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The Edge of Space

Australian Scientists Unveil Super Telescope

October 7th 2012

Allen Telescope Array

A powerful new super telescope in the Australian outback is set to begin probing the origins of stars and galaxies.  The Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) lies in the western Australian desert.  The technology is expected to capture radio images with unprecedented sensitivity and speed across large areas of sky.

Australian scientists say the new facility opening Friday on the country’s remote west coast will be one of the world’s most important radio telescopes. The isolated site was chosen because it is remarkably quiet, with a small population and few man-made radio signals that could interfere with the faint astronomical data.

The antenna array will give astronomers the power to investigate some fundamental questions about the universe, including dark matter, the nature of gravity and the origins of the first stars and galaxies. The super telescope is 100 times more powerful than any previous design. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Alien Invaders Prove More Resilient to Climate Change than Native Species

October 6th 2012

Ohio wildflower prairie

Warming temperatures in Ohio are a key driver behind changes in the state's landscape, and non-native plant species appear to be responding more strongly than native wildflowers to the changing climate, new research suggests. This adaptive nature demonstrated by introduced species could serve them well as the climate continues to warm. At the same time, the non-natives' potential ability to become even more invasive could threaten the survival of native species already under pressure from land-use changes, researchers say.

The research combines analyses of temperature change and blooming patterns of 141 species of Ohio wildflowers since 1895. Overall, the average temperature increased 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) in Ohio between 1895 and 2009. And 66 wildflower species – or 46 percent of the 141 studied – flowered earlier than usual in response to that warming.

This change in flowering patterns not only alters the landscape, but affects the availability of food for insects and birds and can influence the reproductive success of the plants themselves. This kind of wildflower data is difficult to come by because historical observations of flowering trends simply don't exist in most states. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

A Drier Southern Hemisphere is Further Evidence of Climate Change

October 6th 2012

Click to select Image

A decline in April-May rainfall over south-east Australia is associated with a southward expansion of the subtropical dry-zone according to research published today in Scientific Reports, a primary research journal from the publishers of Nature.
CSIRO scientists Wenju Cai, Tim Cowan and Marcus Thatcher explored why autumn rainfall has been in decline across south-eastern Australia since the 1970s, a period that included the devastating Millennium drought from 1997-2009.

Previous research into what has been driving the decline in autumn rainfall across regions like southern Australia has pointed the finger at a southward shift in the storm tracks and weather systems during the late 20th century. However, the extent to which these regional rainfall reductions are attributable to the poleward expansion of the subtropical dry-zone has not been clarified before now.

Mr Cowan said rainfall patterns in the subtropics are known to be influenced by the Hadley cell, the large-scale atmospheric circulation that transports heat from the tropics to the sub-tropics. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Evidence Found that Meat-Eating Made us Human

October 6th 2012

Grilled steaks on flames

A skull fragment unearthed by anthropologists in Tanzania shows that our ancient ancestors were eating meat at least 1.5 million years ago, shedding new light into the evolution of human physiology and brain development.

"Meat eating has always been considered one of the things that made us human, with the protein contributing to the growth of our brains," said Charles Musiba, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver, who helped make the discovery. "Our work shows that 1.5 million years ago we were not opportunistic meat eaters, we were actively hunting and eating meat."

The two-inch skull fragment was found at the famed Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, a site that for decades has yielded numerous clues into the evolution of modern humans and is sometimes called `the cradle of mankind.' The fragment belonged to a 2-year-old child and showed signs of porotic hyperostosis associated with anemia. According to the study, the condition was likely caused by a diet suddenly lacking in meat. Read more ..

The Human Edge

NYU Researchers Find Electricity in Biological Clock

October 4th 2012

Sullen Woman

Biologists from New York University have uncovered new ways our biological clock's neurons use electrical activity to help keep behavioral rhythms in order. The findings, which appear in the journal Current Biology, also point to fresh directions for exploring sleep disorders and related afflictions.

"This process helps explain how our biological clocks keep such amazingly good time," said Justin Blau, an associate professor of biology at NYU and one of the study's authors.

Blau added that the findings may offer new pathways for exploring treatments to sleep disorders because the research highlights the parts of our biological clock that "may be particularly responsive to treatment or changes at different times of the day." In a previous study, Blau and his colleagues found that rhythms in expression of a potassium channel (Ir) helps link the biological clock to the activity of pacemaker neurons. But Ir does not function as a simple output of the clock—it also feeds back to regulate the core clock. In the Current Biology research, the scientists sought to understand the nature of this feedback. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Mathematical Model Reveals Commonality within Diversity of Leaf Decay

October 4th 2012

Autumn leaves forest

The colorful leaves piling up in your backyard this fall can be thought of as natural stores of carbon. In the springtime, leaves soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting the gas into organic carbon compounds. Come autumn, trees shed their leaves, leaving them to decompose in the soil as they are eaten by microbes. Over time, decaying leaves release carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

In fact, the natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Understanding the rate at which leaves decay can help scientists predict this global flux of carbon dioxide, and develop better models for climate change. But this is a thorny problem: A single leaf may undergo different rates of decay depending on a number of variables: local climate, soil, microbes and a leaf's composition. Differentiating the decay rates among various species, let alone forests, is a monumental task. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Just Think It—and the Computer Will Say It

October 3rd 2012

Click to select Image

Imagine that you cannot talk. You know what you want to say, but your speaking muscles are paralyzed because of a stroke, nerve disease, or other medical condition. Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researcher Ariel Tankus does not have a magic wand to cure the problem, but the 37-year-old computer scientist has spent two years working on a complex brain-machine interface that could give the power of speech to people unable to express themselves. This advanced technology would articulate letters or words by decoding brain activity triggered by the patients thinking of the sounds they wish to make.

The beginnings of the research were recently described in the scientific journal Nature Communications by Tankus and his research partners, Prof. Shy Shoham from the Technion and Prof. Itzhak Fried of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where Tankus did his postdoctoral research. Tankus relates that he has been investigating brain-machine interface possibilities since 2005. Four years later, he paired with Shoham and shifted his focus to speech—a complex and challenging area to study in the brain. Read more ..

The Water's Edge

The Chemical Memory of Seawater

October 2nd 2012

Stormy Seas

Water does not forget, says Prof. Boris Koch, a chemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. Irrespective of what happens in the sea: whether the sun shines, algae bloom or a school of dolphins swims through a marine area – everything and everyone leaves biomolecular tracks.  With the help of a combination of new techniques, Boris Koch and colleagues can now identify and retrace some of these.  In a special volume of the open access journal Biogeosciences, these scientists report on how these analyses work and which events in the sea have so far been uncovered by researchers.

Ponds, peat holes and roadside ditches full of stagnant rainwater were previously of no interest to the chemist Boris Koch. “Then I thought: everyone knows this brown sludge; what could be interesting about it? Today we are working with these very substances that colour the water in roadside ditches brown – or expressed more precisely, with dissolved organic matter which not only occurs in ponds, but of course also in oceans,” says Boris Koch, who initiated the research project and is co-editor of the special volume. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Worker Ants Rebel and Kill their Oppressors

October 2nd 2012

Ant slaves rebel

Slave rebellion is widespread in ants

Enslaved worker ants kill the offspring of their parasites and thereby improve the chances of survival for their neighboring relatives. Ants that are held as slaves in nests of other ant species damage their oppressors through acts of sabotage. Ant researcher Professor Dr. Susanne Foitzik of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany first observed this "slave rebellion" phenomenon in 2009. According to the latest findings, however, this behavior now appears to be a widespread characteristic that is not limited to isolated occurrences.

In fact, in three different populations in the U.S. states of West Virginia, New York, and Ohio, enslaved Temnothorax longispinosus workers have been observed to neglect and kill the offspring of their Protomognathus americanus slavemakers rather than care for them. As a result, an average of only 45 percent of the parasite's offspring survived. This presumably reduces the strength of the parasites in the area and thereby increases the chances of survival for the neighboring colonies populated by the slave ants' relatives.

More than half of all animal species live in parasitic relationships, i.e. they exploit their so-called hosts. From the perspective of evolutionary history, the American slave-making ant Protomognathus americanus is an old social parasite that is entirely dependent on other ant species for its survival. Slave workers have to care for the brood in parasite nests, bring food to their masters and feed them, and even defend the nest. Read more ..

The Edge of Materials

Probing the Mysteries of Cracks and Stresses

October 1st 2012

Caryatid with cracks
Caryatid with cracks (credit: Kevan Davis)

Diving into a pool from a few feet up allows you to enter the water smoothly and painlessly, but jumping from a bridge can lead to a fatal impact. The water is the same in each case, so why is the effect of hitting its surface so different? This seemingly basic question is at the heart of complex research by a team in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) that studied how materials react to stresses, including impacts. The findings could ultimately help explain phenomena as varied as the breakdown of concrete under sudden stress and the effects of corrosion on various metal surfaces.

Using a combination of computer modeling and experimental tests, the researchers studied one specific type of stress—in a defect called a screw dislocation—in one kind of material, an iron crystal lattice. But the underlying explanation, the researchers say, may have broad implications for many kinds of stresses in many different materials. The research, carried out by doctoral student Yue Fan, associate professor Bilge Yildiz, and professor emeritus Sidney Yip, is being published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Essentially, the team analyzed how the strength of a material can increase quite abruptly as the rate of strain applied to the material increases. This transition in the rate at which a material cracks or bends, called a flow-stress upturn, has been observed experimentally for many years, but its underlying mechanism has never been fully explained, the researchers say. Read more ..

The Laser Edge

Organic Lasers from any Surface

October 1st 2012

Laser burst

Scientists from Cambridge University (UK) have developed a process to print lasers using everyday inkjet technology, which could be used to form lasers on virtually any surface, rigid or flexible, and which could be potentially be applied using existing printing and publishing equipment.

Today, most lasers are made on silicon wafers using expensive processes similar to those used to make microprocessors. However, scientists have now designed a process to "print" a type of organic laser on any surface, using technology very similar to that used in the home. The process involves developing lasers based on chiral nematic liquid crystals (LCs), similar to the materials used in flat-panel LCD displays. These are a unique class of photonic materials that, under the right conditions, can be stimulated to produce laser emissions. If aligned properly, the helix-shaped structure of the LC molecules can act as an optically resonant cavity - an essential component of any laser. After adding a fluorescent dye, the cavity can then be optically excited to produce laser light. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

Disappearing Electrons - They Could Change Our World

September 29th 2012

transient electronics

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Tufts University are the first to demonstrate "transient electronics" -- which are electronics that gradually disappear on a specified schedule, whether it be a few days or six months.

These kinds of electronics could have applications in medicine, pharmaceuticals, environmental monitors and the military, among other uses.

Conventional electronics are made to last indefinitely. Transient electronics, on the other hand, offer the opposite behavior. They physically vanish over time in a well-controlled manner and at a prescribed time, dissolving when they react with water. A magnesium oxide encapsulation layer and silk overcoat envelops the electronics, and the thickness determines how long the system will take to disappear into its environment.

"These electronics are there when you need them, and after they've served their purpose they disappear," said Yonggang Huang, who led the Northwestern portion of the research focused on theory, design and modeling. "This is a completely new concept."

The novel technology opens up important possibilities. Transient electronics could be useful as medical devices implanted inside the human body to monitor such things as temperature or brain, heart and muscle tissue activity, to apply thermal therapy or to deliver drugs. When no longer needed, the electronics would be fully absorbed by the body with no adverse effects. (Implantable electronics are not commonly used in medicine because of concern about the long-term effects.) Such a system also could be used as environmental monitors placed on buildings, roadways or military equipment to detect temperature change or structural deformation. The device would dissolve when exposed to water, eliminating the need for it to be recovered at a future date. Read more ..

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 ..

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