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The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Shows Earliest Galaxies, Closes in on Big Bang

September 28th 2012

Hubble XDF image, Sep 2012
Hubble XDF image (credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and
P. Oesch (UC Santa Cruz); R. Bouwens (Leiden University); and
the HUDF09 Team)

NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured the deepest view to date of the universe, a photograph showing galaxies going back almost to the beginning of time. Hubble’s latest view of the universe, called the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), is a photograph combining 10 years of data and showing about 5,500 galaxies, the oldest of which is about 13.2 billion years old. The universe is estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old.

“The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen,” said Garth Illingworth of UC Santa Cruz, a scientist working on the project. “XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before.”

The XDF image is even more detailed than the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, thanks to the additional observations, and contains about 5500 galaxies, even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness that the unaided human eye can see. Hubble repeatedly focused on a tiny patch of southern sky during the past decade, with a total exposure time of two million seconds. More than 2000 images of the same field were taken with Hubble’s two primary cameras, which were then combined to form the XDF. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Advances Seen in Relieving Poison Ivy Itch

September 27th 2012

Poison ivy
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

With more than half of all adults allergic to poison ivy, oak and sumac, scientists are reporting an advance toward an inexpensive spray that could reveal the presence of the rash-causing toxic oil on the skin, clothing, garden tools, and even the family cat or dog. Using the spray, described in ACS' The Journal of Organic Chemistry would enable people to wash off the oil, or avoid further contact, in time to sidestep days of misery.

Rebecca Braslau and colleagues explain that allergic reactions to oils of the toxic trio are more than a nusiance. They claim a huge human and economic toll, accounting for thousands of medical visits, days lost from work and school and sheer misery for the victims. It takes only 0.04th of a drop of the plants' oil to trigger a reaction, and the oil is invisible. The scientists thus sought to begin developing a way to make the oil visible, so that people can do a reality check after venturing into outdoor areas where the toxic plants grow. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

New Blood Test Accurately Detects Early Lung, Breast Cancer in Humans

September 27th 2012


Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a simple blood test that can accurately detect the beginning stages of cancer. In less than an hour, the test can detect breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer—the most common type of lung cancer—before symptoms like coughing and weight loss start. The researchers anticipate testing for the early stages of pancreatic cancer shortly. The test was developed by Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry, and Deryl Troyer, professor of anatomy and physiology. Both are also researchers affiliated with Kansas State University’s Johnson Cancer Research Center and the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Gary Gadbury, professor of statistics at Kansas State University, helped analyze the data from tests with lung and breast cancer patients. The results, data, and analysis were recently submitted to the Kansas Bio Authority for accelerated testing.

“We see this as the first step into a new arena of investigation that could eventually lead to improved early detection of human cancers,” Troyer said. “Right now the people who could benefit the most are those classified as at-risk for cancer, such as heavy smokers and people who have a family history of cancer. The idea is these at-risk groups could go to their physician’s office quarterly or once a year, take an easy-to-do, noninvasive test, and be told early on whether cancer has possibly developed.” Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

The Rich Colors of a Cosmic Seagull

September 26th 2012

Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 from ESO
Part of the Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 (credit: ESO)

Nebulae are among the most visually impressive objects in the night sky. They are interstellar clouds of dust, molecules, hydrogen, helium, and other ionised gases where new stars are being born. Although they come in different shapes and colours, many share a common characteristic: when observed for the first time, their odd and evocative shapes trigger astronomers’ imaginations and lead to curious names. This dramatic region of star formation, which has acquired the nickname of the Seagull Nebula, is no exception.

This new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula. It is just one part of the larger nebula known more formally as IC 2177, which spreads its wings with a span of over 100 light-years and resembles a seagull in flight. This cloud of gas and dust is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth. The entire bird shows up best in wide-field images.

This object has received many other names through the years; it is also known as Sh 2-292, RCW 2, and Gum 1. The name Sh 2-292 means that the object is #292 in the second Sharpless catalogue of HII regions, published in 1959. The RCW number refers to the catalogue compiled by Rodgers, Campbell, and Whiteoak and published in 1960. This object was also the first in an earlier list of southern nebulae compiled by Colin Gum, and published in 1955. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Brain Mechanism that Controls Over-Eating Pinpointed

September 26th 2012

Baby Boomer

A part of the brain usually thought to control movement also may cause people to overeat, say University of Michigan researchers.

A new study appearing in the current issue of the journal Current Biology indicates that a new brain mechanism in the neostriatum produces intense motivation to overeat tasty foods. The neostriatum, located near the middle and front of the brain, has traditionally been thought to control only motor movements (this is the part of the brain that is damaged in patients with Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease). Yet for several years, it has been known that the neostriatum is active in brains of obese people when viewing or tasting foods, and in brains of drug addicts when viewing photos of drug-taking. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

First Two Webb Telescope Flight Mirrors Delivered to NASA

September 25th 2012

Webb telescope flight mirror

The first two of the 18 primary mirrors destined for installation aboard NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have arrived at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The mirrors are going through receiving and inspection and will then be stored in the Goddard cleanroom until engineers are ready to assemble them onto the telescope’s backplane—the structure that will support them.

Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Colo., under contract to Northrop Grumman, is responsible for the Webb’s optical technology and lightweight mirror system. On September 17, 2012, Ball Aerospace shipped the first two mirrors in custom containers designed specifically for the multiple trips. The mirrors trave through eight U.S. states while completing their manufacturing. The remaining 16 mirrors will make their way from Ball Aerospace to Goddard over the next 12 months as they await telescope integration in 2015. Read more ..

The Rescue Edge

Wearable Sensor Device Automatically Creates Digital Maps for Military and First-Responders

September 25th 2012

wearable mapping system

MIT researchers have built a wearable sensor system that automatically creates a digital map of the environment through which the wearer is moving. The prototype system, described in a paper slated for the Intelligent Robots and Systems conference in Portugal next month, is envisioned as a tool to help emergency responders coordinate disaster response.

In experiments conducted on the MIT campus, a graduate student wearing the sensor system wandered the halls, and the sensors wirelessly relayed data to a laptop in a distant conference room. Observers in the conference room were able to track the student’s progress on a map that sprang into being as he moved.

Connected to the array of sensors is a handheld pushbutton device that the wearer can use to annotate the map. In the prototype system, depressing the button simply designates a particular location as a point of interest. But the researchers envision that emergency responders could use a similar system to add voice or text tags to the map — indicating, say, structural damage or a toxic spill. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Protection for Humans on Mars

September 25th 2012

Solar Flare

For six weeks the rover „Curiosity” is now working on Mars. NASA also plans to send humans to Mars within the next 20 years. On the flight and during the stay on Moon or Mars the astronauts have to be protected against long exposure to cosmic radiation that might cause cancer. On behalf of the European Space Agency ESA the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH tests whether Moon and Mars regolith can be used to build shieldings for ground stations.

On Earth the atmosphere and the magnetic field weaken cosmic rays. But on Moon and Mars they pelt down unhamperdly. The cosmic radiation can harm astronauts and could cause cancer in the long run as a result of damage in DNA and cells.

Chiara La Tessa is manager of experiments in GSI biophysics. She explains why Moon or Mars ground stations would not be built from terrestrial high tech material: “In space travels every gram counts. Transporting building material through space would lead to a cost explosion. That is why ground stations would basically be built from Moon and Mars regolith – especially the shielding. We know from the analyses done by rovers what the local sand and stones consist of. With this information one can produce Moon and Mars regolith on Earth and we test it for its properties.” As cosmic rays are nothing else but fast ions that were accelerated by star explosions they can be simulated by an accelerator. The GSI facility is one of the few able to reproduce cosmic rays in an original way. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Spacetime Ripples from Dying Black Holes Could help Reveal how they Formed

September 25th 2012

Black Holes

Researchers from Cardiff University have discovered a new property of black holes: their dying tones could reveal the cosmic crash that produced them.

Black holes are regions of space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape and so isolated black holes are truly dark objects and don't emit any form of radiation.

However, black holes that get deformed, because of other black holes or stars crashing into them, are known to emit a new sort of radiation, called gravitational waves, which Einstein predicted nearly a hundred years ago.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime that travel at the speed of light but they are extremely difficult to detect.

Kilometer-sized laser interferometers are being built in the US, Europe, Japan and India, to detect these waves from colliding black holes and other cosmic events. They are sensitive to gravitational waves in roughly the same frequency range as audible sound waves, and can be thought of as a microphone to gravitational waves. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Harmless Virus Harnessed to Defeat Acne

September 25th 2012

Cystic acne sufferer

Watch out, acne. Doctors soon may have a new weapon against zits: a harmless virus living on our skin that naturally seeks out and kills the bacteria that cause pimples. "Acne affects millions of people, yet we have few treatments that are both safe and effective," said principal investigator Dr. Robert Modlin, chief of dermatology and professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Harnessing a virus that naturally preys on the bacteria that causes pimples could offer a promising new tool against the physical and emotional scars of severe acne."

The scientists looked at two little microbes that share a big name: Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium thriving in our pores that can trigger acne; and P. acnes phages, a family of viruses that live on human skin. The viruses are harmless to humans, but programmed to infect and kill the aforementioned P. acnes bacteria. Read more ..

The Recycling Edge

International Policy Needed for Recycling Scarce Metals

September 24th 2012


An international policy is needed for recycling scarce specialty metals that are critical in the production of consumer goods, according to Yale researchers in the journal Science. “A recycling rate of zero for specialty metals is alarming when we consider that their use is growing quickly,” said co-author Barbara Reck, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Specialty metals, which include rare earth elements such as indium, gallium and germanium, account for more than 30 of the 60 metals in the periodic table. Because they are used in small amounts for very precise technological purposes, such as red phosphors, high-strength magnets, thin-film solar cells and computer chips, recovery can be so technologically and economically challenging that the attempt is seldom made. “Specialty metals are used in products in only small amounts, but their value typically does not provide enough incentive to invest in a complicated recovery process. Also, the technology to do so is untested,” said Thomas Graedel, the study’s other co-author and Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology at Yale. Read more ..

The Archaeological Edge

Early Humans were Recycling 13,000 Years Ago

September 24th 2012

Neanderthal child mannequin

A study at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in Spain reveals that humans from the Upper Palaeolithic Age recycled their stone artefacts to be put to other uses. The study is based on burnt artefacts found in the Molí del Salt site in Tarragona, Spain.

The recycling of stone tools during Prehistoric times has hardly been dealt with due to the difficulties in verifying such practices in archaeological records. Nonetheless, it is possible to find some evidence, as demonstrated in a study published in the 'Journal of Archaeological Science'.

"In order to identify the recycling, it is necessary to differentiate the two stages of the manipulation sequence of an object: the moment before it is altered and the moment after. The two are separated by an interval in which the artefact has undergone some form of alteration. This is the first time a systematic study of this type has been performed," as explained to SINC by Manuel Vaquero, researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili. The archaeologists found a high percentage of burnt remains in the Molí del Salt site (Tarragona), which date back to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic Age some 13,000 years ago. The expert ensures that "we chose these burnt artefacts because they can tell us in a very simple way whether they have been modified after being exposed to fire." Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Human Brains Outpace Chimp Brains in the Womb

September 24th 2012

Bonobo chimp

Humans' superior brain size in comparison to their chimpanzee cousins traces all the way back to the womb. That's according to a study reported in the September 25 issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, that is the first to track and compare brain growth in chimpanzee and human fetuses.

"Nobody knew how early these differences between human and chimp brains emerged," said Satoshi Hirata of Kyoto University.

Hirata and colleagues Tomoko Sakai and Hideko Takeshita now find that human and chimp brains begin to show remarkable differences very early in life. In both primate species, the brain grows increasingly fast in the womb initially. After 22 weeks of gestation, brain growth in chimpanzees starts to level off, while that of humans continues to accelerate for another two months or more. (Human gestation time is only slightly longer than that of chimpanzees, 38 weeks versus 33 or 34 weeks.)  Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Fueling the Fleet, Navy Looks to the Seas

September 24th 2012

The first U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, Freedom

Refueling U.S. Navy vessels, at sea and underway, is a costly endeavor in terms of logistics, time, fiscal constraints and threats to national security and sailors at sea.

In Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S. Navy Military Sea Lift Command, the primary supplier of fuel and oil to the U.S. Navy fleet, delivered nearly 600 million gallons of fuel to Navy vessels underway, operating 15 fleet replenishment oilers around the globe.

From Seawater to CO2

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing a process to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce hydrogen gas (H2) from seawater, subsequently catalytically converting the CO2 and H2 into jet fuel by a gas-to-liquids process.  Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Viruses Help Scientists Battle Pathogenic Bacteria

September 24th 2012

HIV AIDS virus

Infectious bacteria received a taste of their own medicine from University of Missouri researchers who used viruses to infect and kill colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, common disease-causing bacteria. The viruses, known as bacteriophages, could be used to efficiently sanitize water treatment facilities and may aid in the fight against deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Our experiment was the first to use bacteriophages in conjunction with chlorine to destroy biofilms, which are layers of bacteria growing on a solid surface,” said Zhiqiang Hu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in MU’s College of Engineering. “The advantage to using viruses is that they can selectively kill harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria, such as those used to break down wastes in water treatment plants, are largely unaffected. Hence, viruses could be used to get rid of pathogenic bacteria in water filters that would otherwise have to be replaced.  They could save taxpayers’ money by reducing the cost of cleaning water.” Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Quasars Mark the Universe's Expansion

September 23rd 2012

Five quasar gravitational lens
Five quasar gravitational lens
(credt K. Sharon, Tel Aviv U; E. Ofek, Caltech; ESA; NASA)

Scientists can’t travel deep space the way Columbus sailed and charted the New World or Lewis and Clark mapped the west. But, researchers at Case Western Reserve University and two partnering institutions have found a possible way to map the spread and structure of the universe, guided by the light of quasars.

The technique, combined with the expected discovery of millions more far-away quasars over the next decade, could yield an unprecedented look back to a time shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe was a fraction the size it is today.

Researchers found the key while analyzing the visible light from a small group of quasars. Patterns of light variation over time were consistent from one quasar to another when corrected for the quasar’s redshift. This redshift occurs because an expanding universe carries the quasars away from us, thus making the light from them appear redder (hence the term), and also making the time variations appear to occur more slowly. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Device Harnesses Electromagnetic Healing Power

September 23rd 2012

Holding Hands

Could MDwave represent the trend of the future for treating everything from ADHD to heart disease without drugs? The same Israeli inventor who brought the world pre-paid phone cards and voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) also had an idea for a portable medical device that could confer the healing properties of low electromagnetic frequencies.

Nearly a decade after its conception, MDwave is now inching closer to the marketplace. Based on technology developed by Israel Defense Prize winner Tzvi Kamil, the late head of the Israeli Nuclear Safety Commission, the device is made by the Holon-based company Aerotel.

Aerotel’s chief scientist Mickey Scheinowitz explains that the small, user-friendly device can treat acute and chronic health conditions including heart disease, migraines, joint pain, gastrointestinal problems and muscle pain by producing a delicate electromagnetic field that restores balanced function to abnormal body cells. “Magnetic fields have been used for more than 20 years in medicine, such as for skin lesions, and were shown to improve the healing of bone fractures,” he and colleagues wrote in a scholarly article on the topic in Annals of Biomedical Engineering. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Dire Warnings Issued on Diminishing Arctic Ice

September 23rd 2012

Melting Glaciers


The Edge of Health

New Protection for Fertility

September 22nd 2012


New research offers hope to women whose fertility has been compromised by the side-effects of cancer therapy or by premature menopause. A study published today found that two proteins, PUMA and NOXA, cause the death of egg cells in the ovaries. Blocking the activity of the proteins may lead to new strategies to protect women's fertility. The team, including Associate Professor Jeffrey Kerr from Monash, Associate Professor Clare Scott, Dr Ewa Michalak and Professor Andreas Strasser from WEHI and Dr Karla Hutt and Professor Jock Findlay from PHI, focused their studies on egg cells called primordial follicle oocytes, which provide each woman's lifetime supply of eggs. Low numbers of these egg cells can also cause early menopause. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Giving Lithium to Those who Need It

September 22nd 2012

Boy in pain

Lithium is a 'gold standard' drug for treating bipolar disorder, however not everyone responds in the same way. New research finds that this is true at the levels of gene activation, especially in the activation or repression of genes which alter the level the apoptosis (programmed cell death). Most notably BCL2, known to be important for the therapeutic effects of lithium, did not increase in non-responders. This can be tested in the blood of patients within four weeks of treatment.

A research team from Yale University School of Medicine measured the changing levels of gene activity in the blood of twenty depressed adult subjects with bipolar disorder before treatment, and then fortnightly once treatment with lithium carbonate had begun. Over the eight weeks of treatment there were definite differences in the levels of gene expression between those who responded to lithium (measured using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) and those who failed to respond. Dr Robert Beech who led this study explained, "We found 127 genes that had different patterns of activity (turned up or down) and the most affected cellular signalling pathway was that controlled programmed cell death (apoptosis)." For people who responded to lithium the genes which protect against apoptosis, including Bcl2 and IRS2, were up regulated, while those which promote apoptosis were down regulated, including BAD and BAK1. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Growing Corn to Treat Rare Disease

September 22nd 2012

Corn stalk

The seeds of greenhouse-grown corn could hold the key to treating a rare, life-threatening childhood genetic disease, according to researchers from Simon Fraser University. SFU biologist Allison Kermode and her team have been carrying out multidisciplinary research toward developing enzyme therapeutics for lysosomal storage diseases - rare, but devastating childhood genetic diseases – for more than a decade.

In the most severe forms of these inherited diseases, untreated patients die in early childhood because of progressive damage to all organs of the body. Currently, enzyme treatments are available for only six of the more than 70 diverse types of lysosomal storage diseases.

“In part because mammalian cell cultures have been the system of choice to produce these therapeutics, the enzymes are extremely costly to make, with treatments typically ranging from $300,000 to $500,000 per year for children, with even higher costs for adults,” says Kermode, noting the strain on healthcare budgets in Canada and other countries is becoming an issue. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Taking Online Brokers from The Stone Age to the 21st Century

September 21st 2012

cloud computing

A new Israeli cloud-based company helps brokers and traders make better stock-market trading decisions in real time. The ups and downs of the stock market look random and chaotic when observed from the outside, but some brokers do make lots of money for themselves and their clients. Are they lucky, business gurus, or just good at risky business? A new Israeli company is working to give you and your portfolio the answer.

CPattern is a new cloud-based analytics technology that helps brokers and traders make better stock-market trading decisions in real time. It collects information on the buying and selling behavior of traders worldwide to analyze what works and what doesn’t. The multilingual solution is tailored to suit online brokers, who can then alert and advise home traders looking to invest wisely in the global stock market. “We are taking online brokers from the Stone Age to the 21st century,” says Oded Shefer, the CEO and co-founder of CPattern. “We give online brokers and home traders high-resolution data when they need it.” Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

LED Lights A Health Hazard

September 18th 2012

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Professor Abraham Haim, an authority on the biological effects of light pollution, presented his findings last week at the International Congress of Zoology (ICZ) in Haifa Israel. World experts discussed, “Light Pollution and its Ecophysiological Consequences” and came to a consensus that light pollution does have health consequences. 

Professor Haim’s team studied the effect of night light on blind mole rats and seeing rats.  He presented his research findings indicating that the biological effects of nocturnal lights included damage to metabolic rates, body mass, oxygen consumption and the level of certain hormones including melatonin– which is known to impact sleep cycles and mood and is believed to suppress some cancers and tumors.  Studies seemed to indicate that the short-wavelength blueish light emitted by Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) has an especially strong effect. Ever since humans brought light into their homes in the form of candles and oil lamps, we’ve considered artificial lights to be a positive influence in our lives.  World religions reinforced this belief with the miracles of menorahs, eternal flames and the light of the world.  Up through the invention of incandescent bulbs indoor lights had a color which was warmer (redder) than natural sunlight.  This changed somewhat with the advent of greenish florescent lights.  But a more dramatic change came very recently with the invention of efficient white light Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Scientists Model the Big Bang

September 18th 2012

First stars form after Big Bang
Artist's conception: First stars forming after Big Bang (credit: NASA)

Since they can’t turn back time to witness the creation of the universe almost 14 billion years ago, scientists are working on the next best thing: creating a virtual universe, starting at the beginning with the Big Bang.

With the help of the world’s third-fastest computer, physicists from the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are developing simulations that will take them on a trip from the origins of the universe until today.

Over the years, scientists have scanned the night skies with telescopes which produced maps of the universe. With the advances in astronomical technology, more details about the cosmos have emerged from these surveys. Taking data from the best sky surveys and running it through Argonne’s Mira Supercomputer, the team plans to produce some of the largest high-resolution simulations of the distribution of matter in the universe. Given the improvements in technology, Salman Habib, one of the project leaders, says it makes sense to try to understand the universe on the biggest possible scale. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planets Can Form in the Galactic Center

September 17th 2012

Planet-forming disk

At first glance, the center of the Milky Way seems like a very inhospitable place to try to form a planet. Stars crowd each other as they whiz through space like cars on a rush-hour freeway. Supernova explosions blast out shock waves and bathe the region in intense radiation. Powerful gravitational forces from a supermassive black hole twist and warp the fabric of space itself.

Yet new research by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that planets still can form in this cosmic maelstrom. For proof, they point to the recent discovery of a cloud of hydrogen and helium plunging toward the galactic center. They argue that this cloud represents the shredded remains of a planet-forming disk orbiting an unseen star. "This unfortunate star got tossed toward the central black hole. Now it's on the ride of its life, and while it will survive the encounter, its protoplanetary disk won't be so lucky," said lead author Ruth Murray-Clay of the CfA. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Scientists Seek HIV Vaccine Using Monkey Model

September 15th 2012

HIV AIDS virus

Traditional vaccine methods have been unsuccessful in preventing infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. New techniques are being studied to boost antibodies or other parts of the immune system. But researchers are also working on a method to keep the immune system constantly on guard against HIV.

There are two traditional methods for creating a vaccine. One uses a weakened or attenuated version of a live virus to generate an immune response. The other uses a dead virus. Both methods are proven safe and effective, except when it comes to HIV. Vaccine candidates using these methods simply have not been successful in people when it comes to the AIDS virus.

“HIV has been a very difficult target for a vaccine for a variety of reasons. It’s designed to evade the immune response by evolution,” said Dr. Louis Picker, associate director of Oregon Health and Science University. While attempts to make an HIV vaccine from a dead virus have failed, Picker said, using a weakened virus holds clues and possibilities when used in primates. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Warming Climate Makes for Record Algae Bloom in Lake Erie

September 13th 2012

Great Lakes algae bloom

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of intense spring rain storms in the Great Lakes region throughout this century and will likely add to the number of harmful algal blooms and "dead zones" in Lake Erie, unless additional conservation actions are taken, according to a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist.

Climate models suggest that the number of intense spring rain storms in the region could double by the end of the century, contributing to an overall 30 to 40 percent increase in spring precipitation, said Donald Scavia, director of the U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute.

That increase, combined with the greater availability of phosphorous due to current agricultural practices in the Midwest, means that increased amounts of the nutrient will be scoured from farmlands and run into rivers that feed Lake Erie, fueling algae blooms and low-oxygen zones known as dead zones. "Climate change is likely to make reducing phosphorous loads even more difficult in the future than it is now, which will likely lead to even more toxic algae blooms and larger dead zones unless more conservation is undertaken," said Scavia, who presented his latest findings on the topic during Great Lakes Week events in Cleveland. Scavia was a panel member in a session entitled "Addressing nutrient problems in the Great Lakes," at the Great Lakes Week Joint Session meeting. Read more ..

The Graphene Edge

Researchers Grow Semiconductors on Graphene

September 13th 2012


A group of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have patented and are commercializing a technology for growing gallium arsenide (GaAs) nanowires on graphene, a breakthrough that could help pave the way for flexible, self-powered electronics integrated into everything from clothing to notepads.

Researchers believe that semiconductors grown on graphene will eventually form the basis for new types of devices and could fundamentally change the semiconductor industry.

NTNU's patented hybrid material offers excellent optoelectronic properties, according to Helge Weman, a professor at NTNU's department of electronics and telecommunications. "We have managed to combine low cost, transparency and flexibility in our new electrode," said Weman, who is also a co-founder and chief technology officer of the company created to commercialize the research, CrayoNano AS. Read more ..

Edge of Space

New Images of Pencil Nebula Revealed By Astronomers

September 13th 2012


The Pencil Nebula is pictured in a new image from European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile. This peculiar cloud of glowing gas is part of a huge ring of wreckage left over after a supernova explosion that took place about 11 000 years ago. This detailed view was produced by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope.

Despite the tranquil and apparently unchanging beauty of a starry night, the Universe is far from being a quiet place. Stars are being born and dying in an endless cycle, and sometimes the death of a star can create a vista of unequalled beauty as material is blasted out into space to form strange structures in the sky.

This new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the Pencil Nebula against a rich starry background. This oddly shaped cloud, which is also known as NGC 2736, is a small part of a supernova remnant in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). These glowing filaments were created by the violent death of a star that took place about 11 000 years ago. The brightest part resembles a pencil; hence the name, but the whole structure looks rather more like a traditional witch's broom. Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Mercury in Water, Fish Detected with Nanotechnology

September 12th 2012

Nano Mercury Detector

When mercury is dumped into rivers and lakes, the toxic heavy metal can end up in the fish we eat and the water we drink. To help protect consumers from the diseases and conditions associated with mercury, researchers at Northwestern University in collaboration with colleagues at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, have developed a nanoparticle system that is sensitive enough to detect even the smallest levels of heavy metals in our water and fish.

“The system currently being used to test for mercury and its very toxic derivative, methyl mercury, is a time-intensive process that costs millions of dollars and can only detect quantities at already toxic levels,” said Bartosz Grzybowski, lead author of the study. “Ours can detect very small amounts, over million times smaller than the state-of-the-art current methods. This is important because if you drink polluted water with low levels of mercury every day, it could add up and possibly lead to diseases later on. With this system consumers would one day have the ability to test their home tap water for toxic metals.” Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Cloud Storage Subscribers Reach Half-Billion Level

September 10th 2012

CG cloud

A total of 500 million personal cloud storage subscriptions are expected this year, up from less than 300 million in 2011, according to insights from the IHS iSuppli Mobile and Wireless Communications Service at information and analytics provider IHS.

The subscriptions are expected to jump to 625 million next year, a solid increase of 25 percent, with uninterrupted double-digit growth anticipated to follow until at least 2017. During that year, subscriptions to cloud storage are projected to hit 1.3 billion, as presented in the figure attached.
“In an environment where mobile devices like smartphones and media tablets handle broadband data on a near-ceaseless basis, businesses are realizing the importance of cloud services in allowing consumers to manage, store and sync content across their devices,” said Jagdish Rebello, Ph.D., director for consumer & communications at IHS. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Glacial Thinning Has Sharply Accelerated at Major South American Icefields

September 10th 2012

Glacier calving

For the past four decades, scientists have monitored the ebbs and flows of the icefields in the southernmost stretch of South America’s vast Andes Mountains, detecting an overall loss of ice as the climate warms. A new study, however, finds that the rate of glacier thinning has increased by about half over the last dozen years in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, compared to the 30 years prior to 2000.

“Patagonia is kind of a poster child for rapidly changing glacier systems,” said Michael Willis, lead author of the study and a research associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “We are characterizing a region that is supplying water to sea level at a big rate, compared to its size.” The Southern Patagonian Icefield together with its smaller northern neighbor, the Northern Patagonian Icefield, are the largest icefields in the southern hemisphere—excluding Antarctica. The new study shows that the icefields are losing ice faster since the turn of the century and contributing more to sea level rise than ever before.

Earlier studies determined that between the 1970s and 2000, both icefields, which feed into surrounding oceans as they melt, together raised global sea levels by an average of .042 millimeters each year. Willis and his colleagues found that since 2001, that number increased to 0.067 mm of sea level rise on average per year—about two percent of total annual sea level rise since 1998. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Fungus Treatment Makes New Violins Sound Like a Stradivarius

September 9th 2012


A good violin depends not only on the expertise of the violin maker, but also on the quality of the wood that is used. The Swiss wood researcher Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze (Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen, Switzerland) has succeeded in modifying the wood for a violin through treatment with special fungi. This treatment alters the acoustic properties of the instrument, making it sound indistinguishably similar to a Stradivarius.

In his dinner talk at the 1st ECRC "Franz-Volhard" Symposium of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) and Charité - Universitätsmedizin in Berlin-Buch, Schwarze reported on his research and gave a preview of what his wood treatment method could mean, particularly for young violinists. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

Understanding Ultra-Cold Atoms

September 9th 2012


Every day we observe systems thermalizing: Ice cubes in a pot of hot water will melt and will never remain stable. The molecules of the ice and the molecules of the water will reach thermal equilibrium, ending up at the same temperature. Well-ordered ice crystals turn into a disordered liquid. Experiments at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ) at the Vienna University of Technology have shown that in the quantum world the transition to thermal equilibrium is more interesting and more complicated than assumed so far.

Between an ordered initial state and a statistically mixed final state, a so-called "quasi-stationary intermediate state" can emerge. This intermediate state already exhibits some equilibrium like properties, but some of the distinct order of the initial state remains visible for a remarkably long time.

This phenomenon is called "pre-thermalization". Pre-thermalization is predicted to play a major role in many different non-equilibrium processes in quantum physics. It could, for example, help us to understand the state of the early universe.

Ultracold Atom Clouds

"In our experiments we start with a one-dimensional quantum gas of ultracold atoms, a so-called Bose-Einstein condensate, which is then rapidly split into two using an atomchip", Professor Jörg Schmiedmayer (Vienna University of Technology) explains. When the two parts of the condensate are immediately rejoined, they create an ordered matter-wave interference pattern. "The shape of this interference pattern shows us that the two clouds have not yet forgotten that they originally came from the same atom cloud", says Jörg Schmiedmayer. Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Technology Key to London Paralympians

September 8th 2012

Wheelchair athletes

The spotlight at the Paralympic Games in London has not been on the athletes alone but also on the remarkable technology that helps them compete.  In London, engineers, volunteering for a charity called Remap, are developing Olympic technology right in their own backyard.

In the garage of his home just outside London, David Sheffield is working on the prototype for a wheelchair suitable for Paralympic athletes.  Working with him is former engineer Doug Watt. They are among some 1,000 people who volunteer for the charity Remap, designing technology that helps disabled people.  They do it in their own garages, for free, and usually using their own materials. The wheelchair they are working on now is designed to fit shot put thrower Shaun Sewell.  It is also adjustable and will be used as a template for future athletes, as David Sheffield explains. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Bright Life on the Ocean Bed: Predators May Even Color Code Food

September 7th 2012

Undersea Life

Sinking through the inky ocean, it would seem that there is little light at depth: but you'd be wrong. "In the mesopelagic realm [200 m] bioluminescence [light produced by animals] is very common", says Sönke Johnsen from Duke University, USA, explaining that many creatures are capable of producing light, yet rarely do so. But how much light do the inhabitants of the ocean floor (benthos) generate? Explaining that some bioluminescence is generated when organisms collide, Johnsen says, "In the benthos you have a current moving over complicated ground with all the things in the water banging into it, so one idea was that there would be a fair amount of bioluminescence."

Few people have visited this remote and inhospitable habitat. Intrigued by the animals that dwell there and the possibility that bioluminescent bacteria coating the ocean floor might glow faintly, long time collaborators Tamara Frank, Sonke Johnsen, Steven Haddock, Edith Widder and Charles Messing teamed up to find out just how much light is produced by seabed residents. Read more ..

The Genetic Edge

Human Genome is Twice as Big as Thought

September 7th 2012

Nanodiamond and human blood

The GENCODE Consortium expects the human genome has twice as many genes than previously thought, many of which might have a role in cellular control and could be important in human disease. This remarkable discovery comes from the GENCODE Consortium, which has done a painstaking and skilled review of available data on gene activity.

Among their discoveries, the team describe more than 10,000 novel genes, identify genes that have 'died' and others that are being resurrected. The GENCODE Consortium reference gene catalogue has been one of the underpinnings of the larger ENCODE Project and will be essential for the full understanding of the role of our genes in disease.

The GENCODE Consortium is part of the ENCODE Project that, today, publishes 30 research papers describing findings from their nearly decade-long effort to describe comprehensively all the active regions of our human genome. ENCODE was launched in 2003 after the completion of the Human Genome Project, and brought together an international group of scientists tasked with identifying and describing all functional regions of the human genome sequence. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Global Warming May Bring Increased Transmission of Bird Flu

September 7th 2012

Ruddy turnstone by Dendroica cerulea
Ruddy turnstone.                                 Credit: Dendroica cerulea - Flickr

Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, more intense rainstorms and more frequent heat waves are among the planetary woes that may come to mind when climate change is mentioned. Now, two University of Michigan researchers say an increased risk of avian influenza transmission in wild birds can be added to the list.

Population ecologists Pejman Rohani and Victoria Brown used a mathematical model to explore the consequences of altered interactions between an important species of migratory shorebird and horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay as a result of climate change. They found that climate change could upset the carefully choreographed interactions between ruddy turnstone shorebirds and the horseshoe crabs that provide the bulk of their food during the birds' annual stopover at Delaware Bay, a major estuary of the Delaware River bordered by New Jersey to the north and Delaware to the south.

Climate change-caused disruptions to the well-timed interplay between the birds and crabs could lead to an increase in the avian influenza infection rate among ruddy turnstones and resident ducks of Delaware Bay, the researchers found. Because Delaware Bay is a crossroads for many bird species traveling between continents, an increase in the avian infection rate there could conceivably help spread novel subtypes of the influenza virus among North American wild bird populations, according to Rohani and Brown. Their findings were published in the journal Biology Letters. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Mars’s Dramatic Climate Variations are Driven by the Sun

September 6th 2012

Mars's north polar ice cap
Mars’s north polar ice cap
(credit: NASA/Caltech/JPL/E. DeJong/J. Craig/M. Stetson)

On Mars’s poles, there are ice caps of ice and dust with layers that reflect past climate variations on Mars. Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have related the layers in the ice cap on Mars’s north pole to variations in solar insolation on Mars, thus established the first dated climate history for Mars, where ice and dust accumulation has been driven by variations in insolation. The results are published in the scientific journal Icarus.

The ice caps on Mars’s poles are kilometres thick and composed of ice and dust. There are layers in the ice caps, which can be seen in cliffs and valley slopes and we have known about these layers for decades, since the first satellite images came back from Mars. The layers are believed to reflect past climate on Mars, in the same way that the Earth’s climate history can be read by analysing ice cores from the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.

Solar insolation on Mars has varied dramatically over time, mainly due to large variations in the tilt of Mars’s rotational axis (obliquity) and this led to dramatic climate variations on Mars. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Sweet Building Blocks of Life Found Around Young Star

September 6th 2012

NCG 6604 and environs

Life is made up of a series of complex organic molecules, including sugars. A team of astronomers led by researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute, have now observed a simple sugar molecule in the gas surrounding a young star and this discovery proves that the building blocks of life were already present during planet formation. The results have been published in the scientific journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The star was observed with the new large international telescope, Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile. The ALMA telescopes are able to zoom in and study the details of newly formed stars and their rotating discs of dust and gas, which subsequently clumps together and forms planets. Among other things, the astronomers would like to investigate the gas for the presence of water vapour and examine the chemical composition for complex molecules.

"In the protoplanetary disc of gas and dust surrounding the young, newly formed star, we found glycolaldehyde molecules, which are a simple form of sugar. It is one of the building blocks in the process that leads to the formation of RNA and the first step in the direction of biology," explains astrophysicist Jes Jørgensen, Associate Professor at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the University of Copenhagen. Read more ..

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