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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 ..


Edge of Astronomy

Astronomers Find Three Smallest Planets Outside Solar System

January 12th 2012

Astronomy - kepler
Kepler 22b

A team of astronomers led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has discovered the three smallest confirmed planets ever detected outside our solar system. The three planets, which all orbit a single star, are smaller than Earth and appear to be rocky with a solid surface. Until now, astronomers have found at most only four other rocky planets, also called terrestrial planets, around other stars.

The trio of new planets is too close to the central star to be in its habitable zone—the region around a star where the temperature is mild enough for liquid water, and possibly life, to exist. But the planets are the first rocky ones to be found orbiting a type of dim, small star called a red dwarf, the most common kind in the Milky Way. Their existence suggests that the galaxy could be teeming with similarly rocky planets—and that there's a good chance that many are in the habitable zone. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Hubble Breaks New Ground with Discovery of Distant Exploding Star

January 12th 2012

Science - supernova

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has looked deep into the distant universe and detected the feeble glow of a star that exploded more than 9 billion years ago. The sighting is the first finding of an ambitious survey that will help astronomers place better constraints on the nature of dark energy, the mysterious repulsive force that is causing the universe to fly apart ever faster.

Images taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveal the emergence of an exploding star, called a supernova. Nicknamed SN Primo, the exploding star belongs to a special class called Type Ia supernovae, which are distance markers used for studying dark energy and the expansion rate of the universe. "For decades, astronomers have harnessed the power of Hubble to unravel the mysteries of the universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This new observation builds upon the revolutionary research using Hubble that won astronomers the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, while bringing us a step closer to understanding the nature of dark energy which drives the cosmic acceleration." As an astronaut, Grunsfeld visited Hubble three times, performing a total of eight spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Viral Load a Major Factor Affecting Risk of Sexually Transmitting HIV

January 12th 2012

Health/Medicine - HIV/AIDS

The level of HIV-1 in the blood of an HIV-infected partner is the single most important factor influencing risk of sexual transmission to an uninfected partner, according to a multinational study of heterosexual couples in sub-Saharan Africa. The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, calculated the risk of HIV-1 transmission per act of sexual intercourse and found the average rate of infection to be about 1 per 900 coital acts. The findings also confirmed that condoms are highly protective and reduce HIV infectivity by 78 percent.

James P. Hughes, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle; the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa; the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta National Hospital, in Kenya; and the Rwanda-Zambia HIV Research Group conducted a study that included 3,297 HIV-discordant couples (where one person is HIV-infected, and the other is not) in eastern and southern Africa who were enrolled in a randomized trial of acyclovir suppressive therapy. The couples had frequent follow-up to measure plasma HIV-1 RNA in the infected partner and genetic testing to link the transmitted virus to the index HIV-infected partner, to prevent inclusion of infections acquired from other possible partners. HIV acquisition was not affected by the acyclovir therapy. Read more ..


Ultrabooks: Strategic vision or just a Passing Phase?

January 11th 2012

Computer Topics - dell ultrabook

Intel Corp.'s new form factor for notebook PCs, the Ultrabook, is the talk of the Las Vegas town at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), wowing conference attendees with MacBook Air-alikes from a plethora of PC vendors. While some see Intel's initiative as largely cosmetic, however, others see the move as a strategic vision promising to become much more than just a pretty face for PC. The market for notebooks has, over the past couple of years, started to stagnate somewhat, as tablets and smartphones rise to ever higher computing heights, bringing more performance and lower power to form factors designed to fit in people's pockets.

The humble notebook PC hasn't seen much in the way of major innovation lately, as mobile devices grab all the headlines and touch screen their way into people's hearts. That does not, however, necessarily mean the time for PCs has passed.  Indeed, even as the buzz around mobile grows, people still struggle to transform their shiny new handhelds into true productivity devices, and this is where the PC still has room to shine—as a predominant platform for both business users and consumers. Read more ..


Edge on Innovation

Samsung and other Asian Giants Closing the Gap with U.S. Companies in Race for Patents

January 11th 2012

China Topics - chinese scientist

IBM maintained its lead in winning U.S. utility patents in 2011, but Samsung is closing in and other Asian tech giants are on the rise, gaining on U.S. companies. IBM ranked first for the nineteenth consecutive year among the top 50 companies on the annual list compiled by IFI Claims Patent Services, a division of Fairview Research (Madison, Conn.). IBM won a record 6,180 utility patents, up nearly five percent from 2010. 

Samsung came in second with 4,894, up eight percent, and is set to continue narrowing the gap. For the past two years, the Korean giant has filed more U.S. patent applications than IBM, submitting more than 5,600 published applications in 2011, compared to less than 5,000 for IBM. Canon rose 11 percent to take third place on the list, pushing Microsoft--the only other U.S. company in the top ten--from third to sixth place with 2,821. Cisco, HP, Intel and Oracle all saw fewer patent grants than in 2010. Japan dominated the list with six of the top ten companies and 19 of the top 50. The U.S. had 17 companies in the top 50. Korea had five, Germany three, Taiwan had one and none came from China. "Global companies, and especially Asian ones, are collecting U.S patents at a dizzying pace, and now Asian firms hold eight of the top 10 slots in the 2011 ranking," said Mike Baycroft, chief executive of IFI Claims, speaking in a press statement.  Read more ..


Edge on Computing

LectureTools start-up Makes a Splash at Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas

January 11th 2012

Computer Topics - Lecture tools
Rich Boys, Zach Wick and Bret Squire, with LectureTools

A University of Michigan educational technology that aims to make large lecture classes feel smaller and more interactive is on display this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. LectureTools is a Web-based student response, note-taking and inquiry system that turns potentially distracting cell phones and laptops into learning aids (many of its components work via text messaging as well). Visitors to the show will get a preview of the company's next platform."We'll give a sneak peak at the forthcoming LectureTools iPad application for students and demonstrate how instructors can use their iPad or tabletPC to present lectures wirelessly in class using LectureTools," said Perry Samson, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the Annn Arbor-based institution and the developer of LectureTools. 

The developers say this will be the first "end-to-end learning platform" available for the iPad at a time when more and more universities are beginning to experiment with iPad-in-the-classroom initiatives. The technology is one of about 25 that the National Science Foundation sponsored to participate in the Consumer Electronic Show's new Eureka Park TechZone for startups. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

University of Utah, Google Seek Answers for Autism

January 10th 2012

Health/Medicine - Autism

These days, we hear a lot about the disorder of autism, but researchers at the University of Utah have created a program that helps kids with autism focus on building their skills and utilizing an aptitude for visual-spatial thinking, computers and other electronic media. One of the program participants is 12-year-old Christopher Charles, who was diagnosed with what's now known as high-functioning autism when he was 18 months old. His parents started him in therapies early on, but hadn't found something that seemed to hold Christopher's interest or accommodate his behaviors. Chris has participated for the past year and a half in workshops at the University of Utah to teach 3D modeling software by Google called SketchUp. Cheryl Wright, associate professor of family and consumer studies, coordinated the workshops in partnership with Google's Project Spectrum, an initiative to teach job skills to kids with autism. Steve Gross, a certified SketchUp instructor and designer for Universal Creative theme parks, leads the workshops.

Wright and her team soon found far greater benefits to these workshops than acquiring a skill set for potential employment, however. The sessions facilitated social engagement among the students and their peers, parents, siblings and even grandparents. They have published a study about these findings in the December issue of Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal. The study focuses on the effects of the workshops on individual students involved as well as on multiple generations within their families—an uncommon opportunity in the research on social interactions of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Read more ..


The Nano Edge

A 3-Dimensional View of 1-Dimensional Nanostructures

January 9th 2012

Science - Gallium Nitride
Gallium Nitride

Just 100 nanometers in diameter, nanowires are often considered one-dimensional. But researchers at Northwestern University have recently reported that individual gallium nitride nanowires show strong piezoelectricity – a type of charge-generation caused by mechanical stress – in three dimensions.

The findings, led by Horacio Espinosa, James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, were published online Dec. 22 in Nano Letters.

Gallium nitride (GaN) is among the most technologically relevant semiconducting materials and is ubiquitous today in optoelectronic elements such as blue lasers (hence the blue-ray disc) and light-emitting-diodes (LEDs). More recently, nanogenerators based on GaN nanowires were demonstrated capable of converting mechanical energy (such as biomechanical motion) to electrical energy.

“Although nanowires are one-dimensional nanostructures, some properties – such as piezoelectricity, the linear form of electro-mechanical coupling – are three-dimensional in nature,” Espinosa said. “We thought these nanowires should show piezoelectricity in 3D, and aimed at obtaining all the piezoelectric constants for individual nanowires, similar to the bulk material.” Read more ..


Edge of Genetics

TGen Researchers Map Potential Genetic Origins, Pathways of Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers

January 9th 2012

Health/Medicine - Small Cell Lung Cancer

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have begun to identify mutations and cellular pathway changes that lead to lung cancer in never-smokers — a first step in developing potential therapeutic targets. "This is the starting point. We certainly have a lot of pathways and gene expression alterations that we're going to be very interested in confirming and looking at in larger cohorts of patients," said Dr. Timothy G. Whitsett, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow in TGen's Cancer and Cell Biology Division.

Whitsett presented the findings today at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) Joint Conference on Molecular Origins of Lung Cancer: Biology, Therapy and Personalized Medicine, held Jan. 8-11, 2012, at the San Diego Marriott Marina & Hotel. "This is a very important subset of patients with lung cancer, and our research looks to identify pathways and genes that are potentially driving this cancer," said Dr. Whitsett, who works under Dr. Nhan Tran, head of TGen's CNS Tumor Research Lab. The title of the abstract Dr. Whitsett presented is Identification of key tumorigenic pathways in never-smoker lung adenocarcinoma patients using massively parallel DNA and RNA sequencing. Read more ..


Edge on Environment

'Flume Room' Mimics Freshwater Streams to Understand Environmental Change

January 9th 2012

Science - UM flume room
U-M flume room. Photo: Austin Thomason

More than 3,000 gallons of Huron River water were trucked to the University of Michigan campus recently to create 150 mini-Hurons that are used to study how environmental changes affect freshwater habitats like rivers and streams. The artificial streams are called flumes, and U-M's new $1 million "Flume Room" is in the basement of the Dana Building, home to the School of Natural Resources and Environment. The U-M flume lab is the largest facility of its kind in North America, and possibly the world.

"We're taking little pieces of the Huron River – the water, the rocks, the bacteria, the algae, the insects and other small invertebrates that inhabit the stream – and we're placing them into these 150 small flumes. We try to mimic all the river conditions we possibly can," said Bradley Cardinale, an assistant professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and principal investigator of the flume project. Running an experiment 150 times in 150 identical flumes provides what researchers call high replication, which enables them to precisely estimate how different environmental stresses – such as pollution, species invasions and extinctions, climate change and erosion – affect the river's health. See video here. Read more ..


Edge of Science

Light Makes Write for DNA Information-Storage Device

January 8th 2012

Science - DNA Strands

In an effort to make data storage more cost-effective, a group of researchers from National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have created a DNA-based memory device that is "write-once-read-many-times" (WORM), and that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to make it possible to encode information. The device, described in a paper accepted to the AIP's Applied Physics Letters, consists of a thin film of salmon DNA that has been embedded with silver nanoparticles and then sandwiched between two electrodes.

Shining UV light on the system enables a light-triggered synthesis process that causes the silver atoms to cluster into nano-sized particles, and readies the system for data encoding. In some cases, using DNA may be less expensive to process into memory devices than using traditional, inorganic materials like silicon, the researchers say. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Announces New Restrictions For Internet Cafes

January 8th 2012

Iran - Iran Cyber Cafe

Iran's cyberpolice have issued new guidelines for Internet cafes that appear to be part of the Iranian establishment's efforts to tighten its control of the Internet.

According to the new rules, the personal information of citizens visiting cybercafes, such as their name, father's name, national ID number, and telephone number, will be registered. Cafe owners will be required to keep the personal and contact information of their clients and also a record of the websites and pages visited for six months.

Another new rule that has been announced requires cybercafe owners to install closed-circuit TV cameras and keep the video recordings for six months. The guidelines also say that installing circumvention tools that allow access to banned websites will be illegal at Internet cafes. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Mars Rover Spends Winter at "Greeley Haven"

January 7th 2012

Science - Water on Mars

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity will spend the next few months during the coldest part of Martian winter at Greeley Haven, an outcrop of rock on Mars recently named informally to honor ASU Regents' Professor Ronald Greeley, a planetary geologist who died Oct. 27, 2011. Long passionate about exploring the solar system and Mars in particular, Greeley was involved with many missions to the Red Planet, including Mariners 6, 7, and 9, Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers. He was also a co-investigator for the camera system on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter mission. Among his major research interests were wind erosion, dunes and dust devil activity, all of which can be found in abundance on Mars.

"We miss Ron's wisdom and guidance on the rover team," says Jim Bell, lead scientist for the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on the rover. Bell, who came to ASU in early 2011, is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "We hope that eventually the International Astronomical Union will name a crater or some other feature on Mars or some other solar system body for Ron," Bell says. "But that process typically takes years." In the meantime, he adds, "This small commemoration helps preserve the memory of Ron's contributions to planetary science within the community and beyond." Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Researchers Create a Silicon Wire Four Atoms Wide, One Atom Tall

January 6th 2012

Science - nanowire

The smallest wires ever developed in silicon, just one atom tall and four atoms wide, have been shown by a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Melbourne University and Purdue University to have the same current-carrying capability as copper wires. Experiments and atom-by-atom supercomputer models of the wires have found that the wires maintain a low capacity for resistance despite being more than 20 times thinner than conventional copper wires in microprocessors.

For engineers this discovery could provide a roadmap to future nanoscale computational devices where atomic sizes are at the end of Moore's law. The theory shows that a single dense row of phosphorus atoms embedded in silicon will be the ultimate limit of downscaling. For computer scientists, it places donor-atom based silicon quantum computing closer to realization. And for physicists, the results show that Ohm's Law, which demonstrates the relationship between electrical current, resistance and voltage, continues to apply all the way down to an atomic-scale wire. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Phone Charging Using Harvested Solar Energy

January 6th 2012

Technology - Phone

Nokia has completed a research project on phone charging using harvested solar energy. So can the sun be relied on to charge your phone? Nokia is searching for improved energy efficiency and more sustainable alternatives for mobile phone users. The solar energy project was designed to assess the viability and ease of solar charging for mobile phones. The idea was also to look at the possibilities for phone charging in conditions where it's not possible to plug in to recharge the phone, or where the electricity supply is uncertain.

Nokia began with developing a prototype phone for the project featuring a solar charging panel integrated in the back cover for harvesting solar energy. The phone was tested last summer by a team of five people in a range of different environments. Two of the phones were tested up north at the Arctic Circle, one in southern Sweden and one in Kenya, and the fifth member of the test team was sailing in the Baltic Sea. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

New Synthetic Molecules Treat Autoimmune Disease in Mice

January 3rd 2012

Science - MMP-9 (enzyme)
MMP9 enzyme

A team of Weizmann Institute scientists has turned the tables on an autoimmune disease. In such diseases, including Crohn’s and rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues. But the scientists managed to trick the immune systems of mice into targeting one of the body’s players in autoimmune processes, an enzyme known as MMP9. The results of their research appear in Nature Medicine.

Prof. Irit Sagi of the Department of Biological Regulation and her research group have spent years looking for ways to home in on and block members of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzyme family. These proteins cut through such support materials in our bodies as collagen, which makes them crucial for cellular mobilization, proliferation, and wound healing, among other things. But when some members of the family, especially MMP9, get out of control, they can aid and abet autoimmune disease and cancer metastasis. Blocking these proteins might lead to effective treatments for a number of diseases. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

3D TV Gaining Momentum in Western Europe and China, Declining in North America

January 3rd 2012

Technology - 3D tv

Consumer behavior and TV set maker strategies are resulting in widely diverging TV product ranges across the world. While the industry is truly global, regional differences are increasing. For 3D, the most enthusiastic regions are Western Europe and China, while the mix of 3D in North America actually declined in the third quarter of 2011, according a fourth quarter report by NPD DisplaySearch.

”We were surprised to find that 3D appears to be a far more popular feature in China than North America, and the penetration rate was two times higher in the last quarter,” said Paul Gray, Director of TV Electronics Research. “Our report also indicates that North American and Japanese 3D penetration is lower than the Middle East.”

The report finds that North American consumers favor large, inexpensive TV sets with fewer features, unlike other regions. Chinese consumers are enthusiastic about richly-featured sets with 3D, LED backlighting and smart TV capabilities. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Virgin Olive Oil & Fish Fatty Acids Help Prevent Acute Pancreatitis

January 2nd 2012

Health/Medicine - olive-oil

Oleic acid and hydroxytyrosol –present in a particularly high concentration in virgin olive oil– and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids –found in fish– affect the cellular mechanisms involved in the development of acute pancreatitis, a disease of oxidative-inflammatory etiology. Therefore, oleic acid and hydroxytyrosol can be considered potential functional ingredients, as they may prevent or mitigate this disease.

Such was the conclusion drawn in a study conducted by a research group at the University of Granada Physiology Department, where the researchers examined the role of the Mediterranean diet ingredients in the prevention and mitigation of cell damage.

An In Vitro Experimental Model

These scientists developed an in vitro experimental model that allows scientist to evaluate how changes in the membrane fatty acid composition in vivo –caused by a change in the type of fat ingested– affect the ability of cells to respond to induced oxidative-inflammatory damage with cerulein (acute pancreatitis). Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Elderly Can be as Fast as Young in Some Brain Tasks, Study Shows

December 30th 2011

Social Topics - walking-cane

Both children and the elderly have slower response times when they have to make quick decisions in some settings. But recent research suggests that much of that slower response is a conscious choice to emphasize accuracy over speed. In fact, healthy older people can be trained to respond faster in some decision-making tasks without hurting their accuracy – meaning their cognitive skills in this area aren’t so different from younger adults. “Many people think that it is just natural for older people’s brains to slow down as they age, but we’re finding that isn’t always true,” said Roger Ratcliff, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of the studies. “At least in some situations, 70-year-olds may have response times similar to those of 25-year olds.”

Ratcliff and his colleagues have been studying cognitive processes and aging in their lab for about a decade.  In a new study published online this month in the journal Child Development, they extended their work to children. Ratcliff said their results in children are what most scientists would have expected: very young children have slower response times and poorer accuracy compared to adults, and these improve as the children mature. But the more interesting finding is that older adults don’t necessarily have slower brain processing than younger people, said Gail McKoon, professor of psychology at Ohio State and co-author of the studies. “Older people don’t want to make any errors at all, and that causes them to slow down.  We found that it is difficult to get them out of the habit, but they can with practice,” McKoon said. Read more ..


Inside the Brain

Human Brain's Connective Cells Are Much More Than Glue

December 29th 2011

Science - glia cells

Glia cells, named for the Greek word for "glue," hold the brain's neurons together and protect the cells that determine our thoughts and behaviors, but scientists have long puzzled over their prominence in the activities of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. Now Tel Aviv University researchers say that glia cells are central to the brain's plasticity — how the brain adapts, learns, and stores information.

According to Ph.D. student Maurizio De Pittà of TAU's Schools of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical Engineering, glia cells do much more than hold the brain together. A mechanism within the glia cells also sorts information for learning purposes, De Pittà says. "Glia cells are like the brain's supervisors. By regulating the synapses, they control the transfer of information between neurons, affecting how the brain processes information and learns."

De Pittà's research, led by his TAU supervisor Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, along with Vladislav Volman of The Salk Institute and the University of California at San Diego and Hugues Berry of the Université de Lyon in France, has developed the first computer model that incorporates the influence of glia cells on synaptic information transfer. Detailed in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the model can also be implemented in technologies based on brain networks such as microchips and computer software, Prof. Ben-Jacob says, and aid in research on brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Test-tube Testes Offer Possible Breakthrough for Infertile Men

December 28th 2011

Health/Medicine - Mahmoud Huleihel
Professor Mahmoud Huleihel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Sperm banks may have solved the problem of male infertility for some couples, but not for those men who want to see their grandmother’s smile or father’s eyes in their future offspring.

Environmental pollution, testicular warming, and even radiation treatments can radically alter the course of a man’s fertility—to the point where not even a single viable sperm can be used in the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, where a woman’s egg is joined with sperm in the lab to make a fertilized egg and implanted in the uterus.

Now, scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have created an artificial testis that promises to be a breakthrough in male infertility. In this Petri dish experiment, the researchers cultured a live sperm from mice, using the germ cells of a man’s sperm—the proto-cells that create sperm. Results were published recently in the Asian Journal of Andrology. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

"God Particle" Higgs Boson Mystery Could Be Solved Soon

December 28th 2011

Science - cern-atlas nov 2006
ATLAS experiment under construction at CERN

A definitive answer on whether or not the so-called “God Particle” exists could come in 2012, according to a scientist involved in solving the mystery.

The search for the subatomic particle called the Higgs boson went into overdrive in 2008, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland, switched on its Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Results of two CERN experiments, known as ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) and CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), were announced recently at a seminar Rumor was that the Higgs boson had finally been found. Instead, the teams revealed they’d found tantalizing hints of where the Higgs boson may be found, if it exists at all.

Dr. Pierre Savard, associate professor of physics at the University of Toronto, is currently involved in the ATLAS experiments to track down the elusive particle. He says that before each experimental team revealed its findings, neither knew the other’s results. Read more ..


Edge on Atomic Science

Egg Carton of Laser Light Traps Atoms and Advances Computing and Imaging

December 28th 2011

Science - Rydberg atom trap

In an egg carton of laser light, University of Michigan physicists can trap giant Rydberg atoms with up to 90 percent efficiency, an achievement that could advance quantum computing and terahertz imaging, among other applications.

Highly excited Rydberg atoms can be 1,000 times larger than their ground state counterparts. Nearly ionized, they cling to faraway electrons almost beyond their reach. Trapping them efficiently is an important step in realizing their potential, the researchers say.

Here's how they did it:

"Our optical lattice is made from a pair of counter-propagating laser beams and forms a series of wells that can trap the atoms, similar to how an egg carton holds eggs," said Georg Raithel, a U-M physics professor and co-author of a paper on the work published in the current edition of Physical Review Letters. Other co-authors are physics doctoral student Sarah Anderson and recent doctoral graduate Kelly Younge. The paper is titled "Trapping Rydberg atoms in an optical lattice." Read more ..



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