of a spiral galaxy 500 million light years from Earth while it was feeding on the surrounding disc of material that fuels its growth and powers its activity.

By viewing optical, ultra-violet and soft x-rays generated by heat as the black hole fed, they were able to measure how far the disc was from the black hole.

This distance depends on black hole spin as a fast spinning black hole pulls the disc in closer to itself, the researchers said. Using the distance between the black hole and the disc, the scientists were able to estimate the spin of the black hole. The scientists said that understanding spin could lead to greater understanding of galaxy growth over billions of years. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Hacker Dies Days Before Scheduled Revelation on How to Remotely Kill Pacemaker Patients

July 28th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Security researcher Barnaby Jack has passed away in San Francisco, only days before a scheduled appearance at a Las Vegas hacker conference where he intended to show how an ordinary pacemaker could be compromised in order to kill a man. Jack, who previously presented hacks involving ATMs and insulin pumps at the annual Black Hat conference in Vegas, was confirmed dead Friday morning by the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, Reuters reported. He passed away Thursday this week, but the office declined to offer any more details at this time.

Jack’s death came one week to the day before he was scheduled to detail one of his most recent exploits in a Black Hat talk called “Implantable Medical Devices: Hacking Humans.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA Unveils New Sun Images

July 26th 2013


NASA's new solar observatory is already giving scientists an unprecedented glimpse of the sun.  The U.S. space agency has released the first images from the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, known as IRIS, which was launched one month ago.

The images show an active, dynamic region.  NASA describes spots that quickly brighten and dim, and thread-like towers of energy that reveal major temperature differences in the sun's lower atmosphere.  The IRIS satellite looks at the little-understood, lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere. 

John Grunsfeld, of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, described the moment on July 17 when the solar observatory's telescope caught its first glimpse of the sun. "When the aperture door opened, it was truly a grand opening of a new era of solar physics," he told reporters.  

Grunsfeld described the sun's interface region as "a crucial link in that story of unraveling the mysteries of the sun."   Among those mysteries is just how the sun's upper atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface, even though it's farther from the sun's heat-generating core.  IRIS observes the way solar material gathers energy and heats up as it rises through the sun's lower atmosphere. Read more ..

The Solar System Edge

Solar System's Youth Gives Clues to Planet Search

July 24th 2013

Solar System Birth

Comets and meteorites contain clues to our solar system's earliest days. But some of the findings are puzzle pieces that don't seem to fit well together. A new set of theoretical models from Carnegie's Alan Boss shows how an outburst event in the Sun's formative years could explain some of this disparate evidence. His work could have implications for the hunt for habitable planets outside of our solar system. It is published by The Astrophysical Journal.

One way to study the solar system's formative period is to look for samples of small crystalline particles that were formed at high temperatures but now exist in icy comets. Another is to analyze the traces of isotopes—versions of elements with the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons—found in primitive meteorites. These isotopes decay and turn into different, so-called daughter, elements. The initial abundances of these isotopes tell researchers where the isotopes may have come from, and can give clues as to how they traveled around the early solar system. Read more ..

The Edge Climate Change

New Theory Points To Areas At Risk Of Rapid Iceberg Disintegration

July 23rd 2013

Melting Arctic glacier by Angus Duncan

In events that could exacerbate sea level rise over the coming decades, stretches of ice on the coasts of Antarctica and Greenland are at risk of rapidly cracking apart and falling into the ocean, according to new iceberg calving simulations from the University of Michigan.

"If this starts to happen and we're right, we might be closer to the higher end of sea level rise estimates for the next 100 years," said Jeremy Bassis, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the U-M College of Engineering, and first author of a paper on the new model published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

Iceberg calving, or the formation of icebergs, occurs when ice chunks break off larger shelves or glaciers and float away, eventually melting in warmer waters. Although iceberg calving accounts for roughly half of the mass lost from ice sheets, it isn't reflected in any models of how climate change affects the ice sheets and could lead to additional sea level rise, Bassis said. Read more ..

The Solar Edge

Major Solar Storm Could Be Heading for Earth

July 22nd 2013


With the sun nearing the peak of its 11-year cycle, scientists say a powerful solar storm may be headed our way, which could shut down electricity supply networks and disorient GPS and satellite systems.

The worst known geomagnetic solar storm hit Earth in 1859, observed and sketched by astronomer Richard Carrington. The Carrington event upset global telegraph communications. Surprised operators watched sparks fly from telegraph lines and set telegraph paper on fire.

While not nearly as powerful, other storms in history have cut power, knocked out telephone service, short-circuited satellites and caused radio blackouts. 

The Earth is overdue for another Carrington-like storm, according to a new report released by Lloyd’s of London, the world oldest insurance market.

Co-author Neil Smith says it could be even more devastating, given the worldwide dependence on electric power supply grids. “We are estimating that 20-40 million people might be without power from anywhere up to one, even two years," he said. "That has to do with the critical issue of replacement transformers. That number of people without power could result in an economic cost somewhere between $0.6 trillion to $2.6 trillion.” Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

iKnife Improves Removal of Cancerous Tissue

July 21st 2013


An experimental surgical scalpel is helping surgeons target only cancerous tissue when they remove a tumor. The iKnife — or "intelligent knife" — “sniffs” the smoke produced as it cauterizes the tissue, distinguishing malignant cells from surrounding healthy tissue.

From the moment patients wake up after an operation to remove a cancerous tumor, the first question most ask their surgeons is, “Did you get it all?”

Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, where the iKnife technology was developed, says that is a difficult question to answer with certainty, because even the best surgeons often have trouble distinguishing cancerous from healthy tissue.

“You can’t absolutely guarantee that, but ... what you can say is that this sort of technology guarantees a great deal more precision about what you cut out, so you are much more likely to have removed all the offending material, whatever that is, and you are also much more likely not to have cut out good stuff," he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Interspecies Transplant Paves the Way for Diabetes Therapy

July 20th 2013


Researchers have come closer to the “Holy Grail” of treatment for people with type 1 diabetes. They have successfully transplanted insulin-producing islet cells from one species into another without the use of immunity-suppressing drugs. In the future this could provide an unlimited supply of tissue to treat people whose bodies cannot produce insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that delivers glucose - a form of sugar that the body uses for fuel - to cells for energy. Since the immune systems of people with type 1 diabetes attack and destroy the islet cells that produce insulin, many sufferers must inject themselves with insulin frequently, simply in order to survive.

It has long been a goal of scientists to transplant islets into humans - from other humans or pigs - without their bodies rejecting them. Human cadaver transplants are difficult, while animal-to-human transplants have proved nearly impossible. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

US Unveils Green Supercomputer

July 19th 2013

Oak Ridge Super Computer

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago is home to one of the newest, fastest, most efficient supercomputers in the country, called MIRA.  But despite the new equipment, lawmakers are concerned that the United States is losing the international supercomputing race, a field it has dominated for decades.

Lined up in a sprawling room on the second floor of Argonne National Laboratory’s Theory and Computing Sciences building is the future of supercomputing. Argonne Director Eric Isaacs says MIRA can go where few computers can. “A machine like this enables us to start solving complex problems, and by complex problems, I mean problems that have many moving parts," he said. "Like a jet engine, a photovoltaic cell, like a grid, if you think about a power grid, a power grid is a very complicated thing.” Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Engineering a Solution to Anti-Biotic Resistant Bacteria Super-Bugs

July 16th 2013

Purple super bugs bacteria

Medical professionals and researchers warn that hospitals are becoming hotbeds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and without action, mortality rates could rise to early-20th century levels or higher. University of Michigan engineers are taking action – exploring approaches that can prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold or help antibiotics work more effectively.

While antibiotics stop bacteria in a variety of ways, no method is foolproof. Bacteria can pick up drug resistance from one another, from genes that happen to be loose in their environment, and from viruses that infect them. There might be relatively few drug-resistant bacteria in an initial infection, but after antibiotics have decimated the population, only the resistant bacteria are around to reproduce. If the body’s immune system can’t pick up the slack on those resistant types, the disease becomes difficult – if not impossible – to treat. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Inscription from Time of King David Found Near Temple Mount

July 14th 2013

Jar fragment King David Jerusalem

Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city's history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE. A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

The Dark Side of Artificial Sweeteners

July 13th 2013


More and more Americans are consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, but whether this translates into better health has been heavily debated. An opinion article published by Cell Press on July 10th in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism reviews surprising evidence on the negative impact of artificial sweeteners on health, raising red flags about all sweeteners—even those that don't have any calories.

"It is not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy, will help them lose weight or will help prevent weight gain," says author Susan E. Swithers of Purdue University. "The data to support those claims are not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Scientists Observe Solar System's Tail for First Time

July 11th 2013

Solar System Tail

If you've ever seen a speeding comet or even an image of one, you've seen that it has a tail.  Scientists have thought that our solar system also has a tail, but they just observed it for the first time. 

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, is a satellite that peers out toward the edge of our solar system.  It allowed scientists to actually map out the tail of our heliosphere, that region of space that is influenced by the Sun.

Eric Christian, an IBEX mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said scientists have seen tails around other stars. "We know that the Sun is moving relative to interstellar gas, and so we presumed there was a tail, but this is actually the first real data that we have that gives us the shape of the tail," he said in a NASA-organized Google Plus Hangout Wednesday. Read more ..

The Race for Water

Tiny “Water Chip” Desalinates Water With the Power of a Store-Bought Battery

July 10th 2013

glass water

Water scarcity is probably the most pressing environmental concern in the Middle East region and current desalination technologies are too costly and energy-intensive to rely on as a sustainable solution. But a new nano “water chip” that uses the power of a store-bought battery holds promise.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Marburg in Germany sought to develop a method of removing salt from water that did not require a membrane. That was the first priority, since membranes used in current desalination plants is prone to contamination.

Secondly, they wanted to reduce the energy-intensity associated with reverse osmosis and other common desalination methods and they wanted a system that would be affordable for just about anyone living near salt or brackish water.

The research team worked with Okeanos Technologies, a small startup created to first develop and then finally distribute the technology.

“People are dying because of a lack of freshwater,” said Tony Frudakis, founder and CEO of Okeanos. “And they’ll continue to do so until there is some kind of breakthrough, and that is what we are hoping our technology will represent.”

Called electrochemically mediated seawater desalination, the technology uses a water-filled plastic chip that has two branches or pathways. A small electric charge is applied to the chip, neutralizing chloride ions and creating an ion depletion zone, and fresh water is diverted to one channel while the salts are pushed out of the other. “Like a troll at the foot of the bridge, the ion depletion zone prevents salt from passing through, resulting in the production of freshwater,” the researchers wrote in a press statement. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Graphene on Its Way to Conquer Silicon Valley

July 9th 2013


The unique properties of graphene such as its incredible strength and, at the same time, its little weight have raised high expectations in modern material science. Graphene, a two-dimensional crystal of carbon atoms packed in a honeycomb structure, has been in the focus of intensive research which led to a Nobel Prize of Physics in 2010. One major challenge is to successfully integrate graphene into the established metal-silicide technology.

Scientists from the University of Vienna and their co-workers from research institutes in Germany and Russia have succeeded in fabricating a novel structure of high-quality metal silicides all nicely covered and protected underneath a graphene layer. These two-dimensional sheets are as thin as single atoms. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Untangling Snakes' Deceptive Coloration Mimicking Venomous Relatives

July 7th 2013

Ground snakes color morphs

Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack.

That folk rhyme is supposed to help people distinguish venomous coral snakes from several non-venomous "mimics," animals that discourage predators by deceptively imitating a dangerous species.

The problem is that the rhyme is unreliable due to the vast amount of color and pattern variation, called color polymorphism, found in both coral snakes and their mimics. The harmless ground snake, a common coral snake mimic, displays four strikingly different color patterns, only one of which closely resembles its dangerous red-and-black-and-yellow-banded counterpart.

If a mimicry system offers protection from predators, then why hasn't evolution eliminated the "failed mimics," such as ground snakes sporting color patterns that don't remotely resemble a coral snake? Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Using Kickstarter to Launch Micro-Satellites into Inter-Planetary Space

July 6th 2013

CubeSat in space

Two University of Michigan engineering professors are turning to the Kickstarter online community to help fund an interplanetary satellite mission. They are teaming up to create two new technologies in a matter of months, with the goal of using a plasma thruster to push a CubeSat into deep space – something that has never been done before.

"We're using Kickstarter to develop a new miniature thruster technology to mount on CubeSats, a small spacecraft that is about the size of a loaf of bread. We'll use this new thruster to escape Earth's orbit and send them into interplanetary space," said Benjamin Longmier, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and a propulsion specialist in the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Lab (PEPL) in the College of Engineering. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Intel Offers Glimpse of Future

July 5th 2013

Driving Simulator

High tech companies are busy developing the next generation of products that will help us drive our cars, do our shopping and even care for our children. High tech giant Intel showed reporters some experimental devices in San Francisco.

A vehicle mock-up shows a driver whose brain activity, monitored by head sensors, and eye movement, tracked by a dashboard camera, tell how alert he is at the wheel. Intel Labs senior fellow Justin Rattner says devices like these will make driving safer.

"We're not monitoring brain waves. We're seeing how much of the brain is occupied in a given situation, how much of the brain is occupied when you're driving your car, or when you're driving and trying to send text messages," said Rattner. Read more ..

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