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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 ..


The Race for Biofuel

Quick-cook Method Turns Algae into Bio-Crude Oil

November 9th 2012

algae

It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude. "We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Challenge Facing Designers of Future Computer Chips

November 8th 2012

computer chip

To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics.

The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. This steady progress makes it possible to carry around computers in our pockets, but poses serious challenges. As feature sizes dwindle to the level of atoms, the resistance to current no longer increases at a consistent rate as devices shrink; instead the resistance "jumps around," displaying the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics, says McGill Physics professor Peter Grütter. Read more ..


The Edge of Earth

What Happens When the Earth is Tripping on Acid

November 7th 2012

Click to select Image

Climate change and extreme weather events grab the headlines, but there is another, lesser known, global change underway on land, in the seas, and in the air: acidification.
It turns out that combustion of fossil fuels, smelting of ores, mining of coal and metal ores, and application of nitrogen fertilizer to soils are all driving down the pH of the air, water, and the soil at rates far faster than Earth's natural systems can buffer, posing threats to both land and sea life.

"It's a bigger picture than most of us know," says Janet Herman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Herman and her colleague, Karen Rice of the USGS, discovered that despite the fact that they worked on different kinds of acidification in the environment, they were not well informed about the matter beyond their own specialties. So they have done an extensive review of science papers about all kinds of environmental acidification and are presenting their work in a poster session on Tuesday, 6 Nov., at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Acidification is both a local and global problem, since it can be as close as a nearby stream contaminated by mine tailings or as far-reaching as the world's oceans, which are becoming more acidic as sea water absorbs higher concentrations of carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.  Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

New Material Makes Enviroment-Friendly Recycled Rubber Residues

November 7th 2012

Tire dump

Rubber residues can be downcycled to floor coverings and safety crashpads, and for the first time, also processed into high-quality plastics. A new kind of material makes it possible: the environmentally-friendly material mix is called EPMT.

Each year throughout the world, up to 22 million tons of rubber are processed and a large portion of it goes into the production of vehicle tires. Once the products reach the end of their useful life, they typically land in the incinerator. In the best case, the waste rubber is recycled into secondary products.

Ground to powder, the rubber residues can be found, for example, in the floor coverings used at sports arenas and playgrounds, and in doormats. But until now, the appropriate techniques for producing high-quality materials from these recyclables did not exist. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Challenges Await Designers of Future Computer Chips

November 7th 2012

Click to select Image

Surprising findings could influence material choices in nanoelectronics. To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics. The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. Read more ..


The Edge of Earth

Satellites Take the 'Pulse' of Volcanoes to Predict Seismic Events

November 6th 2012

Click to select Image

A new study by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science uses Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) data to investigate deformation prior to the eruption of active volcanoes in Indonesia's west Sunda arc. Led by geophysicist Estelle Chaussard and UM Professor Falk Amelung, the study uncovered evidence that several volcanoes did in fact 'inflate' prior to eruptions due to the rise of magma. The fact that such deformation could be detected by satellite is a major step forward in volcanology; it is the first unambiguous evidence that remotely detected ground deformation could help to forecast eruptions at volcanoes.

"Surveying entire volcanic regions using satellite data is of primary importance to the detection of ground deformation prior to the onset of eruptions. If volcanic inflation is observed, it can help us to predict where the next eruption may occur. Moreover, in regions like Indonesia, where volcanoes are prevalent and pose a threat to millions of people, and where ground-based monitoring is sparse, remote sensing via satellite could become a major forecasting tool," said Chaussard. Read more ..


Health Edge

When Your Memory is Playing Tricks on You, Check your Medicine Cabinet

November 6th 2012

victim

Common medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies can have a negative impact on memory or concentration in the elderly, according to Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Research Chair at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM, Montreal Geriatric University Institute) and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Montreal (UdeM).

Up to ninety percent of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication. Eighteen percent of people in this age group complain of memory problems and are found to have mild cognitive deficits. Research suggests there may be a link between the two.

Dr. Tannenbaum recently led a team of international researchers to investigate which medications are most likely to affect amnestic (memory) or non-amnestic (attention, concentration, performance) brain functions. After analyzing the results from 162 experiments on medications with potential to bind to cholinergic, histamine, GABAergic or opioid receptors in the brain, Dr. Tannenbaum concluded that the episodic use of several medications can cause amnestic or non-amnestic deficits. This potential cause is often overlooked in persons who are otherwise in good health. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Asteroid Belts of Just the Right Size are Friendly to Life

November 6th 2012

Solar System Birth

Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun's protoplanetary disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet. This might sound surprising because asteroids are considered a nuisance due to their potential to impact Earth and trigger mass extinctions. But an emerging view proposes that asteroid collisions with planets may provide a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

In-sync Brain Waves Hold Memory Of Objects Just Seen

November 5th 2012

Baby Boomer

The brain holds in mind what has just been seen by synchronizing brain waves in a working memory circuit, an animal study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests. The more in-sync such electrical signals of neurons were in two key hubs of the circuit, the more those cells held the short-term memory of a just-seen object.

Charles Gray, Ph.D., of Montana State University, Bozeman, a grantee of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and colleagues, report their findings Nov. 1, 2012, online, in the journal Science Express. "This work demonstrates, for the first time, that there is information about short term memories reflected in in-sync brainwaves," explained Gray.

"The Holy Grail of neuroscience has been to understand how and where information is encoded in the brain. This study provides more evidence that large scale electrical oscillations across distant brain regions may carry information for visual memories," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Antibiotics May Have Contributed to Inadvertent Bee Die-off

November 5th 2012

Honeybee

A new study finds prolonged antibiotic use by beekeepers might play a role in the mysterious drop in honey bee populations in the United States.

Yale researchers found genetic evidence that helpful bacteria, which normally live the bellies of honeybees, have become highly resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline, possibly weakening the bees’ ability to fight disease.

Researchers say decades of use may have unknowingly encouraged antibiotic resistance by genetically altering the beneficial bacteria. Past studies show helpful bacterial play an important role in protecting the honeybee by neutralizing toxins found in their diets while also helping fight off various pathogens. The researchers have identified eight different tetracycline resistance genes among U.S. honeybees that were exposed to antibiotics. Those same resistance genes were missing in bees from countries where antibiotic use is banned. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Curiosity on Sits on Martian Rocks Similar to Marshes in Mexico

November 4th 2012

Curiosity Rover at work

Millions of years ago fire and water forged the gypsum rocks locked in at Cuatro Ciénegas, a Mexican valley similar to the Martian crater where NASA's Rover Curiosity roams. A team of researchers have now analysed the bacterial communities that have survived in these inhospitable springs since the beginning of life on Earth.

"Cuatro Ciénegas is extraordinarily similar to Mars. As well as the Gale crater where Curiosity is currently located on its exploration of the red planet, this landscape is the home to gypsum formed by fire beneath the seabed," as explained to SINC by Valeria Souza, evolutionary ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The researcher states that sulphur components from magma and minerals from the sea (carbonates and molecules with magnesium) are required to form gypsum. In the case of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, the magma under the seabed was very active. In fact, it allowed for the continent displacement during the Jurassic Period: "Here was where the supercontinent Pangea opened up some 200 million years ago, pushing the hemisphere north from the equator where it is now." Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Universe's Earliest Stars Detected

November 4th 2012

protoplanetary disk

The most-distant, super-luminous supernovae found to date have been observed by an international team, including Raymond Carlberg of the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stellar explosions would have occurred at a time when the universe was much younger and probably soon after the Big Bang.

"The objects are both unusually bright and unusually slow to fade. These are properties that are consistent with what is known as pair-instability supernova, a rare mechanism for explosion which is expected to happen for high-mass stars with almost no metal content. That is, the very first stars to form," said Carlberg.

The two supernovae, identified as SN2213 and SN1000+2016, were discovered in image data obtained via the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey. In recent years, various surveys have enabled astronomers to open new windows on the universe, including the discovery over the past decade of super-luminous supernovae that are tens to hundreds of times more luminous than regular supernovae. "The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey stands out as the first really deep survey of the sky, covering large volumes of the universe," said Carlberg, a Canadian leader of the Survey. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

MRI Research Sheds New Light on Nerve Fibers in The Brain

November 3rd 2012

MRI Machine

World-leading experts in Magnetic Resonance Imaging from The University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre  have made a key discovery which could give the medical world a new tool for the improved diagnosis and monitoring of neuro-degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reveals why images of the brain produced using the latest MRI techniques are so sensitive to the direction in which nerve fibres run.

The white matter of the brain is made up of billions of microscopic nerve fibres that pass information in the form of tiny electrical signals. To increase the speed at which these signals travel, each nerve fibre is encased by a sheath formed from a fatty substance, called myelin. Previous studies have shown that the appearance of white matter in magnetic resonance images depends on the angle between the nerve fibres and the direction of the very strong magnetic field used in an MRI scanner. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Maternal Smoking Triggers Asthma in Grandchildren, Studies Show

November 3rd 2012

exploding cigaret

We knows that smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products is bad for your health... and for those around you. Now, there’s new evidence from studies with lab rats that the habit can cause asthma not only in smokers' children, but in their grandchildren, as well. Researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, have found evidence of a generational effect of tobacco-smoking on lung development. The scientists gave a group of pregnant rats injections of nicotine, the amount an average smoker would receive, exposing the animals' unborn pups to the chemical. Nicotine is one of more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke known to adversely affect lung development. As predicted, the injections caused changes in the fetal animals' upper and lower airway development consistent with asthma. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Solar System's Birth Record Revised

November 2nd 2012

Solar System Birth

THE SOLAR SYSTEM Some 4.567 billion years ago, our solar system’s planets spawned from an expansive disc of gas and dust rotating around the sun. While similar processes are witnessed in younger solar systems throughout the Milky Way, the formative stages of our own solar system were believed to have taken twice as long to occur. Now, new research lead by the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, suggests otherwise. Indeed, our solar system is not quite as special as once believed.

Using improved methods of analysis of uranium and lead isotopes, the current study of primitive meteorites has enabled researchers to date the formation of two very different types of materials, so-called calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (or CAI’s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar system’s development has been altered. The study has just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Science. Read more ..



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