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The Race for Solar

Good Vibrations for Plants Improve Photosynthesis and Solar Power Prospects

July 27th 2014

Click to select Image

Biophysics researchers at the University of Michigan have used short pulses of light to peer into the mechanics of photosynthesis and illuminate the role that molecule vibrations play in the energy conversion process that powers life on our planet.

The findings could potentially help engineers make more efficient solar cells and energy storage systems. They also inject new evidence into an ongoing "quantum biology" debate over exactly how photosynthesis manages to be so efficient. Through photosynthesis, plants and some bacteria turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food for themselves and oxygen for animals to breathe. It's perhaps the most important biochemical process on Earth and scientists don't yet fully understand how it works. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Test Nanoparticle "Alarm Clock" to Awaken Immune Systems Put to Sleep by Cancer

July 26th 2014

nurse w/stethoscope

Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center are exploring ways to wake up the immune system so it recognizes and attacks invading cancer cells. Tumors protect themselves by tricking the immune system into accepting everything as normal, even while cancer cells are dividing and spreading.

One pioneering approach, discussed in a review article published this week in WIREs Nanomedicine and Nanobiotechnology, uses nanoparticles to jumpstart the body's ability to fight tumors. Nanoparticles are too small to imagine. One billion could fit on the head of a pin. This makes them stealthy enough to penetrate cancer cells with therapeutic agents such as antibodies, drugs, vaccine type viruses, or even metallic particles. Though small, nanoparticles can pack large payloads of a variety of agents that have different effects that activate and strengthen the body's immune system response against tumors. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Cyber Security and Hacktivism in Latin America: Past and Future

July 26th 2014

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Along with the opportunities brought by the proliferation of the personal computer and societal penetration of the Internet across the world, came the enormous increase of cyber crime – a global evil that impacted an estimated 556 million victims in 2012. Cyber crime has most commonly manifested itself in Latin America and the Caribbean through computer hacking techniques such as malware, phishing, and denial of service (DoS) attacks. According to a study on cybercrime by the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry, phishing alone affects about 2,500 regional banks and accounts for $93 billion USD in annual losses.

But not all cyber crimes are economically motivated. Hacktivism, a term combining hacking and political activism, has become extremely popular in recent years, largely because of the global organization Anonymous. Their establishment as a hacktivist group came in 2008 when they launched “Project Chanology,” a protest movement that digitally attacked the Church of Scientology for “us[ing] Internet censorship to spread misinformation about their practices.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Airbus Adds Metal 3-D-Printed Parts to New Jets

July 25th 2014

3 D Printer

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer.

The high price of today’s air fares is due in large part to the cost of fuel, which is why manufacturers are striving to build lighter planes, with more efficient engines and more seats. The bodies of modern jets, like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, are made from composite materials, usually carbon-reinforced plastic.

Some plastic parts created in a 3-D printer are already incorporated into the Airbus A350 jet. But the new model XWB will be the first with parts printed with titanium. Airbus emerging technologies manager Peter Sander says technicians learned to print even geometrically very complex shapes.

“Normally this is a part of the fuel system, it's two pipes in one, and it's normally welded out of 10 parts," he said. "So in this case, with 3-D printing we have the chance to integrate the bracket of the pipe and two pipes at once and print it in one shot.”

3-D printing is also a solution when parts are no longer available. Sander says when Airbus engineers needed a discontinued spare part for seats, it was easy to print perfect copies.

“So we did a redesign in a week and printing in a week. So the redesign itself cost two hours, we took the manual drawing, redesigned it and put it on the desk one week later to the spare part guys,” he said. The technology is developing rapidly and one can easily imagine entire aircraft assembled out of printed parts.  Read more ..


The Future of Architecture

Great Future for Bamboo in Engineered Building Materials

July 24th 2014

Bamboo construction has traditionally been rather straightforward: Entire stalks are used to create latticed edifices, or woven in strips to form wall-sized screens. The effect can be stunning, and also practical in parts of the world where bamboo thrives.

But there are limitations to building with bamboo. The hardy grass is vulnerable to insects, and building with stalks — essentially hollow cylinders — limits the shape of individual building components, as well as the durability of the building itself.

MIT scientists, along with architects and wood processors from England and Canada, are looking for ways to turn bamboo into a construction material more akin to wood composites, like plywood. The idea is that a stalk, or culm, can be sliced into smaller pieces, which can then be bonded together to form sturdy blocks — much like conventional wood composites. A structural product of this sort could be used to construct more resilient buildings — particularly in places like China, India, and Brazil, where bamboo is abundant. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

New Sponge-Like Graphite Structure Converts Solar Energy to Steam

July 24th 2014

Click to select Image

A new material structure developed at MIT generates steam by soaking up the sun.
The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light, the more steam is generated.

The new material is able to convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam — a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. What’s more, the setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. This would mean that, if scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.
Hadi Ghasemi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the spongelike structure can be made from relatively inexpensive materials — a particular advantage for a variety of compact, steam-powered applications. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Some HIV Viruses Are More Equal Than Others

July 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

HIV-infected people carry many different HIV viruses and all have distinct personalities—some much more vengeful and infectious than others.

Yet, despite the breadth of infectivity, roughly 76 percent of HIV infections arise from a single virus. Now, scientists believe they can identify the culprit with very specific measurements of the quantities of a key protein in the HIV virus.

Quantifying this key protein may reveal which of the many viruses present actually caused the infection.

The University of Michigan study is thought to be the first in which researchers were able to capture HIV at the single-particle level and measure with molecular resolutions, said principal investigator Wei Cheng of the U-M College of Pharmacy. Cheng's group found that the HIV virus particles have different quantities of a key protein that enables virulence, and the protein-rich virus particles were more infectious than the others. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Smart Road 'Talks' to Cars, Warns of Dangers

July 22nd 2014

Highway

How would you drive differently if traffic signals could tell you when they were about to turn red? Or, if your car could warn you of a pedestrian crossing the road ahead of you? Researchers are working on these advances on what’s called a “Smart Road” in Virginia.

Inside the car as the driver gets a warning that a construction worker is ahead. The driver knows because of high-tech devices that “talk” to the car.

A backpack worn by the construction worker has a GPS antenna. It’s connected to a device which is connected to the car, telling the vehicle how close the construction worker is. Eventually all this equipment will be incorporated into a construction vest. 

If you are a driver nearing a traffic signal. A device inches away from the steering wheel shows your speed and how many milliseconds you have until the light turns red.  If you ignore the information, it tells you that you have run a red light. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

New Technique Uses 'Simulated' Human Heart to Screen Drugs

July 21st 2014

heart patient hospital doctor health

A Coventry University scientist has developed a pioneering new way – using samples of beating heart tissue – to test the effect of drugs on the heart without using human or animal trials.

The breakthrough is the work of Dr Helen Maddock – an expert in cardiovascular physiology and pharmacology from the University's Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences – and could lead to the lives of hundreds of future patients being saved and the quality of their treatments improved.

Adverse effects of drugs on the cardiovascular system are a major cause of many medical treatments failing, but heart-related side-effects can often only be detected once a drug is being used on patients in clinical trials – by which time it is too late.

Dr Maddock's 'in vitro' technique – which means 'in glass' in reference to it taking place in a laboratory environment rather than in a living organism – uses a specimen of human heart tissue attached to a rig allowing the muscle to be lengthened and shortened whilst being stimulated by an electrical impulse, mimicking the biomechanical performance of cardiac muscle.  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Getting a Grip on Robotic Grasp

July 19th 2014

Army Robot test

Twisting a screwdriver, removing a bottle cap, and peeling a banana are just a few simple tasks that are tricky to pull off single-handedly. Now a new wrist-mounted robot can provide a helping hand — or rather, fingers.

Researchers at MIT have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand. The device, worn around one's wrist, works essentially like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb. A novel control algorithm enables it to move in sync with the wearer's fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. Wearing the robot, a user could use one hand to, for instance, hold the base of a bottle while twisting off its cap.

"This is a completely intuitive and natural way to move your robotic fingers," says Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering. "You do not need to command the robot, but simply move your fingers naturally. Then the robotic fingers react and assist your fingers." Read more ..


The Way We Are

Improving Driver Safety: How to Prevent Streetlight Glare with LED Lighting

July 18th 2014

LED street

Long hours of nighttime driving can cause eyestrain because while our vision adapts to the surrounding darkness, the sudden stabs of brightness from streetlamps can be irritating, distracting and even painful. Even as LED technology has transformed the lighting industry, bringing the promise of more energy-efficient road illumination, some fear that the new lights could cause even more troublesome, unsafe glare.

A team of researchers from China and the Netherlands has developed a way to evaluate the human impact of uncomfortable glare caused by LED road lights. They created a model that can predict the level of discomfort experienced by drivers under various lighting conditions. The team today reported their findings, which could guide streetlight placement and design, in The Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optics Express .

"With the development of the LED industry, there is no doubt that more and more LED lights will be used for road lighting," said Yandan Lin, an associate professor and director of the Vision and Color Research Laboratory at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. "We believe that the lighting industry has an urgent need to update the ways to characterize discomfort glare caused by LED road lights." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Hundreds of Videos Used to Reconstruct 3D Motion Without Markers

July 17th 2014

Eyeball Surveillance

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed techniques for combining the views of 480 video cameras mounted in a two-story geodesic dome to perform large-scale 3D motion reconstruction, including volleyball games, the swirl of air currents and even a cascade of confetti.

Though the research was performed in a specialized, heavily instrumented video laboratory, Yaser Sheikh, an assistant research professor of robotics who led the research team, said the techniques might eventually be applied to large-scale reconstructions of sporting events or performances captured by hundreds of cameras wielded by spectators.

The video lab, called the Panoptic Studio, also can be used to capture the fine details of people interacting, whether it be college students casually conversing or a child being evaluated by a psychologist for signs of autism.

In contrast to most previous work, which typically has involved just 10 to 20 video feeds, the Carnegie Mellon researchers didn't have to worry about filling in gaps in data; their camera system can track 100,000 points at a time. Rather, they have to figure out how to choose which of the hundreds of video trajectories can see each of those points and select only those camera views for the reconstruction. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Internet of Things Vs Bluetooth

July 16th 2014

Trendy Kitchen

The Bluetooth special interest group has hit back at the recent announcement of the Thread group for low power version of Zigbee for the Internet of Things.

"Bluetooth Smart is the de facto standard for the Internet of Things. It offers incredibly low power, simple and secure wireless connectivity and because its been adopted natively by all major operating systems, its already an existing standard in the smartphones, tablets and PCs of billions of consumers," said Steve Hegenderfer, Director of Developer Programs at the Bluetooth SIG. "Smart Home has been stuck as the next big thing for 60 years. In order to take it mainstream, you need a mainstream wireless technology."

The new Thread group highlights problems with existing Zigbee-based networks such as a lack of interoperability, inability to carry IPv6 communications, high power requirements that drain batteries quickly, and 'hub and spoke' models dependent on one device so that if that device fails, the whole network goes down. Read more ..


The Ecological Edge

Water Wheel Picks Up Trash in Baltimore's Waterways

July 15th 2014

Water Wheel Maryland
Water Wheel in action

Trash in waterways around the world is a major environmental issue.  The U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, is tackling its problem with a one-of-a-kind contraption with a water wheel that pulls in garbage.  Since it began operating last May, the water wheel has proved more effective than other means of picking up trash in the water.

The odd-looking contraption sits on the Jones Falls River that flows into Baltimore's harbor.  Every year, storm run-off from city streets carries huge amounts of garbage and debris into the river, polluting the harbor.  

“After a rainstorm, we could get a lot of trash in Baltimore Harbor," said Adam Lindquist, who is with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, the group that sponsors the water wheel. "Sometimes the trash was so bad it looked like you could walk across the harbor on nothing but trash.” Read more ..


The Edge of Ecology

Ancient Papyrus Reed Could Hold Key to Water Conservation

July 14th 2014

Children gather water

Ancient Egyptians turned papyrus into paper and provided the world with it for thousands of years. Hundreds of thousands of books in the Royal Library in Alexandria and Rome's 58 public libraries were made of papyrus, almost all of the Western world’s literature and sacred texts at the time.

But the value of papyrus is not limited to paper. Writer and ecologist John Gaudet says ancient scholars considered it the wonder of the age. Egyptian civilization, he adds, might not have developed without papyrus.  

“In the Nile Valley, to do things on a day-to-day basis, you also had to be able to get on the water so they used to use papyrus boats," he said. "And they used papyrus boats the way people today use fiberglass. People still make them in Ethiopia so we know what they’re like.  Read more ..


Genetic Edge

Shocking Secrets of Electric Eels Revealed to Show Promise in Medical Devices

July 13th 2014

For the first time, the genome of the electric eel has been sequenced. This discovery has revealed the secret of how fishes with electric organs have evolved six times in the history of life to produce electricity outside of their bodies.
The research, published in the current issue of Science, sheds light on the genetic blueprint used to evolve these complex, novel organs. It was co-led by Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Texas-Austin and the Systemix Institute.

“It’s truly exciting to find that complex structures like the electric organ, which evolved completely independently in six groups of fish, seem to share the same genetic toolkit,” said Jason Gallant, MSU zoologist and co-lead author of the paper. “Biologists are starting to learn, using genomics, that evolution makes similar structures from the same starting materials, even if the organisms aren’t even that closely related.” Read more ..


Ancient Days

Computerized X-Ray Images Reveal Similarly Tragic Fates of Ancient Mammoths

July 10th 2014

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Computerized tomography (CT) scans of two newborn woolly mammoths recovered from the Siberian Arctic are revealing previously inaccessible details about the early development of prehistoric pachyderms. In addition, the X-ray images show that both creatures died from suffocation after inhaling mud. Lyuba and Khroma, who died at ages 1 and 2 months, respectively, are the most complete and best-preserved baby mammoth specimens ever found. Lyuba's full-body CT scan, which used an industrial scanner at a Ford testing facility in Michigan, was the first of its kind for any mammoth.

"This is the first time anyone's been able to do a comparative study of the skeletal development of two baby mammoths of known age," said University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher. "This allowed us to document the changes that occur as the mammoth body develops," Fisher said. "And since they are both essentially complete skeletons, they can be thought of as Rosetta Stones that will help us interpret all the isolated baby mammoth bones that show up at other localities." Fisher, director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology, is lead author of a paper published online July 8 in a special issue of the Journal of Paleontology. Read more ..


The Race for Induction

Inductive Charging Takes Shape at BMW and Daimler

July 9th 2014

Better Place EV charging

BMW has granted an insight to its development of inductive charging schemes for electric vehicles. In the medium term, the company plans to launch series production for the technology. The project is conducted along with competitor Daimler; both companies plan to provide a uniform charging technology for the garage at home.

The system consists of two components: A primary coil integrated into a base plate which itself is placed beneath the vehicle, for instance in the floor of a garage or parking lot. This coil induces electric energy to the secondary coil in the car floor.

The arrangement of the coils, and consequently of the field pattern, is based on a design derived from their circular shape that offers a number of benefits such as a compact yet light construction as well as an effective spatial confinement of the magnetic field - a feature important to maintain high efficiency. The alternating magnetic field between the coils transmits the electric energy wirelessly at a power of up to 3.6 kW. BMW specifies the energy efficiency of this arrangement at 90%. The system aims at charging high-voltage batteries for plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars. Read more ..


Ancient Days

Discovery of Neanderthal Trait Raises Questions about Human Evolution

July 9th 2014

Modern humans emerged from a complex 'labyrinth of biology and peoples,' findings suggest. Re-examination of a circa 100,000-year-old archaic early human skull found 35 years ago in Northern China has revealed the surprising presence of an inner-ear formation long thought to occur only in Neandertals.

"The discovery places into question a whole suite of scenarios of later Pleistocene human population dispersals and interconnections based on tracing isolated anatomical or genetic features in fragmentary fossils," said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, PhD, a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Mosquitoes Can Smell Malaria

July 7th 2014

mosquito biting

Malaria infection makes mice smell a bit better to mosquitoes, raising the odds that they’ll be bitten and spread the disease. That’s according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research could point the way to a Breathalyzer-style diagnostic test for malaria infection. And it’s the latest example of how parasites manipulate the creatures they infect for their own nefarious aims.

Penn State University biologist Mark Mescher has seen it before. But not in people, in squash. When squash plants are infected with cucumber mosaic virus, they produce chemicals that attract aphids. The aphids pick up the virus when they come to the plant for the advertised meal.

The virus even goes an extra step: It makes the plant less nutritious to the insects. After a few bites, Mescher said, the aphids “don’t like the plant very much. So, rather than staying there for the long term they move on and go to the next plant,” spreading the virus with them. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Develop Eyetracking Wheelchair for Severely Disabled

July 6th 2014

wheelchair tai chi

Scientists in London are working to develop a wheelchair that can be maneuvered simply by looking in the direction in which the user wishes to travel. If the project succeeds, relatively inexpensive software could be used to provide better mobility to paralyzed people and people without arms.

Most people suffering from multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries can still move their eyes because they are directly connected to the brain. Some existing technologies already allow severely disabled people to stare at arrows on a computer and direct the movement of a wheelchair.  But there are problems with that system, including a delay between the movement of the eyes and the wheelchair.

"Current tracking software often uses a screen-based system where you have a screen open and you look at locations on the screen. The problem with that is that it's very simplistic and also diverts the users' attention from the outside world and therefore there's more risk of not noticing obstacles or other things in the way," said Kirubin Pillay, a PhD student at Imperial College London. Read more ..


The Great Lakes on Edge

Construction of Fish-Spawning Reefs Helps to Restore Native Species

July 5th 2014

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Construction of two new fish-spawning reefs is about to begin in the St. Clair River northeast of Detroit, the latest chapter in a decade-plus effort to restore native species such as lake sturgeon, walleye and lake whitefish.

The new reefs will be built this summer and fall at two locations on the St. Clair. The goal of the University of Michigan-led project is to boost fish populations by providing river-bottom rock structures suitable for spawning.

The crevice-filled rock beds are designed to mimic the natural limestone reefs that existed before the rivers connecting lakes Huron and Erie were dredged and blasted to create shipping canals, and before an increased flow of sediments into the system from agricultural and urban runoff. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Find Gene for Form of Autism

July 4th 2014

Autism

Autism is a mysterious developmental disorder, whose cause is unknown. But for the first time, researchers have discovered a gene that's linked to the disorder in an estimated one half of one percent of patients. Their findings could lead to a way to do genetic testing for autism.

Children with mutations of the gene called CHD8 have a larger head size, wide-set eyes and gastrointestinal problems. In addition to their characteristic appearance, they experience sleep disturbances.

In a collaboration involving 13 institutions around the world, investigators examined more than 6,000 youngsters with autism spectrum disorder. They found 15 of the children had mutations to CHD8. All of those children had similar physical features.

Researchers confirmed the findings in experiments with zebra fish. They altered the CHD8 gene and fish were born with large heads and wide-set eyes. Investigators then fed the fish fluorescent pellets and saw they had problems eliminating waste and were constipated. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Dark Matter Near Earth May Peak Every March

July 3rd 2014

Dark Matter

Billions of particles of invisible "dark matter" are probably flying through your body right now, passing through the spaces between your atoms without a trace. According to conventional thinking, these particles should be somewhat less abundant during the winter and should peak around June 1. But a new study suggests this calculation is way off; the real peak is at the beginning of March.

Dark matter is thought to constitute almost 27 percent of the universe's total mass and energy, but its nature is a mystery. One of physicists' best guesses is that theorized particles called WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) make up this matter, but WIMPs have so far eluded detection. Whatever dark matter is, it appears to clump into large clouds called haloes that engulf galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facebook 'Messed with People's Minds,' FTC Sanctions Sought

July 2nd 2014

Eye biometrics

Facebook "purposefully messed with people's minds" in a "secretive and non-consensual" study on nearly 700,000 users whose emotions were intentionally manipulated when the company altered their news feeds for research purposes, a digital privacy rights group charges in a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the complaint Thursday, asking the FTC to impose sanctions on Facebook. The study violated terms of a 20-year consent decree that requires the social-networking company must protect its users' privacy, EPIC said. EPIC also wants Facebook to be forced to disclose the algorithms it uses to determine what appears in users' news feeds. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Big Data Technique Improves Monitoring of Kidney Transplant Patients

July 1st 2014

stethoscope

A new data analysis technique radically improves monitoring of kidney patients, according to a University of Leeds-led study, and could lead to profound changes in the way we understand our health.

The research, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, provides a way of making sense out of the huge number of clues about a kidney transplant patient's prognosis contained in their blood.

By applying sophisticated "big data" analysis to the samples, scientists were able to crunch hundreds of thousands of variables into a single parameter indicating how a kidney transplant was faring. That allowed the team of physicists, chemists and clinicians to predict poor function of a kidney after only two days in cases that may not previously have been detected as failing until weeks after transplant. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Ancient Mariners Brought Neolithic Culture to Europe

June 30th 2014

Click to select Image

How the Neolithic people found their way to Europe has long been a subject of debate. A study of genetic markers in modern populations may offer some new clues. Their paper, "Maritime route of colonization of Europe," appears in the online edition of the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Between 8,800 to 10,000 B.C., in the Levant, the region in the eastern Mediterranean that today encompasses Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and part of southern Turkey, people learned how to domesticate wild grains. This accomplishment eventually allowed them to abandon their lives as nomadic hunter-gathers and become farmers. Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Climate Change Will Profoundly Effect Great Lakes Region

June 27th 2014

Ocean scene

Intense rainstorms, floods and heat waves will become more common in the Great Lakes region due to climate change in the coming decades, and ice-cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season on the lakes, according to a new summary report released today at the start of a three-day climate-adaptation conference at the University of Michigan.

In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase some crop yields in the region, but those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events, according to the report prepared by the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA), a federally funded collaboration between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Fossilized Bees Reveal Climate Changes

June 26th 2014

Honeybee

Fossils from California’s La Brea Tar Pits keep supplying scientists with excellent material for studying the region’s past. Ancient animals, from mammoths to tiny insects, reveal facts about climate changes during the last Ice Age and help scientists understand the modern climate.

For millennia, natural tar that seeped from the ground in what is now southern California trapped large and small animals, preserving their fossils and providing scientists with a trove of specimens suitable for study.

Anna Holden, a researcher at the Page Museum in Los Angeles, is analyzing fossilized bees to learn about the ancient environment of the tar pits. In trying to reconstruct what the climate and local habitat were like, she said, “this bee offered kind of unprecedented information."

By exposing the fossils to a micro CT scanner, scientists discovered that the bee’s habitat was warmer than expected. They concluded that at the end of the Ice Age, about 11,500 years ago, this area was not covered with snow and ice, as previously thought.

Insects’ limited range – unlike that of the large mammals that came to La Brea from South America or across the land bridge now covered by the Bering Strait – allows the collection of detailed information about their immediate environment, Holden said.  Read more ..


The Race for Solar

New Solar Cell Minimizes Environmental Risks in Manufacturing Process

June 25th 2014

Do it yourself Solar

Scientists in England report the development of a new solar cell that minimizes environmental risks in the manufacturing process by using an element used in bath salts.

Many of the solar panels you see on roof tops use special materials called semiconductors such as silicon to generate electricity. However, silicone is not especially good at absorbing sunlight, says Jon Major, physics professor at the University of Liverpool in England.

“To absorb a useful amount of sunlight with silicon we would need to use around 200 micrometers of material." Major said. "For absorbers such as cadmium telluride, we need to use only 1 percent of the same material.”   

Which is why cadmium telluride is now firmly established as the market standard for making the next generation of solar cells.  It results in more flexible panels and dramatically outperforms silicone, with one major drawback. “The problem is cadmium telluride itself is a highly toxic compound," Major said. "It’s been linked to genetic defect, and if it gets into the water supply, it can poison fish for generations.”  Read more ..


Ancient Days

Ancient Human Interference with Mother Nature Lends Lessons for Today

June 23rd 2014

For thousands of years, Mother Nature has taken the blame for tremendous human suffering caused by massive flooding along the Yellow River, long known in China as “China’s Sorrow” and “Scourge of the Sons of Han.” Now, new research from Washington University in St. Louis links the river’s increasingly deadly floods to a widespread pattern of human-caused environmental degradation and related flood-mitigation efforts that began changing the river’s natural flow nearly 3,000 years ago. Read more ..


The Edge of Disaster

Tracking Strange Earthquake Glow

June 22nd 2014

Palisades on Hudson, Alpine NJ

 A new catalog of earthquake lights—mysterious glows sometimes reported before or during seismic shaking—finds that they happen most often in geological rift environments, where the ground is pulling apart. The work is the latest to tackle the enigmatic lights, which have been described by eyewitnesses for centuries but are yet to be fully explained by scientists.

The study pulls together several strands of research to propose a mechanism by which earthquake lights form. The authors suggest that, during an earthquake, the stress of rocks grinding against each other generates electric charges, which travel upwards along the nearly vertical geological faults that are common in rift zones. When the charges reach Earth's surface and interact with the atmosphere, they create a glow. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

A Better Imager for Identifying Tumors

June 19th 2014

MRI Machine

Before they excise a tumor, surgeons need to determine exactly where the cancerous cells lie. Now, research published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Optics Letters details a new technique that could give surgeons cheaper and more lightweight tools, such as goggles or hand-held devices, to identify tumors in real time in the operating room.

The new technology, developed by a team at the University of Arizona and Washington University in St. Louis, is a dual-mode imager that combines two systems—near-infrared fluorescent imaging to detect marked cancer cells and visible light reflectance imaging to see the contours of the tissue itself—into one small, lightweight package approximately the size of a quarter in diameter, just 25 millimeters across.

"Dual modality is the path forward because it has significant advantages over single modality," says author Rongguang Liang, associate professor of optical sciences at the University of Arizona. Read more ..


The Robotic Edge

Forget Milkmaids, Robots Are Future of Cow Milking

June 17th 2014

Cows

At his dairy operation in rural Maryland, John Fendrick has seen the future for milking his cows, and it is robotic.

Gone are the quaint days of milkmaids, milk stools and the pit-pat of a stream of milk into a tin pail in a bucolic barn setting. At Woodbourne Creamery about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., it is robots doing the work that Fendrick admits he doesn’t care for. “I don’t like milking,” he said during a recent tour.

Fendrick is one of a growing number of dairy operations around the United States, Europe and Australia that are using the latest evolution in milking technology. “You’re given your freedom back, essentially," he said. "So it allows me or the people who work for me to do other things on the farm.”

With the exception of small-scale farmers, dairy operations have long since moved beyond the stool and the pail. Most larger dairies have long used mechanized vacuum pumps to increase yields and cut down on labor costs, but they still required workers to tend the milking process and the machinery. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Sensor in Eye Could Track Pressure Changes, Monitor for Glaucoma

June 16th 2014

Eyeball Surveillance

our eye could someday house its own high-tech information center, tracking important changes and letting you know when it’s time to see an eye doctor.

University of Washington engineers have designed a low-power sensor that could be placed permanently in a person’s eye to track hard-to-measure changes in eye pressure. The sensor would be embedded with an artificial lens during cataract surgery and would detect pressure changes instantaneously, then transmit the data wirelessly using radio frequency waves.

The device would be placed in an artificial lens with its antenna circling the perimeter, and the sensor and radio frequency chip inside. The researchers recently published their results in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering and filed patents on an initial prototype of the pressure-monitoring device.

“No one has ever put electronics inside the lens of the eye, so this is a little more radical,” said Karl Böhringer, a UW professor of electrical engineering. “We have shown this is possible in principle. If you can fit this sensor device into an intraocular lens implant during cataract surgery, it won’t require any further surgery for patients.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

Couple Turns Science into Community Affair

June 10th 2014

Science students

George Boyce and his wife Eva Fallon have finally made their lifelong dream a reality. Last year, the couple founded GreenSTEMs, a non-profit that promotes science and creativity.

They turned an empty store in downtown Greenbelt, Maryland, into a community clubhouse. It's a space where people, especially kids, come together to work -- individually or in groups -- on science projects and hobbies. 

From the outside, Club 125, which is named for its street address, looks like any other store in a shopping area. But step inside and you'll see a science club with dozens of computers, laptops, wires, light bulbs and screws.

“Our three core areas are robotics, micro electronics and computer science,” said founder George Boyce. “[It] gives us an opportunity to introduce kids and families and adults to science and technology. It gives people an opportunity to work hands-on and learn some new stuff that might not be able to learn at school, or as adults, they don’t have they don’t have the opportunity to work with because they don’t have the right resources.” Boyce and his wife Eva Fallon, both work in Internet technology. School children come here with their teachers or parents. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Can We Design Cars Like Cellphones

June 6th 2014

Traffic Jam

The automotive industry is caught between an app and a hard place. On one hand, carmakers are feeling growing pressure from thoroughly modern consumers, who expect their next car to respond more like a smartphone.  On the other hand, the complexity inherent in developing connected cars and autonomous driving is so dire that cars of tomorrow will need to be designed more like airplanes.

James Buczkowski, Henry Ford technical fellow and director for EE systems at Ford Motor Co., came to the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco this week and issued a "call for action." In a dual keynote speech with Jim Tung, MathWorks fellow at MathWorks, the Ford executive concluded that, without tools and methods that keep up with the automotive design challenges, a car's complexity will just keep growing. No longer will consumers be able to say: "It just works." Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

New Roof Tiles Break Down Smog-Causing Nitrogen Oxide

June 5th 2014

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A team of University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering students created a roof tile coating that when applied to an average-sized residential roof breaks down the same amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxides per year as a car driven 11,000 miles.

They calculated 21 tons of nitrogen oxides would be eliminated daily if tiles on one million roofs were coated with their titanium dioxide mixture. They also calculated it would cost only about $5 for enough titanium dioxide to coat an average-sized residential roof.

That would have a significant impact in Southern California, where 500 tons of nitrogen oxides are emitted daily in the South Coast Air Quality Management District coverage area, which includes all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

European Bumblebee Invaders Advance through Britain

June 4th 2014

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A species of bee from Europe that has stronger resistance to parasite infections than native bumblebees has spread across the UK, according to new research at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, shows that tree bumblebees have rapidly spread despite them carrying high levels of an infection that normally prevents queen bees from producing colonies. The species arrived in the UK from continental Europe 13 years ago and has successfully spread at an average rate of nearly 4,500 square miles – about half the size of Wales – every year.

Researchers collected tree bumblebee queens from the wild, checked them for parasites and then monitored colony development in a laboratory. Despite the bees having low genetic diversity and high levels of a nematode parasite that usually castrates other species, 25 per cent of the queens were able to produce offspring. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Tinkering with Climate Engineering Won't Affect Global Climate Change

June 4th 2014

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Tinkering with climate change through climate engineering isn't going to help us get around what we have to do says a new report authored by researchers at six universities, including Simon Fraser University.

After evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming, the interdisciplinary team concluded there's no way around it. We have to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

"Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper. But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad," says Jonn Axsen.

The assistant professor in SFU's School of Resource and Environmental Management is a co-author on this study, which appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It is the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics. Read more ..



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