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The Ancient Edge

Ancient Mariners Brought Neolithic Culture to Europe

June 30th 2014

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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 ..


Science is a Winner-Take-All Game

May 30th 2014

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As new research documents growing inequalities in health and wealth, the gap between "haves" and "have-nots" is growing in the field of scientific research itself, says University of Michigan sociologist Yu Xie.

"It's surprising that more attention has not been paid to the large, changing inequalities in the world of scientific research, given the preoccupation with rising social and economic inequality in many countries," said Xie, research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research and professor of sociology, statistics and public policy.

The forces of globalization and internet technology have altered the intensities and mechanisms of the basic structure of inequalities in science, he points out.

In fact, Xie says, scientific outputs and rewards are much more unequally distributed than other outcomes of well-being such as education, earnings or health. Read more ..


The Anthropological Edge

Earliest Human DNA Shows Unforeseen Mixing with Mystery Population

May 29th 2014

Neanderthal man

Another ancient genome, another mystery. DNA gleaned from a 400,000-year-old femur from Spain has revealed an unexpected link between Europe’s hominin inhabitants of the time and a cryptic population, the Denisovans, who are known to have lived much more recently in southwestern Siberia.

The DNA, which represents the oldest hominin sequence yet published, has left researchers baffled because most of them believed that the bones would be more closely linked to Neanderthals than to Denisovans. “That’s not what I would have expected; that’s not what anyone would have expected,” says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at London’s Natural History Museum who was not involved in sequencing the femur DNA. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Hubble's Dazzling Mission Nears Its End

May 28th 2014

LL Orionis from Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope has changed the way we see the universe. For almost a quarter of a century, it has sent vast amounts of data and images from space. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington documents how Hubble’s remarkable success has hinged on its ability to be repaired and serviced in orbit. 

Hubble was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Mission Control saw something it hadn’t expected: fuzzy images. Hubble Space Telescope Program Manager Douglas Broome delivered the troubling news:

“The conclusion we’ve come to is that a significant spherical aberration appears to be present in the optics, in the optical telescope system optics,” he said. In other words - the outer edge of Hubble's primary mirror had been ground too flat, off by roughly one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. In 1993, a shuttle mission carried a replacement camera, WFPC2 and an instrument with corrective lenses called COSTAR for astronauts to install on the telescope. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Native American Skeleton 13,000 Years Old Discovered in Underwater Cave

May 27th 2014

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Cave-diving scientist Patricia A. Beddows of Northwestern University is a member of an international team of researchers and cave divers who recently their discovery in an underwater cave in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula one of the oldest human skeletons found in North America. Beddows is assistant chair and assistant professor of instruction in the department of Earth and planetary sciences in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Details about a teenage girl who researchers have dubbed 'Naia' was published in the journal Science. They theorize the girl went underground to seek water and fell to her death in a large pit named Hoyo Negro ("black hole" in Spanish). Read more ..


The Graphene Edge

Kitchen Blender Mixes Up 'Wonder' Material

May 25th 2014

Graphene carbon mesh

A relatively new substance called graphene is being hailed as the wonder material of the 21st century, but no one has developed a way to mass produce it. However, one Irish scientist says he may have a solution.

Graphite is another name for pure carbon, a well-known material used for - among other things - pencil lead.

But when the layers of graphite are separated into sheets only one atom thick, the material, known as graphene, behaves quite differently. At that level, the atoms form strict geometric patterns, making it not only stronger than steel but also the best conductor of heat and electricity.

Theoretically, graphene could radically change the way we manufacture batteries, computer chips and flexible screens, or approach cancer therapy. Industry experts say separating and manipulating extremely thin sheets of graphene is a huge challenge. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Tiny Muscles Help Bats Fine-Tune Flight

May 24th 2014

Bat and moth

Bats appear to use a network of hair-thin muscles in their wing skin to control the stiffness and shape of their wings as they fly, according to a new study. The finding provides new insight about the aerodynamic fine-tuning of membrane wings, both natural and man-made. A new study of bats reveals a capability within their wondrous wings that may help them fine-tune their flight.

Bats employ a network of nearly hair-thin muscles embedded in the membrane of their inherently floppy wing skin to adjust the wings’ stiffness and curvature while they fly, Brown University researchers report. Birds and insects have stiff wings, but the new evidence suggests bats have evolved this muscular means of preserving or adjusting wing shape.

“Aerodynamic performance depends upon wing shape,” said Brown biology graduate student Jorn Cheney, lead author of the newly published paper in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. “The shape of a membrane wing might initially begin flat but as soon as it starts producing lift it’s not going to remain flat because it has to deform in response to that aerodynamic load. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Blowing In The (Stellar) Wind

May 22nd 2014

Solar System Birth

When a supernova – the explosion of a giant star —was discovered last year, astrophysicists, with the help of telescopes around the globe, rushed to observe the fireworks. With its dramatic dying flares, this star – a rare type more than 10 times the mass of our sun – can tell us something about the life of these fascinating cosmic bodies, as well as helping paint the picture of how all the heavier elements in the universe are formed.

To understand the star that produced the supernova, the researchers identified the mix of elements that was thrown off right before the explosion began. Prof. Avishay Gal-Yam of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics explains that the star can be identified by the proportion of such elements as carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen detected in the material ejected into space. These elements are created in the nuclear fusion that powers some stars. For example, in our own sun, hydrogen – the lightest atom – fuses to make helium and stops there; but in the massive, hot stars, fusion continues as helium atoms unite to form heavier elements, all the way up to iron. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Pulsed Electrical Fields Destroy Antibiotic-Resistent Bacteria in Burn Injuries

May 21st 2014

emergency room

Application of a technology currently used to disinfect food products may help to get around one of the most challenging problems in medicine today, the proliferation of bacteria resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs. In a paper appearing in the June issue of the journal Technology and already released online, investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Engineering in Medicine describe how the use of microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage non-thermal electric fields successfully killed resistant bacteria infecting experimentally induced burns in mice, reducing bacterial levels up to 10,000-fold.

"Pulsed electrical field technology has the advantages of targeting numerous bacterial species and penetrating the full thickness of a wound," says Alexander Golberg, PhD, of the MGH Center for Engineering in Medicine (MGH-CEM), first author of the paper. "This could lead to a completely new means of burn wound disinfection without using antibiotics, which can increase bacterial resistance." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Scientists Study Biomechanics Behind Amazing Ant Strength

May 20th 2014

leaf-cutter ants

A recent study into the biomechanics of the necks of ants – a common insect that can amazingly lift objects many times heavier than its own body – might unlock one of nature’s little mysteries and, quite possibly, open the door to advancements in robotic engineering.

A small group of engineers at The Ohio State University combined laboratory testing and computational modeling An electron microscope shows the neck region of the Allegheny mound ant.conducted at the Ohio Supercomputer Center to determine the relationship between the mechanical function, structural design and material properties of the Allegheny mound ant (Formica exsectoides). Their results were recently published in an article, “The exoskeletal structure and tensile loading behavior of an ant neck joint,” in the Journal of Biomechanics.Carlos Castro, Ph.D. Read more ..


The Robotic Edge

New Robotic Arm Can Grasp Moving Objects

May 18th 2014

Metal Mickey

An international team of engineers based in Switzerland built a robotic arm that learned to perform complex movements.

The term "robotic arm" covers a variety of mechanical devices — from robots that weld automotive chassis to emotely controlled cranes on the International Space Station. In between are artificial arms developed for humanoid robots or people who have lost limbs.

Developed at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, the device, built in cooperation with robotic manufacturer Simlab, is even capable of grabbing flying objects.

According to researcher Seungsu Kim, the arm's processor takes only milliseconds to calculate three primary parameters.

"First thing is to predict the whole trajectory," said Kim. "Second is finding the best catching posture, and third is generation of arm motion."

But what most of us know how to do instinctively, the robotic arm had to learn from scratch.

While catching a tennis racquet is easy compared to catching, say, a half-empty bottle of water with liquid sloshing in flight, unpredictably changing its trajectory, researcher Ashwini Shukla says different objects were thrown in its direction many times until the processor learned to compare and predict flight patterns.

“We teach the robot how to reach towards an object from many different directions, and from that same time we teach it the coordination it needs to have between the arm and the fingers to be able to successfully catch the object," said Shukla. The team's leader, Professor Aude Billard, is especially proud of their achievement. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

'Body Clock' Dysregulation Underlies Obesity

May 14th 2014

Obese man

A team of Texas A&M University System scientists have investigated how "body clock dysregulation" might affect obesity-related metabolic disorders.

The team was led by Dr. Chaodong Wu and Dr. David Earnest,from the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Study results were published recently on the Journal of Biological Chemistry website at http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2014/04/25/jbc.M113.539601.

"Animal sleeping and eating patterns, including those of humans, are subject to a circadian rhythmicity," Earnest said. "And previous studies have shown an association between the dysregulation of circadian or body clock rhythms and some metabolic disorders."

Wu said circadian clocks in peripheral tissues and cells drive daily rhythms and coordinate many physiological processes, including inflammation and metabolism. "And recent scientific observations suggest that disruption of circadian clock regulation plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes," he noted. Read more ..


The Racde for Batteries

Thin-Film Battery for Wearable Electronics Requires No Lithium

May 13th 2014

Baby Boomer

A research team from Rice University has developed a flexible material with nanoporous nickel-fluoride electrodes layered around a solid electrolyte to deliver battery-like supercapacitor performance. 

The material combines the best qualities of a high-energy battery and a high-powered supercapacitor without the lithium found in commercial batteries.

The development by Rice chemist James Tour and his colleagues puts flexible, portable and wearable electronics in its sights with the creation of a thin film for energy storage. The research is detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The electrochemical capacitor is about a hundredth of an inch thick but can be scaled up for devices either by increasing the size or adding layers, said Rice postdoctoral researcher Yang Yang, co-lead author of the paper with graduate student Gedeng Ruan. The researchers expect that standard manufacturing techniques may allow the battery to be even thinner. In tests, the students found their square-inch device held 76 percent of its capacity over 10,000 charge-discharge cycles and 1,000 bending cycles. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Melting Antarctic Ice Cap Appears Unstoppable

May 13th 2014

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A rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in irreversible decline, with nothing to stop the entire glacial basin from disappearing into the sea, according to researchers at UC Irvine and NASA.

The new study presents multiple lines of evidence – incorporating 40 years of observations – that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine Earth system science professor who is also with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Read more ..


The Edge of Biology

Surprising Truth About Cell Wall Growth

May 12th 2014

yeast cell membranes

Researchers use new techniques to document how cells can conceal growth, then suddenly swell like raisins into grapes; study is a 'paradigm shift' in understanding osmotic shock that may lead to new strategies for fighting bacterial disease.

For a century biologists have thought they understood how the gooey growth that occurs inside cells caused their protective outer walls to expand. Now, using new microscopic video techniques, Stanford researchers have captured the visual evidence to prove the prevailing wisdom wrong.

"What we observed was not what we had expected," said K.C. Huang, PhD. The article, which describes a process known as "osmotic shock," was co-authored by Julie Theriot, a professor at Stanford's School of Medicine.

The researchers believe their discovery about the surprising resilience of cell wall growth may help explain why seemingly fragile bacteria such as E. coli can thrive in environments as different as puddles and stomachs. Enrique Rojas, PhD, is now in Bangladesh trying to apply this knowledge to help fight cholera. Gurol Suel, PhD, hailed the discovery as "a paradigm shift." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Create a Realistic Virtual Universe

May 9th 2014

Move over, Matrix - astronomers have done you one better. They have created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris." Illustris can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.

"Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously," says lead author Mark Vogelsberger (MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who conducted the work in collaboration with researchers at several institutions, including the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany.

These results are being reported in the journal Nature.

Previous attempts to simulate the universe were hampered by lack of computing power and the complexities of the underlying physics. As a result those programs either were limited in resolution, or forced to focus on a small portion of the universe. Earlier simulations also had trouble modeling complex feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes. Read more ..


The Edge of Ecology

Shrimp Shells Could Provide Biodegradable Plastic Alternative

May 8th 2014

Ocean-Plastic

A substance found in the shells crustaceans and parts of insects could provide the world with an abundant and environmentally friendly way to replace many plastics.

It’s called chitosan, a resilient form of chitin, which researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering say is the “the second-most abundant organic material on Earth.”

Chitin is a tough polysaccharide found in the shells of crustaceans. After Wyss announced its progress making chitosan-based materials in March, they were approached by a variety of companies and entrepreneurs eager to learn about it and explore possible commercial uses, said Javier Fernandez, a lead researcher on the project. Read more ..


The Edge of Evolution

Dinosaur Descendants Shrank to Survive

May 7th 2014

T-Rex (AMNH)

Not all dinosaurs went extinct. Some are alive today in the form of birds. A new study finds that shrinking helped these birds continue to thrive and evolve. 

“If we really want to know how birds came about, then we need to study the line leading to birds, which includes this big diversity of animals like triceratops and stegosaurus and T. Rex,” said Roger Benson, associate professor of paleontology at Oxford University and lead author of the study reported PLOS Biology.

His team followed the evolution more than 400 dinosaurs, noting their size and what they weighed. 

“The largest dinosaur in our study we believed weighed 90 tons, and the smallest dinosaur was a bird called Qiliania and that weighed 15 grams," Benson said. "So you could fit Qiliania six million times inside Argentinosaurus, the largest dinosaur.” Since these species are extinct, Benson's team calculated that weight with an analysis of fossil limbs which, like pillars, would hold up the weight of the dinosaur. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Blood of Young Mice Reverses Signs of Aging in Older Ones

May 5th 2014

Mouse in Beaker

Two new studies show that young blood reverses signs of aging in old mice, but that doesn't mean scientists have finally found the elusive fountain of youth. However, the discovery could one day help people lead healthier lives.

In two papers published in Science, Harvard University researchers in Boston describe how the protein GDF11, found in higher levels in the blood of young mice, improved the brain and muscle function of older mice.

GDF11 appears to work by stimulating the development of new blood vessels. The protein is also present in humans. In one experiment, researchers increased the levels of GDF11 in aging mice by surgically connecting the circulatory systems of young mice to the old rodents. 

Blood containing higher levels of GDF11 flowed through the veins of both animals. In another experiment, they injected the protein into elderly mice. Scientists saw the greatest improvement in function in mice that shared the same blood supply.

Investigators saw the formation of new blood vessels and improved blood flow in older mice, which they say reversed signs of aging in every tissue they looked at. Researcher Lee Rubin, professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard's Stem Cell Institute, and his team investigated the effect of GDF11 on brain tissue.

"So, this simple surgery, infusing an old mouse with young blood, actually produced some structural changes in the old brain, making the old brain, in essence, more like [a] young brain," he said. "And some people have used the phrase 'rejuvenating the old brain.' And similar things were observed in other tissues." Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Heat-Hardy Corals Could Help Save Dying Reefs

May 4th 2014

Coral reef and fish

A new study on heat-tolerant corals that may lead to new ways of conserving reefs in a warmer world. 

Coral reefs are home to about one-third of everything that lives in the ocean.

Reefs help protect coasts from storm damage and provide food and jobs for some one billion people. But rising ocean temperatures and increasing acidity are killing them at a rapid pace.

As much as 80 percent of the corals in the Caribbean are dead, as are nearly 75 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest reef on the planet.

A research team led by marine biologist Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University, compared a single coral species living in two adjacent ponds in a remote Pacific Island lagoon in Samoa. One pool reached 35 degrees Celsius, a higher temperature than most corals can withstand. The other was a few degrees cooler. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Edible Anti-Microbial Films Inhibit Dangerous Pathogens in Meat Products

May 2nd 2014

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Antimicrobial agents incorporated into edible films applied to foods to seal in flavor, freshness and color can improve the microbiological safety of meats, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Using films made of pullulan -- an edible, mostly tasteless, transparent polymer produced by the fungus Aureobasidium pulluns -- researchers evaluated the effectiveness of films containing essential oils derived from rosemary, oregano and nanoparticles against foodborne pathogens associated with meat and poultry.

The results demonstrate that the bacterial pathogens were inhibited significantly by the use of the antimicrobial films, said Catherine Cutter, professor of food science. She hopes that the research will lead to the application of edible, antimicrobial films to meat and poultry, either before packaging or, more likely, as part of the packaging process. Read more ..


Edge of Molecular Biology

Resiliency of Cells in DNA Management is a Surprise

April 30th 2014

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New research shows that cells are more resilient in taking care of their DNA than scientists originally thought. Even when missing critical components, cells can adapt and make copies of their DNA in an alternative way.

In a study published in this week’s Cell Reports, a team of researchers at Michigan State University showed that cells can grow normally without a crucial component needed to duplicate their DNA.

“Our genetic information is stored in DNA, which has to be continuously monitored for damage and copied for growth,” said Kefei Yu, MSU Professor. “If the cell is unable to make copies of its DNA or if it overlooks mistakes in its structure, it can lead to cell death or the production of cancerous cells.”

But the study shows that cells are much more flexible in managing their DNA than we thought. When they lack the gadgets required to replicate DNA, they adapt and use other tools instead. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Scientists Decode Tsetse Fly Genome

April 26th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

Scientists have mapped the genetic code of the tsetse fly, the insect responsible for African sleeping sickness.  They said the findings could lead to better repellents and control efforts and boost vaccine research.

The World Health Organization reports African sleeping sickness occurs in 36 sub-Saharan countries. The bite of a tsetse fly transmits parasites that could eventually reach the central nervous system causing confusion, sensory problems and poor coordination. It also disrupts the sleep cycle giving the disease its name.

The WHO said drug treatment is “complex,” but without it the disease is usually fatal. Efforts to control tsetse populations brought the number of new cases below 10,000 for the first time in 2009. In 2012, just over 7,200 new cases were reported.

Serap Aksoy is a professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health. She and her colleagues in the U.S., Africa and elsewhere began searching the tsetse fly’s DNA for its genetic code 10 years ago. The WHO provided initial funding. In all, the project cost $10 million. Read more ..


Nanotechnology Edge

Chameleon Crystals Promise Color-Changing Camouflage

April 24th 2014

The ability to control crystals with light and chemistry could lead to chameleon-style color-changing camouflage for vehicle bodies and other surfaces.

University of Michigan researchers discovered a template-free method for growing shaped crystals that allows for changeable structures that could appear as different colors and patterns.

One source of color in crystal structures is the spacing between the particles that make up the crystal. The spacing can determine which colors of light the crystal absorbs and which it reflects, resulting in the visible color. By changing the spacing and other aspects of the crystal structure, it is possible to change the color.

The researchers have found a way to control a crystal on the fly as it forms in a solution of latex paint microparticles, around 0.001 millimeters in diameter, in a kerosene-like fluid. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Laws Slow to Catch Up With 3-D Printing

April 23rd 2014

3 D Printer

As prices of 3-D printers continue to fall, experts are increasingly calling for reconsideration of copyright laws that protect the owners of patents and designs. However, they also warn that overreaching laws could stifle new ideas.

Very rapidly, 3-D printers have spread from scientific labs to industrial workshops to private homes.

The range of available machines is on display at 3D print shows, like one held last November in London - from sophisticated models that can print complex objects, such as replicas of human organs, to more affordable machines that make children’s toys or parts for home appliances.

A German firm recently displayed a prototype of a car chassis printed in one piece, while a Chinese manufacturer advertised a house created in a 3-D printer.

With the help of a computer, practically anyone can print exact copies of a variety of objects - and potentially violate the law.

“If a certain design that you want to print is covered by copyright, then if you print that you are infringing, arguably, someone's copyright," said Julie Samuels, a senior staff attorney with the U.S. civil liberties group, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

But 3-D companies warn that passing more restrictive copyright protection laws could impede both citizens’ rights and technological innovation. Several decades ago, legislatures and the music industry were equally slow to adjust when suddenly anyone could copy music, first to magnetic and now electronic media.

But just as in the music industry, the founder of the website 3DPlus.me, Cydni Tetro, says she expects to see 3-D licenses very soon. “All of those companies are in very active engagements right now about how they'll deploy 3-D printed products over the next year, and we're going to see that," said Tetro. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Progress Made in Deveoping Nanoscale Electronics

April 22nd 2014

nanowire

Scientists are facing a number of barriers as they try to develop circuits that are microscopic in size, including how to reliably control the current that flows through a circuit that is the width of a single molecule.

Alexander Shestopalov, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, has done just that, thereby taking us one step closer to nanoscale circuitry.

"Until now, scientists have been unable to reliably direct a charge from one molecule to another," said Shestopalov. "But that's exactly what we need to do when working with electronic circuits that are one or two molecules thin."

Shestopalov worked with an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) powered by a microscopically small, simple circuit in which he connected a one-molecule thin sheet of organic material between positive and negative electrodes. Recent research publications have shown that it is difficult to control the current traveling through the circuit from one electrode to the other in such a thin circuit. As Shestopalov explains in a paper published in the journal Advanced Material Interfaces, the key was adding a second, inert layer of molecules. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

DNA Clues Suggest How Chickens Came to Be

April 21st 2014

Click to select Image

Ancient DNA adds a twist to the story of how barnyard chickens came to be, finds a study to be published April 21 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Analyzing DNA from the bones of chickens that lived 200-2300 years ago in Europe, researchers report that just a few hundred years ago domestic chickens may have looked far different from the chickens we know today.

The results suggest that some of the traits we associate with modern domestic chickens -- such as their yellowish skin -- only became widespread in the last 500 years, much more recently than previously thought.

"It's a blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective," said co-author Greger Larson at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

The study is part of a larger field of research that aims to understand when, where and how humans turned wild plants and animals into the crops, pets and livestock we know today.

Generally, any mutations that are widespread in domestic plants and animals but absent from their wild relatives are assumed to have played a key role in the process, spreading as people and their livestock moved across the globe. But a growing number of ancient DNA studies tell a different tale. Read more ..



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