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The Edge of Medicine

Math May Determine Best HIV Drug Combinations

February 24th 2012

HIV/AIDS

Treating people infected with the AIDS virus involves using a combination of antiretroviral drugs. But some combinations work better than others. Now, a mathematical formula has been developed that may eventually help doctors decide which drugs to use. Prescribing a cocktail of drugs has become the gold standard in preventing HIV from replicating. It’s called HAART, which stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy. The cocktail combinations may be changed periodically to prevent the virus from building up resistance. The new mathematical formula is based on a 5-year analysis of how the drugs keep HIV in check.

Dr. Robert Siliciano, senior study investigator and a specialist in infectious disease, said, “I’ve always been interested in why some combinations of HIV drugs work well and some don’t. Most of the progress in the HIV treatment field in terms of deciding which treatments should be used in patients has been based on empirical studies – trial and error clinical trials – in which different combinations are tested against each other. And you look at how many patients after one year of treatment have (an) undetectable level of virus.” Siliciano is a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “There hasn’t been a lot of theoretical basis of why some combinations should work better than others. [With] what we know about how the virus replicates, it should be possible at least to predict some aspects of treatment outcome, specifically how well the drugs actually inhibit the virus,” he said. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Glasses-less 3-D coming to future TVs

February 23rd 2012

3D tv

Future televisions will be smarter, more intuitive and feature even more technically logical advanced displays, according to a panel of experts at the International Solid State Circuits Conference on Tuesday (February 21). Among the technologies that will become more prevalent in coming years are glasses-less 3-D technology and free-viewpoint television (FTV)—a a visual media that allows users to view a 3-D scene by freely changing the viewpoint, as if they were there, panelists said.

"Over the last few years, there have been big changes in mobile phones and communication devices. I think similar changes will happen in television, as well," said David Min, vice president of LG Electronics' software center. "However, I think the changes that will happen in TV will be somewhat different from what has happened in mobile phones." Read more ..


The Edge of Health

How Dirty Medical Devices Expose Patients to Infection

February 23rd 2012

Surgical Instruments

It seemed simple enough at the time. In 2009, John Harrison, a 63-year-old oil industry sales manager in Mission, Texas, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a routine procedure that usually requires at most a single night’s stay in the hospital, followed by physical therapy. For Harrison, however, there was nothing routine about the ordeal that ensued. In the weeks following the surgery, his scar turned bright red, hot to the touch, and oozed thick fluid that looked “like butter squeezed from a bag.” Alarmed, Harrison’s wife Laura called The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where the surgery was performed. The doctor urged Harrison to immediately make the seven-hour drive back to Houston for an emergency checkup. That night, surgeons opened up Harrison’s shoulder and found that infection had eaten away part of his shoulder bone and rotator cuff. Screws and metal hardware surgeons placed in his shoulder had pulled loose. Sutures had come undone. Surgeons cleaned out Harrison’s shoulder, installed two drains and gave him antibiotics to battle the infection. Read more ..


The Edge Of Nature

Keeping Your Plants Stress Free

February 22nd 2012

pea-plant

Plenty of people talk to their plants, believing it encourages them to grow. And although plants can't talk back, an Israeli research group has discovered that they do manage to exchange vital information with each other. The team, led by Prof. Ariel Novoplansky of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found that plants are able to perceive and respond to warning signals emitted from the roots of stressed neighbors. They can even actively anticipate coming perils and stresses, such as drought, by picking up on vibes from their buddies.

"We tested the hypothesis that unstressed plants are able to respond to stress cues emitted from their stressed neighbors and, in turn, induce stress responses in additional unstressed plants located further away from the stressed plants," said Novoplansky, who works at the Swiss Institute for Dryland Environmental and Energy Research of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

IBM’s Incriminating Holocaust-era Documents to be Published in Author’s New Edition

February 21st 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.

The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.

The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.

The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Prehistoric 300-Million-Year-Old Forest Discovered and Characterized

February 21st 2012

Volcano

Pompeii-like, a 300-million-year-old tropical forest was preserved in ash when a volcano erupted in what is today northern China. A new study by University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn and colleagues presents a reconstruction of this fossilized forest, lending insight into the ecology and climate of its time. Pfefferkorn, a professor in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science, collaborated on the work with three Chinese colleagues: Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University. Their paper will be published next week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study site, located near Wuda, China, is unique as it gives a snapshot of a moment in time. Because volcanic ash covered a large expanse of forest over the course of only a few days, the plants were preserved as they fell, in many cases in the exact locations where they grew. "It's marvelously preserved," said Pfefferkorn. "We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That's really exciting." The researchers also found some smaller trees with leaves, branches, trunk and cones intact, preserved in their entirety. Read more ..


Edge of Physics

UK Takes Lead in Redefining the Kilogram

February 20th 2012

Kilo

New research, published by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), takes a significant step towards changing the international definition of the kilogram – which is currently based on a lump of platinum-iridium kept in Paris. NPL has produced technology capable of accurate measurements of Planck's constant, the final piece of the puzzle in moving from a physical object to a kilogram based on fundamental constants of nature. The techniques are described in a paper published in Metrologia on the 20th February. The international system of units (SI) is the most widely used system of measurement for commerce and science. It comprises seven base units (metre, kilogram, second, Kelvin, ampere, mole and candela). Ideally these should be stable over time and universally reproducible, which requires definitions based on fundamental constants of nature. The kilogram is the only unit still defined by a physical artifact.

In October 2011, the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) agreed that the kilogram should be redefined in terms of Planck's constant (h). It deferred a final decision until there was sufficient consistent and accurate data to agree a value for h. This paper describes how this can be done with the required level of certainty. It provides a measured value of h and extensive analysis of possible uncertainties that can arise during experimentation. Although these results alone are not enough, consistent results from other measurement institutes using the techniques and technology described in this paper will provide an even more accurate consensus value and a change to the way the world measures mass – possibly as soon as 2014. Read more ..


The Canine Edge

Scientists Find a Notable Improvement in Quality of Life Following Successful Weight Loss in Obese Dogs

February 20th 2012

rottweiler

Owners of obese dogs that are successful in losing weight notice significant improvement in their dogs' health-related quality of life, a collaborative team of researchers has shown. The research was conducted by scientists from the University of Liverpool (UK), the Pain and Welfare Group at the University of Glasgow (UK), ROYAL CANIN and the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition.

The study involved fifty obese dogs, representing a mix of breeds and genders that had been referred to the ROYAL CANIN Weight Management Clinic based at the University of Liverpool. Owners were asked to complete a standardised questionnaire to determine the health-related quality of life of their dog prior to weight loss. Owners of the thirty dogs that successfully completed the weight loss programme and reached their target weight then completed a follow-up questionnaire. The completed questionnaire responses were converted into scores corresponding to a range of factors, including vitality, emotional disturbance and pain.

The results showed that quality of life improved in the dogs that successfully lost weight, as seen by their increased vitality scores and decreased scores for emotional disturbance and pain. The improvements in vitality score were greater the more body fat the dogs lost. The research also found that the dogs that failed to complete their weight loss programme had lower vitality and higher emotional disturbance scores than those successfully losing weight. "Obesity is a risk for many dogs, affecting not only their health, but also their quality of life," said lead study author, Dr. Alexander German from the University of Liverpool. "This research indicates that, for obese dogs, weight loss can be important for staying both healthy and happy." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Smart Appliance Shipments to Exceed 24 Million Units by 2017, but High Prices Remain a Barrier

February 19th 2012

Smart Home

Like the closely-linked market for home energy management systems (HEMS), the smart appliances market has, so far, failed to take off as many had expected. Many products are still involved in small pilots and have failed to hit retail outlets in any large number. However, shipments will soon begin to pick up and exceed 24 million units by 2017.

With smart meter deployment growing apace, energy costs following a seemingly upward trajectory, and progress made on improving interoperability of all aspects of the smart grid, it is only a matter of time before shipments gather momentum. However, it is likely that it will take a couple of years for ultra-premium price tags to erode and for dynamic pricing structures to become more widely implemented in order to titillate consumer demand. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Nanoparticles May Enhance Cancer Therapy

February 18th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A mixture of current drugs and carbon nanoparticles shows potential to enhance treatment for head-and-neck cancers, especially when combined with radiation therapy, according to new research by Rice University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The work blazes a path for further research into therapy customized to the needs of individual patients. The therapy uses carbon nanoparticles to encapsulate chemotherapeutic drugs and sequester them until they are delivered to the cancer cells they are meant to kill.

A paper on the research was published this month in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. Read more ..


The Edge of Ecology

Phytoplankton Key to a Healthy Planet

February 18th 2012

phytoplankton

Maria (Maite) Maldonado, Canada Research Chair in Phytoplankton Trace Metal Physiology at The University of British Columbia, has made understanding the intricacies of marine phytoplankton her life's work. These tiny, single-celled algae, which act as a natural sponge for carbon dioxide and are a critical part of the global carbon cycle, may play a key role in ensuring the health of the planet.

Maldonado will discuss her research and answer questions from the media as part of the February 17 Canada Press Breakfast on the Arctic and oceans. The breakfast will be part of the 178th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to be held in Vancouver, and will feature a variety of prominent researchers.

Why the emphasis on phytoplankton? Phytoplankton form the base of the ocean food chain, have an integral role in controlling global warming and provide more than half of our oxygen supply. Read more ..


Edge of Archaeology

Fossilized Pollen Reveals Gardens of Ancient Days

February 18th 2012

ramat rahel rendering
Artist's rendering of ancient Ramat Rahel

Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramat Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden. Since excavators discovered the garden with its advanced irrigation system, they could only imagine what the original garden might have looked like in full bloom -- until now.

Using a unique technique for separating fossilized pollen from the layers of plaster found in the garden's waterways, researchers fromTel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology have now been able to identify what grew in the ancient royal gardens of Ramat Rahel. And based on the garden's archaeological clues, they have been able to reconstruct the lay-out of the garden. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Researchers Warn Nanoparticles in Food, Vitamins could Harm Human Health

February 17th 2012

Chinese buffet

Billions of engineered nanoparticles in foods and pharmaceuticals are ingested by humans daily, and new Cornell research warns they may be more harmful to health than previously thought. A research collaboration led by Michael Shuler, a professor of Chemical Engineering and chair of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, studied how large doses of polystyrene nanoparticles – a common, FDA-approved substance found in substances ranging from food additives to vitamins – affected how well chickens absorbed iron, an essential nutrient, into their cells. The results were reported online Feb. 12 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

According to the study, high-intensity, short-term exposure to the particles initially blocked iron absorption, whereas longer-term exposure caused intestinal cell structures to change, allowing for a compensating uptick in iron absorption. The researchers tested both acute and chronic nanoparticle exposure using human gut cells in petri dishes as well as live chickens and reported matching results. They chose chickens because these animals absorb iron into their bodies similarly to humans, and they are similarly sensitive to micronutrient deficiencies. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Mother of Pearl Tells a Tale of Ocean Temperature, Depth

February 17th 2012

Mother of Pearl

Nacre -- or mother of pearl, scientists and artisans know, is one of nature's amazing utilitarian materials. Produced by a multitude of mollusk species, nacre is widely used in jewelry and art. It is inlaid into musical instruments, furniture and decorative boxes. Fashioned into buttons, beads and a host of functional objects from pens to flatware, mother of pearl lends a lustrous iridescence to everyday objects. In recent years, subjecting the material to the modern tools of scientific analysis, scientists have divined the fine points of nacre architecture and developed models to help explain its astonishing durability: 3,000 times more fracture resistant than the mineral from which it is made, aragonite.

Now, in a new report (Thursday, Feb. 16) in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison show that nacre can also be deployed in the interest of science as a hard-wired thermometer and pressure sensor, revealing both the temperature and ocean depth at which the material formed. "We found a strong correlation between the temperature at which nacre was deposited during the life of the mollusk and water temperature," explains Pupa Gilbert, a UW-Madison professor of physics and chemistry and the senior author of the new JACS report. "All other (temperature) proxies are based on chemical analyses and the relative concentration of different elements or isotopes. This could be our first physical proxy, in which the microscopic structure of the material tells us the maximum temperature and maximum pressure at which the mollusk lived." Read more ..


Edge of Medicine

Fever Control using External Cooling Reduces Early Mortality in Septic Shock Patients

February 17th 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

Fever control using external cooling in sedated patients with septic shock is safe and decreases vasopressor requirements and early mortality, according to a new study from researchers in France. "The benefits and risks of fever control in patients with severe sepsis remains a matter of controversy," said lead author Frédérique Schortgen, MD, PhD, of the Henri Mondor Hospital in Créteil, France. "In our study, external cooling to achieve normothermia in patients with septic shock was safe, accelerated hemodynamic stabilization, decreased vasopressor requirements, increased the rate of shock reversal, and decreased early mortality." The findings were published online ahead of print publication in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In the multicenter trial, 200 febrile adults with septic shock from seven participating ICUs, all of whom were receiving vasopressor treatment, mechanical ventilation and sedation, were randomized to external cooling (n = 101) or no external cooling (n = 99). Patients underwent cooling for 48 hours to maintain a core body temperature between 36.5°C and 37°C. Vasopressors were tapered to maintain a mean arterial pressure target of 65 mmHg or more in both groups. After two hours of treatment, body temperature was significantly lower in the cooling group. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Pocket-size Microscope Accessory Enables Mobiles to Magnify Accurately to One Hundredth of a Millimetre

February 16th 2012

Technology - Mobile phone foto app

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed an optical accessory that turns an ordinary camera phone into a high-resolution microscope. The device is accurate to one hundredth of a millimetre. Among those who will benefit from the device are the printing industry, consumers, the security business, and even health care professionals. A new Finnish enterprise called KeepLoop Oy and VTT are already exploring the commercial potential of the invention. The first industrial applications and consumer models will be released in early 2012.

The operation of the device is based on images produced by the combined effect of an LED light and an optical lens. Various surfaces and structures can be examined in microscopic detail and the phone's camera used to take sharp, high-resolution images that can be forwarded as MMS messages.
An ordinary mobile phone turns into an instant microscope by attaching a thin, magnetic microscope module in front of the camera’s normal lens. The device fits easily in the user’s pocket, unlike conventional tubular microscopes. Read more ..


Edge of the Mind

Puzzle Play May Help Boost Learning Math-Related Skills

February 16th 2012

Health/Medicine - Black infant

Children who play with puzzles between ages 2 and 4 later develop better spatial skills, a study by University of Chicago researchers has found. Puzzle play was found to be a significant predictor of cognition after controlling for differences in parents' income, education and the overall amount of parent language input. In examining video recordings of parents interacting with children during everyday activities at home, researchers found children who play with puzzles between 26 and 46 months of age have better spatial skills when assessed at 54 months of age. "The children who played with puzzles performed better than those who did not, on tasks that assessed their ability to rotate and translate shapes," said psychologist Susan Levine, a leading expert on mathematics development in young children.

The ability to mentally transform shapes is an important predictor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) course-taking, degrees and careers in older children. Activities such as early puzzle play may lay the groundwork for the development of this ability, the study found. Levine, the Stella M. Rowley Professor in Psychology at UChicago, is lead author on a paper, "Early Puzzle Play: A Predictor of Preschoolers' Spatial Transformation Skill," published in the current early view issue of Developmental Science. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Dog Owners More Likely to Achieve Recommended Activity Levels During Pregnancy

February 16th 2012

Social Topics - Pregnant

Research has shown that pregnant women who own dogs are more physically active than those who don't. Researchers found that, through brisk walking, pregnant women who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes activity per day. The study assessed over 11,000 pregnant women in the UK using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and is the first of its kind to look specifically at the effects of dog ownership on activity levels during pregnancy. It therefore provides valuable new insights that could have important implications for maintaining women's health during pregnancy.

There is growing concern surrounding the health risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that maternal obesity can lead to an increased risk of a range of health complications and may even be linked to childhood obesity. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those considering pregnancy, should take steps to manage their weight and ensure regular exercise under guidance from their healthcare provider. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Watch “Instant Replay” of Powerful Stellar Eruption

February 16th 2012

Science - eta carinae
Eta Carinae in 1996 (credit: Nathan Smith (UC Berkeley), NASA)

Astronomers are watching the astronomical equivalent of an instant replay of a spectacular outburst from the unstable, behemoth double-star system Eta Carinae, which was initially seen on Earth nearly 170 years ago. Astrophysicists affiliated with UC Santa Barbara and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) contributed to the study.

Dubbed the “Great Eruption,” the outburst lasted from 1837 to 1858 and temporarily made Eta Carinae the second brightest star in the sky. But luckily for today’s astronomers, some of the light from the eruption took an indirect path to Earth and is just arriving now. The wayward light was heading in a different direction, away from our planet, when it bounced off dust lingering far from the turbulent stars and was rerouted to Earth, an effect called a “light echo.” Because of its longer path, the light reached Earth 170 years later than the light that arrived directly. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Hubble Zooms in on a Magnified Galaxy

February 14th 2012

Science - Hubble: Gravity-lensed Galaxy
credit: NASA; ESA; J. Rigby; K. Sharon

Thanks to the presence of a natural “zoom lens” in space, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope got a uniquely close-up look at the brightest “magnified” galaxy yet discovered.

This observation provides a unique opportunity to study the physical properties of a galaxy vigorously forming stars when the universe was only one-third its present age.

A so-called gravitational lens is produced when space is warped by a massive foreground object, whether it is the sun, a black hole or an entire cluster of galaxies. The light from more-distant background objects is distorted, brightened and magnified as it passes through this gravitationally disturbed region.

A team of astronomers led by Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., aimed Hubble at one of the most striking examples of gravitational lensing, a nearly 90-degree arc of light in the galaxy cluster RCS2 032727-132623. Hubble’s view of the distant background galaxy is significantly more detailed than could ever be achieved without the help of the gravitational lens. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Wireless Will Redifine the Home Audio Market as We Know It

February 14th 2012

Technology - bluetooth connecting devices

Over the next five years, wireless connectivity to mobile devices and the Internet will redefine the mainstream products within the home audio market. Despite differences in capabilities, form factors, and usage scenarios, a variety of home audio products will all increasingly incorporate wireless functionality in order to play audio streamed from mobile devices, home networks, and the Internet.

In recent years the home audio industry has been challenged to adapt to changing trends in consumers’ media consumption habits and the proliferation of Internet-based streaming audio services. As a result, consumer home audio is rapidly evolving by integrating wireless connectivity into devices such as A/V receivers, soundbars, standalone speaker docks, and home theater in a box (HTIB) systems. Read more ..


The Edge of Molecular Science

Hydrogen From Acidic Water

February 14th 2012

Science - Research and Development Chemistry

A technique for creating a new molecule that structurally and chemically replicates the active part of the widely used industrial catalyst molybdenite has been developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). This technique holds promise for the creation of catalytic materials that can serve as effective low-cost alternatives to platinum for generating hydrogen gas from water that is acidic.

Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, chemists who hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, led a research team that synthesized a molecule to mimic the triangle-shaped molybdenum disulfide units along the edges of molybdenite crystals, which is where almost all of the catalytic activity takes place. Since the bulk of molybdenite crystalline material is relatively inert from a catalytic standpoint, molecular analogs of the catalytically active edge sites could be used to make new materials that are much more efficient and cost-effective catalysts. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

‘Invisibility’ Cloak Could Protect Buildings From Earthquakes

February 14th 2012

Architecture - skyscraper

University of Manchester mathematicians have developed the theory for a Harry Potter style ’cloaking’ device which could protect buildings from earthquakes.

Dr. William Parnell’s team in the University’s School of Mathematics have been working on the theory of invisibility cloaks which, until recently, have been merely the subject of science fiction.

In recent times, however, scientists have been getting close to achieving ‘cloaking’ in a variety of contexts. The work from the team at Manchester focuses on the theory of cloaking devices which could eventually help to protect buildings and structures from vibrations and natural disasters such as earthquakes. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Spice up Your Life and Reduce Cancer Risk with a Good Indian Curry

February 13th 2012

Food - Spices

Curcumin, an active component of the Indian curry spice turmeric, may help slow down tumor growth in castration-resistant prostate cancer patients on androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a study from researchers at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center suggests.

Reporting in a recent issue of Cancer Research, Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., a Professor of Cancer Biology, Urology and Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, and colleagues observed in a pre-clinical study that curcumin suppresses two known nuclear receptor activators, p300 and CPB (or CREB1-binding protein), which have been shown to work against ADT.

ADT aims to inhibit the androgen receptor—an important male hormone in the development and progression of prostate cancer—in patients. But a major mechanism of therapeutic failure and progression to advanced disease is inappropriate reactivation of this receptor. Sophisticated tumor cells, with the help of p300 and CPB, sometimes bypass the therapy. Thus, development of novel targets that act in concert with the therapy would be of benefit to patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer. Read more ..


Edge of Medicine

Deep Brain Stimulation shows Promise for Parkinson's Disease

February 13th 2012

Science - deep brain stimulator

Kevin Miller spent a lot of time bowhunting this fall. Strapped in his tree stand, he watched flying squirrels play, napped, sat quietly as deer passed within three feet of his tree. He hasn't shot at anything yet. "I don't have to," he says, and you get the sense he's already found what he was hunting for.

Miller, 50, has Parkinson's disease. For 10 years he coped with the symptoms and side effects—involuntary shaking and jerking, difficulty sleeping, a blank facial expression, difficulty thinking, an unruly and unreliable left arm—as his doctors tried to find a medication and dose to help him manage the disease.  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Impersonating Anonymous: A New Form of Terrorism?

February 13th 2012

Computer Topics - Iran Anonymous

Since its earliest days the “Hactivist collective” known as Anonymous has declared “we are legion.” After attacks on PayPal, Amazon, Sony, and various banks and US Government websites, as in Roman times, the power of the legion is again feared. According to some, Anon’s latest target is Israel, with a specific threat of systematically removing Israel from the internet.

The evidence, however, suggests this is far more likely an impersonation. Though only circumstantial, the evidence suggests the possibility of Iranian sponsorship. If so, this would mark the first effort by a state, or perhaps its proxies, to infiltrate and manipulate Anonymous into pursuing a government’s agenda. If that effort backfires, I for one wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

The allegations of an attack appear to emanate from a YouTube video, “Anonymous Message to the State of Israel” released by TheAnonPress. In the video the computer-generated voice declares “For two long we have tolerated your crimes against humanity and allowed your sins to go unpunished … You are unworthy to exist in your current form.” The anonymous voice goes on to speak of a “crusade against your reign of terror” which will start with a systematic removal of Israel from the Internet. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Deconstructing a Mystery: What Caused Washington's Snowmaggedon?

February 13th 2012

Weather - Washington Blizzard

In the quiet after the storms, streets and cars had all but disappeared under piles of snow. The U.S. Postal Service suspended service for the first time in 30 years. Snow plows struggled to push the evidence off of major roads. Hundreds of thousands of Washington metropolitan residents grappled with the loss of electricity and heat for almost a week.

By February 10, 2010 the National Weather Service had reported that three storms spanning December to February in the winter of 2009-2010 had dumped a whopping 54.9 inches of snow on the Baltimore-Washington area. The snowfall broke a seasonal record first set in 1899. Snowmaggedon, or Snowpocalypse, as the winter was dubbed, entered the history books as the snowiest winter on record for the U.S. East Coast. Read more ..


Edge of Aging

Fruit Flies Make up for Advancing Age with Scents to Attract Mates

February 9th 2012

Animals - Drosophila melanogaster

Male fruit flies find romance with female flies coated with pheromone, regardless of age, thus shedding light on the aging process, according to research at the University of Michigan. Beauty is more than skin deep, at least for fruit flies studied in new research that demonstrates how age-related changes in pheromone production can reduce sexual attractiveness. The study examined how pheromones play a role in the sexual attractiveness and aging process of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, says Scott D. Pletcher, Ph.D., senior author of the study. Pletcher is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and research associate professor at the Institute of Gerontology at the Ann Arbor-based institution.

Researchers first showed that older flies were significantly less attractive than younger flies. They then discovered that the profiles of different pheromones that flies produce, called cuticular hydrocarbons, change with age. Pheromones are chemicals produced by an organism to communicate or attract another. Using a specially designed holding arena, researchers introduced a male fly into a chamber that contained two females – a young fly and an old fly. The females were decapitated, to eliminate the chances they’d influence the male fly with their behavior. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Cooking Oils Make Better Pesticides

February 8th 2012

Science - samuel gan-mor
Samuel Gan-Mor of the Volcani Institute (credit: Israel21C)

Thin-skinned vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini are susceptible to insect infestation and fungi, and even new organic pesticides are not completely safe, says Israeli agriculture scientist Samuel Gan-Mor.

He’s got a new approach that could revolutionize the way bugs are kept from crops: a mixture of edible, off-the-shelf canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and even the slightly more expensive olive oil.

Seeds, the starting point of all oils, have developed complex evolutionary tricks to avoid being preyed upon. Unknown active ingredients in these oils, probably paired with the ability to block the breathing pathways of invertebrates and hamper their mobility, may explain why the oil solution developed by Gan-Mor and his colleagues works. Read more ..


The Race for Graphene

UK Government to Fund Graphene Institute in Manchester with £70 Million

February 8th 2012

Science - graphene

The U.K. government has said it will spend a total of £70 million (about $120 million) to fund a national institute of graphene research and commercialisation activities, in Manchester, in the northwest of England.

A race is on the produce the first commercial products based on graphene, the two-dimensional form of crystalline carbon that has tremendous strength and much higher electron mobility than silicon. And the U.K. government is keen to capitalize on advantages the country enjoys as hosts to pioneering research into graphene and try and build up engineering and manufacturing expertise in the wonder material. Read more ..


Edge of Environmental Health

Landmark Lung Cancer Study Remains Unpublished Due to Industry and Congressional Interference

February 6th 2012

Energy / Environment - diesel exhaust

Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners — already 20 years in the making — has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.

The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up — with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Exposure isn't limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key. Read more ..


The Laser Edge

The Mystery of Magnetism in the Universe

February 6th 2012

Science - galactic magnetic
Laser produced shock wave

Why is the universe magnetized? It's a question scientists have been asking for decades. Now, an international team of researchers including a University of Michigan professor have demonstrated that it could have happened spontaneously, as the prevailing theory suggests. The findings are published in Nature. Oxford University scientists led the research.
 
"According to our previous understanding, any magnetic field that had been made ought to have gone away by now," said Paul Drake, the Henry S. Carhart Collegiate Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences and a professor in physics at the University of Michigan. "We didn't understand what mechanism might create a magnetic field, and even if it happened, we didn't understand why the magnetic field is still there. It has been a very enduring mystery."

With high-energy pulsed lasers in a French laboratory, the researchers created certain conditions analogous to those in the early universe when galaxies were forming. Through their experiment, they demonstrated that the theory known as the Biermann battery process is likely correct. Discovered by a German astronomer in 1950, the Biermann process predicts that a magnetic field can spring up spontaneously from nothing more than the motion of charged particles. Plasma, or charged particle gas, is abundant in space. Scientists believe that large clouds of gas collapsing into galaxies sent elliptically shaped bubbles of shockwaves through the early universe, touching off flows of electric current in the plasma of the intergalactic medium. Read more ..


The Nano Edge

Smart Paint:The Latest in Nanotechnology Uses

February 5th 2012

Technology - Nanotubes

An innovative low-cost smart paint that can detect microscopic faults in wind turbines, mines and bridges before structural damage occurs is being developed by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The environmentally-friendly paint uses nanotechnology to detect movement in large structures, and could shape the future of safety monitoring. Traditional methods of assessing large structures are complex, time consuming and use expensive instrumentation, with costs spiraling into millions of dollars each year. However, the smart paint costs just a fraction of the cost and can be simply sprayed onto any surface, with electrodes attached to detect structural damage long before failure occurs.

According to Dr Mohamed Saafi, of the University's Department of Civil Engineering, "The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world. There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward." Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Proven to Reduce Accidents

February 4th 2012

Transportation Topics - Woman driver

So, you're a safe driver? Thirty years on the road and never had a scratch. You don't need some computer to look out for you on the road.Think again. "Why do you need airbags in your car? Because they can save your life in the case of an accident," says Isaac Litman, CEO of Mobileye Products, the global leader in advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. "This system can warn you of an impending accident so that you can take action in time and avert a collision. You may only use it once in your driving career - but that's enough." The statistics speak for themselves, Litman states. "Now that vehicles fitted with our systems have traveled over a billion miles in the US, we've seen a 40-50 percent drop in accidents." ADAS is becoming a standard feature of the modern vehicle, and Jerusalem-based Mobileye is leading the field."

This new technology helps drivers drive better," says Litman. "It knows how to recognize cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians, an impending accident ... it warns the driver in time. It can even stop the car if the driver doesn't react quickly enough -- and all this at high speeds." In effect, minimizing driver error. "There are three main causes of accidents: poor road infrastructure, unsafe vehicles and bad driving," he explains. "Both roads and vehicle design have improved significantly in the past three decades. But the human factor has not. The only aspect that hasn't improved is the driver." Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

The First Plants Triggered Ice Ages, Half-Billion Years Ago

February 1st 2012

Environment Topics - funky plants

New research reveals how the arrival of the first plants 470 million years ago triggered a series of ice ages. Led by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, the study is published in Nature Geoscience. The team set out to identify the effects that the first land plants had on the climate during the Ordovician Period, which ended 444 million years ago. During this period the climate gradually cooled, leading to a series of 'ice ages'. This global cooling was caused by a dramatic reduction in atmospheric carbon, which this research now suggests was triggered by the arrival of plants.

Among the first plants to grow on land were the ancestors of mosses that grow today. This study shows that they extracted minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron from rocks in order to grow. In so doing, they caused chemical weathering of the Earth's surface. This had a dramatic impact on the global carbon cycle and subsequently on the climate. It could also have led to a mass extinction of marine life. Read more ..


Edge of Medicine

Mutant Protein in Pancreatic Cancers plays Role in Cancerous Development and Growth

January 31st 2012

Health/Medicine - pancreatic cancer gene

A mutant protein found in nearly all pancreatic cancers plays a role not only in the cancer’s development but in its continued growth, according to a new study from University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. The finding suggests a possible target for developing new ways to treat this deadly disease. Researchers have known that mutations in the Kras gene are what cause pancreatic cancer to develop. These mutations are frequently seen in common precancerous lesions, suggesting it has an early role in pancreatic cancer.

The new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, finds that in mice, mutant Kras also keeps the tumor growing and helps precancerous tumors grow into invasive cancer. When the researchers turned off Kras, the tumors disappeared and showed no signs of recurring. Read more ..


Edge of Health

New Computer Model Accurately Predicts Cholera Outbreaks

January 31st 2012

Transportation Topics - Bangladesh ricksaw

A new University of Michigan computer model of disease transmission in space and time can predict cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh up to 11 months in advance, providing an early warning system that could help public health officials there. The new forecast model applies specifically to the capital city of Dhaka and incorporates data on both year-to-year climate variability and the spatial location of cholera cases at the district level. This allowed the researchers to study both local variation in disease transmission and response to climate factors within the megacity of 14 million people.

U-M theoretical ecologists Mercedes Pascual and Aaron King, along with former U-M postdoctoral researcher Robert Reiner and other colleagues, found evidence for a climate-sensitive urban core in Dhaka that acts to propagate cholera risk to the rest of the city. By including those findings in their model, the researchers were able to increase its accuracy and extend its forecasting ability far beyond previous disease models for the city. Earlier models had prediction lead times of a month or less—too short to be of use in an early warning systems. The longer lead time of the new model will help inform decisions about treatment preparedness, vaccination and other disease-prevention strategies. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

X-Ray Laser Breakthrough Astounds Scientists

January 30th 2012

Science - xray laser

Scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the shortest, purest X-ray laser pulses ever achieved, fulfilling a 45-year-old prediction and opening the door to a new range of scientific discovery. The researchers aimed SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at a capsule of neon gas, setting off an avalanche of X-ray emissions to create the world's first "atomic X-ray laser."

"X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules," said physicist Nina Rohringer, who led the research. A group leader at the Max Planck Society's Advanced Study Group in Hamburg, Germany, Rohringer collaborated with researchers from SLAC, DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University. "We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching biological molecules at work," she added. "The shorter the pulses, the faster the changes we can capture. And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see."

The new atomic X-ray laser fulfills a 1967 prediction that X-ray lasers could be made in the same manner as many visible-light lasers – by inducing electrons to fall from higher to lower energy levels within atoms, releasing a single color of light in the process. But until 2009, when LCLS turned on, no X-ray source was powerful enough to create this type of laser. Read more ..


The Graphene Edge

Researchers Find Bilayer Graphene Acts as Insulator

January 28th 2012

Science - graphene

Research physicists at the University of California, Riverside have identified an insulating property of “bilayer graphene” (BLG) formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner.
 
Single layer graphene (SLG) is gapless, and cannot be completely turned off because regardless of the number of electrons on SLG, it always remains metallic and a conductor.

“This is terribly disadvantageous from an electronics point of view,” said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, a member of UC Riverside’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering, in a statement. “BLG suggests a promising route – trilayer graphene and tetralayer graphene, which are likely to have much larger energy gaps that can be used for digital and infrared technologies.” Read more ..


Science News

MIT Researchers Find Critical Speed Above Which Birds - And Drones - Are Sure to Crash

January 28th 2012

Animals - Bird

The northern goshawk is one of nature's diehard thrill-seekers. The formidable raptor preys on birds and small mammals, speeding through tree canopies and underbrush to catch its quarry. With reflexes that rival a fighter pilot's, the goshawk zips through a forest at high speeds, constantly adjusting its flight path to keep from colliding with trees and other obstacles.

While speed is a goshawk's greatest asset, researchers at MIT say the bird must observe a theoretical speed limit if it wants to avoid a crash. The researchers found that, given a certain density of obstacles, there exists a speed below which a bird — and any other flying object — has a fair chance of flying collision-free. Any faster, and a bird or aircraft is sure to smack into something, no matter how much information it has about its environment. A paper detailing the results has been accepted to the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation. Read more ..



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