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The Water's Edge

Reefs Resilient to Ocean Acidity Say Australian Researchers

December 14th 2012

Ocean scene

New Australian research shows coral reefs are more resistant to ocean acidification than first thought.  Scientists have been concerned that coral is vulnerable when carbon levels in the atmosphere rise, along with the acidity of the ocean.  But an Australian National University study on the Great Barrier Reef suggests otherwise. Amid the threat to reefs from the effects of climate change, pollution and overfishing, Australian researchers have found some rare good news.

A team at the Australia National University in Canberra has been investigating coralline algae, which are plants that act like a glue to bind coral.  One useful analogy is that the algae are the cement, while the coral are the bricks that comprise a reef system. A new study has found that dolomite, a carbonate mineral, helps to protect reefs from rising ocean acidity, which is caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Reveals Primitive Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn

December 14th 2012

Hubble XDF image, Sep 2012

Astronomers have used NASA's Earth orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to reveal primitive galaxies -- vast clusters of stars -- that are more than 13 billion years old. One of them might be the oldest ever observed.

Here on Earth, when researchers study the dawn of civilization, they often rely on findings from archeological digs.  Astronomers describe a different kind of dig when they study the dawn of the cosmos. A team of scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for a cosmic "dig" of sorts, peering even deeper into the universe, looking, in effect, even further back in time.  They discovered seven previously unseen galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, not that long in cosmic time, after the birth of the universe.

Hubble's new images show a dense scattering of bright specks, slashes and swirls of reds, yellows and violets against the backdrop of black space. "These are baby pictures of the universe," John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate told reporters during a NASA teleconference Wednesday.  "It's back to the fundamental origin story.  We're always wondering, 'Where did we come from and where are we going?' And Hubble is providing answers to both those questions." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Vega: The Star by Which All Others are Measured

December 13th 2012

Red Giant engulfs one of its planets

Vega, a star astronomers have used as a touchstone to measure other stars' brightness for thousands of years, may be more than 200 million years older than previously thought. That's according to new findings from the University of Michigan. The researchers estimated Vega's age by precisely measuring its spin speed with a tool called the Michigan Infrared Combiner, developed by John Monnier, associate professor of astronomy in U-M's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

MIRC collects the light gathered by six telescopes to make it appear to be coming through one that's 100 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. It's installed at the Georgia State Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy Array located on Mt. Wilson, California. The tool boosts resolution so astronomers can zoom in, relatively speaking, to observe the shape and surface characteristics of stars that would otherwise look like mere points even through the most powerful telescopes. By tracking stars' surface characteristics, scientists can calculate how fast they rotate and deduce their inner workings. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

X-Ray Vision Can Reveal the Moment of Birth of Violent Supernovae

December 11th 2012

Tycho Type 1a Supernova Remnant
Tycho Type 1a Supernova Remnant (credit: NASA et al)

A team of astronomers led by the University of Leicester has uncovered new evidence that suggests that X-ray detectors in space could be the first to witness new supernovae that signal the death of massive stars. Astronomers have measured an excess of X-ray radiation in the first few minutes of collapsing massive stars, which may be the signature of the supernova shock wave first escaping from the star.

The findings have come as a surprise to Dr Rhaana Starling, of the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy whose research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, published by Oxford University Press.

Dr Starling said: “The most massive stars can be tens to a hundred times larger than the Sun. When one of these giants runs out of hydrogen gas it collapses catastrophically and explodes as a supernova, blowing off its outer layers which enrich the Universe. But this is no ordinary supernova; in the explosion narrowly confined streams of material are forced out of the poles of the star at almost the speed of light. These so-called relativistic jets give rise to brief flashes of energetic gamma-radiation called gamma-ray bursts, which are picked up by monitoring instruments in Space, that in turn alert astronomers.” Read more ..


The Transportation Edge

Self-Driving Cars: Science Fiction Future Is Near

December 10th 2012

Automated driving Mercedes Benz

People in several American states may be surprised to see cars on city streets without a driver. Experimental driverless vehicles now are legal in Florida, Nevada and California. They are pointing the way to a future that is not that far down the road.

The high-tech company Google has a fleet of self-driving cars, which had logged 480,000 kilometers by August. Major auto manufacturers in the United States and Europe also are working on the technology for autonomous vehicles. Volvo is among the companies doing road tests and says it plans to sell driverless cars by 2020.

In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow autonomous vehicles on the roads of his state. “Today we're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality, the driverless car.”

The technology for these cars includes cameras, radar and motion sensors. The systems have been improved through competitions sponsored by the U.S. government agency DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Engineer Richard Mason of the Rand Corporation helped design driverless vehicles for DARPA challenge races between 2004 and 2007. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Paradox of Aging--The Older we Get, the Better we Feel

December 10th 2012

walking-cane

Presently, there are about 40 million Americans over the age of 65, with the fastest-growing segment of the population over 80 years old. Traditionally, aging has been viewed as a period of progressive decline in physical, cognitive and psychosocial functioning, and aging is viewed by many as the "number one public health problem" facing Americans today.

But this negative view of aging contrasts with results of a comprehensive study of 1,006 older adults in San Diego by researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Stanford University. Results of the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study – comprising a 25-minute phone interview, followed by a comprehensive mail-in survey – will be published in the December 7 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"While there is a growing public health interest in understanding and promoting successful aging, until now little published research has combined measures of physical health with cognitive and psychological assessments, in a large and randomly selected sample," said principal investigator Dilip V. Jeste, MD, Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of UC San Diego's Stein Institute for Research on Aging, and the current President of the American Psychiatric Association (which was not involved in this study).

The SAGE study included adults between the ages of 50 and 99 years, with a mean age of just over 77 years. In addition to measures which assessed rates of chronic disease and disability, the survey looked at more subjective criteria such as social engagement and participants' self-assessment of their overall health. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Growing Plants Without Gravity

December 9th 2012

RBSPs deploy solar panels

It is well known that plant growth patterns are influenced by a variety of stimuli, gravity being one amongst many. On Earth plant roots exhibit characteristic behaviours called 'waving' and 'skewing', which were thought to be gravity-dependent events. However, Arabidopsis plants grown on the International Space Station (ISS) have proved this theory wrong, according to a study published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Plant Biology: root 'waving' and 'skewing' occur in spaceflight plants independently of gravity.

In plant roots, 'waving' consists of a series of regular, undulating changes in the direction of root tips during growth. It is thought to be associated with perception and avoidance of obstacles, and is dependent on gravity sensing and responsiveness. 'Skewing' is the slanted progression of roots growing along a near-vertical surface. It is thought to be a deviation of the roots from the direction of gravity and also subject to similar mechanisms that affect waving. Even though the precise basis of these growth patterns is not well understood, gravity is considered to be a major player in these processes. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Silver Nanocubes Make Super Light Absorbs

December 7th 2012

Nanocubes

Microscopic metallic cubes could unleash the enormous potential of metamaterials to absorb light, leading to more efficient and cost-effective large-area absorbers for sensors or solar cells, Duke University researchers have found.

Metamaterials are man-made materials that have properties often absent in natural materials. They are constructed to provide exquisite control over the properties of waves, such as light. Creating these materials for visible light is still a technological challenge that has traditionally been achieved by lithography, in which metallic patterns are etched onto an inert material, much like an ink-jet printer. As effective as lithography has been in creating such structures, it does have a limitation – it is very expensive and thus difficult to scale up to the large surface areas required for many applications. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronaut, Cosmonaut Plan for a Year in Orbit

December 6th 2012

Orion and International Space Station

Think of where you were and what you were doing six months ago. Now think about where you were and what you were doing 12 months ago.

Veteran NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said that might give you a better idea of what is in store for him and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. They are the two space travelers selected for a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station - more than twice as long as the usual mission. "People have referred to this as a long-duration ISS mission, and I want to clear something up: that six months is a long-duration mission. Six months is a very long time," Kelly emphasized. "If you think back to what you were doing six months ago, you know, it might be hard for you to remember."

Year in Orbit
The planned 12-month mission will be the longest ever aboard the ISS. This joint U.S.-Russian mission is being developed as the space agencies explore plans for longer manned flights into deep space. Kelly and Russia's Kornienko are no strangers to space - they each have logged about six months in orbit. The two men have trained together in the past and both say they are looking forward to their partnership.  Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Scientists Find Oldest Dinosaur - or Closest Relative Yet

December 5th 2012

Nyasasaurus Parringtoni

Researchers have discovered what may be the earliest dinosaur, a creature the size of a Labrador retriever, but with a five foot-long tail, that walked the Earth about 10 million years before more familiar dinosaurs like the small, swift-footed Eoraptor and Herrerasaurus.

The findings mean that the dinosaur lineage appeared 10 million to 15 million years earlier than fossils previously showed, originating in the Middle Triassic rather than in the Late Triassic period. Nyasasaurus parringtoni was up to 10 feet long, weighed perhaps 135 pounds. “If the newly named Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not the earliest dinosaur, then it is the closest relative found so far,” according to Sterling Nesbitt. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide Levels in California May be Nearly Three Times Higher Than Thought

December 5th 2012

California smog

Using a new method for estimating greenhouse gases that combines atmospheric measurements with model predictions, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers have found that the level of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, in California may be 2.5 to 3 times greater than the current inventory. At that level, total N2O emissions—which are believed to come primarily from nitrogen fertilizers used in agricultural production—would account for about 8 percent of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were recently published in a paper titled “Seasonal variations in N2O emissions from central California” in Geophysical Research Letters. Earlier this year, using the same methodology, the researchers found that levels of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, in California may be up to 1.8 times greater than previous estimates. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Search for Life Suggests Solar Systems More Habitable than Ours

December 4th 2012

Solar System Birth

Scattered around the Milky Way are stars that resemble our own sun—but a new study is finding that any planets orbiting those stars may very well be hotter and more dynamic than Earth. That’s because the interiors of any terrestrial planets in these systems are likely warmer than Earth—up to 25 percent warmer, which would make them more geologically active and more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life, at least in its microbial form. The preliminary finding comes from geologists and astronomers at Ohio State University who have teamed up to search for alien life in a new way.

They studied eight “solar twins” of our sun—stars that very closely match the sun in size, age, and overall composition—in order to measure the amounts of radioactive elements they contain. Those stars came from a dataset recorded by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrometer at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronauts Criticize US Space Program

December 3rd 2012

Astronaut Hall of Fame

NASA Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt explored the surface of the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the last time anyone has left earth's orbit or set foot on the moon.  During a 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 17 in Chicago, the astronauts said they had expected their mission would  start a path toward space travel, not become a history lesson.

Retired Astronaut Eugene Cernan is one of just twelve men who walked on the moon.  He currently holds the distinction of being the last man there. "It is tremendously disappointing that I am here 40 years later and still hold that title or have that yoke on my shoulders," said Cernan.

Cernan, along with fellow Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the December 1972 mission with fellow astronaut Jim Lovell at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

UCLA Researchers: Evidence for Water and Ice and Organic Material on Mercury

December 2nd 2012

Mercury

Planetary scientists have identified water ice and unusually dark deposits within permanently shadowed areas at Mercury's north pole. Using data collected by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, a team from UCLA crafted the first accurate thermal model of the solar system's innermost planet, successfully pinpointing the extremely cold regions where ice has been found on or below the surface. The researchers say the newly discovered black deposits are a thin crust of residual organic material brought to the planet over the past several million years through impacts by water-rich asteroids and comets.

Understanding how water ice has been preserved on Mercury and where it came from may help scientists determine the conditions necessary for sustaining life on other planets. This research sheds light on the long-standing issue of ice on Mercury. Several independent lines of evidence now reveal that the sun-scorched planet has extensive water ice deposits at its poles. In the early 1990s, scientists were surprised to find that areas near Mercury's poles were unusually bright when observed with radar from Earth, a potential indication that ice might be present. UCLA's David Paige has studied the poles of planetary bodies in the solar system, from Mercury to Pluto. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Is There A Better way to Make Chemicals?

December 2nd 2012

Toxic Waste barrels

Bulk solvents, widely used in the chemical industry, pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. As a result, there is growing interest in avoiding their use by relying on "mechanochemistry" – an energy-efficient alternative that uses high-frequency milling to drive reactions. Because milling involves the intense impact of steel balls in rapidly moving jars, however, the underlying chemistry is difficult to observe.

Now, for the first time, scientists have studied a milling reaction in real time, using highly penetrating X-rays to observe the surprisingly rapid transformations as the mill mixed, ground, and transformed simple ingredients into a complex product. This research, reported Dec. 2 in Nature Chemistry, promises to advance scientists' understanding of processes central to the pharmaceutical, metallurgical, cement and mineral industries – and could open new opportunities in "green chemistry" and environmentally friendly chemical synthesis. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Preventing a 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'

December 2nd 2012

Cyber warriors

Cyber attacks that have long caused major work disruption and theft of private information are becoming more sophisticated with prolonged attacks perpetrated by organized groups. In September 2012, Bank of America, Citibank, the New York Stock Exchange, and other financial institutions were targets of attacks for more than five weeks. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned that the United States was facing the possibility of a "cyber-Pearl Harbor" and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could disrupt the government, utility, transportation, and financial networks.

Key to protecting online operations is a high degree of "cyber security awareness," according to human factors/ergonomics researchers Varun Dutt, Young-Suk Ahn, and Cleotilde Gonzalez. They developed a computer model that presented 500 simulated cyber attack scenarios to gauge simulated network security analysts' ability to detect attacks characterized as either "impatient" (the threat occurs early in the attack) or "patient" (the threat comes later in the attack and is not detected promptly). Their model was able to predict the detection rates of security analysts by varying the analysts' degree of experience and risk tolerance as well as an attacker's strategy (impatient or patient attack). Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Model Sheds Ligtht on the Chemistry that Sparked the Origin of Life

December 1st 2012

KY ash spill

The question of how life began on a molecular level has been a longstanding problem in science. However, recent mathematical research sheds light on a possible mechanism by which life may have gotten a foothold in the chemical soup that existed on the early Earth.

Researchers have proposed several competing theories for how life on Earth could have gotten its start, even before the first genes or living cells came to be. Despite differences between various proposed scenarios, one theme they all have in common is a network of molecules that have the ability to work together to jumpstart and speed up their own replication — two necessary ingredients for life. However, many researchers find it hard to imagine how such a molecular network could have formed spontaneously — with no precursors —from the chemical environment of early Earth.

"Some say it's equivalent to a tornado blowing through a junkyard and assembling the random pieces of metal and plastic into a Boeing 747," said co-author Wim Hordijk, a visiting scientist at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, and a participant in an astrobiology meeting held there last year. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

New Radio Telescope Could Save World Billions

November 30th 2012

Solar Flare

A small pocket of Western Australia’s remote outback is set to become the eye on the sky and could potentially save the world billions of dollars. The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope, unveiled today, Friday 30 November, will give the world a dramatically improved view of the Sun and provide early warning to prevent damage to communication satellites, electric power grids and GPS navigation systems. 

The $51 million low-frequency radio telescope will be able to detect and monitor massive solar storms, such as the one that cut power to six million people in Canada in 1989 during the last peak in solar activity. In 2011, experts warned that a major solar storm could result in damage to integral power supplies and communication networks of up to US$2 trillion - the equivalent of a global Hurricane Katrina.

Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

International Study Provides More Solid Measure of Melting in Polar Ice Sheets

November 30th 2012

Glaciers

The planet's two largest ice sheets have been losing ice faster during the past decade, causing widespread confusion and concern. A new international study provides a firmer read on the state of continental ice sheets and how much they are contributing to sea-level rise. Dozens of climate scientists have reconciled their measurements of ice sheet changes in Antarctica and Greenland over the past two decades. The results, roughly halve the uncertainty and discard some conflicting observations.

"We are just beginning an observational record for ice," said co-author Ian Joughin. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase in importance as new measurements are made." The paper examined three methods that had been used by separate groups and established common places and times, allowing researchers to discard some outlying observations and showing that the results agree to within the uncertainties of the methods. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Shrubs Lend an Insight Into a Glacier's Past

November 27th 2012

Glacier-Svalbard

The stems of shrubs have given researchers a window into a glacier's past, potentially allowing them to more accurately assess how they're set to change in the future.

Their findings show how a glacier's history of melting can be extended way past the instrumental record. Much like the rings on a tree stump indicate how old it is, measuring the width of rings on the stem of a shrub can give a good indication of how well it has grown year on year. Under extreme environmental conditions, such as those close to a glacier, a shrub's growth relies heavily on summer temperatures, meaning the ring-width of a shrub can be used a proxy for glacial melting, which also relies heavily on summer temperatures.

Lead author of the study, Allan Buras, said: "In warm summers, shrubs grow more compared to cold summers. In contrast, a glacier's summer mass balance is more negative in warm summers, meaning there is more melting compared to cold summers.  Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Super-Jupiter Sized Exoplanet Discovered

November 26th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto and other institutions across the United States, Europe and Asia have discovered a 'super-Jupiter' around the massive star Kappa Andromedae. The object, which could represent the first new observed exoplanet system in almost four years, has a mass at least 13 times that of Jupiter and an orbit somewhat larger than Neptune's.

The host star around which the planet orbits has a mass 2.5 times that of the Sun, making it the highest mass star to ever host a directly observed planet. The star can be seen with the naked eye in the constellation Andromeda at a distance of about 170 light years.

"Our team identified a faint object located very close to Kappa Andromedae in January that looks much like other young, massive directly imaged planets but does not look like a star," said Thayne Currie. "It's likely a directly imaged planet." The researchers made the discovery based on an infrared imaging search carried out as part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS) program using the Subaru telescope located in Hawaii. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Flower Power Can Purge Poisoned Soils and Produce Platinum

November 24th 2012

Ohio wildflower prairie

A consortium of researchers led by WMG at the University of Warwick are to embark on a £3 million research programme called “Cleaning Land for Wealth” (CL4W), that will use a common class of flower to restore poisoned soils while at the same time producing perfectly sized and shaped nano sized platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors, cancer treatments and a range of other applications.

A “Sandpit” exercise organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) allowed researchers from WMG (Warwick Manufacturing group) at the University of Warwick, Newcastle University, The University of Birmingham, Cranfield University and the University of Edinburgh to come together and share technologies and skills to come up with an innovative multidisciplinary research project that could help solve major technological and environmental challenges. Read more ..


The Edge of Mars

Melt Water on Mars Could Sustain Life

November 24th 2012

Valles Marineris

Near surface water has shaped the landscape of Mars. Areas of the planet's northern and southern hemispheres have alternately thawed and frozen in recent geologic history and comprise striking similarities to the landscape of Svalbard. This suggests that water has played a more extensive role than previously envisioned, and that environments capable of sustaining life could exist, according to new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Mars is a changing planet, and in recent geological time repeated freeze and thaw cycles has played a greater role than expected in terms of shaping the landscape. In an attempt to be able to make more reliable interpretations of the landscapes on Mars, researchers have developed new models for analysing images from the planet. The process of analysing satellite images from Mars has been combined with similar studies of an arctic environment in Svalbard. Despite the fact that Svalbard is considerably warmer than Mars, the arctic landscape shows a number of striking similarities to certain parts of Mars. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Blind Patient Reads Words Stimulated Directly Into Retina

November 23rd 2012

Retina impanted electrodes

For the very first time researchers have streamed braille patterns directly into a blind patient's retina, allowing him to read four-letter words accurately and quickly with an ocular neuroprosthetic device. The device, the Argus II, has been implanted in over 50 patients, many of who can now see color, movement and objects. It uses a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a portable processor to translate the signal from the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes implanted directly on the retina. The study was authored by researchers at Second Sight, the company who developed the device, and has been published in Frontiers in Neuroprosthetics on the 22nd of November.

"In this clinical test with a single blind patient, we bypassed the camera that is the usual input for the implant and directly stimulated the retina. Instead of feeling the braille on the tips of his fingers, the patient could see the patterns we projected and then read individual letters in less than a second with up to 89 percent accuracy," explains researcher Thomas Lauritzen, lead author of the paper. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Israel, Hamas Fight Gaza Conflict Online

November 23rd 2012

Twitter War - Hamas -Israel

Israel and Hamas are fighting in the Gaza Strip, but the conflict is also being fought in an unusual venue – online. Both sides are trying to win the public relations battle by getting their version of what’s happening out on social media.

Israel announced the start of military operations against Hamas not in a televised speech or a press release, but on Twitter, where Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman Avital Leibovitch tweeted:

Avital Leibovich

@AvitalLeibovich
#Breaking : the #IDF started an operation against terror organizations in #Gaza due to the ongoing attacks against #Israeli civilians
14 Nov 12 ReplyRetweetFavorite


The IDF’s official Twitter account followed with a similar announcement.  A formal press release reached news organizations several minutes to an hour later. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Astronomers Pin Down Origins of “Mile Markers” for Expansion of Universe

November 22nd 2012

NCG 6604 and environs

A study using a unique new instrument on the world’s largest optical telescope has revealed the likely origins of especially bright supernovae that astronomers use as easy-to-spot “mile markers” to measure the expansion and acceleration of the universe.

In a paper to appear in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers describe observations of recent supernova 2011fe that they captured with the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) using a tool created at Ohio State University: the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS).

MODS measures the frequencies and intensities of light shining from a star. Stars shine at different frequencies depending on the chemical elements they are made of; a star like the sun, which is made mostly of hydrogen, shines at different frequencies than a star that is made mostly of helium. So astronomers can use spectra to determine what a particular star is made of.

Based on the frequencies of light emanating from supernova 2011fe, this type of supernova – known as Type Ia – is most likely caused by the interaction between a pair of dead stars known as white dwarfs, the astronomers concluded. One white dwarf orbits the other and sheds material onto it, until the other white dwarf becomes unstable and explodes, shining billions of times brighter than the sun. Read more ..


Operation Pillar of Defense

The ABC's of the Iron Dome

November 22nd 2012

Iron Dome

Over the eight days of Operation Pillar of Defense, the Iron Dome system intercepted more than 420 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The system is the result of tireless work over many years, and the results speak for themselves.

The core team that led the Iron Dome development was comprised entirely of graduates of the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. In an interview published on the Technion website,  some of Iron Dome's developers spoke about their work.

"Credit for the system’s success is shared by the hundreds of engineers, technicians, and managers who took part in its development; but the people sitting here with me are definitely the key players,” said a team member identified only as H., a 1975 Technion graduate. “The development of Iron Dome transformed our lives, dictating a hectic work week and some weekends," H. said. "I never got home before 11 p.m., and of course I didn’t take a single day off for three whole years. But I don’t regret a single moment.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Engineers Pave the Way towards 3D Printing of Personal Electronics

November 21st 2012

3 D Printing

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

Innovative Device Powers Pacemakers with Heart Beats

November 20th 2012

heart patient hospital doctor health

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

Martian History: Finding a Common Denominator with Earth's

November 19th 2012

Valles Marineris

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

Half-Million Year Old Spear Heads Identified

November 19th 2012

Ancient African spear heads

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

New Electrode May Send Brain's Signals to Motivate Prosthetic Limbs

November 18th 2012

neurons brain

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

A Pleasant Personality and Placebo Effect Make for Mental Health

November 18th 2012

Baby Boomer

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

Most-Distant Galaxy Candidate Found-- Light Traveled 8 Billion Years

November 17th 2012

protoplanetary disk

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

Antenna-On-Chip Dazzles Light Products

November 16th 2012

Blue-infrared light

 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

A Breakthrough in Bone Marrow Failure?

November 15th 2012

exam

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

A Game-Changer for the World's Drinking Water

November 14th 2012

Israeli Water Purification System

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

Increasing Efficiency of Wireless Networks

November 13th 2012

iPad 2

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

Autonomous Aerial Robot Maneuvers Like a Bird

November 12th 2012

Robot Bird

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

Latinos More Likely than other Americans to Have Heart Healthy Habits

November 10th 2012

Puerto Rican roast pigs
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 ..



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