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The Edge of Science

Fruit Bats Outfitted with GPS Illustrate Navigation with Internal Cognitive Maps

August 17th 2011

Animals - egyptian fruit bat

GPS technology can make our travels easier and more efficient. But for many animals, the ability to successfully navigate a landscape is not just a matter of convenience—their very survival depends on it. Egyptian fruit bats, for instance, fly dozens of kilometers each night to feed on specific fruit trees, making the return trip the same night. To understand how the bats locate individual trees night after night, scientists attached tiny GPS devices to the bats in the first-ever, comprehensive, GPS-based field study of mammal navigation. The results of this study showed that the bats carry around an internal, cognitive map of their home range, based on such visual landmarks as lights or hills. The study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) online Early Edition, reveals for the first time how mammals find their way around their natural environment. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Mobile Phones Beat Dedicated Navigation Systems

August 16th 2011

Computer Topics - Motorola droid

German IT industry association Bitkom observes significant shifts in the market for navigation systems. The association expects that in the current year the number of dedicated navigation systems will decline by 11 percent; at the same time, the number of navigation apps for mobile phones and tablet computers will rise.

Bitkom believes that the industry will sell 3.1 million navigation systems in Germany in 2011, down from 3.5 million units in 2010. In other European countries, the trends are similar. The experts see two main reasons for the shift: Once, the market for dedicated systems is approaching saturation, and second, the navigation apps are increasingly powerful and at the same time very affordable.

"Every third household already has a navigation system," Bitkom vice president Heinz Paul Bonn said. "In contrast, only on four percent of all smart phones such an app is installed." Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Universal Donor Immune Cells in the Works

August 15th 2011

Health/Medicine - t cells attack cancer

One of the latest attempts to boost the body’s defenses against cancer is called adoptive cell transfer, in which patients receive a therapeutic injection of their own immune cells. This therapy, currently in early clinical trials for use on melanoma and neuroblastoma, has its limitations: Removing immune cells from a patient and growing them outside the body for future reinjection is extremely expensive and not always technically feasible.

Weizmann Institute scientists have now tested in mice a new form of adoptive cell transfer, which overcomes these limitations while enhancing the tumor-fighting ability of the transferred cells. The research, reported recently in Blood, was performed by graduate student Assaf Marcus and lab technician Tova Waks in the lab of Prof. Zelig Eshhar of the Institute’s Department of Immunology. Read more ..

The Computer Edge

Shipments of Internet-enabled Consumer Devices to Exceed PCs by 2013

August 15th 2011

Technology - tablet & laptop

In another sign of the Internet's transformative impact on the electronics industry, shipments of Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices will soar to exceed those of the traditional platform used for accessing the Internet—the PC—for the first time in 2013, according to a latest IHS iSuppli Consumer Platforms Report.

Shipments of Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices, a category including a wide range of products—from televisions to video game consoles, to Blu-ray players—will surge to 503.6 million units in 2013, up from 161 million in 2010. In comparison, PC shipments during the same period will amount to 433.7 million, up from 345.4 million.

In 2015, shipments of Internet-enabled consumer devices will breach three-quarters of a billion units, at 780.8 million units, massively exceeding PC shipments of 479.1 million. Read more ..

The Climate's Edge

Eat, Prey, Rain

August 15th 2011

Animals - lion stalking gazelles
Credit: Paul Renner

What do a herd of gazelles and a fluffy mass of clouds have in common? A mathematical formula that describes the population dynamics of such prey animals as gazelles and their predators has been used to model the relationship between cloud systems, rain, and tiny floating particles called aerosols. This model may help climate scientists understand, among other things, how human-produced aerosols affect rainfall patterns. The research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..

The Computer Edge

Samsung Galaxy tablet Temporarily Banned in Europe

August 15th 2011

Technology - galaxy tablet

Apple has obtained a temporary injunction that prevents Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. from distributing the Samsung Galaxy 10.1-inch screen size tablet computer in all countries of the European Union except The Netherlands, according to reports.

According to reports, the banning order was issued by a district court in Dusseldorf without Samsung being aware of or represented at the hearing.

A Bloomberg report references an Apple spokesperson as confirming the report and Samsung spokesperson saying the company would fight to make its products available. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

New Drug could Identify Virus-Infected Cells and Terminate Infections

August 13th 2011

Science - MIT antiviral

Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin, discovered decades ago. However, such drugs are useless against viral infections, including influenza, the common cold, and deadly hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

The microscope images to the left show that DRACO successfully treats viral infections. In the left set of four photos, rhinovirus (the common cold virus) kills untreated human cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right). Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Possible Biological Marker for Autism Found

August 11th 2011

Science - Brain Light

The biological causes of autism are still not understood. A diagnosis of autism is only possible after ages three or four and the tests are subjective, based on behavioral symptoms. Now, in research that appeared in Neuron, scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California, San Diego have found, for the first time, a method that can accurately identify a biological sign of autism in very young toddlers. In scanning the brain activity of sleeping children, the scientists discovered that the autistic brains exhibited significantly weaker synchronization between brain areas tied to language and communication compared to that of non-autistic children.

“Identifying biological signs of autism has been a major goal for many scientists around the world, both because they may allow early diagnosis, and because they can provide researchers with important clues about the causes and development of the disorder,” says postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ilan Dinstein, a member of the group of Prof. Rafael Malach, the incumbent of the Barbara and Morris L. Levinson Professorial Chair in Brain Research, who headed this study in the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Neurobiology. While many scientists believe that faulty lines of communication between different parts of the brain are involved in the spectrum of autism disorders, there was no way to observe this in very young children, who are unable to lie still inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner while they are awake. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA Says Possible Flowing Water on Red Planet

August 10th 2011

Science - Mars -- Water

A NASA spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has revealed that liquid water might still flow on the Red Planet. We have more about this new discovery as scientists continue to "follow the water" in an attempt to learn if Mars might be habitable. Scientists say there is a possibility that there is flowing water on Mars during the planet's warmest months.

Philip Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University, Tempe, focuses his attentions on Mars and Earth.  He spoke to reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington Thursday about a revelation that is exciting the science community. "We know Mars has a lot of ice, but this is the first time we've seen the potential for liquid water.  It might be salty water, but it still could [be] still liquid, and I think that's the real key here," said Christensen. "It's not that Mars doesn't have a lot of ice, but liquid water - certainly to an organism - is very, very, very different than ice." Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Invasive Plant Species Persist even after Removal and Threaten Biodiversity

August 10th 2011

Environment Topics - Holcus lanatus
Holcus lanatus 'Velvet grass'

Invasive species cost an estimated $1.4 trillion annually in their environmental and economic impacts worldwide and are second only to habitat loss as a threat to biodiversity. As scientists struggle with the challenge of controlling invasive species, the question of why some species are so successful continually arises.

Recent research conducted by Dr. Alison Bennett and Dr. Sharon Strauss at the University of California, Davis and Dr. Meredith Thomsen at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse has shed some light on this complex question. Most previous studies addressing the issue of species success have focused on the effect of individual factors, such as release from native enemies, disturbance, or allelopathy, but the interactions among these factors have not been taken into consideration. Bennett and colleagues investigated the effects of four primary mechanisms that potentially contribute to the success of invasive velvetgrass, Holcus lanatus.

Bennett and colleagues focused on the effects of H. lanatus on a native daisy, Erigeron glaucus, at the Bodega Marine Reserve in Bodega Bay, California. In a series of greenhouse and field experiments, these researchers studied the effects of direct competition, changes to the soil community, indirect competition due to changes in herbivore feeding, and interference competition due to allelopathy. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Human Ancestors Flourished and Developed on African Savannas

August 10th 2011

Africa - African savanna and elephants

Scientists using chemical isotopes in ancient soil to measure prehistoric tree cover--in effect, shade--have found that grassy, tree-dotted savannas prevailed at most East African sites where human ancestors and their ape relatives evolved during the past six million years.

"We've been able to quantify how much shade was available in the geological past," says University of Utah geochemist Thure Cerling, lead author of a paper titled "Woody cover and hominin environments in the past 6 million years" on the results in the journal Nature.

"It shows there have been open habitats for the last six million years in the environments in East Africa where some of the most significant early human fossils were found. Read more ..

Race for Alt Energy

Water/Methanol Hybrid Energy System Boosts Rooftop Solar Power

August 10th 2011

Science - hydrogen system

While roofs across the world sport photovoltaic solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity, a Duke University engineer believes a novel hybrid system can wring even more useful energy out of the sun's rays.

Instead of systems based on standard solar panels, Duke engineer Nico Hotz proposes a hybrid option in which sunlight heats a combination of water and methanol in a maze of glass tubes on a rooftop. After two catalytic reactions, the system produces hydrogen much more efficiently than current technology without significant impurities. The resulting hydrogen can be stored and used on demand in fuel cells.

For his analysis, Hotz compared the hybrid system to three different technologies in terms of their exergetic performance. Exergy is a way of describing how much of a given quantity of energy can theoretically be converted to useful work. Read more ..

The Edge of Rare Earth

Prices for Rare Earths Skyrocket as China Throttles Supply

August 9th 2011

Science - rare earth
Rare earth samples

Rare earth materials are becoming increasingly rare as dominant supplier China tightens restrictions on production, essentially cutting already short-supply exports by a third.

As a result, rare earth prices are skyrocketing in a market where supply can only meet only about 40 percent of the demand outside China, according to a recent report from rare earths expert Dudley Kingsnorth, executive director of the Industrial Minerals Co. of Australia.

"Prices for rare earths are going wild," said Mike Pugh, director of operations for Intematix Corp. "For instance, the price of europium more than doubled during a three-week period in June of this year."

The U.S., Canada and Australia all have strategic efforts underway to reopen rare earth mines outside China, including new mines in Russia and Malaysia. Still, these new mines are not expected to significantly reduce the shortfall for at least three years. As a result, hoarding and price gouging are already rampant as is a concerted effort by manufacturers to either move manufacturing operations to China or find alternatives to rare earths. Read more ..

Edge on Space

Liquid Water may be Flowing on Mars

August 7th 2011

Science - Mars flowing waters

NASA spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has revealed that liquid water might still flow on the Red Planet. We have more about this new discovery as scientists continue to "follow the water" in an attempt to learn if Mars might be habitable. Scientists say there is a possibility that there is flowing water on Mars during the planet's warmest months. Philip Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University, Tempe, focuses his attentions on Mars and Earth. He spoke to reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington Thursday about a revelation that is exciting the science community.

"We know Mars has a lot of ice, but this is the first time we've seen the potential for liquid water. It might be salty water, but it still could [be] still liquid, and I think that's the real key here," said Christensen. " It's not that Mars doesn't have a lot of ice, but liquid water - certainly to an organism - is very, very, very different than ice."

And what are the indications that there could be flowing water? NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed dark, finger-like features that extend down some steep mountain slopes in the Martian middle latitudes during late spring and summer. The features fade in winter, and they return the next Martian spring. Read more ..

The Race for Wind Power

Inflatable Wind Turbines Proving to be an Affordable Energy Solution

August 5th 2011

Energy / Environment - Inflatable Wind Turbine

Inflatable wind turbines are now lighter and cheaper than heavy conventional ones. Following a number of  Israeli clean technology companies being winners in the General Electric Company’s Green Innovation Marathon, GE has announced plans to establish a “Green Tech Shop” in Haifa in which a number of renewable energy and other green technology projects will be developed under the giant American electronics company’s sponsorship. One of these green companies, Winflex LTD, is set on proving that harnessing energy from the wind does not have to involve the use of  large cumbersome wind turbines, such as the wind turbines now churning away on the Golan Heights.

Winflex wind rotor

What is unique about Winflex’s inflatable wind turbines is that they are made out of “light, flexible and inexpensive cloth sheets made out of composite materials.” The result are light weight portable wind turbines that can be installed virtually anywhere – even on home rooftops – and result in a much shorter return on equipment investment than conventional wind turbines. By reducing costs and erection time of equipment, it reduces need for government subsidies, according to Winflex’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Vladimir Kliatzkin.

Using inflatable, easily installed wind turbines is a novel idea, especially compared to those giant whirling wind turbines are now becoming commonplace in many western European countries, such as Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark, and Holland. Winflex’s designs uses a much lighter rotor around which the turbine blades revolve like sails from a sailing vessel. Read more ..

Inside the Brain

Advances Made in Generating Brain Cells for Potential Therapies

August 4th 2011

Science - Brain Light

University of Florida scientists have discovered a way to separate the neural wheat from the chaff during the process of generating brain cells for potential patient therapies. The technique, recently detailed in the online journal PLoS ONE, could be applied to long-awaited stem cell treatments for Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other brain disorders. It would allow doctors to deliver neurons to patients, without including vast amounts of other types of unnecessary brain cells.

"We need to be able to deliver precise doses of our therapeutic drug, which in this case is neurons that are needed to restore function lost as a result of disease or injury," said Brent A. Reynolds, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery with UF's Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute. "Prior to the development of our technology, it was not possible to deliver highly pure populations of neurons, or to control the number of neurons that were delivered." Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Our Sun and Planets were made Differently

August 4th 2011

Science - Cloud D2 Cygnus region, Spitzer

The sun and the solar system's rocky inner planets, including the Earth, may have formed differently than previously thought, according to UCLA scientists and colleagues analyzing samples returned by NASA's Genesis mission.

The data from Genesis, which collected material from the solar wind blowing from the sun, reveal differences between the sun and planets with regard to oxygen and nitrogen, two of the most abundant elements in our solar system, the researchers report in two studies in the journal Science. And although the differences are slight, the research could help determine how our solar system evolved.

"We want to understand how rocky planets form, particularly our rocky planet," said Genesis co-investigator and UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences Kevin McKeegan, who was the lead author of the Science study on oxygen. "To understand that, we need to understand how the isotope composition of the most abundant element in the Earth came to be what it is." Read more ..

Edge of Space

Hydrogen Peroxide Found in Space

August 4th 2011

Science - Revolving galaxy

An international team of astronomers made the discovery with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX), situated on the 15,000-foot-high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. They observed a region in our galaxy close to the star Rho Ophiuchi, about 400 light-years away.

The region contains very cold (around -250 degrees Celsius), dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. The clouds are mostly made of hydrogen, but contain traces of other chemicals, and are prime targets for astronomers hunting for molecules in space. Telescopes such as APEX, which make observations of light at millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelengths, are ideal for detecting the signals from these molecules.

Now, the team has found the characteristic signature of light emitted by hydrogen peroxide, coming from part of the Rho Ophiuchi clouds Read more ..

Edge of the Universe

Zombie Stars are Key to Measuring mysterious Dark Energy

August 4th 2011

Science - Chandra super nova
Tycho's supernova remnant

"Zombie" stars that explode like bombs as they die, only to revive by sucking matter out of other stars. According to an astrophysicist at UC Santa Barbara, this isn't the plot for the latest 3D blockbuster movie. Instead, it's something that happens every day in the universe –– something that can be used to measure dark energy.

This special category of stars, known as Type Ia supernovae, help to probe the mystery of dark energy, which scientists believe is related to the expansion of the universe.

Andy Howell, adjunct professor of physics at UCSB and staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT), wrote a review article about this topic, published recently in Nature Communications. LCOGT, a privately funded global network of telescopes, works closely with UCSB. Supernovae are stars that have been observed since 1054 A.D., when an exploding star formed the crab nebula, a supernova remnant. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Aerosol Particles Affect Climate more than Prior Estimates

August 4th 2011

Environment Topics - North America sat image

Aerosol particles, including soot and sulfur dioxide from burning fossil fuels, essentially mask the effects of greenhouse gases and are at the heart of the biggest uncertainty in climate change prediction. New research from the University of Michigan shows that satellite-based projections of aerosols' effect on Earth's climate significantly underestimate their impacts.

The findings are published by the National Academy of Sciences.

Aerosols are at the core of "cloud drops"—water particles suspended in air that coalesce to form precipitation. Increasing the number of aerosol particles causes an increase in the number of cloud drops, which results in brighter clouds that reflect more light and have a greater cooling effect on the planet.

As to the extent of their cooling effect, scientists offer different scenarios that would raise the global average surface temperature during the next century between under 2 to over 3 degrees Celsius. That may not sound like a broad range, but it straddles the 2-degree tipping point beyond which scientists say the planet can expect more catastrophic climate change effects. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

A Game-changer in Breast Cancer Detection

August 1st 2011

Health/Medicine - RUTH breast cancer detection device

Early detection is the key to improving breast cancer survival rates, but mammography is not the ideal method to accomplish this goal. On this point, medical experts across the globe agree.

Not as clear is what could do the job without the disadvantages of mammography, which often causes pain or discomfort; emits radiation; cannot properly image dense breast tissue; relies on a radiologist’s interpretation of the image; and is not recommended for routine screening of women under age 40 or 50.

Of several approaches being developed worldwide, an Israeli solution pioneered by electro-optical engineer Boaz Arnon holds particular promise in providing a game-changing device for early detection of breast cancer. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Blood and Lymphatic Vessels: Past Lessons, Future Hopes

August 1st 2011

Health/Medicine - zebrafish embryo
Zebrafish embryo

“I believe there is real magic in the way that embryos develop. I’ve been studying them for almost 15 years and I haven’t stopped being amazed,” says Dr. Karina Yaniv of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Biological Regulation.

Dr. Yaniv focuses on examining how blood and lymphatic vessels form during embryonic development. Her research may, in the future, lead to new therapies for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other illnesses. “I think it’s imperative for us to learn how to manipulate vessel growth,” she says. “Sometimes we want to encourage vessel growth and sometimes we want to stop it.”

In cardiac ischemia, for example, a partially or completely blocked artery causes a decrease in the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. As a result, the heart muscle tissue can be damaged. “But if we knew how to grow new blood vessels, we could save that tissue,” says Dr. Yaniv. Read more ..

Artificial Intelligence

Humanoid Robots may Diagnose Neuro-Developmental Delays and Autism in Children

July 28th 2011

Science - silver robot

STMicroelectronics and Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna of Pisa announced the creation of a joint laboratory for research and innovation in bio-robotics, smart systems and microelectronics. The work at the new laboratory in Catania, Italy is to lead to a better understanding of the physical design of bodies and the organization of their sensory and nervous systems.

Past collaboration between ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna resulted in joint projects including DustBot, a scientific platform integrating self-driven, self-navigating ‘service robots’ for selective waste collection and street cleaning in city centers. Going forward, experts will be collaborating to develop smart toys equipped with motion and pressure sensors for early diagnosis of neuro-developmental delays and autistic pathologies in small children. Read more ..

Medical Edge

Re-Programmed Adult Skin Cells behave like Embryonic Stem Cells for Disease Studies

July 27th 2011

Science - Stemcell electron microscope

The University of Michigan's Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies has achieved another of its primary goals: reprogramming adult skin cells so they behave like embryonic stem cells. The reprogrammed cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. They display many of the most scientifically valuable properties of embryonic stem cells while enabling researchers to bypass embryos altogether.

U-M researchers will use the iPS cells side by side with human embryonic stem cells to study the origin and progression of various diseases and to search for new treatments. Three of the consortium's first five iPS cell lines came from skin cells donated by patients with bipolar disorder and will be used to study that condition. Read more ..

Ancient Edge

Best-Preserved House Discovered of Kingdom of Israel is 3,000 Years Old

July 26th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Israel dig, Dr Shay Bar, Univ Haifa
Credit: Dr Shay Bar, Univ. of Haifa

In addition to many findings dating back to the Kingdom of Israel (some 3,000 years ago), remains of a Persian city (2,400 years ago) and a Byzantine town (1,500 years ago) have been exposed at the site. Plans are in place to develop the excavation site as a public archaeology park

Exceptional detective-archaeological work at the first season of archaeological digs at Tel Shikmona, on the southern edge of Israel's city of Haifa, has uncovered the remains of a house dating back to the period of the Kingdom of Israel. The site was excavated about 40 years ago and due to neglect and layers of earth and garbage that piled up over the decades, the historical remains were hidden and little was known about what lay below. Read more ..

Ancient Edge

Ancient Tsunami May have Buried the City of the Original Olympics

July 26th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Temple of Hera - Olympia

Olympia, site of the famous Temple of Zeus and original venue of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, was presumably destroyed by repeated tsunamis that travelled considerable distances inland, and not by earthquake and river floods as has been assumed to date. Evidence in support of this new theory on the virtual disappearance of the ancient cult site on the Peloponnesian peninsula comes from Professor Dr Andreas Vött of the Institute of Geography of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Vött investigated the site as part of a project in which he and his team are studying the paleotsunamis that occurred along the coastlines of the eastern Mediterranean over the last 11,000 years. Read more ..

The Race for Connectivity

Politically-connected LightSquared Pushes Wireless Internet Plan despite GPS Interference Concerns

July 25th 2011

Technology - gps devices

When the Federal Communications Commission granted LightSquared Inc. expedited approval to launch a new wireless Internet service, some powerful voices in Washington expressed alarm, including the Pentagon and one-third of the U.S. Senate.

LightSquared’s bold $14 billion plan, its detractors said, could cripple Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems and threaten aviation safety, disrupt military and rescue operations, and interfere with high-tech farming equipment and the everyday navigation devices used by millions.

LightSquared says it has pursued its case through official channels. But little gets done in the nation’s capital without some kind of political connection, and in this regard, LightSquared’s bloodline is particularly rich. Its ties to President Obama’s supporters and the administration’s policy interests run deep, explaining the company’s ability to do battle with powerful entrenched interests. Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Need a Taxi? There’s an App for That

July 25th 2011

Technology - get-taxi screenshot

Israel’s GetTaxi mobile phone application puts an end to running down the street with an outstretched arm—and benefits drivers as well.

Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City showed us how strategic one must be when grabbing a taxicab. It’s not only a cutthroat business where people jump around each other to get the first cab; you can get splashed on, taken for a scenic ride if you aren’t a local, or worse, wait forever until a cab comes your way. Not to mention the occasional crime against rider or driver.

A new Israeli app rolling out in Israel, London and then Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and beyond points the way for changing the century-old tradition of hailing a cab with your hand or reserving by phone call and standing around waiting.

The company, GetTaxi has developed an application that can be downloaded to your mobile phone. Tap on the screen, and the request is delivered to a call center. Like watching Pac-man travel around the computer screen, you can watch in real-time as your taxi approaches where you are waiting. Simultaneously, users receive information about their driver, including picture, name, license number and ratings by other GetTaxi users. Read more ..

The Geologic Edge

Dirty Diamonds Contain the Record of How the Earth's Surface Was Created

July 22nd 2011

Science - Diamond in the rough

Impurities may not actually add to the value of diamonds, but geophysicists, geologists and other scientists find them to be a boon to understanding the forces that created the face of the Earth. These impurities, found within the super-hard structure of diamonds, are unaltered and ancient minerals that reveal our planet's distant past. Researchers analyzed data from the literature of over 4,000 of these mineral inclusions to find that continents started the cycle of breaking apart, drifting, and colliding about 3 billion years ago. The research pinpoints when this so-called Wilson cycle began.

The lead author of a recent study of diamond impurities, Steven Shirey at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism explained “The Wilson cycle is responsible for the growth of the Earth’s continental crust, the continental structures we see today, the opening and closing of ocean basins through time, mountain building, and the distribution of ores and other materials in the crust. Read more ..

The Metal's Edge

Conflict-free Tantalum Emerges for Telecom Industry

July 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Tantalum in the hand

AVX Corporation, in partnership with a leading producer of communications technology, has developed the “Solutions for Hope Project,” which is a pilot program established to demonstrate a process to deliver conflict-free tantalum material from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines.

The process’ basis is a ”closed pipe” principle in which tantalite ore mined from a single site within the Katanga Province of the DRC is traced along its secure closed supply chain to the end-customer’s equipment in the form of tantalum capacitors supplied by AVX. Read more ..

Edge on Health

Wireless Power for Implanted Heart Pumps may Cut the Cord for Patients

July 13th 2011

Science - Xray heart pump

Mechanical pumps to give failing hearts a boost were originally developed as temporary measures for patients awaiting a heart transplant. But as the technology has improved, these ventricular assist devices commonly operate in patients for years. Prolonged use, however, has its own problems. The power cord that protrudes through the patient's belly is cumbersome and prone to infection over time. Infections occur in close to 40 percent of patients, are the leading cause of rehospitalization, and can be fatal.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have tested a wireless power system for ventricular assist devices. They recently presented the work in Washington, D.C. at the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs annual meeting, where it received the Willem Kolff/Donald B. Olsen Award for most promising research in the development of artificial hearts. Read more ..

Edge of the Universe

The Universe May Have Been Born Spinning

July 13th 2011

Science - Revolving galaxy

Physicists and astronomers have long believed that the universe has mirror symmetry, like a basketball. But recent findings from the University of Michigan suggest that the shape of the Big Bang might be more complicated than previously thought, and that the early universe spun on an axis.

To test for the assumed mirror symmetry, physics professor Michael Longo and a team of five undergraduates catalogued the rotation direction of tens of thousands of spiral galaxies photographed in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The mirror image of a counter-clockwise rotating galaxy would have clockwise rotation. More of one type than the other would be evidence for a breakdown of symmetry, or, in physics speak, a parity violation on cosmic scales, Longo said. Read more ..

Edge the Brain

Scientists Discover how Best to Excite Brain Cells

July 13th 2011

Science - glowing neuron

Oh, the challenges of being a neuron, responsible for essential things like muscle contraction, gland secretion and sensitivity to touch, sound and light, yet constantly bombarded with signals from here, there and everywhere.

How on earth are busy nerve cells supposed to pick out and respond to relevant signals amidst all that information overload?

Somehow neurons do manage to accomplish the daunting task, and they do it with more finesse than anyone ever realized, new research by University of Michigan mathematician Daniel Forger and coauthors demonstrates. Their findings—which not only add to basic knowledge about how neurons work, but also suggest ways of better designing the brain implants used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's disease—were published July 7 in the online, open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Forger and coauthors David Paydarfar at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and John Clay at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke studied neuronal excitation using mathematical models and experiments with that most famous of neuroscience study subjects, the squid giant axon—a long arm of a nerve cell that controls part of the water jet propulsion system in squid. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Thunderbolt Interconnect: Two Channels of Data Transfer Offers a Lot of Noise but no Spark

July 12th 2011

Computer Topics - Hand on Mouse

The newly released Thunderbolt interconnect provides two channels of bi-directional data transfer at 10-Gbps rates, which admittedly is way beyond an order of magnitude more than what the USB 2.0 protocol offers. In the future, that will be bolstered even further, as the interconnect will incorporate optical (hence its original name of "LightPeak") as well as copper cabling. However, this is still likely to be some way off.

The huge jump in bandwidth Thunderbolt represents means that, in principal, it should prove to be a very attractive prospect. Despite this, there are serious technical and economic drawbacks that need to be reflected on. All this added performance does not come cheap, and so its ability to swell a bill of materials might actually overshadow its ability to transfer data. Read more ..

Privacy on Edge

Bluetooth v4.0 Profiles Will Promote Proximity Sensing, Security Features

July 11th 2011

Technology - bluetooth connecting devices

Two new profiles within the latest revision of the Bluetooth specification are expected to enable a new era in proximity sensing and security, according to Nordic Semiconductor. The Bluetooth v4.0 profiles, developed within the Bluetooth SIG PUID (Personal User Interface Device) working group will enable the standards-based functionality.

The Bluetooth low energy Find Me profile targets smartphone applications and will allow users to pair small but commonly misplaced everyday objects with smartphones in order to locate them. One early example will be Bluetooth low energy key fobs that users will be able to use to find a misplaced phone or key fob. Read more ..

Privacy on Edge

U.S. Lawmakers Frustrated by Lack of Answers about Google Street View Wi-spying

July 11th 2011

Technology - g street view car varberg sweden
Google street view car in Varberg, Sweden

Perhaps you’ve seen them trundling past your house—those ruby-red Google Street View compact cars, with a tripod camera mounted on the roof. They have cruised through almost every major town in the developed world, photographing each house and posting the pictures on Google Maps.

But one year ago, following the German government’s demand for more information, Google representatives were forced to admit that the cars were gathering more than harmless pictures; they were systematically gathering data on anyone using a nearby, unsecured Wi-Fi network. If you were within range and surfing the Web without a password, Google took a little electronic snapshot of whatever you were doing. Read more ..

Digital Edge

'Smart' TVs Coming Sooner As India Phases out Analog

July 7th 2011

Computer Topics - smart tv

Internet services are becoming critical to the future of television as TV manufacturers in 2011 aim to ship more than a quarter of all flat panel TVs with some form of Internet connectivity. According to market research firm DisplaySearch, this number is forecast to grow to 138M units in 2015, accounting for 47 percent of all flat panel TVs shipped.

"The adoption of connected TV is not just taking place in developed regions," said Paul Gray, DisplaySearch Director of TV Electronics Research, in a statement. "Emerging markets often have good broadband services, and there is a thirst from consumers to get the best content available." Read more ..

The Next Edge

Microalgae Could be Texas’s Next Big Cash Crop

July 7th 2011

Science - Fernandez and TAMU microalgae bioreactor
Dr. Carlos Fernandez, TAMU Corpus Christi (credit: Rod Santa Ana)

Just as corn and peanuts stunned the world decades ago with their then-newly discovered multi-beneficial uses and applications, Texas AgriLife Research scientists in Corpus Christi think microalgae holds even more promise.

“It's a huge, untapped source of fuel, food, feed, pharmaceuticals and even pollution-busters,” said Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a crop physiologist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi who is studying the physiological responses of microalgae to the environment. There are an estimated 200,000 to 800,000 species of microalgae, microscopic algae that thrive in freshwater and marine systems—but of all those species, only 35,000 species have been described. Read more ..

Digital Edge

Tiny new Antenna may Lead to a New Generation of Wireless Consumer Electronics and Wireless Devices

July 6th 2011

Science - Antenna

Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to mass-produce antennas so small that they approach the fundamental minimum size limit for their bandwidth, or data rate, of operation.

This could lead to new generations of wireless consumer electronics and mobile devices that are either smaller or can perform more functions. The antenna is typically the largest wireless component in mobile devices. Shrinking it could leave more room for other gadgets and features, said Anthony Grbic, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Grbic and Stephen Forrest, a professor in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Physics, led the development of the hemisphere-shaped antennas, which can be manufactured with innovative imprint processing techniques that are rapid and low cost. The finished product is 1.8 times the fundamental antenna size limit established in 1948 by L.J. Chu. The dimensions of this limit vary based on an antenna's bandwidth. Read more ..

Digital Edge

Silicon Roundabout Tech Calls for IP Reform to Identify Changes needed in UK copyright law

July 6th 2011

Computer Topics - computer board

The Silicon Roundabout Tech community has issued an open letter to the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and key members of the Cabinet, calling for the urgent and fulsome adoption of IP reforms recommended by Professor Ian Hargreaves in his report commissioned by the Prime Minister, which was intended to identify changes needed to Britain’s copyright law framework. In the report, Professor Hargreaves states “Laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth.”

The companies within the Silicon Roundabout Tech community believe that the recommendations laid out in the report would help correct that imbalance, with the open letter highlighting that the recommendations received strong support at the recent e-G8 meeting held in Paris, where they were cited as best practice for copyright law in the digital age. Read more ..

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