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The Edge of Relativity

Bizarre Binary Star System Pushes Study of Relativity to New Limits

April 29th 2013

First stars form after Big Bang

An international team of astronomers and an exotic pair of binary stars have proved that Albert Einstein's theory of relativity is still right, even in the most extreme conditions tested yet. The results of their research are described in the April 26 issue of Science.

"The unusual pair of stars is quite interesting in its own right but we've learned it is also a unique laboratory for testing the limits of one of our most fundamental physical theories, general relativity" says University of Toronto astronomy professor Marten van Kerkwijk, a member of the research team.

What makes the pair of stars exceptional are the unique characteristics of each and their close proximity to each other. One is a tiny but unusually heavy neutron star – one of the most massive confirmed to date. Named PSR J0348+0432, it is the remnant of a supernova explosion, and is twice as heavy as the Sun yet is only 20 kilometres across. The neutron star is a pulsar that gives off radio waves that can be picked up on Earth by radio telescopes. The gravity at its surface is more than 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth and at its centre every sugarcube-sized volume has more than one billion tonnes of matter squeezed into it, roughly the mass of every human past and present. Read more ..

Environment and Society

Air Pollution Linked to Heart Attacks and Strokes

April 26th 2013

Click to select Image

Long-term exposure to air pollution may be linked to heart attacks and strokes by speeding up atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," according to a University of Michigan public health researcher and colleagues from across the United States.

Sara Adar, the John Searle Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, and Joel Kaufman, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and medicine at the University of Washington, led the study that found that higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) were linked to a faster thickening of the inner two layers of the common carotid artery—an important blood vessel that provides blood to the head, neck and brain. Read more ..

The Edge of Ecology

Earth-Imaging Yields Hi-Res Look at Ecosystems

April 25th 2013

Airborne Science ER-2

The U.S. space agency is adapting tools it has used to learn about water on the moon, minerals on Mars and the composition of exoplanets to analyze ecosystems on planet Earth. NASA this week finished a month of preliminary high-altitude tests of a new Earth-imaging instrument package, which the agency plans to launch into orbit.

The instruments have been flying on NASA’s ER-2, an aircraft that skirts the edge of space at an altitude of 20,000 meters, nearly two times the cruising altitude of commercial jetliners. The imaging tools gather data about how different wavelengths of light interact with landscape molecules and particles to produce a spectral fingerprint. According to Robert Green, a NASA scientist sensors for an instrument called the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer precisely measure the light and temperature characteristics of each ecosystem the plane overflies. Read more ..

The Science of Terrorism

DNA Found on Bomb Backpacks is Traced to Terrorists

April 23rd 2013

backpack bomb

Catching terrorists who detonate bombs may be easier by testing the containers that hide the bombs rather than the actual explosives, according to pioneering research led by Michigan State University. Currently, law enforcement labs tend to test for DNA on the exploded bomb fragments – but this has a low success rate, said David Foran, an MSU forensic biologist and lead investigator on the research project.

Through the MSU-led study, researchers obtained DNA from eight backpacks that had been blown up with pipe bombs inside, and subsequently obtained full DNA profiles that matched all eight volunteers who had carried the backpacks for a week. The findings, which appeared in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, could ultimately change the way law enforcement officials investigate bombings, Foran said.

The Edge of Space

Space Telescope Spots Distant Planets Well Placed for Life

April 22nd 2013

New Earth Sized Planets

Scientists have announced the discovery of three planets, in two planetary systems, that are in or on the edge of the so-called habitable zone, the range that is just the right distance from their stars so they wouldn't be too hot or too cold to have liquid water. They made these discoveries with NASA's Kepler space telescope

William Borucki, the Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, described the Kepler-62 planetary system, which he says is 1,200 light years away.  One light year is 10 trillion kilometers.

Much like our solar system, he said, Kepler-62 is home to two habitable-zone worlds, called Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f.  Those planets are about one-and-a-half times the size of Earth.

"In fact, these two planets are our best candidates for planets that might be habitable, not just in the habitable zone," he told reporters at a news conference at Ames.  "They're part of a planetary system of five planets that we've discovered so far, but these are the two that are most important."  

Borucki said 62e might be a water world, but scientists aren't certain as they only know its radius, not its mass.  He says planet 62f, the smaller of the two, might very well be a rocky planet, and possibly have polar caps, significant land masses and water.      Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Umoove Operates Your Mobile Through Head Movements Alone

April 20th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Newsgeek chose Israel’s Umoove as one of the three most promising Israeli startups for 2013. What the Kinect motion-sensing device did for the Xbox game console, Israeli startup Umoove proposes to do for your mobile. You won’t have to move your whole body – only the parts from the chin up — to play games, scroll down a page or dial your mother.

“Kinect holds a Guinness record for being the fastest-selling consumer electronics device because it was much more immersive and engaging than other ways to play,” says Moti Krispil, one of the company’s founders. “We are following that paradigm in the mobile space, where the only thing visible is your head and eyes. You are constantly looking at the screen, so why shouldn’t they become the interface?”

Krispil, 34, co-founded Umoove in 2010 along with Yitzi Kempinski, Nir Blaustein and Tuvia Elbaum, Based in Jerusalem; the company now employs 13. Newsgeek chose Umoove as one of the three most promising Israeli startups for 2013. “Many companies are trying to decipher the DNA of how to do this, but most probably we are the first to achieve consumer-grade performance using no special hardware at all, just your phone,” Krispil states. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Reverse Memory Loss in Animal Brain Cells

April 17th 2013


Neuroscientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have taken a major step in their efforts to help people with memory loss tied to brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Using sea snail nerve cells, the scientists reversed memory loss by determining when the cells were primed for learning. The scientists were able to help the cells compensate for memory loss by retraining them through the use of optimized training schedules. “Although much works remains to be done, we have demonstrated the feasibility of our new strategy to help overcome memory deficits,” said John “Jack” Byrne, the study’s senior author.

This latest study builds on Byrne’s 2012 investigation that pioneered this memory enhancement strategy.  The 2012 study showed a significant increase in long-term memory in healthy sea snails called Aplysia californica, an animal that has a simple nervous system, but with cells having properties similar to other more advanced species including humans. Read more ..

Digital Edge

Social Media and Internet Cause Societal Fragmentation and Isolation

April 16th 2013

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The larger the group, the smaller the chance of forming interracial friendships, a new University of Michigan study shows. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines how the size of a community affects the realization of people's preferences for friends. U-M researchers Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie tested their theoretical model using both simulated and real data on actual friendships among 4,745 U.S. high school students.

"We found that total school size had a major effect on the likelihood that students would form interracial friendships. Large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships," said Xie, a sociologist with the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Institute for Social Research and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient Egyptian Blue Pigment Leads to Nanotech Breakthrough

April 16th 2013

Egyptian Blue

According to a new paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society the ancient pigment known as Egyptian blue may have important new applications in nanotechnology.  Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia in the US were surprised to discover that Egyptian blue breaks into thin nanosheets, 1/1000th the width of a human hair which could be printed using ordinary ink-jet printer techniques. This along with other Egyptian blue properties may have important applications in medical science, telecommunication and lasers.

The earth tones of 15,000 year-old cave paintings were created with natural pigments of yellow and red ochre clay, soot, berries, animal parts and blood.  Most of the world’s languages did not have a word for the color blue 5000 years ago when, sometime before Egypt’s fourth dynasty a clever alchemist heated copper, sand and natron. The resulting powder is composed of tiny crystals of calcium copper silicate (CaCuSi4O10.)

The Egyptian word for this substance was hsbd-iryt which means artificial lapiz lazuli. Before the discovery of Egyptian blue it was necessary to crush the valuable gemstone Lapiz Lazuli in order to reproduce the colors of rebirth, irtiu and khshdj. Read more ..

The Edge of Evolution

Environment Speeds Evolutionary Change

April 15th 2013

A new study challenges the widely held belief that evolutionary changes in living organisms take place slowly, over hundreds, thousands or millions of years. Researchers have found evidence species can evolve much more quickly when in response to environmental change.

Tim Benton studies how living organisms respond to changes in their environment. In a paper published in Ecology Letters, the professor of biological sciences at the University of Leeds in England examines why marine species, for example, have declined so rapidly in size and number over the past 50 years. “Is this a response that is due to them having less food or the temperature of the water changing from climate change or is it a response that is due to natural selection working and evolutionary biology happening?” Benton said.

To find out, Benton’s team of researchers conducted a series of laboratory experiments with soil mites, tiny spider-like creatures that, among other things, reproduce rapidly. “We brought them in from the wild and put them in test tubes, where each test tube maintained about 1,000 individuals in a free running population. Every day, we just put in a little bit of food," he said. "And in some of the populations we took out juveniles and in other populations we harvested adults. And then we just left them to it over about 100 weeks.” Read more ..

The Edge of Mars

Carbon's Role in Atmosphere Formation

April 14th 2013

Red Planet

A new study of how carbon is trapped and released by iron-rich volcanic magma offers clues about the early atmospheric evolution on Mars and other terrestrial bodies.

The composition of a planet’s atmosphere has roots deep beneath its surface. When mantle material melts to form magma, it traps subsurface carbon. As magma moves upward toward the surface and pressure decreases, that carbon is released as a gas. On Earth, carbon is trapped in magma as carbonate and degassed as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that helps Earth’s atmosphere trap heat from the sun. But how carbon is transferred from underground to the atmosphere in other planets — and how that might influence greenhouse conditions — wasn’t well understood.

“We know carbon goes from the solid mantle to the liquid magma, from liquid to gas and then out,” said Alberto Saal, professor of geological sciences at Brown and one of the study’s authors. “We want to understand how the different carbon species that are formed in the conditions that are relevant to the planet affect the transfer.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

A Ghostly Green Bubble

April 13th 2013

Dumbbell Nebula

Stars the size of the Sun end their lives as tiny and faint white dwarf stars. But as they make the final transition into retirement their atmospheres are blown away into space. For a few tens of thousands of years they are surrounded by the spectacular and colourful glowing clouds of ionised gas known as planetary nebulae.

This new image from the VLT shows the planetary nebula IC 1295, which lies in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield). It has the unusual feature of being surrounded by multiple shells that make it resemble a micro-organism seen under a microscope, with many layers corresponding to the membranes of a cell.

These bubbles are made out of gas that used to be the star's atmosphere. This gas has been expelled by unstable fusion reactions in the star's core that generated sudden releases of energy, like huge thermonuclear belches. The gas is bathed in strong ultraviolet radiation from the aging star, which makes the gas glow. Different chemical elements glow with different colours and the ghostly green shade that is prominent in IC 1295 comes from ionised oxygen. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

US Plans to Capture Asteroid

April 11th 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

Asteroids were a topic of discussion in the U.S. capital Wednesday as NASA's chief unveiled the space agency's proposed budget for 2014 and lawmakers discussed space threats at a hearing on Capitol Hill. The proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for the U.S. space agency remains largely steady at $17.7 billion.  

NASA chief Charlie Bolden says the space agency remains on track to meet President Barack Obama's challenge to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025.  Bolden highlighted a new, related mission in a teleconference Wednesday afternoon.

"NASA is using game-changing technologies advanced by the administration to develop a first-ever mission to identify, capture and retrieve an asteroid.  This mission raises the bar for human exploration and discovery, helps us protect our home planet and brings us closer to a human mission to an asteroid," Bolden said. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Redesigned Material Could Lead to Lighter, Faster Electronics

April 10th 2013


The same material that formed the first primitive transistors more than 60 years ago can be modified in a new way to advance future electronics, according to a new study.

Chemists at The Ohio State University have developed the technology for making a one-atom-thick sheet of germanium, and found that it conducts electrons more than ten times faster than silicon and five times faster than conventional germanium.

The material’s structure is closely related to that of graphene—a much-touted two-dimensional material comprised of single layers of carbon atoms. As such, graphene shows unique properties compared to its more common multilayered counterpart, graphite.  Graphene has yet to be used commercially, but experts have suggested that it could one day form faster computer chips, and maybe even function as a superconductor, so many labs are working to develop it. Read more ..

Edge of Space

What Remains of Martian Atmosphere is Dynamic

April 9th 2013

Mars has lost much of its original atmosphere, but what's left remains active, according to recent findings from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity that involve a University of Michigan researcher.

Rover team members reported diverse findings today at the European Geosciences Union 2013 General Assembly, in Vienna, Austria. Evidence has strengthened this month that Mars lost much of its original atmosphere by a process of gas escaping from the top of the atmosphere.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument analyzed an atmosphere sample last week using a process that concentrates selected gases. The results provided the most precise measurements ever made of isotopes of argon in the Martian atmosphere. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights.


Edge of Space

Discovery of 'Green Pea Galaxies' Confirms Reionization Theories

April 9th 2013

Green pea galaxies space

The rare Green Pea galaxies discovered by the general public in 2007 could help confirm astronomers' understanding of reionization, a pivotal stage in the evolution of the early universe, say University of Michigan researchers.

Reionization occurred a few hundred million years after the Big Bang as the first stars were turning on and forming the first galaxies. During this period, the space between the galaxies changed from an opaque, neutral fog to a transparent charged plasma, as it is today. Plasma is gas that's electrically charged.

As for how this happened, the prevailing theory holds that massive stars in the early galaxies produced an abundance of high-energy ultraviolet light that escaped into intergalactic space. There, the UV light interacted with the neutral hydrogen gas it met, blasting electrons off the hydrogen atoms and leaving behind a plasma of negatively charged electrons and positively charged hydrogen ions. Read more ..

Edge of Medicine

Building Human Blood Vessels Advances Manufacture of Replacement Organs

April 8th 2013

One of the major obstacles to growing new organs—replacement hearts, lungs and kidneys—is the difficulty researchers face in building blood vessels that keep the tissues alive, but new findings from the University of Michigan could help overcome this roadblock.

"It's not just enough to make a piece of tissue that functions like your desired target," said Andrew Putnam, U-M associate professor of biomedical engineering. "If you don't nourish it with blood by vascularizing it, it's only going to be as big as the head of a pen. "But we need a heart that's this big," he added, holding up his fist.

Engineered blood vessels built with lung fibroblasts as supporting structure cells were leaky, as this image depicts. Red represents the tracer dye the researchers injected into the bloodstream of mice. The tracer dye does is not contained in vessels. The researchers captured this image 14 days after the experiment began.  Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Power Behind Primordial Soup Discovered

April 7th 2013


Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on Earth.

While it is generally accepted that some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, scientists have not been able to explain how that inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life.

This new study shows how a chemical, similar to one now found in all living cells and vital for generating the energy that makes something alive, could have been created when meteorites containing phosphorus minerals landed in hot, acidic pools of liquids around volcanoes, which were likely to have been common across the early Earth.

"The mystery of how living organisms sprung out of lifeless rock has long puzzled scientists, but we think that the unusual phosphorus chemicals we found could be a precursor to the batteries that now power all life on Earth. But the fact that it developed simply, in conditions similar to the early Earth, suggests this could be the missing link between geology and biology," said Dr Terry Kee, from the University's School of Chemistry, who led the research. Read more ..

Ancient Days

New Clues in the Search for the Mysterious 'Maya Blue' Formula

April 3rd 2013

Mayan mural at Bonampak

The recipe and process for preparing Maya Blue, a highly-resistant pigment used for centuries in Mesoamerica, were lost. We know that the ingredients are a plant dye, indigo, and a type of clay known as palygorskite, but scientists do not know how they were 'cooked' and combined together. Now, a team of chemists from the University of Valencia and the Polythecnic University of Valencia  (Spain) have come up with a new hypothesis about how it was prepared.

Palace walls, sculptures, codices and pieces of pottery produced by the ancient Maya incorporate the enigmatic Maya Blue. This pigment, which was also used by other Mesoamerican cultures, is characterised by its intense blue colour but, above all, by the fact that it is highly resistant to chemical and biological deterioration. Indeed, it was used centuries ago and when it is analysed now it appears virtually unchangeable. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Risk of Prostate Cancer Higher in Men with Inherited Genetic Condition

April 3rd 2013

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Men with an inherited genetic condition called Lynch syndrome face a higher lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer and appear to develop the disease at an earlier age, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition linked to a higher risk of several types of cancer. People with Lynch syndrome have up to 80 percent lifetime risk of colorectal cancer and are also more likely to develop endometrial, gastric, ovarian, urinary tract, pancreatic and brain tumors. Overall, about 1 in 440 people are carriers for the genetic mutation, making it one of the most common inherited cancer conditions.

The findings in prostate cancer have implications for screening younger men who may be at higher risk of the disease. Recent guideline recommendations advise against prostate cancer screening in men younger than 75 who do not have any symptoms. Read more ..

Edge of Cellular Biology

Adult Stem Cells Grow Human Bone

April 3rd 2013

Preparations are underway for the first known human trial to use embryonic-like stem cells collected from adult cells to grow bone.

The cells technology, called VSEL stem cells, or very small embryonic-like stem cells, are derived from adults—not fetuses. This eliminates ethical arguments and potential side effects associated with using actual embryonic stem cells derived from a fetus, say researchers at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and New York-based NeoStem Inc.

The research partners hypothesize that the VSEL stem cells, which mimic properties of embryonic stem cells, can provide a minimally invasive way to speed painful bone regeneration for dental patients and others with bone trauma.

U-M's role in the study involves design, patient care and data analysis, while NeoStem provides the cells and patented technology to purify the special stem cells. Study leaders include Russell Taichman, U-M professor of dentistry; Laurie McCauley, professor and newly named dean of the U-M Dental School; and Denis Rodgerson, director of grants and academic liaisons for NeoStem. Read more ..

The Race for Energy

A Shift in Thinking on Regional Energy Use in Northern States

April 3rd 2013

Much has been made of the increasing energy demands of the warmest regions of the U.S., but cooling down actually requires less energy than heating up, says a University of Michigan researcher. "The traditional discussion of climatology and energy demand concentrates on the energy demands for cooling in hot climates," said Michael Sivak, research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute. "However, the focus should be paid to the opposite end of the scale, as well. In the U.S., living in Buffalo, Chicago and Milwaukee is more energy-demanding, and thus less sustainable from this point of view, than living in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Tampa."

In a new study comparing climate control in Miami (the warmest large metropolitan area in the U.S.) and Minneapolis (the coldest), Sivak found that heating the Twin Cities area is about three-and-a-half times more energy-demanding than cooling Florida's largest urban area. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

New Forests Store Substantial Carbon to Offset Climate Change

April 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

Surface appearances can be so misleading: In most forests, the amount of carbon held in soils is substantially greater than the amount contained in the trees themselves. If you're a land manager trying to assess the potential of forests to offset carbon emissions and climate change by soaking up atmospheric carbon and storing it, what's going on beneath the surface is critical. But while scientists can precisely measure and predict the amount of above-ground carbon accumulating in a forest, the details of soil-carbon accounting have been a bit fuzzy.

Two University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues helped to plug that knowledge gap by analyzing changes in soil carbon that occurred when trees became established on different types of nonforested soils across the United States. In a paper published online in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, they looked at lands previously used for surface mining and other industrial processes, former agricultural lands and native grasslands where forests have encroached. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

A Greener Arctic is Upon Us

April 2nd 2013


New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Plant growth in arctic ecosystems has increased over the past few decades, a trend that is coincident with increases in temperatures, which are rising at about twice the global rate. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Planck's Child Universe

April 1st 2013

30 doradus stellar nursery

"We are very excited, we are finally seeing the concrete results of so many years of hard work". This is how the scientists of the Planck project have commented the first data resulting from the observations carried out by Planck. The mission of the ESA satellite is to observe the past of our Universe, going back in time and reaching the very first instant right after the Big Bang. The image that the Planck scientists convey today is that of a 'child' Universe, dating back to about 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when its temperature was similar to that of the most external layer of a star today.

The Planck satellite, the result of the collaboration of several European aerospace agencies including the Italian one (ASI), was launched in May 2009. From that moment onwards it has been endlessly observing the Universe's fossil radiation. In Trieste scientists have analyzed data delivered by the LFI (Low Frequency Instrument), the instrument that detects the radiation within the 30 to 70 GHz interval. The Trieste team, which comprises SISSA and INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico, with the collaboration of Università di Trieste, has contributed to the drafting of about thirty papers that were published today, 21 march 2013, in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. Read more ..

The Earth on Edge

Evidence Ancient Asteroid Caused Global Firestorm

March 31st 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth's species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Led by Douglas Robertson of  CIRES, the team used models that show the collision would have vaporized huge amounts of rock that were then blown high above Earth's atmosphere. The re-entering ejected material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the temperature of an oven broiler element -- killing every living thing not sheltered underground or underwater.

The CU-led team developed an alternate explanation for the fact that there is little charcoal found at the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, boundary some 66 million years ago when the asteroid struck Earth and the cataclysmic fires are believed to have occurred. The CU researchers found that similar studies had corrected their data for changing sedimentation rates. When the charcoal data were corrected for the same changing sedimentation rates they show an excess of charcoal, not a deficiency, Robertson said. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

A Low-Power 60 GHz Radio Frequency Chip for Mobile Devices

March 30th 2013

Computer chips

As the capacity of handheld devices increases to accommodate a greater number of functions, these devices have more memory, larger display screens, and the ability to play higher definition video files. If the users of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablet PCs, and notebooks, want to share or transfer data on one device with that of another device, a great deal of time and effort are needed.

As a possible method for the speedy transmission of large data, researchers are studying the adoption of gigabits per second (Gbps) wireless communications operating over the 60 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band. Some commercial approaches have been introduced for full-HD video streaming from a fixed source to a display by using the 60 GHz band. But mobile applications have not been developed yet because the 60 GHz radio frequency (RF) circuit consumes hundreds of milliwatts (mW) of DC power. Read more ..

Edge of the Universe

Does the Higgs Boson Spell Doom for the Universe

March 29th 2013

protoplanetary disk

An article in the Scientific American speculates that what we now know about the so-called "God Particle" may spell doom for the universe as we know it.

The article states: "Physicists recently confirmed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, had indeed found a Higgs boson last July, marking a culmination of one of the longest and most expensive searches in science. The finding also means that our universe could be doomed to fall apart. "If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it is bad news," says Joseph Lykken, a theorist who works at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. "It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable."

The Higgs boson helps explain why particles have the mass they do. The Higgs particle that the LHC has found possesses a mass of approximately 126 giga-electron volts (GeV)—roughly the combined mass of 126 protons (hydrogen nuclei). (One GeV equals a billion electron volts.)" Read more ..

The Healthcare Edge

Mobile App Helps Alzheimer’s Caregivers

March 27th 2013


Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be stressful.  Patients with the degenerative brain condition have a host of medical needs that can require the services of numerous health care professionals.  Even for the most organized caregiver, keeping track of all that medical information can be a challenge.  Now a new piece of mobile software provides a helping hand. 

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is generally a condition of old age.  Since people are living longer all over the world, the number of Alzheimer’s parents and grandparents in their 70s, 80s and 90s is expected to triple in some countries by the middle of the century.

Increasingly, family members are being called upon to assist in the care of loved ones with Alzheimer's, a complex and difficult task that many people find themselves unprepared for.  That is why the Hebrew Home, a privately-run geriatric care organization in Riverdale, New York, developed a new iPhone and iPad application called Balance. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Paint-On Plastic Electronics Show Promise

March 26th 2013

Click to select Image

Semiconducting polymers are an unruly bunch, but University of Michigan engineers have developed a new method for getting them in line that could pave the way for cheaper, greener, "paint-on" plastic electronics. "This is for the first time a thin-layer, conducting, highly aligned film for high-performance, paintable, directly writeable plastic electronics," said Jinsang Kim, U-M professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research published in Nature Materials.

Semiconductors are the key ingredient for computer processors, solar cells and LED displays, but they are expensive. Inorganic semiconductors like silicon require high temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and costly vacuum systems for processing into electronics, but organic and plastic semiconductors can be prepared on a basic lab bench.

The trouble is that charge carriers, like electrons, can't move through plastics nearly as easily as they can move through inorganic semiconductors, Kim said. Part of the reason for this is because each semiconducting polymer molecule is like a short wire, and these wires are randomly arranged. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Common Test Over-Estimates Mercury Exposure in Dental Fillings

March 26th 2013

teeth tooth filling

A common test used to determine mercury exposure from dental amalgam fillings may significantly overestimate the amount of the toxic metal released from fillings, according to University of Michigan researchers.

Scientists agree that dental amalgam fillings slowly release mercury vapor into the mouth. But both the amount of mercury released and the question of whether this exposure presents a significant health risk remain controversial.

Public health studies often make the assumption that mercury in urine (which is composed mostly of inorganic mercury) can be used to estimate exposure to mercury vapor from amalgam fillings. These same studies often use mercury in hair (which is composed mostly of organic mercury) to estimate exposure to organic mercury from a person's diet. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Planck Challenges our Understanding of the Universe

March 25th 2013

Ancient Stars

Europe’s Planck satellite - a flagship mission for the UK Space Agency - has compiled the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background (the relic radiation from the Big Bang). The new map refines our understanding of the Universe’s composition and evolution, and unveils new features that could challenge the foundations of our current understanding of its evolution.

The image is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck and is the mission’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when it was just 380 000 years old. This cosmic microwave background (CMB) shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities at very early times, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Overall, the information extracted from Planck’s new map provides an excellent confirmation of the standard model of cosmology at an unprecedented accuracy, setting a new benchmark for our knowledge of the contents of the Universe. Read more ..

The Edge of Life

A Cell on a Chip Reveals Protein Behavior

March 24th 2013

Test Tubes

For years, scientists around the world have dreamed of building a complete, functional, artificial cell.

Though this vision is still a distant blur on the horizon, many are making progress on various fronts. Prof. Roy Bar-Ziv and his research team in the Weizmann Institute’s Materials and Interfaces Department recently took a significant step in this direction when they created a two-dimensional, cell-like system on a glass chip. This system, composed of some of the basic biological molecules found in cells – DNA, RNA, proteins – carried out one of the central functions of a living cell: gene expression, the process by which the information stored in the genes is translated into proteins. More than that, it enabled the scientists, led by research student Yael Heyman, to obtain “snapshots” of this process in nanoscale resolution. The system, consisting of glass chips that are only eight nanometers thick, is based on an earlier one designed in Bar-Ziv’s lab by Dr. Shirley Daube and former student Dr. Amnon Buxboim. Read more ..

The Geologic Edge

Huge and Widespread Volcanic Eruptions Triggered the End-Triassic-Extinction

March 23rd 2013

Palisades on Hudson, Alpine NJ

More than 200 million years ago, a massive extinction decimated 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species, marking the end of the Triassic period and the onset of the Jurassic. This devastating event cleared the way for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 135 million years, taking over ecological niches formerly occupied by other marine and terrestrial species. It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. This sudden release of gases into the atmosphere may have created intense global warming and acidification of the oceans that ultimately killed off thousands of plant and animal species. Read more ..

The Animal Edge

Predators, People, and Livestock Can Get Along

March 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

In the southern Rift Valley of Kenya, the Maasai people, their livestock and a range of carnivores – from hyenas to lions and bat-eared foxes – are coexisting fairly happily, according to a visiting scholar at Michigan State University.

“I wouldn’t call the results surprising,” said Meredith Evans Wagner, a visiting scholar from the University of Florida in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and part of the research team. “Other research has shown that people and carnivores can coexist, but there is a large body of thought that believes carnivores need their own protected space to survive.”

The paper, published in Biological Conservation, echoed results of a recent study by Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of MSU’s CSIS, and Neil Carter, MSU doctoral student, that found that tigers and people share the same space in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, albeit at different times. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Israel's High-Tech Pipeline to America

March 22nd 2013

Eyeball Surveillance

Why did President Obama visit Israel this week, on the first foreign trip of his second term? The U.S. and Israel share democratic values, of course, and there were pressing issues to discuss publicly and privately, including peace with the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria, and Iran's march to nuclear-weapons capability. But there is an additional consideration that is too rarely emphasized: Israel is helping the U.S. meet the economic, environmental and non-military security challenges of the future.

Cyber security -- which the Pentagon now says could pose a strategic threat to U.S. infrastructure -- is a case in point. Israeli systems secure a significant and growing proportion of U.S. telecommunications, financial transactions, utility and other essential computer-dependent operations. Last year, Cisco paid $5 billion to acquire the Israeli-founded firm NDS, one of the top providers of encryption technology for television and video. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Real Time Second Hand Smoke Sensor

March 19th 2013

cigarette burning

Making headway against a major public health threat, Dartmouth College researchers have invented the first ever secondhand tobacco smoke sensor that records data in real time.

The researchers expect to soon convert the prototype, which is smaller and lighter than a cellphone, into a wearable, affordable and reusable device that helps to enforce no smoking regulations and sheds light on the pervasiveness of secondhand smoke. The sensor can also detect thirdhand smoke, or nicotine off-gassing from clothing, furniture, car seats and other material.

The device uses polymer films to reliably measure ambient nicotine vapor molecules and a sensor chip to record the real-time data, pinpointing when and where the exposure occurred and even the number of cigarettes smoked. The prototype proved successful in lab tests. Clinical studies will start this summer.

Such a device could help to enforce smoking bans in rental cars, hotel rooms, apartment buildings, restaurants and other places. It also could help convince smokers that smoking in other rooms, out of windows and using air fresheners still exposes children and other nonsmokers to secondhand smoke. The device would be more accurate and less expensive than current secondhand smoke sensors, which provide only an average exposure in a limited area over several days or weeks. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Difficulty in Recognizing Faces in Autism Linked to Group of Neurons

March 18th 2013

Autistic child

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have discovered a brain anomaly that explains why some people diagnosed with autism cannot easily recognize faces — a deficit linked to the impairments in social interactions considered to be the hallmark of the disorder.

They also say that the novel neuroimaging analysis technique they developed to arrive at this finding is likely to help link behavioral deficits to differences at the neural level in a range of neurological disorders. The scientists say that in the brains of many individuals with autism, neurons in the brain area that processes faces (the fusiform face area, or FFA) are too broadly "tuned" to finely discriminate between facial features of different people. They made this discovery using a form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that scans output from the blueberry-sized FFA, located behind the right ear. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NSF-funded Telescopes Discover Bursts of Star Formation in the Early Universe

March 16th 2013

Ancient Stars

Distant, dust-filled galaxies were bursting with newborn stars much earlier in cosmic history than previously thought, according to newly published research. So-called "starburst galaxies" produce stars at the equivalent of a thousand new suns per year. Now, astronomers have found starbursts that were churning out stars when the universe was just a billion years old.

"I find that pretty amazing," said Joaquin Vieira, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology and leader of the study. "These aren't normal galaxies. These galaxies [reveal star formation] at an extraordinary rate, when the universe was very young. I don't think anyone expected us to find galaxies like this so early in the history of the universe."

An international team of astronomers found dozens of these galaxies with the National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded South Pole Telescope (SPT). SPT is a 10-meter dish in Antarctica that surveys the sky in millimeter-wavelength light, whose waves fall between radio waves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. The team then took a more detailed look using the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile's Atacama Desert, which is funded in part by NSF. ALMA is an international facility and is a partnership between North America, Europe and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. Read more ..

The Edge of Engineering

Mobile Lidar Technology Expanding Rapidly

March 15th 2013

Melting Arctic glacier by Angus Duncan

Imagine driving down a road a few times and obtaining in an hour more data about the surrounding landscape than a crew of surveyors could obtain in months.

Such is the potential of mobile LIDAR, a powerful technology that’s only a few years old and promises to change the way we see, study and record the world around us. It will be applied in transportation, hydrology, forestry, virtual tourism and construction – and almost no one knows anything about it.

That may change with a new report on the uses and current technology of mobile LIDAR, which has just been completed and presented to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. It will help more managers and experts understand, use and take advantage of this science. Read more ..

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