The Edge of Medicine
For most people with asthma, a couple of puffs from an inhaler filled with steroids makes breathing easy. But if their lungs become resistant to the calming effect of that medicine, they live in fear of severe asthma attacks that could send them to the hospital – or worse.
Now, new research from the University of Michigan Health System may help explain what's going on in the lungs of these steroid-resistant individuals. The findings could aid the development of new treatment options, and of better ways to identify people at risk of becoming steroid-resistant.
The U-M scientists have discovered a new type of cell in mice that appears to be crucial to causing asthma symptoms - even in the presence of steroid. The research, published in Nature Medicine, also showed that people with asthma have a very similar cell type in their blood at higher levels than people without the condition. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||May 7th 2012|
Researchers at the German research institution Fraunhofer IOF have developed an array of hundreds of microprojectors that can be used to project images from smartphones and similar small devices. The array enables the design of slim LED projection systems which nevertheless offer bright images even on curved screens.
With smartphones increasingly displacing desktop and laptop computers, they also increasingly are used for presentations. However, image details are often hard to make out – the display is simply too small. A new LED projector could help: You position the smartphone in a small cradle on a coffee table, for instance, and it projects the image onto the table top: crisp, bright and DIN A4 size. If a user wants to zoom in on a portion of the picture, they can swipe the projection with their finger the same way they would swipe a display screen – the projected image can be controlled using the same principle as the display itself.
The special thing about the LED projector: the entire image displayed is crisp and clear – even if projected at a very flat angle with the beams striking the table surface at a diagonal. Usually, this would distort the picture and make it blurry in places. The researchers who developed the projector, at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, were able to solve this problem, though: "Our projector consists of hundreds of tiny microprojectors in an array, each of which generates a complete image," explains Marcel Sieler, a scientist at IOF. "This technology, known as 'array projection,' is modeled on nature – on the compound eye found in some insects – and with it for the first time we can create very thin and bright LED projection systems with tremendous imaging properties." Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Diane Duke Williams||May 7th 2012|
Washington University School of Medicine
Brain networks may avoid traffic jams at their busiest intersections by communicating on different frequencies, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University Medical Center at Hamburg-Eppendorf and the University of Tübingen have learned.
“Many neurological and psychiatric conditions are likely to involve problems with signaling in brain networks,” says co-author Maurizio Corbetta, MD, the Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology at Washington University. “Examining the temporal structure of brain activity from this perspective may be especially helpful in understanding psychiatric conditions like depression and schizophrenia, where structural markers are scarce.”
Scientists usually study brain networks — areas of the brain that regularly work together — using magnetic resonance imaging, which tracks blood flow. They assume that an increase in blood flow to part of the brain indicates increased activity in the brain cells of that region. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Abby Robinson||May 6th 2012|
Georgia Institute of Technology
New method offers automated way to record electrical activity inside neurons in the living brain. Researchers at MIT and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a way to automate a process called whole-cell patch clamping, which involves bringing a tiny hollow glass pipette in contact the nuron cell membrane, then opening up a small pore in the membrane to record the electrical activity within the cell.
Gaining access to the inner workings of a neuron in the living brain offers a wealth of useful information: its patterns of electrical activity, its shape, even a profile of which genes are turned on at a given moment. However, achieving this entry is such a painstaking task that it is considered an art form; it is so difficult to learn that only a small number of labs in the world practice it.
But that could soon change: Researchers at MIT and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a way to automate the process of finding and recording information from neurons in the living brain. The researchers have shown that a robotic arm guided by a cell-detecting computer algorithm can identify and record from neurons in the living mouse brain with better accuracy and speed than a human experimenter. The new automated process eliminates the need for months of training and provides long-sought information about living cells' activities. Using this technique, scientists could classify the thousands of different types of cells in the brain, map how they connect to each other, and figure out how diseased cells differ from normal cells. Read more ..
The Space Edge of Space
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
A grand solar minimum and the climate response recorded for the first time in the same climate archive highlights the need for a more differentiated approach to solar radiation An abrupt cooling in Europe together with an increase in humidity and particularly in windiness coincided with a sustained reduction in solar activity 2800 years ago. Scientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ in collaboration with Swedish and Dutch colleagues provide evidence for a direct solar-climate linkage on centennial timescales. Using the most modern methodological approach, they analysed sediments from Lake Meerfelder Maar, a maar lake in the Eifel/Germany, to determine annual variations in climate proxies and solar activity.
The study reports the climatic change that occurred at the beginning of the pre-Roman Iron Age and demonstrates that especially the so-called Grand Minima of solar activity can affect climate conditions in western Europe through changes in regional atmospheric circulation pattern. Around 2800 years ago, one of these Grand Solar Minima, the Homeric Minimum, caused a distinct climatic change in less than a decade in Western Europe. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Phil Sneiderman||May 6th 2012|
A team led by Johns Hopkins engineers has discovered some previously unknown properties of a common memory material, paving the way for development of new forms of memory drives, movie discs and computer systems that retain data more quickly, last longer and allow far more capacity than current data storage media.
The work was reported April 16 in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research focused on an inexpensive phase-change memory alloy composed of germanium, antimony and tellurium, called GST for short. The material is already used in rewritable optical media, including CD-RW and DVD-RW discs. But by using diamond-tipped tools to apply pressure to the materials, the Johns Hopkins-led team uncovered new electrical resistance characteristics that could make GST even more useful to the computer and electronics industries. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Lynn Chandler||May 4th 2012|
The mottled landscape showing the impact crater Tycho is among the most violent-looking places on our moon. Astronomers didn't aim NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study Tycho, however. The image was taken in preparation to observe the transit of Venus across the sun's face on June 5-6. Hubble cannot look at the sun directly, so astronomers are planning to point the telescope at the Earth's moon, using it as a mirror to capture reflected sunlight and isolate the small fraction of the light that passes through Venus's atmosphere. Imprinted on that small amount of light are the fingerprints of the planet's atmospheric makeup.
These observations will mimic a technique that is already being used to sample the atmospheres of giant planets outside our solar system passing in front of their stars. In the case of the Venus transit observations, astronomers already know the chemical makeup of Venus's atmosphere, and that it does not show signs of life on the planet. But the Venus transit will be used to test whether this technique will have a chance of detecting the very faint fingerprints of an Earth-like planet, even one that might be habitable for life, outside our solar system that similarly transits its own star. , Venus is an excellent proxy because it is similar in size and mass to our planet. Read more ..
The Edge of Environment
It’s estimated that the environmental impact of a single “eReader” (Kindle, iPad…) equals that of 100 books.
Whether the motivation is to truly improve environmental performance, or simply garner positive press, seems every business is jumping on the low carbon bandwagon. Nowhere is exempt from the pressure to green up, not even the beleaguered (and beloved) book industry.
Three years ago, a group called the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) set environmental targets for the American book business, aiming to reduce its baseline carbon footprint by 20 percent in 2020 and by 80% in 2050. The plan was hatched during the infancy of eBooks: Kindle had been around just over a year.
BIEC goals seem attainable. Technological advances slashed the volume of in-house printing. Editors move towards a paperless workflow. Publishers began to reassess traditional processes of creating, transporting, and storing books. The resultant enviro-friendly efficiencies could be replicated worldwide. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
NOAA scientists and their colleagues have discovered a biological marker in the blood of laboratory zebrafish and marine mammals that shows when they have been repeatedly exposed to low levels of domoic acid, which is potentially toxic at high levels.
While little is known about how low-level exposure to domoic acid affects marine animals or humans, high-level exposure through eating contaminated seafood can be toxic, and can lead to amnesic shellfish poisoning, with symptoms such as seizures, short-term memory loss and, in rare cases, death. Domoic acid is produced by particular species of marine algae and accumulates in marine animals such as clams and mussels.
The findings are reported in a study published in Public Library of Science journal (PLoS ONE), a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Up until now, the absence of a marker for such chronic exposure has been a barrier to accurately assessing possible effects to humans. "This study paves the way for creating reliable blood tests for low-level domoic acid exposure, which could help scientists assess the effects of chronic exposure to both wildlife and people who eat seafood," said Kathi Lefebvre, Ph.D., a NOAA fisheries biologist and the lead author of the study. "We don't know yet if the same antibody response we found in the laboratory in zebrafish and naturally exposed California sea lions also occurs in humans. Our next step is to team up with human-health experts to answer that question." Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Catherine Hockmuth||May 4th 2012|
Can a computer be taught to automatically label every song on the Internet using sets of examples provided by unpaid music fans? University of California, San Diego engineers have found that the answer is yes, and the results are as accurate as using paid music experts to provide the examples, saving considerable time and money. In results published in the April 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that their solution, called “game-powered machine learning,” would enable music lovers to search every song on the web well beyond popular hits, with a simple text search using key words like “funky” or “spooky electronica.”
Searching for specific multimedia content, including music, is a challenge because of the need to use text to search images, video and audio. The researchers, led by Gert Lanckriet, a professor of electrical engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, hope to create a text-based multimedia search engine that will make it far easier to access the explosion of multimedia content online. That’s because humans working round the clock labeling songs with descriptive text could never keep up with the volume of content being uploaded to the Internet. For example, YouTube users upload 60 hours of video content per minute, according to the company. Read more ..
The Edge of Agriculture
|Steve Baragona||May 3rd 2012|
As spring planting goes into high gear in the United States, farmers are going high-tech in order to use less fertilizer, save money and protect the environment. Satellite-based GPS navigation systems are becoming standard on modern farm equipment, helping farmers get the most from their fields.
On a weedy patch of land an hour and half from Washington, D.C., farmer Brad Eustace is tilling razor-straight lines with a GPS-guided tractor. With the computer in control, he barely has to steer. “You can do a straight line a whole lot easier,” he says. The GPS computer receives signals from earth-orbiting satellites to keep track of where his tractor is and where it has gone. Hoses deliver precise amounts of fertilizer right into the grooves that the tiller cuts. Virginia farmer Brad Eustace uses a GPS-guided tractor to til his fields. That process prepares the field for when farmer Jimmy Messick comes back days, or even weeks later, with a GPS-guided corn planter… "The seed goes right on top of this row. This tilled row," Messick says. "The corn planter will come back, and it will be putting the seeds exactly on top of these tilled strips that the machine previously has put the fertilizer in.” Placing seed and fertilizer together with centimeter precision means fewer loads of fertilizer go on the fields. “You’re able to use less," Messick says. "Of course, you’re saving money. And you get the same performance out of the crop.” Read more ..
The Health Edge
Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers have succeeded in developing a biosynthetic polyphenol that improves cognitive function in mice with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The findings, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, provide insight in determining the feasibility of biosynthetic polyphenols as a possible therapy for AD in humans, a progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is currently no cure.
Polyphenols, which occur naturally in grapes, fruits, and vegetables, have been shown to prevent the cognitive decline associated with AD in a mouse model, but the molecules are very complex and are extensively metabolized in the body. This is the first study to determine which specific subfraction of these molecules penetrates the animal brain, and demonstrate that a drug compound similar to polyphenols can exert similar bioactivities.
A research group led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, Saunders Family Professor and Chair in Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has been exploring the application of specific grape-derived polyphenols for the treatment of AD. Previously, this group found that certain grape-seeds extracts, comprised of a complex mixture of naturally occurring polyphenols, were capable of lessening cognitive deterioration and reducing brain neuropathology in an animal model of AD, but they did not know how to manipulate the natural extract into a pharmaceutical compound that could be used by the brain. "My team, along with many members of the scientific community, did not know how we could harness the efficacy of naturally occurring polyphenols in food for treatment of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Pasinetti said. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Whitney Calvin||May 3rd 2012|
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Astronomers have gathered the most direct evidence yet of a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close. NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, a space-based observatory, and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii were among the first to help identify the stellar remains. This is a single frame of computer simulation showing a star being shredded by the gravity of a massive black hole.
Some of the stellar debris falls into the black hole and some of it is ejected into space at high speeds. The areas in white are regions of highest density, with progressively redder colors corresponding to lower-density regions. The blue dot pinpoints the black hole's location. The elapsed time corresponds to the amount of time it takes for a sun-like star to be ripped apart by a black hole a million times more massive than the sun. Supermassive black holes, weighing millions to billions times more than the sun, lurk in the centers of most galaxies. These hefty monsters lie quietly until an unsuspecting victim, such as a star, wanders close enough to get ripped apart by their powerful gravitational clutches. Read more ..
|Katherine McAlpine||May 3rd 2012|
|University of Michigan professor Xudong Fan and gas sensor system|
Portable gas sensors can allow you to search for explosives, diagnose medical conditions through a patient's breath, and decide whether it's safe to stay in a mine. These devices do all this by identifying and measuring airborne chemicals, and a new, more sensitive, smart model is under development at the University of Michigan. The smart sensor could detect chemical weapon vapors or indicators of disease better than the current design. It also consumes less power, crucial for stretching battery life down a mineshaft or in isolated clinics.
In the gold standard method of gas detection, chemicals are separated before they are measured, said Xudong "Sherman" Fan, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. "In a vapor mixture, it's very difficult to tell chemicals apart," he said.
The main advance of the sensor under development by Fan and his colleagues at U-M and the University of Missouri, Columbia, is a better approach to divvying up the chemicals. The researchers have demonstrated their concept on a table-top set-up, and they hope to produce a hand-held device in the future. Read more ..
The Weather Edge
|Lorin Hancock||May 2nd 2012|
National Academy of Sciences
A new National Research Council report says that budget shortfalls, cost-estimate growth, launch failures, and changes in mission design and scope have left U.S. earth observation systems in a more precarious position than they were five years ago. The report cautions that the nation's earth observing system is beginning a rapid decline in capability, as long-running missions end and key new missions are delayed, lost, or cancelled.
"The projected loss of observing capability will have profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards," said Dennis Hartmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Our ability to measure and understand changes in Earth's climate and life support systems will also degrade."
The report comes five years after the Research Council published "Earth Science and Applications From Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond," a decadal survey that generated consensus recommendations from the earth and environmental science and applications community for a renewed program of earth observations. Read more ..
|Jessica Robertson||May 2nd 2012|
As the climate has warmed, many plants are starting to grow leaves and bloom flowers earlier. A new study published in the journal, Nature, suggests that most field experiments may underestimate the degree to which the timing of leafing and flowering changes with global warming.
Understanding how plants are responding to climate change will help develop more accurate indicators of spring, forecast the onset of allergy season or the chances of western wildfires, manage wildlife and invasive plants, and help inform habitat restoration plans.
In this new study, scientists evaluated the sensitivity of plants to changes in temperature using two sources: experimental plots versus historical observations from natural sites.
The experiments analyzed in this study were conducted by artificially inducing warming in small study plots, and then measuring plant responses. The historical observations entailed long-term monitoring of multiple species at natural ecological research sites without any manipulation. The date of leafing and flowering was synthesized for dozens of warming experiments and monitoring sites across the Northern Hemisphere. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Adriana Bobinchock||May 2nd 2012|
Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have shown a new category of "green" nanoparticles comprised of a non-toxic, protein-based nanotechnology that can non-invasively cross the blood brain barrier and is capable of transporting various types of drugs. In an article Gordana Vitaliano, MD, director of the Brain Imaging NaNoTechnology Group at the McLean Hospital Imaging Center, reported that clathrin, a ubiquitous protein found in human, animal, plant, bacteria, and fungi cells, can be modified for use as a nanoparticle for in-vivo studies.
"Clathrin has never been modified for use in vivo and offers many new and interesting possibilities for delivering drugs and medical imaging agents into the brain", said Vitaliano. Clathrin is the body's primary delivery vehicle responsible for delivering many different types of molecules into cells. Vitaliano therefore believed that the protein's naturally potent transport capabilities might be put to practical medical use for drug delivery and medical imaging. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jia-Rui Cook ||May 1st 2012|
|Phoebe from Cassini (credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA)|
Data from NASA’s Cassini mission reveal Saturn’s moon Phoebe has more planet-like qualities than previously thought.
Scientists had their first close-up look at Phoebe when Cassini began exploring the Saturn system in 2004. Using data from multiple spacecraft instruments and a computer model of the moon’s chemistry, geophysics and geology, scientists found Phoebe was a so-called planetesimal, or remnant planetary building block. The findings appear in the April issue of the journal Icarus.
“Unlike primitive bodies such as comets, Phoebe appears to have actively evolved for a time before it stalled out,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “Objects like Phoebe are thought to have condensed very quickly. Hence, they represent building blocks of planets. They give scientists clues about what conditions were like around the time of the birth of giant planets and their moons”
Cassini images suggest Phoebe originated in the far-off Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit. Data show Phoebe was spherical and hot early in its history, and has denser rock-rich material concentrated near its center. Its average density is about the same as Pluto, another object in the Kuiper Belt. Phoebe likely was captured by Saturn’s gravity when it somehow got close to the giant planet. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Rick Pantaleo||May 1st 2012|
|Allen Radio Telescope Array (credit: SETI.org)|
Many of us believe finding some form of life beyond our own planet is inevitable, and the recent discovery of Earth-like planets—in a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface—has renewed excitement about the possibility of eventually finding extra-terrestrial life.
However, two Princeton University researchers suggest those expectations may be more based in optimism rather than scientific fact.
Princeton’s Edwin Turner and David Spiegel wanted to separate fact from expectation. So they took what science currently knows about the existence, or likelihood of extra-terrestrial life, and performed a Bayesian analysis, which evaluates just how much of what is considered to be a scientific conclusion comes from actual hard scientific fact and what comes from assumptions made by the scientist involved. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Researchers take a 'test drive' on ANI testbed. Climate researchers are producing some of the fastest growing datasets in science. Five years ago, the amount of information generated for the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report was 35 terabytes—equivalent to the amount of text in 35 million books, occupying a bookshelf 248 miles (399 km) long. By 2014, when the next IPCC report is published, experts predict that 2 petabytes of data will have been generated for it—that's a 580 percent increase in data production. Because thousands of researchers around the world contribute to the generation and analysis of this data, a reliable, high-speed network is needed to transport the torrent of information.
Fortunately, the Department of Energy's (DOE) ESnet (Energy Sciences Network) has laid the foundation for such a network—not just for climate research, but for all data-intensive science. "There is a data revolution occurring in science," says Greg Bell, acting director of ESnet, which is managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Over the last decade, the amount of scientific data transferred over our network has increased at a rate of about 72 percent per year, and we see that trend potentially accelerating." Read more ..
The Edge of Science
|David Orenstein ||April 29th 2012|
Red, green, and blue lasers have become small and cheap enough to find their way into products ranging from BluRay DVD players to fancy pens, but each color is made with different semiconductor materials and by elaborate crystal growth processes. A new prototype technology demonstrates all three of those colors coming from one material. That could open the door to making products, such as high-performance digital displays, that employ a variety of laser colors all at once.
“Today in order to create a laser display with arbitrary colors, from white to shades of pink or teal, you’d need these three separate material systems to come together in the form of three distinct lasers that in no way shape or form would have anything in common,” said Arto Nurmikko, professor of engineering at Brown University and senior author of a paper describing the innovation in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. “Now enter a class of materials called semiconductor quantum dots.” Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
The warming climate is altering the saltiness of the world's oceans, and the computer models scientists have been using to measure the effects are underestimating changes to the global water cycle, a group of Australian scientists have found.
The water cycle is the worldwide phenomenon of rainwater falling to the surface, evaporating back into the air and falling again as rain. The wetter parts of the world are getting wetter and the drier parts drier. The researchers know this because the saltier parts of the ocean are getting saltier and the fresher parts, fresher. Records showed that the saltier parts of the ocean increased salinity -- or their salt content -- by 4 percent in the 50 years between 1950 and 2000. If the climate warms by an additional 2 or 3 degrees, the researchers project that the water cycle will turn over more quickly, intensifying by almost 25 percent. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Paul Buckley||April 29th 2012|
Plessey is developing a heart rate monitor demonstration using its EPIC sensor technology, which is the same size as a wristwatch and does not require a chest strap or second sensor at the end of a cable. The reference design shows that simple and effective personal monitoring of electrocardiograph (ECG) signals can be as easy as taking a pulse measurement. The device straps to the wrist with a sensor electrode on the rear of the device in permanent contact with the wrist and the second electrode is on the front of the device. Touching this top electrode with a finger from the opposite hand enables the device to collect the heart signals.
"Our EPIC technology really makes heart monitoring so much simpler," explained Plessey's EPIC Programme Director, Dr Paul James. "Just two small contacts and no gels. This is ideal for the Sports and Fitness market where people want to measure more than just their heart rate when exercising for display either on the device or via a Bluetooth link to a mobile phone, tablet or PC. The data gathered is accurate enough that it can provide detailed ECG signals with the appropriate signal processing, including precise pulse rate and pulse rate variation. This opens up the possibility of estimating key aerobic performance parameters such as VO2max." Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Emily Boynton||April 28th 2012|
Obesity during pregnancy puts women at higher risk of a multitude of challenges. But, according to a new study presented earlier this month at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine annual convention, fetal growth restriction, or the poor growth of a baby while in the mother’s womb, is not one of them. In fact, study authors from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the incidence of fetal growth restriction was lower in obese women when compared to non-obese women.
Researchers, led by senior study author and high-risk pregnancy expert Loralei Thornburg, M.D., conducted the study because a wealth of data shows that obese women are at greater risk of fetal death or stillbirth. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, doctors don’t know why. Thornburg’s team wanted to determine if fetal growth restriction – which increases the likelihood of stillbirth – might play a role. She says growth restriction may go undiagnosed in obese women because it can be difficult to get an accurate measure of mom’s belly size, which is a tool used to gauge the baby’s growth – or lack of growth.
“We wondered if the increased risk of stillbirth could be due to a high level of undiagnosed growth restriction – the idea being that if the physician doesn’t know that the baby is too small then they don’t know that mom and baby need additional monitoring, which is essential to prevent fetal death,” said Thornburg, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical Center whose research focuses on obesity in pregnancy.
The team, including lead study author and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellow Dzhamala Gilmandyar, M.D., found that growth restriction was significantly lower in obese and diabetic women; it was higher in women with preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and smokers – a finding in line with past research. Of the babies that had growth restriction, they determined how many moms were given an accurate diagnosis before birth and found that the rate was the same for obese and non-obese women, suggesting that missed diagnoses are not a major problem in obese pregnancies. Read more ..
The Edge of Food
|Iqbal Pittalwala||April 28th 2012|
Avocado, a significant fruit crop grown in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world, is threatened by Phytophthora root rot (PRR), a disease that has already eliminated commercial avocado production in many areas in Latin America and crippled production in Australia and South Africa. Just in California the disease is estimated to cost avocado growers approximately $30-40 million a year in production losses.
Research on developing PRR-tolerant rootstocks to manage the disease has been a major focus of avocado research at the University of California, Riverside since the 1950s. The latest research now comes from a team that has released three rootstocks, available for commercial propagation by nurseries, that demonstrate superior tolerance to PRR. The research, scheduled to appear soon in the journal HortScience, describes the three avocado root-rot-tolerant varieties: Zentmyer, Steddom, and Uzi. Read more ..
The Race For EVs
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||April 28th 2012|
|Charging a Car|
Up to 15 percent more kilometers per battery charge just by improving the energy management systems - this is the goal of a research project led by the Dresden Institute for Automotive Technology. The researchers expressly do not intend to modify or change the battery itself. Instead, intelligent networking of car and infrastructure as well as better management of the in-car energy sinks will be established to reach this goal. The EFA 2014/2 research consortium plans to use forward-thinking energy management to improve the driving range of the cars. The 14 project partners, among them carmaker BMW, tier ones such as Bosch, Continental Hella and Valeo as well as semiconductor companies Elmos and Infineon as well as research institutes FKFS Stuttgart and Technical University of Dresden, will achieve the goal of a better driving range by pursuing several approaches. One is more intelligence with regard to choosing the best route and improving the traffic flow. In order to establish an intelligent infrastructure, the researcher will create an interface enabling the exchange of data between electric vehicles and municipal traffic control centers. Thus, the cars can access information on the traffic situation along the route. The information obtained will be visualized by means of innovative displays at the dashboard. The availability of this kind of information helps the driver to plan time-efficient and energy-saving rides through the city. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Robert Burnham||April 27th 2012|
Arizona State University
|Lava coils at Athabasca Valles (credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)|
High-resolution photos of lava flows on Mars reveal coiling spiral patterns that resemble snail or nautilus shells. Such patterns have been found in a few locations on Earth, but never before on Mars. The discovery, made by Arizona State University graduate student Andrew Ryan, is announced in a paper published in Science. The new result came out of research into possible interactions of lava flows and floods of water in the Elysium volcanic province of Mars.
“I was interested in Martian outflow channels and was particularly intrigued by Athabasca Valles and Cerberus Palus, both part of Elysium,” says Ryan, who is in his first year as a graduate student in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Philip Christensen, Regents’ Professor of Geological Sciences at ASU, is second author on the paper.
“Athabasca Valles has a very interesting history,” Ryan says. “There’s an extensive literature on the area, as well as an intriguing combination of seemingly fluvial and volcanic features.” Among the features are large slabs or plates that resemble broken floes of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean on Earth. In the past, a few scientists have argued that the plates in Elysium are in fact underlain by water ice. Read more ..
The Edge of Physics
|Nathalie Hüber||April 27th 2012|
University of Zurich
|CERN compact muon solenoid endcap (credit CERN CMS)|
Physicists from the University of Zurich have discovered a previously unknown particle composed of three quarks using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A new baryon could thus be detected for the first time at the LHC. The baryon—known as Xi_b^*—confirms fundamental assumptions of physics regarding the binding of quarks.
In particle physics, the baryon family refers to particles that are made up of three quarks. Quarks form a group of six particles that differ in their masses and charges. The two lightest quarks, the so-called “up” and “down” quarks, form the two atomic components: protons and neutrons. All baryons that are composed of the three lightest quarks (“up”, “down,” and “strange” quarks) are known. Only very few baryons with heavy quarks have been observed to date. They can only be generated artificially in particle accelerators as they are heavy and very unstable.
In the course of proton collisions in the LHC at CERN, physicists Claude Amsler, Vincenzo Chiochia, and Ernest Aguiló from the University of Zurich’s Physics Institute managed to detect a baryon with one light and two heavy quarks. The particle Xi_b^* comprises one “up”, one “strange” and one “bottom” quark (usb), is electrically neutral and has a spin of 3/2 (1.5). Its mass is comparable to that of a lithium atom. The new discovery means that two of the three baryons predicted in the usb composition by theory have now been observed. Read more ..
The Graphene Edge
|Sarah Hoyle||April 27th 2012|
University of Exeter
The most transparent, lightweight and flexible material ever for conducting electricity has been invented by a team from the University of Exeter. Called GraphExeter, the material could revolutionise the creation of wearable electronic devices, such as clothing containing computers, phones and MP3 players. GraphExeter could also be used for the creation of 'smart' mirrors or windows, with computerised interactive features. Since this material is also transparent over a wide light spectrum, it could enhance by more than 30% the efficiency of solar panels. Adapted from graphene, GraphExeter is much more flexible than indium tin oxide (ITO), the main conductive material currently used in electronics. ITO is becoming increasingly expensive and is a finite resource, expected to run out in 2017. At just one-atom-thick, graphene is the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity. It is very flexible and is one of the strongest known materials. The race has been on for scientists and engineers to adapt graphene for flexible electronics. This has been a challenge because of its sheet resistance, which limits its conductivity. Until now, no-one has been able to produce a viable alternative to ITO.
To create GraphExeter, the Exeter team sandwiched molecules of ferric chloride between two layers of graphene. Ferric chloride enhances the electrical conductivity of graphene, without affecting the material's transparency.
Read more ..
The Manufacturing Edge
|Dr.Ing. Dirk Berndt||April 27th 2012|
If errors creep in during the assembly of components, costly post-processing is often the consequence. Automatic testing is difficult, especially where individual products are concerned. Now there is a new testing system that is flexible and economical, even for smaller production runs. Today‘s cars are increasingly custom-built. One customer might want electric windows, heated door mirrors and steering-wheel-mounted stereo controls, while another is satisfied with the minimum basic equipment. The situation with aircraft is no different: each airline is looking for different interior finishes – and lighting, ventilation, seating and monitors are different from one company to the next. Yet the customer‘s freedom is the manufacturer‘s challenge: because individual parts and mountings have to be installed in different locations along the fuselage, automated assembly is often not an economical alternative. For many assembly steps, manufacturers have to rely on manual labor instead. But if errors creep in – if, for instance, a bracket is mounted backwards or in the wrong place – correcting them can get expensive later on. The fuselage has to be reworked at great expense. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Dirk Haller||April 26th 2012|
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Some lactic acid bacteria can alleviate inflammation and therefore prevent intestinal disorders. Scientists have now decoded the biochemical mechanism that lies behind the protective effect of the bacteria. In experiments with mice, the researchers succeeded in demonstrating that lactocepin – an enzyme produced by certain lactic acid bacteria – selectively degrades inflammatory mediators in diseased tissue. This new evidence might lead to new approaches for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Yoghurt has been valued for centuries for its health-promoting effects. These effects are thought to be mediated by the lactic acid bacteria typically contained in yoghurt. Evidence from recent scientific studies show that some bacterial strains actually have a probiotic effect and can thus prevent disease. A team of biologists and nutrition scientists working with Prof. Dirk Haller from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) has now discovered the mechanisms at work behind this protective effect.
In experiments with mice, the scientists observed that lactocepin – an enzyme produced from the lactic acid bacterium Lactobacillus paracasei – can selectively interrupt inflammatory processes. As the scientists observed, lactocepin degrades messengers from the immune system, known as chemokines, in the diseased tissue. As a part of the “normal” immune response, chemokines are needed to guide defense cells to the source of the infection. In chronic intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the otherwise highly effective defense mechanism against infectious agents is malfunctioning. Chemokines such as “IP-10” then contribute to the tissue damage due to chronic inflammatory processes, preventing the tissue from healing. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jia-Rui Cook ||April 26th 2012|
|Aquila Crater, Vesta (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)|
Findings from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. The findings were presented in April at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, and will help scientists better understand the early solar system and processes that dominated its formation.
Images from Dawn’s framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, taken 420 miles (680 kilometers) and 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid, show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns. Coded false-color images help scientists better understand Vesta’s composition and enable them to identify material that was once molten below the asteroid’s surface.
Researchers also see breccias, which are rocks fused during impacts from space debris. Many of the materials seen by Dawn are composed of iron- and magnesium-rich minerals, which often are found in Earth’s volcanic rocks. Images also reveal smooth pond-like deposits, which might have formed as fine dust created during impacts settled into low regions. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Siân Halkyard||April 26th 2012|
Queen Mary, University of London
|Mini-jets in Saturn’s F ring (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/QMUL)|
Queen Mary scientists working with images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have discovered strange half-mile-sized objects punching through parts of Saturn’s F ring, leaving glittering trails behind them. These trails in the rings, which scientists are calling “mini-jets,” fill in a missing link in our understanding of the curious behaviour of the F ring. The results were presented at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria.
Scientists have known that relatively large objects like the potato-shaped moon Prometheus can create channels, ripples, and snowballs in the F ring. But until recently they didn’t know what happened to these snowballs after they were created.
Now Professor Carl Murray, Nick Attree, Nick Cooper, and Gareth Williams from Queen Mary’s Astronomy Unit have found evidence that some of the smaller snowballs survive, and their differing orbits mean they go on to strike through the F ring on their own. Professor Murray’s group happened to see a tiny trail in an image from 30 January 2009 and tracked it over eight hours. The long footage confirmed the small object originated in the F ring, so they went back through the Cassini image catalogue to see if the phenomenon was frequent. Read more ..
Earth on Edge
|Emil Venere||April 25th 2012|
|Spherules created from asteroid impact|
(credit: Bruce M. Simonson, Oberlin College)
Researchers are learning details about asteroid impacts going back to the Earth’s early history by using a new method for extracting precise information from tiny “spherules”—about one millimeter in diameter—embedded in layers of rock. The spherules were created when asteroids crashed into the Earth, vaporizing rock that expanded into space as a giant vapor plume. Small droplets of molten and vaporized rock in the plume condensed and solidified, falling back to Earth as a thin layer. The round or oblong particles were preserved in layers of rock, and now researchers have analyzed them to record precise information about asteroids impacting Earth from 3.5 billion to 35 million years ago.
“What we have done is provide the foundation for understanding how to interpret the layers in terms of the size and velocity of the asteroid that made them,” said Jay Melosh, an expert in impact cratering and a distinguished professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue University.
Findings, which support a theory that the Earth endured an especially heavy period of asteroid bombardment early in its history, are detailed in a research paper appearing online in the journal Nature on April 25. The paper was written by Purdue physics graduate student Brandon Johnson and Melosh. The findings, based on geologic observations, support a theoretical study in a companion paper in Nature by researchers at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. Read more ..
|Jared Wadley||April 25th 2012|
Chronic migraine sufferers saw significant pain relief after four weeks of electrical brain stimulation in the part of the brain responsible for voluntary movement, the motor cortex, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Harvard University and the City College of the City University of New York used a noninvasive method called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a preventative migraine therapy on 13 patients with chronic migraine, or at least 15 attacks a month. After 10 sessions, participants reported an average 37 percent decrease in pain intensity.
The effects were cumulative and kicked in after about four weeks of treatment, said Alexandre DaSilva, assistant professor at the U-M School of Dentistry and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Headache. "This suggests that repetitive sessions are necessary to revert ingrained changes in the brain related to chronic migraine suffering," DaSilva said, adding that study participants had an average history of almost 30 years of migraine attacks.
The researchers also tracked the electric current flow through the brain to learn how the therapy affected different regions. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Angela Stark||April 24th 2012|
|High-Efficiency Solar Cell|
To produce the maximum amount of energy, solar cells are designed to absorb as much light from the Sun as possible. Now researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have suggested – and demonstrated – a counterintuitive concept: solar cells should be designed to be more like LEDs, able to emit light as well as absorb it. "What we demonstrated is that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage and the greater the efficiency it can produce," says Eli Yablonovitch, principal researcher and UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering. Since 1961, scientists have known that, under ideal conditions, there is a limit to the amount of electrical energy that can be harvested from sunlight hitting a typical solar cell. This absolute limit is, theoretically, about 33.5 percent. That means that at most 33.5 percent of the energy from incoming photons will be absorbed and converted into useful electrical energy.
Yet for five decades, researchers were unable to come close to achieving this efficiency: as of 2010, the highest anyone had come was just more than 26 percent. (This is for flat-plate, "single junction" solar cells, which absorb light waves above a specific frequency. "Multi-junction" cells, which have multiple layers and absorb multiple frequencies, are able to achieve higher efficiencies.)
More recently, Yablonovitch and his colleagues were trying to understand why there has been such a large gap between the theoretical limit and the limit that researchers have been able to achieve. As they worked, a "coherent picture emerged," says Owen Miller, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a member of Yablonovitch's group. They came across a relatively simple, if perhaps counterintuitive, solution based on a mathematical connection between absorption and emission of light. "Fundamentally, it's because there's a thermodynamic link between absorption and emission," Miller says. Designing solar cells to emit light – so that photons do not become "lost" within a cell – has the natural effect of increasing the voltage produced by the solar cell. "If you have a solar cell that is a good emitter of light, it also makes it produce a higher voltage," which in turn increases the amount of electrical energy that can be harvested from the cell for each unit of sunlight, Miller says. The theory that luminescent emission and voltage go hand in hand is not new. But the idea had never been considered for the design of solar cells before now, Miller continues. Read more ..
The Graphene Edge
|R. Colin Johnson||April 24th 2012|
|5-layer graphene/insulator array|
Graphene has been courted as the miracle material of the future, since different formulations have been fabricated into conductors, semiconductors and insulators. Now IBM has added photonic to the list by demonstrating a graphene/insulator superlattice that achieves a terahertz frequency notch filter and a linear polarizer, devices which could be useful in future mid- and far-infrared photonic devices, including detectors, modulators and three-dimensional metamaterials.
"In addition to its good electrical properties, graphene also has exceptional optical properties. In particular, it absorbs light from the far-infrared to to the ultra-violet," said IBM Fellow Phaedon Avouris. "The terahertz range was of particular interest to IBM, because these frequencies can penetrate paper, wood and other solid objects for security applications. Unfortunately, today there are very few ways of manipulating terahertz waves such as polarizing and filtering it, but because graphene operates well at terahertz frequencies we have concentrating on creating these types of devices." Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen Zoo and University of Copenhagen have in collaboration developed a new and revolutionary, yet simple and cheap, method for tracking mammals in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. They collect leeches from tropical jungles, which have been sucking blood from mammals, and subsequently analyse the blood for mammal DNA. By using this method, the researchers can get an overview of the biodiversity of the mammals without having to find them.
"It is not unusual that unknown mammals appear on local markets and end up in soup pots – without scientists knowing of it. Therefore, the new method is important to obtain knowledge of what hides in the jungle - regarding both known and unknown species. I am convinced that the new method is not only useful in Southeast Asia, but can be used in many other parts of the world where such leeches exist," explains Tom Gilbert, professor at the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, and one of the initiators of the project together with Mads Bertelsen from Copenhagen Zoo. Approximately a quarter of the world’s mammal species are threatened with extinction. However, it is difficult and expensive to monitor mammal species and populations living in impassable rainforest areas around the globe. Read more ..
Edge Of Archaeology
|Dr. Hilary Glover||April 23rd 2012|
Analysis of ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been used to establish migration and population patterns for American indigenous cultures during the time before Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Genetics has used more detailed DNA analysis of individuals from Arequipa region to identify the family relationships and burial traditions of ancient Peru. The social unit (ayllu) of Native South Americans is thought to be based on kin relationships. The establishment of ayllu-based communities is also associated with funereal monuments (chullpas) which are thought to be important social sites not only because of their religious importance but because they housed the venerated ayllu's ancestors.
Ancestor worship and a belief in a common ancestor, central to the ayllu, still exists in the traditions of the Q'ero community. Researchers from University of Warsaw, in collaboration with Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria, used DNA analysis to reconstruct the family trees of individuals buried in six chullpas near the Coropuna volcano is southern Peru. Despite prior looting, the unique nature of this site, 4000m up the Cora Cora mountain, allowed an extraordinary preservation of human remains and of DNA within both teeth and bone. mtDNA analysis showed that the groups were of Andean origin and indicated a 500 year continuity, up to modern Andeans, without any major impact by European colonisation. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Nicole Casal Moore||April 23rd 2012|
|Caitlin Winget shows James Azazili the Hemafuse blood syringe.|
In parts of the world without reliable electricity, a pedal-powered nebulizer could provide life-saving asthma treatments. Small wax-filled sleeping bags could keep premature infants warm. A salad spinner centrifuge for blood samples could help clinicians diagnose anemia.
University of Michigan researchers have cataloged more than 100 such technologies in a new wiki of medical devices designed for resource-limited settings. The Global Health Medical Device Compendium, an open-source inventory, is hosted by the popular appropriate technology wiki Appropedia. It is expected to serve as an important communication vehicle for end users, non-governmental organizations, researchers and others to help advance such technologies.
Developing nations import roughly 90 percent of their medical technologies from higher-income countries. But systems tested in controlled settings in high tech hospitals often don't work as intended in places where continuous electricity, replacement parts, clean water, and appropriate training aren't always accessible. Read more ..
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