The Edge of Climate Change
|Anjana Pasricha||September 6th 2014|
Scientists warn that agriculture around the world can be significantly affected by climate change, and are now teaching farmers new technologies to adapt.
At one “climate smart” village in northern India, farmers are changing age-old practices to overcome the challenge of increasingly erratic weather patterns.
Harpreet Singh of Taraori village in northern Haryana state says recent years of failed rains and rising temperatures have damaged the paddy of wheat crop on his sprawling 30-hectare farm. But unlike other farmers, this year’s weak monsoon rains did not worry him.
Singh has abandoned the age-old method of transplanting rice saplings after sprouting them in a nursery. Instead he planted “direct-seeded rice,” where seeds are sown and sprouted directly in the field. Singh smiles as he looks upon his lush rice crop, explaining the new laser-leveling technique that helps him conserve 25 to 30 percent more water. The high-tech approach to preparing soil reduces the need for irrigation by ensuring uniform distribution of moisture. Read more ..
|Maria C. Zacharias||September 5th 2014|
Scientists have discovered and described a new supermassive dinosaur species with the most complete skeleton ever found of its type. At 85 feet long and weighing about 65 tons in life, Dreadnoughtus schrani is the largest land animal for which a body mass can be accurately calculated.
Its skeleton is exceptionally complete, with over 70 percent of the bones, excluding the head, represented. Because all previously discovered super-massive dinosaurs are known only from relatively fragmentary remains, Dreadnoughtus offers an unprecedented window into the anatomy and biomechanics of the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.
"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," said Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences, who discovered the Dreadnoughtus fossil skeleton in southern Patagonia in Argentina and led the excavation and analysis. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jessica Berman||September 2nd 2014|
People with cognitive problems - including memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease - may someday be able to have their memory boosted with electric current. Researchers used a non-invasive procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to jumpstart a region of the brain that’s involved in forming memories.
Known as TMS, the technique uses a mild electrical current through the skull to strengthen communication among brain cells involved in memory. It could lead to new treatments for memory impairments caused by trauma, illness or aging. Current therapies - such as surgery and drugs - have not proven effective.
The neurons targeted by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are part of a pathway to the hippocampus, a deep brain region that’s involved in the formation of memories. Neuroscientist Joel Voss at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois explained that the stimulation is painless and non-invasive.
“What the TMS coil does is it produces a volley of pulses of this stimulation. And so it sounds like a high frequency tapping sound - like a duh, duh, duh, duh tapping sound - with about 20 clicks per second. And those clicks are aimed at the back part of the person’s head over the parietal cortex, and each one feels like a very slight tapping sensation on the outside of the head,” said Voss. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Sarah McDonnell||September 1st 2014|
Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and looks under a microscope for the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease. This approach gives an accurate count of how many parasites are in the blood — an important measure of disease severity — but is not ideal because there is potential for human error.
A research team from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) has now come up with a possible alternative. The researchers have devised a way to use magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), a close cousin of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to detect a parasitic waste product in the blood of infected patients. This technique could offer a more reliable way to detect malaria, says Jongyoon Han, a professor at MIT. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Rob Matheson||August 31st 2014|
MIT alumni entrepreneurs Gauti Reynisson MBA ’10 and Ívar Helgason HS ’08 spent the early 2000s working for companies that implemented medication-safety technologies — such as electronic-prescription and pill-barcoding systems — at hospitals in their native Iceland and other European countries.
But all that time spent in hospitals soon opened their eyes to a major health care issue: Surprisingly often, patients receive the wrong medications. Indeed, a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine found that 1.5 million hospitalized patients in the United States experience medication errors every year due, in part, to drug-administration mistakes. Some cases have adverse or fatal results.
Frustrated and seeking a solution, the Icelandic duo quit their careers and traveled to MIT for inspiration. There, they teamed up with María Rúnarsdóttir MBA ’08 and devised MedEye, a bedside medication-scanning system that uses computer vision to identify pills and check them against medication records, to ensure that a patient gets the right drug and dosage. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Clara Moskowitz||August 30th 2014|
Deep inside the sun pairs of protons fuse to form heavier atoms, releasing mysterious particles called neutrinos
in the process. These reactions are thought to be the first step in the chain responsible for 99 percent of the energy the sun radiates, but scientists have never found proof until now. For the first time, physicists have captured the elusive neutrinos produced by the sun’s basic proton fusion reactions.
Earth should be teeming with such neutrinos—calculations suggest about 420 billion of them stream from the sun onto every square inch of our planet’s surface each second—yet they are incredibly hard to find. Neutrinos almost never interact with regular particles and usually fly straight through the empty spaces between the atoms in our bodies and all other normal matter. Read more ..
The Edge of Weather
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM Satellite provided a look under the hood of Hurricane Cristobal as it continues moving north and paralleling the U.S. East Coast. NASA's HS3 hurricane mission also investigated the storm. Cristobal is now close enough to the coast to trigger high surf advisories.
On August 28, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for high surf of 6 to 12 feet and rip currents on the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Cristobal, still a minimal Category 1 hurricane on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, has been slowly making its way northward up from the southeastern Bahamas on a track generally parallel to the eastern seaboard. The storm now appears poised to recurve away from the U.S. East Coast and head for the central Atlantic as it begins to feel the effects of an approaching shortwave trough (elongated area of low pressure) embedded in the westerlies (winds) that are moving eastward out of the Great Lakes Region. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|George Putic||August 28th 2014|
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer that usually attacks children and young adults, causing severe pain. It can lead to deformity and even death. Twelve-year-old Qin’s second vertebra was so damaged by the cancer that doctors had to remove it.
But instead of replacing it with a simple titanium tube, surgeons made a computer-aided scan of the area and used special software to print a perfect replica on a 3-D printer. Instead of plastic, this printer uses biocompatible titanium powder, which does not trigger rejection. The director of orthopedics at Beijing University, who led the surgical team, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, said 3-D printing has a huge advantage for artificial implants. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Matthew Hilburn||August 26th 2014|
The major drought gripping the western United States is not only drying the landscape, it’s causing the land to rise.
Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego used GPS data to determine the drought has caused the land to rise, on average, 4 millimeters across the western states. The Sierra mountains of California rose over half an inch.
Duncan Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor and co-author of the paper said that “in areas of deep soil, the material behaves like a sponge. When the water dries out, it shrinks or goes down.”
“If you’re not on deep spoil the effect is that the earth is like a spring,” he said “The water is no longer pressing down on that area so it rises.” That’s what’s happening in the western U.S., and the findings quantify the staggering water loss wrought by the drought. Read more ..
The Health Edge
|Julie Newberg ||August 24th 2014|
Tuberculosis is one of the most persistent and deadliest infectious diseases in the world, killing one to two million people each year.
Scientists who study tuberculosis have long debated its origins. New research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native people there before Europeans landed on the continent.
The paper, "Pre-Columbian Mycobacterial Genomes Reveal Seals as a Source of New World Human Tuberculosis," was published in Nature. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Matthew Hilburn||August 18th 2014|
Scientists have created an army of small robots capable of taking the shape of various objects. They’re called “Kilobots.”
But before that name causes you conjure up images of a Terminator-like killer robots able to morph into nearly anything, the “flash mob” of these 1,024 tiny, minimalist robots have only so far morphed into simple shapes like a starfish, the letter K and a wrench.
The various shapes the robots take are drawn on a computer and then sent to each robot via an infrared light. Once the information is delivered the robots begin to organize themselves into the shape, each following the edge of the group until it reaches a desired location, each knowing its position relative to the others. They also self-correct. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|George Putic||August 16th 2014|
Among the challenges of deep-space travel is the amount of fuel needed for long flights. One of the solutions could be the electrical engine, powered by electricity from solar panels. Such engines already are in use aboard many satellites.
Physicists consider gravity a weak force. After all, we overcome its pull each morning when we get out of bed
However, launching a satellite requires more effort: a large rocket and a lot of chemical fuel, which is quickly burned as it powers upward. Once the payload reaches about 160 kilometers above the earth, the effect of gravity has weakened enough for it to stay in orbit.
A one-way mission into deep space would require even more fuel, according to NASA senior technologist for space propulsion, Michael Patterson. “For any mission application, particularly in deep space, the energy required to do the mission is huge, so the propellant fraction is typically quite large," he said.
Patterson said in the 1950s, the space agency started experimenting with so-called electric propulsion, or EP - - a jet of electrically charged particles that does not require too much power. Once in space, an EP-craft would keep gradually accelerating toward its destination, moving faster and faster the longer it travels. After four years, for example, it could be travelling at 10 kilometers a second. Read more ..
|Jennifer Chu||August 15th 2014|
The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were the golden age of dinosaurs, during which the prehistoric giants roamed the Earth for nearly 135 million years. Paleontologists have unearthed numerous fossils from these periods, suggesting that dinosaurs were abundant throughout the world. But where and when dinosaurs first came into existence has been difficult to ascertain.
Fossils discovered in Argentina suggest that the first dinosaurs may have appeared in South America during the Late Triassic, about 230 million years ago — a period when today’s continents were fused in a single landmass called Pangaea. Previously discovered fossils in North America have prompted speculation that dinosaurs didn’t appear there until about 212 million years ago — significantly later than in South America. Scientists have devised multiple theories to explain dinosaurs’ delayed appearance in North America, citing environmental factors or a vast desert barrier. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Connie Hughes||August 15th 2014|
Consistent with reports of an "opioid epidemic" in the United States, the results showed high and rising prevalence of opioid use by SSDI recipients. The percentage of beneficiaries taking opioids increased from 2007 through 2010. In 2011, the most recent year with available data, prevalence dipped slightly to 43.7 percent.
The percentage of these beneficiaries with chronic opioid use rose steadily, from 21.4 percent in 2007 to 23.1 percent in 2011. Chronic opioid users received numerous opioid prescriptions—at least six and generally 13 per year—typically prescribed by multiple doctors. Women were at greater risk of becoming chronic opioid users than men.
Among chronic opioid users, the average "morphine equivalent dose" (MED) also dipped in 2011. Still, nearly 20 percent of chronic users were taking a dose of at least 100 milligrams MED, while ten percent were taking 200 milligrams. Read more ..
The Nano Edge
|Kate McAlpine||August 13th 2014|
An outline of Marilyn Monroe's iconic face appeared on the clear, plastic film when a researcher fogs it with her breath. Terry Shyu, a doctoral student in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, was demonstrating a new high-tech label for fighting drug counterfeiting. While the researchers don't envision movie stars on medicine bottles, but they used Monroe's image to prove their concept.
Counterfeit drugs, which at best contain wrong doses and at worst are toxic, are thought to kill more than 700,000 people per year. While less than 1 percent of the U.S. pharmaceuticals market is believed to be counterfeit, it is a huge problem in the developing world where as much as a third of the available medicine is fake. To fight back against these and other forms of counterfeiting, researchers at U-M and in South Korea have developed a way to make labels that change when you breathe on them, revealing a hidden image. Read more ..
|Sabine Guinsbourg||August 12th 2014|
Visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem can see that some of its stones are extremely eroded. This is good news for people placing prayer notes in the wall's cracks and crevices, but presents a problem for engineers concerned about the structure’s stability.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the courtyard of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It is located in Jerusalem’s Old City at the foot of the Temple Mount.
To calculate the erosion in the different kinds of limestone that make up the Western Wall, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem used a laser scan to create an accurate three-dimensional computer model. The researchers are Dr. Simon Emmanuel, the Harry P. Kaufmann Senior Lecturer in Environmental Water Technology, and PhD student Mrs. Yael Levenson, at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Earth Sciences. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|George Putic||August 11th 2014|
One of the first discoveries of the space age, made in 1958, was that the Earth is surrounded with a doughnut-shaped field of highly charged particles. It was named the Van Allen radiation belt, after its discoverer, U.S. space scientist James Van Allen. But not much was known about it until NASA launched two probes in 2012. Scientists say the data they sent back to earth is very exciting.
Space weather can be as unpredictable as the weather on earth. Periodic eruptions on the sun's surface eject huge clouds of highly charged protons and electrons.
Some of them reach the earth and cause spectacular light displays like the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
When the clouds of charged particles are unusually strong, they can knock out power grids, disrupt communications and even damage electronic equipment. But most of the time they get trapped by the earth’s magnetic field in the so-called the Van Allen radiation belt.
Nevertheless, they can still inflict damage, says NASA’s program scientist, Mona Kessel. "We also have a lot of satellites that fly through that area - communications satellites, navigation satellites - and so we need to understand what it is that the effects are, because the effects can be quite dramatic," said Kessel. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Nancy de Grummond||August 10th 2014|
During a four-year excavation of an Etruscan well at the ancient Italian settlement of Cetamura del Chianti, a team led by a Florida State University archaeologist and art historian unearthed artifacts spanning more than 15 centuries of Etruscan, Roman and medieval civilization in Tuscany.
"The total haul from the well is a bonanza," said Nancy de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics at Florida State. De Grummond, who has performed work at the site since 1983, is one of the nation's leading scholars of Etruscan studies.
"This rich assemblage of materials in bronze, silver, lead and iron, along with the abundant ceramics and remarkable evidence of organic remains, create an unparalleled opportunity for the study of culture, religion and daily life in Chianti and the surrounding region," she said of the well excavation that began in 2011, which is part of a larger dig encompassing the entire Cetamura settlement. Read more ..
The Race for Alt Energy
|Rob Matheson||August 9th 2014|
It’s estimated that more than half of U.S. energy — from vehicles and heavy equipment, for instance — is wasted as heat. Mostly, this waste heat simply escapes into the air. But that’s beginning to change, thanks to thermoelectric innovators such as Gang Chen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thermoelectric materials convert temperature differences into electric voltage. About a decade ago, Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering and head of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, used nanotechnology to restructure and dramatically boost the efficiency of one such material, paving the way for more cost-effective thermoelectric devices.
Using this method, GMZ Energy, a company co-founded by Chen and collaborator Zhifeng Ren of the University of Houston, has now created a thermoelectric generator (TEG) — a one-square-inch, quarter-inch-thick module — that turns waste heat emitted by vehicles into electricity to lend those vehicles added power. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Catharine June||August 8th 2014|
A new wearable vapor sensor being developed at the University of Michigan could one day offer continuous disease monitoring for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. Wearable technologies, which include Google Glass and the Apple iWatch, are part of a booming market that's expected to swell to $14 billion in the next four years.
The new sensor, which can detect airborne chemicals either exhaled or released through the skin, would likely be the first wearable to pick up a broad array of chemical, rather than physical, attributes. U-M researchers are working with the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program to move the device from the lab to the marketplace.
"Each of these diseases has its own biomarkers that the device would be able to sense," said Sherman Fan, a professor of biomedical engineering. "For diabetes, acetone is a marker, for example."
Other chemicals it could detect include nitric oxide and oxygen, abnormal levels of which can point to conditions such as high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. Read more ..
The Space Edge
|Elaine St. Peter||August 7th 2014|
Brigham and Women's Hospital
In an extensive study of sleep monitoring and sleeping pill use in astronauts, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Colorado found that astronauts suffer considerable sleep deficiency in the weeks leading up to and during space flight. The research also highlights widespread use of sleeping medication use among astronauts.
The study, published in The Lancet Neurology on August 8, 2014, recorded more than 4,000 nights of sleep on Earth, and more than 4,200 nights in space using data from 64 astronauts on 80 Shuttle missions and 21 astronauts aboard International Space Station (ISS) missions. The 10-year study is the largest study of sleep during space flight ever conducted. The study concludes that more effective countermeasures to promote sleep during space flight are needed in order to optimize human performance.
"Sleep deficiency is pervasive among crew members," stated Laura K. Barger, PhD, lead study author. "It's clear that more effective measures are needed to promote adequate sleep in crew members, both during training and space flight, as sleep deficiency has been associated with performance decrements in numerous laboratory and field-based studies." Read more ..
The Ecology on Edge
|Rosanne Skirble||August 6th 2014|
This week 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, could not drink the water. The city’s water supply was polluted with a toxin linked to the overgrowth of algae. A pea green scum settled over the city’s water intake pipes. For 72 hours the residents relied on handouts of bottled water, which one woman said was stressful. “I have four children and dogs at home," she said, as she picked up free water. “I wanted to make sure we had enough water to brush our teeth and be able to drink it.”
Toledo gets its water from Lake Erie, which is the source of fresh water for 11 million people in the American Midwest. Lake Erie is by no means unique. Algal overload is common in waterways worldwide caused by fertilizer runoff and poor sewage management. Excessive algae deplete oxygen in the water and kill fish says Laura Johnson, a research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Neha Okhandiar||August 5th 2014|
Quenn Mary, University of London
Scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have identified differences in the proteins present in young and old tendons, in new research that could guide the development of treatments to stop tissue breakdown from occurring.
Tendon structure in horses is similar to humans, and both face common injuries. The researchers used a horse model to undertake a thorough analysis of all the proteins and protein fragments present in healthy and injured tendons.
Working with scientists at the University of Liverpool, the team collected data, which shows that healthy, older tendons have a greater amount of fragmented material within them, suggesting accumulated damage over time that has not been fully repaired.
When examining injured tendons, the team found even more evidence of protein breakdown. However, whilst in younger tendons, the cells were active and trying to repair the damage, there was an accumulation of different protein fragments in older tendons. This suggests the cells somehow lose the ability to repair damage during the ageing process.
"Normal function of tendons, such as the Achilles, is important not just for Commonwealth athletes but for everyday activities for ordinary people," said co-author Dr Hazel Screen, a Reader in biomedical engineering at QMUL's School of Engineering and Materials Science and Institute of Bioengineering. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Dawn Fuller||August 4th 2014|
University of Cincinnat
A new e-memo for the boss: Online breaks at work can refresh workers and boost productivity. Early findings from a University of Cincinnati study will be presented on Aug. 5, at the 74th annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Philadelphia.
The study led by Sung Doo Kim, a doctoral candidate in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, opens a rare avenue of research into coping with technology-induced distractions in our contemporary society.
Previous research has focused on breaks during off-job hours such as evening, weekend and vacation periods, or on traditional “offline” breaks taken during working hours, such as lunch or coffee breaks. Given the prevalence of online work breaks, the UC study examined this phenomenon in depth, utilizing extensive one-on-one interviews about online breaks with 33 professionals from a variety of industries and occupations. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||August 3rd 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
An American physician who was stricken with the Ebola virus while helping victims in Liberia has returned to the United States, becoming the first known Ebola patient on U.S. soil. Dr. Kent Brantly was flown from Liberia to Atlanta GA on August 2 on a specially equipped chartered medical plane.
After arriving at a Georgia military base, he was transferred to an ambulance that become part of a convoy that traveled to Emory University Hospital, a medical facility in the city of Atlanta.
Television video from the hospital showed two people emerging from the ambulance in white, full-body protective suits and entering the facility. Dr. Brantly could be seen emerging from an ambulance, walking with the help of medical personnel. The Emory University Hospital is one of only four in the U.S. that is equipped to handle such cases. Dr. Brantly will be treated in an isolation unit that is separate from the other patient areas. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Lenny Ruvaga||August 2nd 2014|
The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country.
This is the 3D MakerBot printer in action. The machine is a scanner that prints three-dimensional objects of almost any shape from electronic data -- using plastic as its raw material. This drastically reduces costs.
Twenty-one year old Alois Mbutura is a first-year electrical engineering student at the University of Nairobi.
In March, he came up with the idea of a ‘vein finder’ -- a device that will help doctors administer intravenous needles to tiny infants. Today he is perfecting his design, which currently is in the prototype phase
This 3D printer can produce 100 such devices in a day. "The vein finder was actually a solution that the School of Health and School of Engineering partnered to reduce the inability of health care people to find veins in babies and also for it to be economical and suited to Kenya," said Mbutura.
Affordable production is the hallmark of this Fabrication Laboratory.
“FabLab” as it’s called, is a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication at the University of Nairobi. It is part of the international FabLab network which started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Kamau Gachigi heads the FabLab here. Established five years ago, its initial aim was to make ‘almost anything.’ But new innovations and expertise have changed that aim to make 'machines that make almost anything.’ There are some 400 FabLabs worldwide and two in Kenya. Gachigi believes they will promote the creation of an atmosphere and culture of innovation. Read more ..
|Thekla Hritz||July 31st 2014|
A new study led by an Australian scientist has revealed how massive, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs − the theropods − evolved into agile flyers: they just kept shrinking and shrinking, for over 50 million years.
Today, in the prestigious journal Science, the researchers present a detailed family tree of these dinosaurs and their bird descendants which maps out this unlikely transformation.
They showed that the branch of theropod dinosaurs which gave rise to modern birds were the only dinosaurs that kept getting inexorably smaller. These bird ancestors also evolved new adaptations (such as feathers, wishbones and wings) four times faster than other dinosaurs. Read more ..
The Race for Alt Energy
|Paul Buckley||July 30th 2014|
Physicists at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) working with Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory claim to have identified the 'quantum glue' that underlies a promising type of superconductivity. The discovery is a step towards the creation of energy superhighways that conduct electricity without current loss. The research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a collaboration between theoretical physicists led by Dirk Morr, professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and experimentalists led by Seamus J.C. Davis of Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The earliest superconducting materials required operating temperatures near absolute zero, or 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Unconventional 'High-temperature' superconductors function at slightly elevated temperatures and seemed to work differently from the first materials. Scientists hoped this difference hinted at the possibility of superconductors that could work at room temperature and be used to create energy superhighways. Read more ..
|Hannah Johnson||July 30th 2014|
Finland's love of milk has been traced back to 2500 BC thanks to high-tech techniques to analyse residues preserved in fragments of ancient pots. The Finns are the world's biggest milk drinkers today but experts had previously been unable to establish whether prehistoric dairy farming was possible in the harsh environment that far north, where there is snow for up to four months a year.
Research by the Universities of Bristol and Helsinki, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to identify that dairying took place at this latitude – 60 degrees north of the equator. This is equally as far north as Canada's Northwestern territories, Anchorage in Alaska, Southern Greenland and near Yakutsk in Siberia. Researchers used a series of techniques, not just to analyse the ancient pots, but also to look at modern-day Finnish peoples' ability to digest milk into adulthood. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|George Putic||July 29th 2014|
After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target - a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth.
Ten years ago, a European Space Agency rocket took off with a spacecraft called Rosetta, on a mission to perform the most detailed study of a comet.
While asteroids are large rocks, almost like small planets, comets are mostly made of ice, says Ralph Cordey, the business manager for Airbus Defense and Space, which built the Rosetta spacecraft.
“We know today that our Earth has a great deal of water on it, we don't know exactly where it came from and it's likely that comets had a lot to do with that process," said Cordey. It took more than 10 years for Rosetta to make three swings around Earth and one around Mars - gathering enough speed to reach the comet named 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 400,000 kilometers from Earth. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Denyse O'Leary||July 28th 2014|
Technology researcher Evgeny Morozov, author of Net Delusion : The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, worries about that. His basic thesis is,
… the Internet is a tool that both revolutionaries and authoritarian governments can use. For all of the talk in the West about the power of the Internet to democratize societies, regimes in Iran and China are as stable and repressive as ever. Social media sites have been used there to entrench dictators and threaten dissidents, making it harder—not easier—to promote democracy.
For example, after the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in January 2002, it created huge computer databases for the personal information of everyone in the United States (Total Information Awareness). This includes personal e-mails, social networks, credit card records, phone calls, medical records, and many other sources, without the need for a search warrant. Indeed, a search warrant might be a thing of the past. Chances are, the government already has the information. The agency was defunded, following an uproar. It is widely believed, however, that its programs (or similar programs) continue to run, under the umbrella of various other agencies, as whistleblower Edward Snowden has said. Read more ..
The Space Edge
|George Putic||July 28th 2014|
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, located 19 meters beneath the surface, some five kilometers off Key Largo, four U.S. astronauts prepare to visit an asteroid.
Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean waters, the four astronauts simulate the daily routine of a crew that would someday travel to collect samples from rocks orbiting the earth.
Part of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program, which is designed to test concepts related to future visits to near-Earth asteroids, the team is spending nine days within the 37-square-meter lab called Aquarius, which is operated by Florida International University. By conducting experiments and testing equipment and procedures, Astronaut Janette Epps says the group is recreating as close as possible the expected deep space mission.
“Commander Aki and I, we had to get ready to go out to do one of the mock spacewalks that we do underwater, and that took a little bit of time to get up and running because we had a few issues with communication in our helmets so that we can be able to talk to the crew inside the habitat and the topside," said Epps, explaining that she and her colleagues often encounter real-life problems. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Nicole Casal Moore||July 27th 2014|
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
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
|Benjamin Mattern||July 26th 2014|
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
|George Putic||July 25th 2014|
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
|Jennifer Chu||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
|Jennifer Chu||July 24th 2014|
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
|Laura Bailey||July 23rd 2014|
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
|Carolyn Presutti||July 22nd 2014|
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 ..
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