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Green Futures

More Metal Recycling Can Grow Green Economy

May 28th 2011

Environment Topics - Electronic trash 2

Less than one-third of 60 metals studied have end-of-life recycling rate above 50 percent; 34 are under 1 percent. In addition, smarter product designs, support for developing country waste management schemes, and encouraging households in the developed world not to 'squirrel away' old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help boost recycling of metals world-wide. These are among the conclucions of a report released in Belgium by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Additionally, recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lower than their potential for re-use. Many of these metals are crucial to clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to the magnets in wind turbines, says the study. Read more ..


Edge on Electronics

Stretchable Sensors May Improve Airbag Control

May 26th 2011

Science - Stretchable sensors

There are situations when an airbag does not protect but instead hurts car passengers: For instance, if it ignites in a moment when the seat occupant has bent forward. A sensor technology developed by Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research (ISC) can help to optimize the ignition process by providing information as to the passenger's weight and position. The sensors will be integrated into the seats. They consist of a stretchable elastomer foil which is coated by stretchable electrodes on both sides. In the case the sensor is stretched, for instance by a seat deformation as a consequence of the passenger moving around, the thickness of the foil changes, and thus its capacity. In contrast to conventional resistance strain gauges the elastomer sensors can be stretched by up to 100 percent, said Holger Böse, scientific manager of the ISC Smart Materials Center. Read more ..


Electronic Edge

'Green' Computer Displays Make More Economic Sense as Backlight LEDs Improve

May 26th 2011

Computer Topics - Russian computer user

Energy efficiency is constantly improving in flat-panel displays as backlight LEDs are improved and architected to constantly better performance. This year's DisplayWeek attested to that. “The LED efficiency continues to improve, around 10-15 percent per year through improving internal quantum efficiency (IQE) and increasing light extraction efficiency,” according to Ross Young, SVP, Displays, LEDs and Lighting for IMS Research. At the "Green Technologies" market research conference here in conjunction with the Society for Information Display event here the consensus was lower-power displays have an overall economic advantage over higher-power displays. Read more ..


Ancient Edge

Archaeologists Dig Oldest Mine of the Americas

May 25th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Chile - Taltal ancient iron mine

Archaeologists have discovered a 12,000-year-old iron oxide mine in Chile that marks the oldest evidence of organized mining ever found in the Americas. A team of researchers led by Diego Salazar of the Universidad de Chile found the 40-meter trench near the coastal town of Taltal in northern Chile. It was dug by the Huentelauquen people—the first settlers in the region—who used iron oxide as pigment for painted stone and bone instruments, and probably also for clothing and body paint, the researchers say.

The remarkable duration and extent of the operation illustrate the surprising cultural complexity of these ancient people. "It shows that [mining] was a labor-intensive activity demanding specific technical skills and some level of social cooperation transmitted through generations," Salazar and his team write. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Virgin’s Galactic Space Travel—From LA to Abu Dhabi in Two Hours

May 25th 2011

Last week, in the historic large lecture theatre at the Royal Institution in London, the oldest independent research body in the world, Stephen Attenborough—the Commercial Director for Virgin Galactic—spent two uninterrupted hours mesmerizing a private audience on the future of commercial space travel. By the end of the session, even skeptics like myself, who came in thinking this was another wasted venture for the rich, were converted, captivated by the advancement of human ingenuity and the potential that space travel holds for the future of scientific research and sustainable travel.

It’s been just over a century since the Wright Bothers made their inaugural flight in North Carolina and fifty years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. When Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969, space travel seemed poised to enter a golden era. However, space programs proved prohibitively expensive—and dangerous.

As Virgin’s Attenborough reminded us, in the last fifty years only 550 people have been to space, far fewer than what one would have expected at the time when human spaceflight first began. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Radio Telescope Seeks Signals from Advanced Civilizations in Deep Space

May 19th 2011

Science - Andromeda galaxy

Now that NASA's Kepler space telescope has identified 1,235 possible planets around stars in our galaxy, astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, are aiming a radio telescope at the most Earth-like of these worlds to see if they can detect signals from an advanced civilization.

The search began on Saturday, May 8, when the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope – the largest steerable radio telescope in the world – dedicated an hour to eight stars with possible planets. Once UC Berkeley astronomers acquire 24 hours of data on a total of 86 Earth-like planets, they'll initiate a coarse analysis and then, in about two months, ask an estimated 1 million SETI@home users to conduct a more detailed analysis on their home computers. Read more ..


Edge on Society

Study Shows that Girls are Less Likely to be Violent When Seeking Others' Approval

May 18th 2011

Social Topics - School kids

Many teen girls who push, slap or punch their dates know the situation could become more violent, but they think most consequences are unlikely, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University used the theory of planned behavior, which predicts a person's intentions and actions.

"We know that girls' use of force often occurs in the context of violence against them, either as self-defense or sometimes retaliation," said Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work, who wrote the study with lead author Poco Kernsmith, an associate professor of social work at WSU. "The impact of dating violence is more severe for girls who are victimized than for boys." Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Childhood Exposure to Toxic Waste Makes for Sick Adults

May 18th 2011

Environment Topics - drain to ocean

A newly funded center at the University of Michigan will allow researchers from the School of Public Health and the Medical School to study the way environmental toxicants change genetic programming, and how those changes contribute to chronic disease in adults.

The center, a collaboration between the U-M SPH and the U-M Health System, is the first of its kind at U-M and is the only new National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences P30 Core Center to be funded (as opposed to renewals of existing centers) in the last six years, said the center's director, Dr. Howard Hu. Read more ..


Telephone Technology on Edge

Android Wins 35 Percent of Q1 Smartphone Market

May 18th 2011

Computer Topics - HTC thunderbold droid phone
HTC Thunderbold with Droid OS

Android led the market smartphones in the first quarter of 2011 with 35 percent market share and 35.7 million units shipped out of a total of 101.0 million shipped in total, according to market research firm Canalys Ltd.

Canalys puts Android in the lead in smartphones for the second quarter running. At the same time, Canalys stated that Asia Pacific (APAC) became the largest smart phone market region, with year-on-year growth of 98 percent to 37.3 million units, putting it ahead of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). On a country basis, mainland China, South Korea and India delivered strong volumes and registered triple-digit growth.

Overall, worldwide smart phone shipments grew 83 percent to 101.0 million units, compared with a 1Q10. Though its market share shrank from 39 percent a year ago to 24 percent in Q1 2011, Nokia held onto its worldwide leadership position with 24.2 million units shipped—a 13 percent year-on-year rise—despite the current realignment of its platform strategy, staying ahead of RIM in EMEA and Apple in APAC. APAC became the largest region for Nokia, accounting for 53 percent of its overall shipments, overtaking EMEA by more than 3 million units. Canalys said that is country-level data shows that Nokia remains number one in 28 countries, including mainland China, where it grew 79 percent to 8.9 million units, thanks in part to Chinese New Year shipments. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Mars Express Sees Dramatic Deep Fractures on Mars

May 9th 2011

Science - Nili Fossae - Mars
Nili Fossae

Newly released images from ESA’s Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the same time as the basin. Nili Fossae is a ‘graben’ system on Mars, northeast of the Syrtis Major volcanic province, on the northwestern edge of the giant Isidis impact basin. Graben refers to the lowered terrain between two parallel faults or fractures in the rocks that collapses when tectonic forces pull the area apart. The Nili Fossae system contains numerous graben concentrically oriented around the edges of the basin.

It is thought that flooding of the basin with basaltic lava after the impact that created it resulted in subsidence of the basin floor, adding stress to the planet’s crust, which was released by the formation of the fractures. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

IEEE Looks beyond 100G Ethernet

May 9th 2011

Computer Topics - Russian computer user

The IEEE has kicked off a new group to explore what comes after today’s emerging 40 and 100 Gbit/second versions of Ethernet. The 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment Ad Hoc group is gathering data from a broad range of sources now and plans to submit a report by June 2012.

At least two camps have proposed very different futures for Ethernet to date. Companies such as Google and Facebook that run big data centers have called for Terabit Ethernet as early as 2013 to handle the growth of mobile and video data. Component companies have proposed a more realistic half-step to 400 Gbit/s.

"You are really seeing a division between suppliers and customers," said John D’Ambrosia who chairs the new ad hoc group. "Customers are going to have to go back and sharpen their pencils because we are running into the limits of physics," said D’Ambrosia, who is also a member of the CTO’s office at Force10 Networks. Read more ..


Edge on Nanotechnology

Pentagonal Tiles Pave the Way towards Organic Electronics

May 8th 2011

Science - Organic electronics

New research paves way for the nanoscale self-assembly of organic building blocks, a promising new route towards the next generation of ultra-small electronic devices.

Ring-like molecules with unusual five-fold symmetry bind strongly to a copper surface, due to a substantial transfer of charge, but experience remarkably little difficulty in sideways diffusion, and exhibit surprisingly little interaction between neighbouring molecules. This unprecedented combination of features is ideal for the spontaneous creation of high-density stable thin films, comprising a pavement of these organic pentagonal tiles, with potential applications in computing, solar power and novel display technologies. Read more ..


The Anthropology Edge

Right-handedness May Have Prevailed 500,000 Years Ago

May 8th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Early hominid right hand

Right-handedness is a distinctively human characteristic, with right-handers outnumbering lefties nine-to-one. But how far back does right-handedness reach in the human story?

Researchers have tried to determine the answer by looking at ancient tools, prehistoric art and human bones, but the results have not been definitive.

Now, David Frayer, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, has used markings on fossilized front teeth to show that right-handedness goes back more than 500,000 years. He is the lead author (with colleagues in Croatia, Italy and Spain) of a paper published this month in the British journal Laterality.

His research shows that distinctive markings on fossilized teeth correlate to the right or left-handedness of individual prehistoric humans. Read more ..


The Race for Space

Obama asks Congress for $850 million to Support Private Enterprise in Space

May 2nd 2011

Transportation Topics - Falcon 9 space
Falcon 9 rocket

The U.S. space shuttle Endeavor was scheduled on April 28 to lift off on its last voyage to the orbiting International Space Station and now, due to some technical issues, has been delayed until May 8. And on June 28, barring any last minute complications, Alantis will become the last space shuttle ever to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center. Both missions mark the end of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program. But it is not the end of America’s space ventures.

Fifty years after a Redstone rocket carried the first American astronaut, Alan Shephard, into space, NASA is getting out of the business of sending astronauts on missions using its own spacecraft. Instead, the U.S. space agency will rely on privately designed and owned rockets to ferry cargo and crew to the orbiting International Space Station. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Researchers Create Artificial Brain Synapse With Carbon Nanotubes

May 2nd 2011

Science - Mind

Devices might be used in brain prostheses—or combined into massive network of synthetic neurons to create a synthetic brain

Engineering researchers at USC Viterbi have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron input, the synapse, the a building block of the brain.

The team, which was led by Professor Alice Parker and Professor Chongwu Zhou in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, used an interdisciplinary approach combining circuit design with nanotechnology to address the complex problem of capturing brain function.

In a paper published in the proceedings of the Life Science Systems and Applications Workshop in April 2011, the Viterbi team detailed how they were able to use carbon nanotubes to create a synapse. Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Mobile PC Market May Grow 27 Percent in 2011

May 2nd 2011

Computer Topics - Google tablet HOneycomb

Mobile PC shipments will each 277.7 million units in 2011, up 27 percent on 2010, according to market research firm DisplaySearch.

There is a decline in netbook and emerging market shipments but notebook and tablet computer shipments in mature markets are keeping the overall market growing fast, said the company.

Growth is expected to slow in the short term but then pick up as emerging markets return to a fresh PC buying cycle. Shipments into North American are expected to reach 91 million units in 2011 and 108.6 million units in 2012. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Scientists Detect Early Warning of Ecosystem Collapse in Wisconsin

May 2nd 2011

Environment Topics - Peter and Paul lake Wisconsin

Researchers eavesdropping on complex signals emanating from a remote Wisconsin lake have detected what they say is an unmistakable warning — a death knell — of the impending collapse of the lake's aquatic ecosystem. The finding was made by a team of researchers led by Stephen Carpenter, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the first experimental evidence that radical change in an ecosystem can be detected in advance, possibly in time to prevent ecological catastrophe.

"For a long time, ecologists thought these changes couldn't be predicted," says Carpenter, a UW-Madison professor of zoology and one of the world's foremost ecologists. "But we've now shown that they can be foreseen. The early warning is clear. It is a strong signal." Read more ..

The Race for Pressure Energy

Piezoelectric MEMS boosts vibration harvester

April 29th 2011

Science - Piezo electric device 2

Electrical engineers from the University of Michigan claim to have invented a technique for micro-machining piezoelectric MEMS that generate 10-times more energy than conventional energy harvesters. The research team said a penny-sized piezoelectric MEMS could generate enough electricity to power medical implants in the body and wireless sensors on motor vehicles.

The energy harvester market for wireless sensor networks is expected to $450 million by 2015, according to Erkan Aktakka, one of the system's developers, working in the lab of professor Erkan Aktakka, principle scientist on the project. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

International Study Shows that Arctic Coastlines are Changing due to Climate Change

April 27th 2011

Environment Topics - Nunavut Arctic satellite image - NASA

The coastline in Arctic regions reacts to climate change with increased erosion and retreats by half a metre per year on average. This means substantial changes for Arctic ecosystems near the coast and the population living there. A consortium of more than thirty scientists from ten countries, including researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association and from the Helmholtz Centre in Geesthacht, comes to this conclusion in two studies published in Estuaries and Coasts and online on www.arcticcoasts.org. They jointly investigated over 100,000 kilometres and thus a fourth of all Arctic coasts and their results have now been published for the first time. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Sheet of Chlorine Gas One Atom Thick to Revolutionize OLED Device Efficiency

April 27th 2011

Computer Topics - I-phone

Chlorine is an abundant and readily available halogen gas commonly associated with the sanitation of swimming pools and drinking water. Could a one-atom thick sheet of this element revolutionize the next generation of flat-panel displays and lighting technology?

In the case of Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) devices, it most certainly can. Primary researchers Michael G. Helander (PhD Candidate and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar), Zhibin Wang (PhD Candidate), and led by Professor Zheng-Hong Lu of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto, have found a simple method of using chlorine to drastically reduce traditional OLED device complexity and dramatically improve its efficiency all at the same time. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

Search for Dark Matter is Now Closer to Detecting Elusive Particle

April 25th 2011

Science - Dark Matter image

Dark matter, the mysterious substance that may account for nearly 25 percent of the universe, has so far evaded direct observation. But researchers from UCLA, Columbia University and other institutions participating in the international XENON collaboration say they are now closer than ever before.

Their new results, announced today at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, where the XENON experiment is housed deep beneath a mountain 70 miles west of Rome, represent the highest-sensitivity search for dark matter yet, with background noise 100 times lower than competing efforts.

Dark matter is widely thought to be a kind of massive elementary particle that interacts weakly with ordinary matter. Physicists refer to these particles as WIMPS, for weakly interacting massive particles. The XENON researchers used a dark-matter detector known as XENON100 — an instrumented vat filled with over 100 pounds of liquid xenon — as a target for these WIMPs, which are thought to be streaming constantly through the solar system and the Earth. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Integrated Chips to Fuel Smartphone Growth

April 25th 2011

Technology - IC Layout

Silicon integration will be the key differentiator in smartphones which could grow to 600 million units in 2014, driven by expansion in low-cost handsets, according to a presentation at the inaugural Linley Tech Mobile Conference. "The next 300 million smartphones will come from feature phone replacements," said Linley Gwennap, principal of The Linley Group (Mountain View, CA), organizer of the event. "The pressure for smartphone designers will be in reducing systems cost to meet this growing demand for lower cost smartphones and silicon integration is a key," Gwennap said. Read more ..


Edge on Global Warming

Melting Glaciers and Ice Caps on Canadian Islands Play Greater Role in Sea Level Rise

April 25th 2011

Environment Topics - Devon Island Nunavut pic by Alex Gardner

Melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands play a much greater role in sea level rise than scientists previously thought, according to a new study led by a University of Michigan researcher.

The 550,000-square-mile Canadian Arctic Archipelago contains some 30,000 islands. Between 2004 and 2009, the region lost the equivalent of three-quarters of the water in Lake Erie, the study found. Warmer-than-usual temperatures in those years caused a rapid increase in the melting of glacier ice and snow, said Alex Gardner, a research fellow in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences who led the project. The study is published online in Nature on April 20.

"This is a region that we previously didn't think was contributing much to sea level rise," Gardner said. "Now we realize that outside of Antarctica and Greenland, it was the largest contributor for the years 2007 through 2009. This area is highly sensitive and if temperatures continue to increase, we will see much more melting." Read more ..


Edge on Computing

New Trade Group to Promote Computer Vision App for Future Smartphones and Tablets

April 25th 2011

Computer Topics - I-phone

A handful of vendors is organizing a new trade group to promote computer vision as a killer app for tomorrow's smartphones and tablets. The Embedded Vision Alliance will formally debut in May.

"We believe embedded vision will have a huge impact in mobile devices in the next few years," said Jeff Bier, an organizer of the group and principal of DSP consulting firm Berkeley Design Technology Inc. "It will proliferate in home audio/visual systems and consumers will come to expect it," he said in a talk at the Linley Tech Mobile Conference. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

Astronomers Poke Holes in Century-old Astronomical Theory on Gravity Darkening

April 20th 2011

Science - Dark Matter image

The hottest stars in the universe spin so fast that they get a bit squished at their poles and dimmer around their middle. The 90-year-old theory that predicts the extent of this "gravity darkening" phenomenon has major flaws, according to a new study led by University of Michigan astronomers.

The von Zeipel law, named for its creator, Swedish astronomer Edvard Hugo von Zeipel, has been used for the better part of a century to predict the difference in surface gravity, brightness and temperature between a rapidly rotating star's poles and its equator. Using a technique called interferometry the researchers essentially zoomed in to take close-up pictures and measurements of the winter star Regulus. It's the brightest star in the constellation Leonis and if it were spinning just a few percent faster, it would fly apart. The astronomers found that the actual difference in temperature between its equator and poles is much less than the old theory predicts. "Our model fitting of interferometry data shows that while the law correctly describes the trend of surface temperature variation, it deviates quantitively," said Xiao Che, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Astronomy. Read more ..


Edge on Medicine

Nanofiber Spheres Injected for Wounds and Tissue Healing

April 20th 2011

Science - Nanosphere

For the first time, scientists have made star-shaped, biodegradable polymers that can self-assemble into hollow, nanofiber spheres, and when the spheres are injected with cells into wounds, these spheres biodegrade, but the cells live on to form new tissue.

Developing this nanofiber sphere as a cell carrier that simulates the natural growing environment of the cell is a very significant advance in tissue repair, says Peter Ma, professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and lead author of a paper about the research scheduled for advanced online publication in Nature Materials. Co-authors are Xiaohua Liu and Xiaobing Jin.

Repairing tissue is very difficult and success is extremely limited by a shortage of donor tissue, says Ma, who also has an appointment at the U-M College of Engineering. The procedure gives hope to people with certain types of cartilage injuries for which there aren't good treatments now. It also provides a better alternative to ACI, which is a clinical method of treating cartilage injuries where the patient's own cells are directly injected into the patient's body. The quality of the tissue repair by the ACI technique isn't good because the cells are injected loosely and are not supported by a carrier that simulates the natural environment for the cells, Ma says. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

Europe Makes Advances in Automated Driving for Automobiles

April 20th 2011

Automotive - Automated driving Mercedes Benz

The HAVEit project is intended to make vehicles safer, more environmentally-friendly and fuel efficient by enhancing their level of automation. After more than three years of research work on intelligent driver assistance systems, seven vehicles demonstrating results will be presented in Borås, Sweden.

Research concepts and technologies for reducing drivers' workload, preventing accidents and reducing environmental impact, these are the objectives of the EU funded R&D project HAVEit (“Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport”). HAVEit research focuses on reducing mistakes made by distracted, overloaded or tired drivers when driving in congestions or long-haul trips. The project has developed coherent vehicle concepts, combining cutting-edge integrated information and sensor technology. These vehicles are able to assist the driver through various, situation-dependent, levels of automation by providing indications or carrying out the driving task independently. The driver still remains completely responsible at any point in time, the researchers reassure. The driver however must monitor the system carefully at any time; if desired, he can take over the complete driving task anytime. Read more ..


The Late Great Lakes

Alien Invaders Causing Massive Ecological Changes in the World's Greatest Fresh-Water System

April 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Invasive mollusks

The ongoing spread of non-native mussels in the Great Lakes has caused "massive, ecosystem-wide changes" throughout lakes Michigan and Huron, two of the planet's largest freshwater lakes, according to a new University of Michigan-led study.

The blitzkrieg advance of two closely related species of mussels—the zebra and quagga—is stripping the lakes of their life-supporting algae, resulting in a remarkable ecological transformation and threatening the multibillion-dollar U.S. commercial and recreational Great Lakes fisheries. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Combating Groundwater Pollutants

April 18th 2011

Environment Topics - outflow pipe

Below the Earth’s surface, water—perhaps our most precious resource—is stored in geological formations called aquifers. “It’s important to know that more than 95 percent of the Earth’s accessible freshwater is in these underground reserves. That’s water we pump from the ground and drink and use for irrigation and for industry,” says hydrologist Prof. Brian Berkowitz, head of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Energy Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

However, this valuable water is not sufficiently protected. A wide range of contaminants can seep down into groundwater supplies. “We have problems with chemical spills from factories, pesticides from farmland, gasoline that leaks from underground storage tanks, inadequately treated sewage from failing septic systems—the list goes on and on,” says Prof. Berkowitz. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Birds Inherited Sense of Smell from Dinosaurs--and Improved It

April 13th 2011

Science - Bambiraptor
Bambiraptor in a turkey vulture's colors

Pigeons may not instill the same aura of fear as a Tyrannosaurus rex, but they inherited their sense of smell from such prehistoric killers.

Birds are known more for their flying abilities and their senses of vision and balance than for their sense of smell. According to conventional wisdom, the sense of smell declined during the transition from dinosaurs to birds as the senses of vision and balance were improved for flight. But new research published today by scientists at the University of Calgary, the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Ohio University suggests that millions of years ago, the winged critters also boasted a better sense for scents than their dinosaur ancestors. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

West Antarctic Warming Triggered by Warmer Sea Surface in Tropical Pacific

April 11th 2011

Energy / Environment - Antarctic Ice flow

The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed rapidly for the last half-century or more, and recent studies have shown that an adjacent area, continental West Antarctica, has steadily warmed for at least 30 years, but scientists haven't been sure why.

New University of Washington research shows that rising sea surface temperatures in the area of the Pacific Ocean along the equator and near the International Date Line drive atmospheric circulation that has caused some of the largest shifts in Antarctic climate in recent decades.

The warmer water generates rising air that creates a large wave structure in the atmosphere called a Rossby wave train, which brings warmer temperatures to West Antarctica during winter and spring. Read more ..


Genetic Edge

Bacterial Genome May hold Answers to Mercury Mystery

April 11th 2011

Science - Genetics Picture

A newly sequenced bacterial genome from a team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory could contain clues as to how microorganisms produce a highly toxic form of mercury.

Methylmercury, a potent human neurotoxin, appears in the environment when certain naturally occurring bacteria transform inorganic mercury into its more toxic cousin. Few bacterial species are capable of this conversion, and exactly how the transformation takes place has been a matter of debate for decades.   Read more ..


Edge of Space

“Opportunity” Mars Rover Completes Exploration of Martian Surface at Santa Maria Crater

April 11th 2011

Science - Mars Panorama

NASA’s long lived Opportunity Mars rover has completed a three month long exploration of Santa Maria crater along the trail towards its biggest target ever, Endeavour crater, some 22 kilometers in diameter. Santa Maria has simultaneously offered a series of stunning vistas and a scientific bonanza as a worthy way station in the rovers now seven year long overland expedition across the Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.

Opportunity made landfall at the western edge of Santa Maria on Dec. 15, 2010 (Sol 2450) after a long and arduous journey of some 19 kilometers since departing from Victoria Crater nearly two and one half years ago in September 2008. Santa Maria is the largest crater that the rover will encounter on the epic trek between Victoria and Endeavour. The science team decided that Santa Maria would be the best location for an intermediate stop as well as permit a focused science investigation because of the detection of attractive deposits of hydrated minerals. The stadium sized and oval shaped crater is some 80 to 90 meters wide (295 feet) and about nine meters in depth. Read more ..


The Geologic Edge

Yellowstone Supervolcano Newly re-Imaged

April 11th 2011

Disaster - Yellowstone Caldera

University of Utah geophysicists have made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the gigantic underground plume of hot and partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. The image suggests the plume is even bigger than it appears in earlier images made with seismic waves.

"It’s like comparing ultrasound and MRI in the human body; they are different imaging technologies," says geophysics Professor Michael Zhdanov, principal author of the new study and an expert on measuring magnetic and electrical fields on Earth’s surface to find oil, gas, minerals, and geologic structures underground.

"It’s a totally new and different way of imaging and looking at the volcanic roots of Yellowstone," says study co-author Robert B. Smith, professor emeritus and research professor of geophysics and a coordinating scientist of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Read more ..


Edge on Space

White Dwarfs Could be Fertile Ground for Other Earths

April 4th 2011

Science - White dwarf

Planet hunters have found hundreds of planets outside the solar system in the last decade, though it is unclear whether even one might be habitable. But it could be that the best place to look for planets that can support life is around dim, dying stars called white dwarfs.

In a new paper published online in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Eric Agol, a University of Washington associate professor of astronomy, suggests that potentially habitable planets orbiting white dwarfs could be much easier to find – if they exist – than other exoplanets located so far. Read more ..


Geologic Edge

Sugar grain-sized Meteorites Rocked the Climates of early Earth and Mars

April 4th 2011

Science - Micrometeorite

Bombardments of 'micro-meteorites' on Earth and Mars four billion years ago may have caused the planets' climates to cool dramatically, hampering their ability to support life, according to researchers in the United Kingdom. 

Scientists from Imperial College London studied the effects of the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), a period of time in the early Solar System when meteorite showers lasting around 100 million years barraged Earth and Mars. This bombardment discharged sulphur dioxide into the upper atmospheres of both planets and the researchers' analysis suggests that this may have had a catastrophic impact on their environments. Read more ..


Edge on Physics

High Temperature Superconductor Reveals New Phase of Matter

April 4th 2011

Computer Topics - Superconductor

Scientists at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science (SIMES) have found the strongest evidence yet that a puzzling gap in the electronic structures of some high-temperature superconductors could indicate a new phase of matter. Understanding this "pseudogap" has been a 20-year quest for researchers who are trying to control and improve these breakthrough materials with the ultimate goal of finding superconductors that operate at room temperature.

"Our findings point to management and control of this other phase as the correct path toward optimizing these novel superconductors for energy applications, as well as searching for new superconductors," said Zhi-Xun Shen of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science (SIMES), a joint institute of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. Shen led the team of researchers that made the discovery. Superconductors are materials that conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency, losing nothing to resistance. Currently used in medical imaging, highly efficient electrical generators and maglev trains, they have the potential to become a truly transformative technology; energy applications would be just one beneficiary. Read more ..


Genetic Edge

Disease-Specific Human Embryonic Stem Cell Line Enables Study of Genetic Disorders

April 4th 2011

Eugenics - Human embryonic stemcell cluster
Cluster of human embryonicstem cells

Researchers at the University of Michigan have created the first human embryonic stem cell lines in the state of Michigan that carry the genes responsible for inherited disease. The achievement will enable university scientists to study the onset and progression of genetic disorders and to search for new treatments.

With this accomplishment, the U-M joins a small handful of U.S. universities that are creating disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines.

“All our efforts are finally starting to bear fruit,” says Gary Smith, co-director of the U-M Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies and leader of the cell-line derivation project. “Creating disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines has been a central goal of the consortium since it was formed two years ago, and now we’ve passed that milestone.” One of the lines carries the genetic defect that causes hemophilia B, a hereditary condition in which the blood does not clot properly. The other carries the gene responsible for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a hereditary neurological disorder characterized by a slowly progressive degeneration of the muscles in the foot, lower leg and hand. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Researchers Devise Exceptionally Efficient OLED for Televisions, Cell Phones, and Computers

March 30th 2011

Energy Topics - OLED matrix

University of Michigan engineering researchers have designed an exceptionally efficient fluorescent blue OLED, or organic light emitting diode.

OLEDs are the next generation display technology. They are already used in televisions, cell phones and computers, and they are candidates for a vast array of light sources from advertising billboards to indoor and outdoor illumination. Fluorescent OLEDs are typically less efficient at emitting light per unit area than their phosphorescent counterparts.

That may be changing, according to new findings by professor John Kieffer and graduate student Changgua Zhen of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. They released findings in the journal Advanced Functional Materials that shattered previous records. Traditionally, the ceiling for the efficiency of fluorescent OLEDs was believed to be 5 percent. Now, Kieffer and his collaborators have produced fluorescent OLEDs with close to 10 percent efficiency. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Computing has Hit the Power Wall and Inspires New Parallel Programming Frameworks

March 28th 2011

Computer Topics - I-phone

As Moore's Law runs out of steam and computing goes mobile, technologists are searching for ways to make the leap to new parallel programming frameworks that can leverage low-power multicore architectures. The move has been spurred by growing industry concern that today’s microprocessor computing engines have hit a “power wall”. That in turn has prompted a re-evaluation of the roadmap for high-performance computing, a reassessment that yielded a new study published by the National Research Council on the future of computing performance. The report’s bottom line is summed up in its subtitle: “Game Over or Next Level?” Read more ..



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