The Earth on Edge
|Douglas Robertson||March 31st 2013|
University of Colorado at Boulder
A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth's species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
Led by Douglas Robertson of CIRES, the team used models that show the collision would have vaporized huge amounts of rock that were then blown high above Earth's atmosphere. The re-entering ejected material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the temperature of an oven broiler element -- killing every living thing not sheltered underground or underwater.
The CU-led team developed an alternate explanation for the fact that there is little charcoal found at the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, boundary some 66 million years ago when the asteroid struck Earth and the cataclysmic fires are believed to have occurred. The CU researchers found that similar studies had corrected their data for changing sedimentation rates. When the charcoal data were corrected for the same changing sedimentation rates they show an excess of charcoal, not a deficiency, Robertson said. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
As the capacity of handheld devices increases to accommodate a greater number of functions, these devices have more memory, larger display screens, and the ability to play higher definition video files. If the users of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablet PCs, and notebooks, want to share or transfer data on one device with that of another device, a great deal of time and effort are needed.
As a possible method for the speedy transmission of large data, researchers are studying the adoption of gigabits per second (Gbps) wireless communications operating over the 60 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band. Some commercial approaches have been introduced for full-HD video streaming from a fixed source to a display by using the 60 GHz band. But mobile applications have not been developed yet because the 60 GHz radio frequency (RF) circuit consumes hundreds of milliwatts (mW) of DC power. Read more ..
Edge of the Universe
An article in the Scientific American speculates that what we now know about the so-called "God Particle" may spell doom for the universe as we know it.
The article states: "Physicists recently confirmed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, had indeed found a Higgs boson last July, marking a culmination of one of the longest and most expensive searches in science. The finding also means that our universe could be doomed to fall apart. "If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it is bad news," says Joseph Lykken, a theorist who works at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. "It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable."
The Higgs boson helps explain why particles have the mass they do. The Higgs particle that the LHC has found possesses a mass of approximately 126 giga-electron volts (GeV)—roughly the combined mass of 126 protons (hydrogen nuclei). (One GeV equals a billion electron volts.)" Read more ..
The Healthcare Edge
|Jessica Berman||March 27th 2013|
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be stressful. Patients with the degenerative brain condition have a host of medical needs that can require the services of numerous health care professionals. Even for the most organized caregiver, keeping track of all that medical information can be a challenge. Now a new piece of mobile software provides a helping hand.
Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is generally a condition of old age. Since people are living longer all over the world, the number of Alzheimer’s parents and grandparents in their 70s, 80s and 90s is expected to triple in some countries by the middle of the century.
Increasingly, family members are being called upon to assist in the care of loved ones with Alzheimer's, a complex and difficult task that many people find themselves unprepared for. That is why the Hebrew Home, a privately-run geriatric care organization in Riverdale, New York, developed a new iPhone and iPad application called Balance. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Kate McAlpine||March 26th 2013|
Semiconducting polymers are an unruly bunch, but University of Michigan engineers have developed a new method for getting them in line that could pave the way for cheaper, greener, "paint-on" plastic electronics. "This is for the first time a thin-layer, conducting, highly aligned film for high-performance, paintable, directly writeable plastic electronics," said Jinsang Kim, U-M professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research published in Nature Materials.
Semiconductors are the key ingredient for computer processors, solar cells and LED displays, but they are expensive. Inorganic semiconductors like silicon require high temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and costly vacuum systems for processing into electronics, but organic and plastic semiconductors can be prepared on a basic lab bench.
The trouble is that charge carriers, like electrons, can't move through plastics nearly as easily as they can move through inorganic semiconductors, Kim said. Part of the reason for this is because each semiconducting polymer molecule is like a short wire, and these wires are randomly arranged. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Jim Erickson||March 26th 2013|
A common test used to determine mercury exposure from dental amalgam fillings may significantly overestimate the amount of the toxic metal released from fillings, according to University of Michigan researchers.
Scientists agree that dental amalgam fillings slowly release mercury vapor into the mouth. But both the amount of mercury released and the question of whether this exposure presents a significant health risk remain controversial.
Public health studies often make the assumption that mercury in urine (which is composed mostly of inorganic mercury) can be used to estimate exposure to mercury vapor from amalgam fillings. These same studies often use mercury in hair (which is composed mostly of organic mercury) to estimate exposure to organic mercury from a person's diet. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Terrence Sterling||March 25th 2013|
Europe’s Planck satellite - a flagship mission for the UK Space Agency - has compiled the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background (the relic radiation from the Big Bang). The new map refines our understanding of the Universe’s composition and evolution, and unveils new features that could challenge the foundations of our current understanding of its evolution.
The image is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck and is the mission’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when it was just 380 000 years old. This cosmic microwave background (CMB) shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities at very early times, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Overall, the information extracted from Planck’s new map provides an excellent confirmation of the standard model of cosmology at an unprecedented accuracy, setting a new benchmark for our knowledge of the contents of the Universe. Read more ..
The Edge of Life
|Yivsam Azgad||March 24th 2013|
For years, scientists around the world have dreamed of building a complete, functional, artificial cell.
Though this vision is still a distant blur on the horizon, many are making progress on various fronts. Prof. Roy Bar-Ziv and his research team in the Weizmann Institute’s Materials and Interfaces Department recently took a significant step in this direction when they created a two-dimensional, cell-like system on a glass chip. This system, composed of some of the basic biological molecules found in cells – DNA, RNA, proteins – carried out one of the central functions of a living cell: gene expression, the process by which the information stored in the genes is translated into proteins. More than that, it enabled the scientists, led by research student Yael Heyman, to obtain “snapshots” of this process in nanoscale resolution. The system, consisting of glass chips that are only eight nanometers thick, is based on an earlier one designed in Bar-Ziv’s lab by Dr. Shirley Daube and former student Dr. Amnon Buxboim. Read more ..
The Geologic Edge
|Jennifer Chu||March 23rd 2013|
More than 200 million years ago, a massive extinction decimated 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species, marking the end of the Triassic period and the onset of the Jurassic. This devastating event cleared the way for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 135 million years, taking over ecological niches formerly occupied by other marine and terrestrial species. It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. This sudden release of gases into the atmosphere may have created intense global warming and acidification of the oceans that ultimately killed off thousands of plant and animal species. Read more ..
The Animal Edge
|Layne Cameron||March 23rd 2013|
In the southern Rift Valley of Kenya, the Maasai people, their livestock and a range of carnivores – from hyenas to lions and bat-eared foxes – are coexisting fairly happily, according to a visiting scholar at Michigan State University.
“I wouldn’t call the results surprising,” said Meredith Evans Wagner, a visiting scholar from the University of Florida in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and part of the research team. “Other research has shown that people and carnivores can coexist, but there is a large body of thought that believes carnivores need their own protected space to survive.”
The paper, published in Biological Conservation, echoed results of a recent study by Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of MSU’s CSIS, and Neil Carter, MSU doctoral student, that found that tigers and people share the same space in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, albeit at different times. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock||March 22nd 2013|
The Washington Institute
Why did President Obama visit Israel this week, on the first foreign trip of his second term? The U.S. and Israel share democratic values, of course, and there were pressing issues to discuss publicly and privately, including peace with the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria, and Iran's march to nuclear-weapons capability. But there is an additional consideration that is too rarely emphasized: Israel is helping the U.S. meet the economic, environmental and non-military security challenges of the future.
Cyber security -- which the Pentagon now says could pose a strategic threat to U.S. infrastructure -- is a case in point. Israeli systems secure a significant and growing proportion of U.S. telecommunications, financial transactions, utility and other essential computer-dependent operations. Last year, Cisco paid $5 billion to acquire the Israeli-founded firm NDS, one of the top providers of encryption technology for television and video. Read more ..
The Environmental Edge
|John Cramer||March 19th 2013|
Making headway against a major public health threat, Dartmouth College researchers have invented the first ever secondhand tobacco smoke sensor that records data in real time.
The researchers expect to soon convert the prototype, which is smaller and lighter than a cellphone, into a wearable, affordable and reusable device that helps to enforce no smoking regulations and sheds light on the pervasiveness of secondhand smoke. The sensor can also detect thirdhand smoke, or nicotine off-gassing from clothing, furniture, car seats and other material.
The device uses polymer films to reliably measure ambient nicotine vapor molecules and a sensor chip to record the real-time data, pinpointing when and where the exposure occurred and even the number of cigarettes smoked. The prototype proved successful in lab tests. Clinical studies will start this summer.
Such a device could help to enforce smoking bans in rental cars, hotel rooms, apartment buildings, restaurants and other places. It also could help convince smokers that smoking in other rooms, out of windows and using air fresheners still exposes children and other nonsmokers to secondhand smoke. The device would be more accurate and less expensive than current secondhand smoke sensors, which provide only an average exposure in a limited area over several days or weeks. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Karn Mallet||March 18th 2013|
Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have discovered a brain anomaly that explains why some people diagnosed with autism cannot easily recognize faces — a deficit linked to the impairments in social interactions considered to be the hallmark of the disorder.
They also say that the novel neuroimaging analysis technique they developed to arrive at this finding is likely to help link behavioral deficits to differences at the neural level in a range of neurological disorders. The scientists say that in the brains of many individuals with autism, neurons in the brain area that processes faces (the fusiform face area, or FFA) are too broadly "tuned" to finely discriminate between facial features of different people. They made this discovery using a form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that scans output from the blueberry-sized FFA, located behind the right ear. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Peter West||March 16th 2013|
Distant, dust-filled galaxies were bursting with newborn stars much earlier in cosmic history than previously thought, according to newly published research. So-called "starburst galaxies" produce stars at the equivalent of a thousand new suns per year. Now, astronomers have found starbursts that were churning out stars when the universe was just a billion years old.
"I find that pretty amazing," said Joaquin Vieira, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology and leader of the study. "These aren't normal galaxies. These galaxies [reveal star formation] at an extraordinary rate, when the universe was very young. I don't think anyone expected us to find galaxies like this so early in the history of the universe."
An international team of astronomers found dozens of these galaxies with the National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded South Pole Telescope (SPT). SPT is a 10-meter dish in Antarctica that surveys the sky in millimeter-wavelength light, whose waves fall between radio waves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. The team then took a more detailed look using the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile's Atacama Desert, which is funded in part by NSF. ALMA is an international facility and is a partnership between North America, Europe and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. Read more ..
The Edge of Engineering
|David Stauth||March 15th 2013|
Oregon State University
Imagine driving down a road a few times and obtaining in an hour more data about the surrounding landscape than a crew of surveyors could obtain in months.
Such is the potential of mobile LIDAR, a powerful technology that’s only a few years old and promises to change the way we see, study and record the world around us. It will be applied in transportation, hydrology, forestry, virtual tourism and construction – and almost no one knows anything about it.
That may change with a new report on the uses and current technology of mobile LIDAR, which has just been completed and presented to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. It will help more managers and experts understand, use and take advantage of this science. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Art Chimes||March 14th 2013|
Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, is often described as a lifestyle disease resulting from smoking, poor diet, and a lack of exercise.
Now, a team of U.S. scientists has found new evidence that the disease has been around since long before our modern lifestyle. The researchers examined CT, or “cat” scans of 137 mummies for signs of the artery disease.
Randall Thompson of the University of Missouri-Kansas City says researchers found definite or probable evidence in about one-third of the preserved corpses. "We’ve concluded that this disease is inherent to human aging," Thompson said at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, "and that it’s not particularly characteristic of any diet or lifestyle." The mummy of an Egyptian woman who was between 45 and 50 years old when she died, is from an unknown era and shows evidence of heart disease. Read more ..
The Edge of Evolution
|Jim Erickson||March 13th 2013|
In evolutionary biology, there is a deeply rooted supposition that you can't go home again: Once an organism has evolved specialized traits, it can't return to the lifestyle of its ancestors.
There's even a name for this pervasive idea. Dollo's law states that evolution is unidirectional and irreversible. But this "law" is not universally accepted and is the topic of heated debate among biologists.
Now a research team led by two University of Michigan biologists has used a large-scale genetic study of the lowly house dust mite to uncover an example of reversible evolution that appears to violate Dollo's law.
The study shows that tiny free-living house dust mites, which thrive in the mattresses, sofas and carpets of even the cleanest homes, evolved from parasites, which in turn evolved from free-living organisms millions of years ago.
"All our analyses conclusively demonstrated that house dust mites have abandoned a parasitic lifestyle, secondarily becoming free-living, and then speciated in several habitats, including human habitations," according to Pavel Klimov and Barry OConnor of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Their paper, "Is permanent parasitism reversible?—Critical evidence from early evolution of house dust mites," is scheduled to be published online March 8 in the journal Systematic Biology. Mites are arachnids related to spiders (both have eight legs) and are among the most diverse animals on Earth. House dust mites, members of the family Pyroglyphidae, are the most common cause of allergic symptoms in humans, affecting up to 1.2 billion people worldwide. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Joe DeCapua||March 13th 2013|
The Apple iPhone can be used for lot of things – making calls, playing games and sending pictures, video and text. Scientists say it also can be converted into a low-cost microscope to detect worm-related infections in children.
Dr. Issac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, says with a few dollars and a little ingenuity, the "smart phone" is turning into an important medical diagnostic tool in places that often lack such techology, like rural Africa.
“I used an iPhone 4s and that’s simply because I just happen to own one, but any smart phone with a decent camera and a zoom-in function should work just fine," he said. "Then we bought a ball lens, which is about eight dollars. We just got it online. And then we used some double-sided tape to stick the ball lens to the lens of the camera on the iPhone.” Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Barnaby Smith||March 12th 2013|
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Tropical forests are less likely to lose biomass – plants and plant material - in response to greenhouse gas emissions over the twenty-first century than may previously have been thought, suggests a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience
In the most comprehensive assessment yet of the risk of tropical forest dieback due to climate change, the results have important implications for the future evolution of tropical rainforests including the role they play in the global climate system and carbon cycle.
To remain effective, programmes such as the United Nation's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation+ scheme require rainforest stability, in effect locking carbon within the trees. The research team comprised climate scientists and tropical ecologists from the UK, USA, Australia and Brazil and was led by Dr Chris Huntingford from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the UK. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Paul Buckley||March 11th 2013|
Researchers from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw have constructed an air-breathing bio-battery.
The core element providing the new power source with relatively high voltage and long lifetime is a carefully designed cathode taking up oxygen from air and composed of an enzyme, carbon nanotubes and silicate.
People are increasingly taking advantage of devices supporting various functions of our bodies. Today they include cardiac pacemakers or hearing aids; tomorrow it will be contact lenses with automatically changing focal length or computer-controlled displays generating images directly in the eye. None of these devices will work if not coupled to an efficient and long-lasting Power Supply source. The best solution seems to be miniaturised biofuel cells consuming substances naturally occurring in human body or in its direct surrounding. Read more ..
|Jennifer Chu||March 11th 2013|
A 70-pound “cheetah” robot designed by MIT researchers may soon outpace its animal counterparts in running efficiency: In treadmill tests, the researchers have found that the robot — about the size and weight of an actual cheetah — wastes very little energy as it trots continuously for up to an hour and a half at 5 mph. The key to the robot’s streamlined stride: lightweight electric motors, set into its shoulders, that produce high torque with very little heat wasted.
The motors can be programmed to quickly adjust the robot’s leg stiffness and damping ratio — or cushioning — in response to outside forces such as a push, or a change in terrain. The researchers will present the efficiency results and design principles for their electric motor at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Ray Villard||March 9th 2013|
NSA/Goddard Space Flight Center
A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken an important step closer to finding the birth certificate of a star that's been around for a very long time.
"We have found that this is the oldest known star with a well-determined age," said Howard Bond of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
The star could be as old as 14.5 billion years (plus or minus 0.8 billion years), which at first glance would make it older than the universe's calculated age of about 13.8 billion years, an obvious dilemma. But earlier estimates from observations dating back to 2000 placed the star as old as 16 billion years. And this age range presented a potential dilemma for cosmologists. "Maybe the cosmology is wrong, stellar physics is wrong, or the star's distance is wrong," Bond said. "So we set out to refine the distance."
The new Hubble age estimates reduce the range of measurement uncertainty, so that the star's age overlaps with the universe's age — as independently determined by the rate of expansion of space, an analysis of the microwave background from the big bang, and measurements of radioactive decay. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Anjana Pasricha||March 7th 2013|
India’s ambitious plan to send a spacecraft to Mars later this year marks a major milestone in its space program. The mission is a bid by India to catch up in the global space race and join the league of major space-faring nations.
The unmanned, Indian spacecraft will be launched around November, when the red planet is closest to earth. It will take nine months to reach Mars' orbit.
An official at the Indian Space Research Organization, Deviprasad Karnik, says the Mars Orbiter mission will be equipped with a methane sensor and look for signs of past life. "The presence of methane on the surface of Mars will give us an indication of probability of life existence either from biological or zoological source," said Karnik. Read more ..
|Nancy O'Shea||March 6th 2013|
For decades, archaeologists have struggled with understanding the emergence of a distinct South American civilization during the Late Archaic period (3000-1800 B.C.) in Peru. One of the persistent questions has been the role of agriculture and particularly corn (maize) in the evolution of complex, centralized societies. Up until now, the prevailing theory was that marine resources, not agriculture and corn, provided the economic engine behind the development of civilization in the Andean region of Peru.
Now, breakthrough research led by Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas is providing new resolution to the issue by looking at microscopic evidence found in soil, on stone tools, and in coprolites from ancient sites and dated with over 200 Carbon-14 dates. Read more ..
A new model suggests that inhospitable hydrodgen-sulphide rich waters could have delayed the spread of complex life forms in ancient oceans.
A new model suggests that inhospitable hydrodgen-sulphide rich waters could have delayed the spread of complex life forms in ancient oceans. The research, published online this week in the journal Nature Communications, considers the composition of the oceans 550-700 million years ago and shows that oxygen-poor toxic conditions, which may have delayed the establishment of complex life, were controlled by the biological availability of nitrogen. Read more ..
|Michael Bernstein||March 6th 2013|
Scientists are reporting "laboratory resurrections" of several 2-3-billion-year-old proteins that are ancient ancestors of the enzymes that enable today's antibiotic-resistant bacteria to shrug off huge doses of penicillins, cephalosporins and other modern drugs. The achievement, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, opens the door to a scientific "replay" of the evolution of antibiotic resistance with an eye to finding new ways to cope with the problem.
Jose M. Sanchez-Ruiz, Eric A. Gaucher, Valeria A. Risso and colleagues explain that antibiotic resistance existed long before Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic in 1928. Genes that contain instructions for making the proteins responsible for antibiotic resistance have been found in 30,000-year-old permafrost sediment and other ancient sites. Their research focused on the so-called beta-lactamases, enzymes responsible for resistance to the family of antibiotics that includes penicillin, which scientists believe originated billions of years ago Read more ..
The Edge of Transpotation
|Mike O'Sullivan||March 5th 2013|
A huge helium-filled airship with military and commercial uses has been unveiled near Los Angeles. It is still experimental, but a full-sized working model should be finished in a few years.
The prototype unveiled in this immense World War II hangar near Los Angeles is just half the size of the final working model. But the prototype is massive, at 75-meters-long. It is wide, flattened on the top, and covered with silver-colored Mylar, a tough kind of polyester.
The craft was built with $35 million in funding from the Pentagon and the U.S. space agency, NASA. The final version will double the length and provide eight times the cargo space, carrying up to 60 metric tons, all without ground support, says Shenny Yao of the company Aeros. “No airports, no round crew," said Yao. "You do not need anything.” Read more ..
The Edge of Physics
|Leonor Sierra||March 3rd 2013|
University of Rochester
Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Ottawa have applied a recently developed technique to directly measure for the first time the polarization states of light. Their work both overcomes some important challenges of Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle and also is applicable to qubits, the building blocks of quantum information theory.
The direct measurement technique was first developed in 2011 by scientists at the National Research Council, Canada, to measure the wavefunction – a way of determining the state of a quantum system.
Such direct measurements of the wavefunction had long seemed impossible because of a key tenet of the uncertainty principle – the idea that certain properties of a quantum system could be known only poorly if certain other related properties were known with precision. The ability to make these measurements directly challenges the idea that full understanding of a quantum system could never come from direct observation. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
Tiny particles filled with a drug could be a new tool for treating cancer in the future. A new study published by Swedish scientists in Particle & Particle Systems Characterization shows how such nanoparticles can be combined to secure the effective delivery of cancer drugs to tumour cells – and how they can be given properties to make them visible in MR scanners and thus rendered trackable.
The team, which consisted of scientists from Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, and from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, developed so-called 'theranostic nanoparticles' by combining therapy and diagnostics in one and the same nano material.
"For this study, we produced theranostic nanoparticles able to make pinpoint deliveries of drug payloads to breast cancer cells," says Professor Eva Malmström of the School of Chemical Science and Engineering at KTH. "They are also detectable in an MR scanner and can therefore be used diagnostically. The building blocks that we use are biodegradable and show no signs of toxicity." Read more ..
The Evironmental Edge
|Marcia Goodrich||March 1st 2013|
Suppose you could replace “Made in China” with “Made in my garage.” Suppose also that every time you polished off a jug of two percent, you would be stocking up on raw material to make anything from a cell phone case and golf tees to a toy castle and a garlic press.
And, you could give yourself a gold medal for being a bona fide, recycling, polar-bear-saving rock star. Michigan Technological University’s Joshua Pearce is working on it. His main tool is open-source 3D printing, which he uses to save thousands of dollars by making everything from his lab equipment to his safety razor.
Using free software downloaded from sites like Thingiverse, which now holds over 54,000 open-source designs, 3D printers make all manner of objects by laying down thin layers of plastic in a specific pattern. While high-end printers can cost many thousands of dollars, simpler open-source units run between $250 and $500—and can be used to make parts for other 3D printers, driving the cost down ever further. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Madeline McCurry-Schmidt||February 27th 2013|
American Society of Animal Science
Chronic or acute, liver failure can be deadly. Toxins take over, the skin turns yellow and higher brain function slows.
"There is no effective therapy at the moment to deal with the toxins that build up in your body," said Neil Talbot, a Research Animal Scientist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. "Their only option now is to transplant a liver."
Talbot thinks a line of special liver cells could change that. In an interview with the American Society of Animal Science, he discussed how a line of pig liver cells called PICM-19 could perform many of the same functions as a human liver.
In 1991, Talbot created PICM-19 from the cells of an 8-day-old pig embryo. The cell line is significant because it is "immortal," meaning the cells can divide an infinite number of times. Many immortal cells lines continue dividing because they are derived from cancer cells; however, PICM-19 cells are derived from epiblast cells, the embryonic stem cells that form in the early stages of embryo development. Read more ..
The Neural Edge
|Andy Thomas||February 26th 2013|
Scientists have long been dreaming about building a computer that would work like a brain. This is because a brain is far more energy-saving than a computer, it can learn by itself, and it doesn’t need any programming. Privatdozent [senior lecturer] Dr. Andy Thomas from Bielefeld University’s Faculty of Physics is experimenting with memristors – electronic microcomponents that imitate natural nerves. Thomas and his colleagues proved that they could do this a year ago. They constructed a memristor that is capable of learning. Andy Thomas is now using his memristors as key components in a blueprint for an artificial brain. He will be presenting his results at the beginning of March in the print edition of the prestigious Journal of Physics published by the Institute of Physics in London.
A nanocomponent that is capable of learning: The Bielefeld memristor built into a chip here is 600 times thinner than a human hair. Memristors are made of fine nanolayers and can be used to connect electric circuits. For several years now, the memristor has been considered to be the electronic equivalent of the synapse. Synapses are, so to speak, the bridges across which nerve cells (neurons) contact each other. Their connections increase in strength the more often they are used. Usually, one nerve cell is connected to other nerve cells across thousands of synapses.
Like synapses, memristors learn from earlier impulses. In their case, these are electrical impulses that (as yet) do not come from nerve cells but from the electric circuits to which they are connected. The amount of current a memristor allows to pass depends on how strong the current was that flowed through it in the past and how long it was exposed to it. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Catherine Zandonella||February 25th 2013|
A new climate model predicts an increase in snowfall for the Earth’s polar regions and highest altitudes, but an overall drop in snowfall for the globe, as carbon dioxide levels rise over the next century. The decline in snowfall could spell trouble for regions such as the western United States that rely on snowmelt as a source of fresh water.
The projections are the result of a new climate model developed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and analyzed by scientists at GFDL and Princeton University. The study was published in the Journal of Climate.
The model indicates that the majority of the planet would experience less snowfall as a result of warming due to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Observations show that atmospheric carbon dioxide has already increased by 40 percent from values in the mid-19th century, and, given projected trends, could exceed twice those values later this century. Read more ..
The Edge of Robotics
|Nicole Casal Moore||February 25th 2013|
Running cockroaches start to recover from being shoved sideways before their dawdling nervous system kicks in to tell their legs what to do, researchers have found. These new insights on how biological systems stabilize could one day help engineers design steadier robots and improve doctors' understanding of human gait abnormalities. In experiments, the roaches were able to maintain their footing mechanically—using their momentum and the spring-like architecture of their legs, rather than neurologically, relying on impulses sent from their central nervous system to their muscles.
"The response time we observed is more than three times longer than you'd expect," said Shai Revzen, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, as well as ecology and evolutionary biology, at the University of Michigan. Revzen is the lead author of a paper on the findings published online in Biological Cybernetics.
"What we see is that the animals' nervous system is working at a substantial delay," he said. "It could potentially act a lot sooner, within about a thirtieth of a second, but instead, it kicks in after about a step and a half or two steps—about a tenth of a second. For some reason, the nervous system is waiting and seeing how it shapes out." Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Greg Flakus||February 23rd 2013|
Much research on the human brain is focused on understanding how people form memories, store them and retrieve them. Now, a study by scientists at the University of California-Davis and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston is providing new insight into the process. Researchers at the two schools found that separate areas of the brain coordinate much like little radio stations - to form memories involving time and space.
In Memorial-Hermann hospital at the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston, Neurosurgeon Nitin Tandon visits 26-year-old epilepsy patient Tyler. Dr. Tandon has placed platinum electrodes on the surface of Tyler's brain so that he can monitor electrical signals when Tyler is having a seizure. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jessica Berman||February 22nd 2013|
Millions of diabetics around the world are threatened with vision loss, a secondary effect of their disease, but researchers are exploring whether stem cells can be used to treat or prevent this diabetic complication.
Juvenile and adult-onset diabetes result when the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels goes awry. When the condition becomes chronic, it can lead to cardiovascular disease, damage the kidneys and affect blood flow to the limbs, sometimes requiring amputations.
The disease also affects the eyes, according to Alan Stitt of Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland. Chronically high blood sugar levels can cause a condition called diabetic retinopathy, in which the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, become blocked or leak. “They then can actually no longer carry the oxygen and the nutrients that the retina requires," Stitt says. "And the retina becomes increasingly dysfunctional as a result of these blood vessels not functioning properly.” If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to partial or total blindness. Read more ..
The Edge of Physics
|Tracey Peake||February 21st 2013|
North Carolina University
Ever wonder why sand can both run through an hourglass like a liquid and be solid enough to support buildings? It’s because granular materials – like sand or dirt – can change their behavior, or state. Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that the forces individual grains exert on one another are what most affect that transition.
Physicists have explored the changing behavior of granular materials by comparing it to what happens in thermodynamic systems. In a thermodynamic system, you can change the state of a material – like water – from a liquid to a gas by adding energy (heat) to the system. One of the most fundamental and important observations about temperature, however, is that it has the ability to equilibrate: a hot cup of tea eventually cools to match the temperature of the room.
Physicists thought they could use thermodynamics’ underlying ideas to explain the changes in granular materials, but didn’t know whether granular materials had properties which might equilibrate in a similar way. In other words, instead of temperature being the change agent in a granular system, it might be a property related to the amount of free space, or the forces on the particles. But no one had really tested which of the two might exhibit this property of equilibration.
NC State physicist Karen Daniels and former graduate student James Puckett devised a way to do just that. Puckett used two different types of plastic “granules” with different properties that floated atop a layer of air on a small table. Puckett and Daniels wanted to see what would bring the two types of particles into equilibrium with one another. In order to make their measurements, they used a plastic material that indicated a change in force by a change in brightness. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Brian Blum||February 20th 2013|
Israeli professor’s revolutionary disease-detection device is on the road to changing how early, and how easily, lung cancer is diagnosed. An Israeli invention that can detect lung cancer from exhaled breath will be commercialized in a joint venture between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Alpha Szenszor, a Boston-based manufacturer of carbon nanotube sensing equipment.
Technion Prof. Hossam Haick has been working on what he calls “Na-Nose” (the “na” is for “nanotechnology”) since 2007, and the device has been proven in numerous international clinical trials to differentiate between different types and classifications of cancer with up to 95 percent accuracy.
Patients breathe into a tube; the Na-Nose analyzes the more than 1,000 different gases that are contained in the breath to identify those that may indicate that something’s wrong. It works by binding gases to specific nano-materials, a technique formally known as volatile organic compound (VOC) detection. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Clare Ryan||February 19th 2013|
The first animal model of recent human evolution reveals that a single mutation produced several traits common in East Asian peoples, from thicker hair to denser sweat glands, an international team of researchers report.
The team, led by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Fudan University and University College London, also modeled the spread of the gene mutation across Asia and North America, concluding that it most likely arose about 30,000 years ago in what is today central China.
Featured in the Cell, Professor Mark Thomas of the UCL Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, commented, "There are three parts to this study." Thomas was one of the authors of the paper. Read more ..
Edge of Space
|Jim Erickson||February 19th 2013|
|'Genesis Rock': unbrecciated anorthosite from the Apollo 15 moon mission.|
Traces of water have been detected within the crystalline structure of mineral samples from the lunar highland upper crust obtained during the Apollo missions, according to a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues.
The lunar highlands are thought to represent the original crust, crystallized from a magma ocean on a mostly molten early moon. The new findings indicate that the early moon was wet and that water there was not substantially lost during the moon's formation. The results seem to contradict the predominant lunar formation theory — that the moon was formed from debris generated during a giant impact between Earth and another planetary body, approximately the size of Mars, according to U-M's Youxue Zhang and his colleagues.
"Because these are some of the oldest rocks from the moon, the water is inferred to have been in the moon when it formed," Zhang said. "That is somewhat difficult to explain with the current popular moon-formation model, in which the moon formed by collecting the hot ejecta as the result of a super-giant impact of a martian-size body with the proto-Earth. Read more ..
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