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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 ..


The Edge of Gadgets

Eureka! Kitchen Gadget Inspires Scientist to Make More Effective Plastic Electronics

January 28th 2012

Food - vacuum food sealer

One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.

“Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters,” said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor’s delicate semiconductor crystals. Read more ..


The Race for BioFuel

Microbubbles provide new Boost to Algae for Biofuel Production

January 27th 2012

Science - algae biofuel

The technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated. Algae produce an oil which can be processed to create a useful biofuel. Biofuels, made from plant material, are considered an important alternative to fossil fuels and algae, in particular, has the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. Until now, however, there has been no cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed effectively.

Now, a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, believe they have solved the problem. They have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae particles to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money. The research is set to be published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering on 26 January 2012. Read more ..


The Nano Edge

Bilayer Graphene's Potential to Insulate

January 27th 2012

Science - Graphene carbon mesh
Graphene Carbon Mesh

Graphene, nature’s thinnest elastic material, is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms, arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Due to graphene’s planar and chicken wire-like structure, sheets of it lend themselves well to stacking. Bilayer Graphene (BLG) is formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner. Like graphene, BLG has high current-carrying capacity, also known as high electron conductivity. The high current-carrying capacity results from the extremely high velocities that electrons are capable of acquiring in a graphene sheet.

 

When investigating BLG’s properties, researchers found that when the number of electrons on the BLG sheet is close to 0, the material becomes insulating, thus resisting the flow of electrical current. A finding that has implications for the use of graphene as an electronic material in the semiconductor and electronics industries.“BLG becomes insulating because its electrons spontaneously organize themselves when their number is small,” said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and the lead author of the research paper. “Instead of moving around randomly, the electrons move in an orderly fashion. This is called ‘spontaneous symmetry breaking’ in physics, and is a very important concept, since it is the same principle that ‘endows’ mass for particles in high energy physics."
Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Invisibility as a Scientific First in Photon-Bending

January 26th 2012

Science - Invisibility raincoat

A scientific first has been achieved by U.S researchers who made a three-dimensional object invisible. Scientists from the University of Texas coated an 18 centimetre long cylinder with plasmonic metamaterials, making it completely invisible from every angle. Previously scientists were able to coat two dimensional objects but the latest breakthrough is said to be a great advance following many years of research.

Metamaterials alter the natural behavior of light. All of nature's materials have a positive refractive index, this measures how much electromagnetic waves are bent as they shift from one medium to the next. We are able to see objects because light bounces off of them and onto our eys but these metamaterials have negative refraction creating a cloak of invisibility. Read more ..


Edge on Health

Alternate Saliva Testing for HIV Proves Accurate

January 26th 2012

Health/Medicine - HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS

A saliva test used to diagnose the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is comparable in accuracy to the traditional blood test, according to a new study led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University in Canada. The meta-analysis, which compared studies worldwide, showed that the saliva HIV test, OraQuick HIV1/2, had the same accuracy as the blood test for high-risk populations. The test sensitivity was slightly reduced for low risk populations. The study, published in this week's issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, has major implications for countries that wish to adopt self-testing strategies for HIV.

"Testing is the cornerstone of prevention, treatment and care strategies," says the study's lead author, Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, a medical scientist at the RI-MUHC and assistant professor of Medicine at McGill University. "Although previous studies have shown that the oral fluid-based OraQuick HIV1/2 test has great promise, ours is the first to evaluate its potential at a global level." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Apple is the Predominant Purchaser of Semiconductor Chips in 2011

January 26th 2012

Computer Topics - computer chip

Apple Inc. the leading purchaser of semiconductor chips in 2011, was driven by the continuing success of its iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Air, accounting for 5.7 percent of chips purchased ($17.3 Billion) on a design total available market (TAM) basis, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. Samsung and Hewlett-Packard tied at second and third place, with 5.5 percent market share each, followed by Dell and Nokia at 3.2 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Sony, Toshiba, Lenovo, LG Electronics, and Panasonic assumed the remaining top 10 positions in terms of semiconductor design of Total Available Market (TAM).

Design TAM represents the total silicon content in all products designed by a certain electronic equipment manufacturer or in a certain region, as opposed to purchasing TAM, which represents the total silicon content purchased directly by a certain electronic equipment manufacturer or in a certain region, Gartner said. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Texas Instruments Shows Off Pico HD Projector That Fits Into a Smartphone

January 25th 2012

Technology - Droid Navigation App

Texas Instruments Inc. was keeping its eye on the big picture, through its littlest chipsets. The firm was literally beaming as it showed off its latest generation of DLP projector chipset, the Pico HD, capable of HD WXGA resolution projections from up to 100 inches away.

TI, which provides cinema chips to some 85 percent of the world’s digital cinemas has managed to shrink those powerful chips down to a size able to fit snugly inside a cell phone, desktop robot or pocket projector, for those who like to project their media on the go. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Earth Hit by Solar Space Storm

January 24th 2012

Science - Solar flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eruption early Monday morning and now astronomers are warning that the biggest geomagnetic storm since 2005 could cause considerable communication disruptions. A solar flare caused by an eruption of sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has been highly active lately, has created a radiation storm that could effect power grids, satellites and even air travel. This particular eruption produced a M9 class solar flare, almost high enough to be rated as an X-flare, the most powerful of them all.

Solar flares occur when a build up of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The energy released is as powerful as the impact of an explosion of millions of hydrogen bombs detonating simultaneously. As magnetic energy is released, particles such as electrons, nuclei and protons are accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The first recorded solar flare was observed in 1859. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Preoperative MRI May Reduce Risk of Nerve Damage in Prostate Cancer Surgeries

January 24th 2012

Health/Medicine - Prostate Cancer

Preoperative MRI helps surgeons make more informed decisions about nerve-sparing procedures in men with prostate cancer, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology. Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in American men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Open radical prostatectomy, or removal of the prostate, is a common treatment for the disease, but it carries substantial risks, including incontinence and impotence. "I think preoperative MRI will be useful for surgeons who are uncertain whether to spare or resect the nerves," said Daniel J. A. Margolis, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. "Our surgeons feel that, compared with clinical information alone, MRI is worthwhile for all patients, because it identifies important information leading to a change in the surgical plan in almost a third of patients."

Robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP) is a newer treatment performed with the assistance of a surgical robot. RALP uses smaller incisions than those of open radical prostatectomy and offers improved cosmetic results, less blood loss and briefer postoperative convalescence. However, surgeons performing RALP lack tactile feedback, which may compromise their ability to evaluate neurovascular bundles—the collections of blood vessels and nerves that course alongside prostate. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Generation X: How Young Adults Deal with Influenza

January 24th 2012

Health/Medicine - Influenza

Only about one in five young adults in their late 30s received a flu shot during the 2009-2010 swine flu epidemic, according to a University of Michigan report that details the behavior and attitudes of Generation X. But about 65 percent were at least moderately concerned about the flu, and nearly 60 percent said they were following the issue very or moderately closely. Using survey data collected from approximately 3,000 young adults during the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza epidemic—the first serious infectious disease this group had ever experienced—The Generation X Report explores how Americans ages 36-39 kept abreast of the issue and what actions they eventually took to protect themselves and their families.

"These results suggest that young adults in Generation X did reasonably well in their first encounter with a major epidemic," said Jon D. Miller, author of The Generation X Report. "Those with minor children at home were at the greatest risk, and they responded accordingly, with higher levels of awareness and concern." According to Miller, understanding Gen X reactions to this recent threat may help public health officials deal more effectively with future epidemics. The results show that a majority of Generation X young adults felt that they were "well informed" or "very well informed" about the issue. However, they scored only moderately well, overall, on an Index of Influenza Knowledge, a series of five items designed to test the level of knowledge about viral infections generally and about the swine flu epidemic specifically. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Megaupload Founder At Center Of Internet Copyright Infringement Case

January 24th 2012

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Kim Dotcom, the founder of one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, is accused by U.S. authorities of being a money launderer who built up a fortune through Internet piracy. The German-Finnish computer programmer and businessman is the creator of the Megaupload empire -- a file-sharing service that includes Megavideo and 17 other domain names.

Dotcom denies the charges. The case against the enigmatic 38-year-old is so complicated that a New Zealand judge on January 23 said he needs up to two days to determine whether Dotcom should be eligible for bail. When Dotcom was arrested in New Zealand on January 20, police who raided his country estate at the request of the U.S. FBI had to cut him out of a safe room where he was barricaded. Dotcom's lawyer said he sealed himself in the room because he was frightened and panicked. Police found he had 45 different credit cards under various names as well as three different passports. Dotcom reportedly also goes by the names Kim Schmitz, Kimble, and Kim Tim Jim Vestor.  Read more ..


Archaeology on Edge

Dog Skull Dates Back 33,000 Years

January 23rd 2012

Animals - rottweiler

If you think a Chihuahua doesn't have much in common with a Rottweiler, you might be on to something. An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event. In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated. "Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find. "Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."

The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs." The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull. Read more ..


Edge of the Mind

Group Settings can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence, Especially Among Women

January 23rd 2012

Science - Mind

In the classic film "12 Angry Men," Henry Fonda's character sways a jury with his quiet, persistent intelligence. But would he have succeeded if he had allowed himself to fall sway to the social dynamics of that jury? Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics -- such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties -- can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. "You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well," said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity. "We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said Montague. "Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect." "Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning," said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. "And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit." Read more ..


Biology on Edge

The Biology of Politics: Liberals Roll with the Good, Conservatives Confront the Bad

January 23rd 2012

Health/Medicine - Invisible Brain

From cable TV news pundits to red-meat speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, our nation's deep political stereotypes are on full display: Conservatives paint self-indulgent liberals as insufferably absent on urgent national issues, while liberals say fear-mongering conservatives are fixated on exaggerated dangers to the country. A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests there are biological truths to such broad brushstrokes. In a series of experiments, researchers closely monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of study participants when shown combinations of both pleasant and unpleasant images. Conservatives reacted more strongly to, fixated more quickly on, and looked longer at the unpleasant images; liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the pleasant images compared with conservatives. "It's been said that conservatives and liberals don't see things in the same way," said Mike Dodd, UNL assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "These findings make that clear – quite literally."

To gauge participants' physiological responses, they were shown a series of images on a screen. Electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response. The cognitive data, meanwhile, was gathered by outfitting participants with eyetracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared on the screen. While liberals' gazes tended to fall upon the pleasant images, such as a beach ball or a bunny rabbit, conservatives clearly focused on the negative images – of an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet, for example. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Piracy Debate Shows Web is Catalyst for Change, Says Wyden

January 22nd 2012

Technology - pipa protest

The leading opponent of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate said the decision to shelve the bill shows the Internet has the ability to affect change in Washington.

“The events of the last week demonstrate clearly that the Internet is the catalyst for the important changes Americans want in government,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told reporters on Friday afternoon, referencing the week of online protests against PIPA and its House counterpart the Stop Online Piracy Act. “Senator Reid’s decision to pull PIPA from the floor is the right one. Legislation impacting the future of the Internet is simply too important to get wrong,” he said.

Wyden first raised concerns about PIPA and its predecessor the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) in 2010, arguing the legislation posed a clear threat to free speech online. Both bills cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Carbon Dioxide is "Driving Fish Crazy"

January 22nd 2012

Environment Topics - Fish in net

Rising human carbon dioxide emissions may be affecting the brains and central nervous system of sea fishes with serious consequences for their survival, an international scientific team has found.

Carbon dioxide concentrations predicted to occur in the ocean by the end of this century will interfere with fishes’ ability to hear, smell, turn, and evade predators, says Professor Philip Munday of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“For several years our team have been testing the performance of baby coral fishes in sea water containing higher levels of dissolved CO2 – and it is now pretty clear that they sustain significant disruption to their central nervous system, which is likely to impair their chances of survival,” Prof. Munday says.

In their latest paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Prof. Munday and colleagues report world-first evidence that high CO2 levels in sea water disrupts a key brain receptor in fish, causing marked changes in their behaviour and sensory ability.

“We’ve found that elevated CO2 in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life,” Prof. Munday says.

Prof. Munday and his colleagues began by studying how baby clown and damsel fishes performed alongside their predators in CO2-enriched water. They found that, while the predators were somewhat affected, the baby fish suffered much higher rates of attrition Read more ..


Edge on the Mind

Our Multi-Tasking Brain Gives Meaning to the World

January 22nd 2012

Science - Mind

How does the brain confer meaning on the things we perceive in the world? “Many of us favor the theory that, whether it comes in through the eyes or ears, through reading [or other stimuli], it’s all eventually arriving at a common place where the meaning of things is represented,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist Mary C. Potter. “If that were so,” she continues, “you’d expect there to be a problem in extracting meanings simultaneously from different sources.”

That is why Potter and her MIT colleague Ansgar D. Endress were surprised by the findings of their new study, which will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. When the authors asked participants to perform two kinds of tasks at the same time—a visual one and a linguistic one—they performed without a hiccup. But handling two visual tasks at once slowed them down. Read more ..


Edge on Archaeology

Ancient Sumerians were Near-Beer Drinkers

January 22nd 2012

Archaeology Topics - sumerian tablet
Sumerian writing tablet (3000 BCE)

Archaeological finds from cuneiform tablets and remnants of different vessels from over 4,000 years ago show that even around the dawn of civilisation, fermented cereal juice was highly enjoyed by Mesopotamia’s inhabitants. However, besides the two basic ingredients, barley and emmer (a species of wheat) the brew produced in the clay jars of the Sumerians is shrouded in mystery.

Despite an abundance of finds and scribal traditions which point to an early love of fermented cereal beverages, reconstructing ancient brewing methods is very difficult, according to the historian of science and cuneiform writing scholar Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. A scholarly paper by Damerow, who passed away at the end of November 2011 in Berlin, carefully examines the beer brewing technologies of the Sumerians. However, the author also expresses great doubts as to whether the popular brew in ancient times was even beer.

The photo here shows an archaic writing tablet from Mesopotamia (approx. 3000 B.C.), which contains proto-cuneiform writing - belonging to the most ancient group of written records on earth. It contains calculations of basic ingredients required for the production of cereal products, for example, different types of beer. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Mysterious Star's Carbon-Monoxide Ring Offers Clues to Origins of the Universe

January 20th 2012

Science - gaseous ring on star

Astronomers have detected a mysterious ring of carbon monoxide gas around the young star V1052 Cen, which is about 700 light years away in the southern constellation Centaurus. The ring is part of the star's planet-forming disk, and it's as far from V1052 Cen as Earth is from the sun. Discovered with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, its edges are uniquely crisp. Carbon monoxide is often detected near young stars, but the gas is usually spread through the planet-forming disk.

What's different about this ring is that it is shaped more like a rope than a dinner plate, said Charles Cowley, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan who led the international research effort.  "It's exciting because this is the most constrained ring we've ever seen, and it requires an explanation," Cowley said. "At present time, we just don't understand what makes it a rope rather than a dish." Perhaps magnetic fields hold it in place, the researchers say. Maybe "shepherding planets" are reining it in like several of Saturn's moons control certain planetary rings. Read more ..


Ancient America

Pre-Colombian Peruvians Enjoyed Popcorn as do Modern Americans

January 20th 2012

Archaeology Topics - ancient peruvian maize cob
Ancient maize cob  (Credit: Tom Dillehay)

People living along the coast of Peru were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously reported and before ceramic pottery was used there, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Some of the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels, dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago were found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru's arid northern coast. The research group, led by Tom Dillehay from Vanderbilt University and Duccio Bonavia from Peru's Academia Nacional de la Historia, also found corn microfossils: starch grains and phytoliths. Characteristics of the cobs—the earliest ever discovered in South America—indicate that the sites' ancient inhabitants ate corn several ways, including popcorn and flour corn. However, corn was still not an important part of their diet. Read more ..


Edge on Medicine

New Class of Nanoparticles Promise Better Cancer Drugs

January 20th 2012

Science - nanoparticles and tumor

A new class of nanoparticles, synthesized by a UC Davis research team to prevent premature drug release, holds promise for greater accuracy and effectiveness in delivering cancer drugs to tumors. The work is published in the current issue of Angewandte Chemie, a leading international chemistry journal.

In their paper, featured on the inside back cover of the journal, Kit Lam, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, and his team report on the synthesis of a novel class of micelles called dual-responsive boronate cross-linked micelles (BCMs) , which produce physicochemical changes in response to specific triggers.

A micelle is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in water-based liquid such as saline. Micelles are nano-sized, measuring about 25-50 nanometers (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter), and can function as nanocarriers for drug delivery. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Scientists Confirm Martian Origin of Moroccan Meteorites

January 19th 2012

Science - The Red Planet

A fragment of space rock, discovered near Foumzgit, Morocco.Scientists have confirmed that a rocky meteor that broke apart in the atmosphere and crashed last July came from Mars.  The space-faring stones, perhaps blasted free of the Red Planet by an ancient planetary collision, are the first documented Martian debris to fall to Earth in 50 years.  The rare meteorites have been scooped from the African sands by collectors and dealers, who are selling them for thousands of dollars. The Martian meteor's fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere last year was seen by Moroccan nomads and military personnel.  At about 2:00 a.m. local time on July 18, they were startled by sonic booms and a fireball that one witness said lit the night sky with a yellow and then a green glow, before breaking into pieces and disappearing into the remote desert.

Pieces of that meteor were not located until October, when nomads found the black, heat-scorched stones near the Moroccan village of Tissint. Soon, samples were collected for analysis by scientists, including the international committee of experts that confirmed the meteorites' Martian origin. Experts say the meteor, officially named Tissint by The Meteoritical Society, probably took millions of years to get here after an asteroid or some other large object collided with the Red Planet and blasted thousands of chunks of Martian rock into space. Chunks of the meteor that struck Earth totaled 6.8 kilograms, with the largest weighing almost a kilogram. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Rampant Disease Infecting Hawaiian Coral Reefs

January 17th 2012

Animals - coral reef and fish

Scientists have discovered an outbreak of coral disease called Montipora White Syndrome in Kāneʿohe Bay, Oʿahu, the third largest island of the Hawaiian archipelago. The affected coral are of the species Montipora capitata, also known as rice coral. Rice corals provide valuable habitat, shelter, and foraging grounds for a variety of tropical marine fish and invertebrates and provide the fundamental structure of coral reefs. Rice corals are especially important to Hawai‘i's marine ecosystems because they are one of the more abundant coral reef species in the region.

Thus, loss of corals can have negative effects on many other reef-associated organisms. In fact, losing a coral reef is similar to losing a rainforest, with many species reliant on that ecosystem for survival. In addition, coral reefs in Hawai‘i are an important source of tourism and other economic income (fisheries). For example, Kāneʿohe Bay, where this outbreak is concentrated, is a popular spot frequented by snorkelers, bathers, divers, boaters and fishermen.

While this particular disease outbreak seems limited to south Kāneʿohe Bay, coral diseases have the potential to be widespread, affecting large geographic regions. A prime example is the Western Atlantic and Caribbean where large tracts of coral reefs have either declined or disappeared due to diseases. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Physicists’ ‘Light from Darkness’ Breakthrough Named a Top 2011 Discovery

January 17th 2012

Science - Llight from Dark
Casimir Effect

They shook light from darkness. They coaxed something out of what we normally think of as nothing—the vacuum of space. And now their work has been named one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the year by Physics World, the international magazine announced today. University of Michigan physics researcher Franco Nori is involved in the work, which was published in Nature in November.

The physicists directly observed, for the first time, light particles that flicker in and out of existence in the vacuum. They witnessed the long-predicted quantum mechanical phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect. "One of the profound consequences of quantum mechanics is that we know that something can come from nothing," Nori said. "The vacuum is actually teeming with activity, the question is how to harness it and observe it because the particles move in an out of existence in the blink of an eye."

This background activity of fleeting particles is known as quantum vacuum fluctuations. It's the impetus for what's known as the static Casimir effect, an attractive force that can pull two parallel mirrors together in a vacuum. That effect is caused by a pressure drop between the mirrors because more photons can exist on the outsides of them. It was measured in the late '90s. Read more ..


Nanotechnology Edge

Shrinking Memory Bits a Million Times Through Antiferromagnetically Coupled Atoms

January 16th 2012

Technology - IC Layout

Punctuating 30 years of nanotechnology research, scientists from IBM Research have successfully demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms. This is significantly less than today's disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information.

While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation. By taking a novel approach and beginning at the smallest unit of data storage, the atom, scientists demonstrated magnetic storage that is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips. Future applications of nanostructures built one atom at a time, and that apply an unconventional form of magnetism called antiferromagnetism, could allow people and businesses to store 100 times more information in the same space. Read more ..


The Edge of Genetic

Good Parents Are Predictable - At Least When It Comes to Corn

January 16th 2012

Nature - Corn

For a bigger harvest and faster results: The University of Hohenheim, the MPI for Molecular Plant Physiology and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben start a new chapter in plant breeding.

In order to breed new varieties of corn with a higher yield faster than ever before, researchers at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, and other institutions are relying on a trick: early selection of the most promising parent plants based on their chemical and genetic makeup, as well as on new statistical analysis procedures. The work has now been published in the authoritative journal Nature Genetics on Sunday evening, Jan. 15.

The problem is the sheer number: In the family tree of modern-day corn, there are two main groups with 10,000 pure-breed lines each. Each of these lines could potentially be used for producing a new variety by means of cross-breeding. In mathematical terms, that equates to 100 billion possibilities. In terms of corn, however, a parent's performance is no indicator of what potential lies hidden in their offspring. Even the feeblest of parents can produce mighty offspring when cross-bred. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Drug Resistant Strain of Tuberculosis Causes Fear in India

January 16th 2012

Health/Medicine - TB Bacteria
Tuberculosis Culture

A Los Angeles Times report has revealed that a virulent strain of tuberculosis is causing concern for officials in India.  More than a dozen people have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant variant of the lung disease.

The December issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases highlighted four cases of the disease but the Indian media report that no fewer than twelve people have been affected.  Epidemiologists are fearful that a larger number of cases may have gone undetected.

A co-author of the study, Zarir Udwadia of the Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Mumbai, told New Scientist "It's estimated that on average, a tuberculosis patient infects 10 to 20 contacts in a year, and there's no reason to suspect that this strain is any less transmissible," adding "Short of quarantining them in hospitals with isolation facilities till they become non-infectious—which is not practical or possible—there is nothing else one can do to prevent transmission." Read more ..


Public Health on Edge

Fewer Children Require Hospitalization Following Drowning-Related Incidents

January 16th 2012

Health/Medicine - Drowning warning

Fewer children required hospitalization following a drowning incident over the last two decades, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. According to the study, pediatric hospitalizations from drowning-related incidents declined 51 percent from 1993 to 2008. The rates declined significantly for all ages and for both genders, although drowning-related hospitalizations remained higher for boys at every age. Hospitalization rates also decreased significantly across the U.S., with the greatest decline in the South. Despite the steep decline, the South still experienced the highest rate of pediatric hospitalizations for drowning. The study will be published in the February issue of Pediatrics, and available on the journal's website.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death of children age 1 to 19 in the U.S. For every pediatric drowning death, another two children are hospitalized for non-fatal drowning injuries. "We found a significant decline in the rate of pediatric drowning hospitalizations, which is consistent with documented decreases in pediatric deaths from drowning," said lead study author Stephen Bowman, PhD, MHA, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Our findings provide evidence of a true decrease in drowning-related incidents, rather than simply a shift towards more children dying before reaching a hospital." Read more ..


Technology on Edge

Passwords Could Soon Be Obsolete

January 15th 2012

Social Topics - Eyeball Surveillance

Technology is constantly narrowing the gap between science fiction and reality, bringing fundamental changes into our lives. According to IBM researchers, in five years we won’t need passwords, won’t be bothered by junk mail and will be able to control many of our machines with our minds. The American technology company released its 6th annual Five-in-Five, a list of five innovations the firm expects to see within five years.

One of them will enable us to generate small amounts of energy to supplement the electric power we use in our homes. “You can do micro-electronic generation,” says Bernie Meyerson, vice president of Innovation at IBM. “For instance, you can have somebody in the third world who has access to a phone or a smart phone, but doesn’t have access to a power grid, which is a very common thing and literally in a shoe has something that recovers energy from walking and can charge the battery to enable that person to actually become connected with the rest of the world.”

Another innovation will make those hard-to-remember passwords obsolete. Soon, in order to access our e-mail or bank account, we'll use a technology known as biometrics. A tiny sensor could confirm your identity by recognizing the unique patterns in the retina of your eye. “Imagine that things recognize you," Meyerson says. "You walk up to an ATM. It takes one look at you and says, ‘Yep, you’re you.’” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

A Wealth of Habitable Planets in the Milky Way

January 14th 2012

Science - ESO La Silla Obervatory
ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile (credit: ESO/Z. Bardon)

Six years of observations of millions of stars now show how common it is for stars to have planets in orbits around them. Using a method that is highly sensitive to planets that lie in a habitable zone around the host stars, astronomers, including members from the Niels Bohr Institute, have discovered that most of the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars have planets that are very similar to the Earth-like planets in our own solar system—Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, while planets like Jupiter and Saturn are more rare. The results are published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

“Our results show that planets orbiting around stars are more the rule than the exception. In a typical solar system approximately four planets have their orbits in the terrestrial zone, which is the distance from the star where you can find solid planets. On average, there are 1.6 planets in the area around the stars that corresponds to the area between Venus and Saturn,” explains astronomer Uffe Gråe Jørgensen, head of the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Read more ..


Technology Edge

High-Speed CMOS Sensors Provide Better Images

January 14th 2012

Technology - RFID TAG

Conventional CMOS image sensors are not suitable for low-light applications such as fluorescence, since large pixels arranged in a matrix do not support high readout speeds. A new optoelectronic component speeds up this process. It has already been patented.

CMOS image sensors have long since been the solution of choice for digital photography. They are much cheaper to produce than existing sensors, and they are also superior in terms of power consumption and handling. Consequently, leading manufacturers of cell-phone and digital cameras fit CMOS chips in their products almost without exception. This not only reduces the demands made of the battery, it also makes increasingly smaller cameras possible. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Heart Attack Risk Soars After Loved One Dies

January 14th 2012

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

The risk of heart attack goes way up in the hours and days after the death of a loved on, according to new research. Researchers surveyed almost 2,000 heart attack survivors and asked whether someone close to them had died in the six months before their heart attack. "We found that the risk of having a heart attack was 21 times higher in the day following the loss of a loved one, compared to other times," says Elizabeth Mostofsky of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who led the study. "And that risk remained elevated during subsequent days and weeks."

According to Mostofsky, previous research looked at the risk of dying from any cause over a year or more after the death of a spouse or a child, not including other close family and friends, and her team focused on data from the days immediately after getting the news. She says several things could explain why the intense feelings after the death of a loved one could trigger a heart attack. "Grief causes feelings of depression, anger, and anxiety, and several studies have shown that these emotions can cause increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and blood clotting," she says. "And those, in turn, can increase the chances of having a heart attack." Read more ..


Electronic Edge

Particle-Free Silver Ink Prints Small, High-Performance Electronics

January 14th 2012

Technology - IC Layout

University of Illinois materials scientists have developed a new reactive silver ink for printing high-performance electronics on ubiquitous, low-cost materials such as flexible plastic, paper or fabric substrates.

Jennifer Lewis, the Hans Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and graduate student S. Brett Walker described the new ink in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“We are really excited about the wide applicability and excellent electrical properties of this new silver ink,” said Lewis, the director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the U. of I. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Researcher Blueprints Ovarian Cancer Tumors

January 13th 2012

Health/Medicine - Ovarian Cancer Tumour

Ovarian cancer is called a “silent killer” because by the time symptoms appear and diagnosis is made, it is generally too late for a cure. Last year, 22,000 women were diagnosed with the disease in the United States; 14,000 of them died. Laura Shawver, a scientist cancer researcher and commercial drug developer, is fighting back by offering ovarian cancer patients a molecular profile or blueprint of their tumor. Shawver, a cancer survivor who has been in remission since 2006, had the same initial treatment as every ovarian cancer patient. “The the same treatment that’s been around for at least 30 years," she says. "We all get surgery and we all get chemotherapy. Most people have a response, and we think we’re cured.”

Shawver is one of the few lucky ones. Ovarian cancer returns in 75 percent of  patients. “When we recur that’s when the guesswork comes in.” Shawver says that’s because ovarian tumors differ so widely from each other and respond differently to drugs. So, women end up going through round after round of different chemotherapy drugs. “It’s a random selection and, unfortunately, that means that the patient frequently gets toxicity without benefit.” That has been Sheila Connor’s experience. She was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in 2007. After initial surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer returned four times over four years.  “The longest remission I had was about eight months,” says Connor. Read more ..


Science Edge

Graphene Quantum Dots: The Next Big Small Thing

January 12th 2012

Science - graphene

A Rice University laboratory has found a way to turn common carbon fiber into graphene quantum dots, tiny specks of matter with properties expected to prove useful in electronic, optical and biomedical applications.

The Rice lab of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, in collaboration with colleagues in China, India, Japan and the Texas Medical Center, discovered a one-step chemical process that is markedly simpler than established techniques for making graphene quantum dots. The results were published online this month in the American Chemical Society's journal Nano Letters. Read more ..


Science News

Receptor For Tasting Fat Identified in Humans

January 12th 2012

Food - Fast Food Burger

Why do we like fatty foods so much? We can blame our taste buds.

Our tongues apparently recognize and have an affinity for fat, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. They have found that variations in a gene can make people more or less sensitive to the taste of fat.

The study is the first to identify a human receptor that can taste fat and suggests that some people may be more sensitive to the presence of fat in foods. The study is available online in the Journal of Lipid Research. Investigators found that people with a particular variant of the CD36 gene are far more sensitive to the presence of fat than others. Read more ..



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