Japan After the Quake
|Shmuel Neumann||March 28th 2011|
Strategic Solutions Technology Group
|Fukushima Daiichi Reactor seen with rising smoke|
The Fukushima Diiachi plant explosion may cause a complete melt down, similar to that which occurred in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
Following the Chernobyl incident large sections of the Ukraine, where the plant was located, had to be evacuated. And even now, more than 25 years later, some areas still have radiation levels too high for human habitation. Meanwhile the site is in need of a new protective shield.
A similar tragedy occurring in a large area surrounding the damaged Japanese nuclear facilities could cause governmental authorities there to seriously reconsider nuclear energy for making electricity. But Japan simply cannot afford to give up nuclear power: The plants are there for a reason- Japan's energy security demands reliable baseload power that cannot be interrupted by shipping problems. Read more ..
Edge of Computing
|Rick Merritt||March 28th 2011|
Google is for an unspecified time limiting the release of Honeycomb, the tablet version of Android, a move frustrating many mobile systems makers who want to compete with the Apple iPad. Google's move highlights the difficulties of a broad open source movement like Android to compete with a vertically integrated manufacturer like Apple. "Google refused to give out any information about Honeycomb, and the end result was no one could deviate from the reference design," said a senior engineer with a large mobile systems maker in Taiwan. Read more ..
Edge on Health
|Laura Bailey||March 23rd 2011|
The discovery that a certain protein is over-expressed in patients with oral cancer may give new treatment hope to people suffering from the particularly aggressive, localized forms of head and neck cancer.
Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry found that when they inhibited the expression of that protein, called SIRT3 or Sirtuin-3, in oral cancer cells in a petri dish, the cells did not proliferate and more of them died.
Further, when researchers suppressed the protein in the cancer cells and combined that with radiation or chemotherapy treatment, the prohibitive effect on cancer cells was even greater, said Yvonne Kapila, associate professor of dentistry and lead author of the study.
Mice that were injected with SIRT3-inhibited oral cancer cells had about a 75 percent reduction in tumors compared to the mice injected with regular oral cancer cells, said Kapila, whose research team began looking at the Sirtuin group of proteins because some studies suggest they are key regulators for cell integrity and survival. Read more ..
Japan After the Quake
|Terrence Sterling||March 21st 2011|
In the wake of the devastating loss of life in Japan, the urgent question is where the next big earthquake will hit. To answer it, geologist Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham and his doctoral student Gal Hartman of Tel Aviv University's Department of Physics and Planetary Sciences in the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences are examining coral reefs and submarine canyons to detect earthquake fault zones.
Working with an international team of Israelis, Americans and Jordanians, Prof. Ben-Avraham and his team are developing a new method to determine what areas in a fault zone region are most at risk. Read more ..
The Mind's Edge
|Mary Jane Gore||March 21st 2011|
You may remember the color of your loved one's eyes for years. But how?
Scientists believe that long-term potentiation (LTP) – the long-lasting increase of signals across a connection between brain cells -- underlies our ability to remember over time and to learn, but how that happens is a central question in neuroscience.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found a cascade of signaling molecules that allows a usually very brief signal to last for tens of minutes, providing the brain framework for stronger connections (synapses) that can summon a memory for a period of months or even years. Read more ..
Edge of Health Research
|Yivsam Azgad||March 21st 2011|
More than 220 million people around the world suffer from diabetes, a chronic condition in which abnormally high levels of glucose (sugar) circulate in the blood. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, develops when the body cannot adequately produce, or improperly uses, insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for many serious health problems, including heart disease, blindness, and kidney damage. Notably, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than 85 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight.
“Most researchers believe that the rising rate of obesity is the driving force behind the epidemic of type 2 diabetes,” says Prof. Michael Walker of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Biological Chemistry. “Our challenge is to understand why obese individuals have a much higher risk of developing diabetes.” Read more ..
Edge of Outer Space
|Diego DiGhero||March 14th 2011|
Astronomers of Cardiff University in the UK believe that a young star’s long "napping" could trigger the formation of a second generation of smaller stars and planets orbiting around it.
It has long been suspected that the build up of material onto young stars is not continuous but happens in episodic events, resulting in short outbursts of energy from these stars.
However, this has been largely ignored in models of star formation.
Now, by developing advanced computer models to simulate the behavior of young stars, Cardiff University Astrophysicists Dr. Dimitris Stamatellos and Professor Anthony Whitworth, along with Dr. David Hubber from the University of Sheffield, have offered a new insight in star formation.
While stars are young they are surrounded by discs of gas and dust, and grow by accreting material from these discs. The discs may break-up to give birth to smaller stars, planets and brown dwarfs - objects larger than planets but not large enough to burn hydrogen like our Sun. Read more ..
Edge on Climate Change
|Louis Bergeron||March 14th 2011|
|Cornfield in Kenya|
A hidden trove of historical crop yield data from Africa shows that corn – long believed to tolerate hot temperatures – is a likely victim of global warming.
Stanford agricultural scientist David Lobell and researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) report that a clear negative effect of warming on maize – or corn – production was evident in experimental crop trial data conducted in Africa by the organization and its partners from 1999 to 2007.
Led by Lobell, the researchers combined data from 20,000 trials in sub-Saharan Africa with weather data recorded at stations scattered across the region. They found that a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius would cause yield losses for 65 percent of the present maize-growing region in Africa – provided the crops received the optimal amount of rainfall. Under drought conditions, the entire maize-growing region would suffer yield losses, with more than 75 percent of areas predicted to decline by at least 20 percent for 1 degree Celsius of warming. Read more ..
|Katy Human||March 14th 2011|
|Gulf of Mexico|
During a special airborne mission to study the air-quality impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last June, NOAA researchers discovered an important new mechanism by which air pollution particles form. Although predicted four years ago, this discovery now confirms the importance of this pollution mechanism and could change the way urban air quality is understood and predicted.
The NOAA-led team showed that although the lightest compounds in the oil evaporated within hours, it was the heavier compounds, which took longer to evaporate, that contributed most to the formation of air pollution particles downwind. Because those compounds are also emitted by vehicles and other combustion sources, the discovery is important for understanding air quality in general, not only near oil spills. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||March 14th 2011|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Ancient walls off the coast of Spain|
A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.
A new National Geographic Channel documentary, Finding Atlantis, followed a team of US, Canadian, and Spanish scientists as they employed advanced remote-sensing and other technology paired with underwater archeology and historical sleuthing in an effort to find a lost civilization. Led by University of Hartford professor and archaeologist Richard Freund, the team has been surveying marshlands in Spain to look for proof of the ancient city. If the team can match geological formations to descriptions left by the Greek philosopher Plato and date artifacts back to the time of Atlantis, we may be closer to solving one of the world's greatest mysteries. Read more ..
Edge on the Environment
|Roseanne Skirble||March 7th 2011|
By 2050, small fish could dominate the oceans because of the rapid decline of larger, predator fish.
In a new report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization finds that one-third of the world’s fisheries are overexploited, depleted or recovering and in urgent need of rebuilding. At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, University of British Columbia fisheries expert Villy Christensen predicted the eventual preponderance of small fish.
Twenty years ago, Christensen designed a computer tool called Ecopath to study complex marine ecosystems. Now Ecopath has 6,000 users in 155 countries. Read more ..
The Nano Edge
|Nicole Casal Moore||February 28th 2011|
A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients is believed to contain the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.
And a compact radio that needs no tuning to find the right frequency could be a key enabler to organizing millimeter-scale systems into wireless sensor networks. These networks could one day track pollution, monitor structural integrity, perform surveillance, or make virtually any object smart and trackable.
Both developments at the University of Michigan are significant milestones in the march toward millimeter-scale computing, believed to be the next electronics frontier.
Researchers presented papers at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco. The work is being led by three faculty members in the University of Michigan Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff. Read more ..
Edge of Life
|Brian Murphy||February 28th 2011|
After three years of exhaustive analysis led by a University of Alberta researcher, the list of known compounds in human blood has exploded from just a handful to more than 4,000.
"Right now a medical doctor analyzing the blood of an ailing patient looks at something like 10 to 20 chemicals," said U of A biochemist David Wishart. "We've identified 4,229 blood chemicals that doctors can potentially look at to diagnose and treat health problems." Read more ..
Edge on Biology
|Elisabeth Lyons||February 28th 2011|
|Central nervous system of Tritonia diomedea|
From the very first moments of life, hatchling loggerhead sea turtles have an arduous task. They must embark on a transoceanic migration, swimming from the Florida coast eastward to the North Atlantic and then gradually migrating over the course of several years before returning again to North American shores. Now, researchers have figured out how the young turtles find their way.
"One of the great mysteries of animal behavior is how migratory animals can navigate in the open ocean, where there are no visual landmarks," said Kenneth Lohmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"The most difficult part of open-sea navigation is determining longitude or east-west position. It took human navigators centuries to figure out how to determine longitude on their long-distance voyages," added Nathan Putman, a graduate student in Lohmann's lab and lead author of the study. "This study shows, for the first time, how an animal does this." Read more ..
The Race for Hydrogen
|Andrea Elyse Messer||February 21st 2011|
Inexpensive hydrogen for automotive or jet fuel may be possible by mimicking photosynthesis, according to a Penn State materials chemist, but a number of problems need to be solved first.
"We are focused on the hardest way to make fuel," said Thomas Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. "We are creating an artificial system that mimics photosynthesis, but it will be practical only when it is as cheap as gasoline or jet fuel." Read more ..
Edge of Life
|Yivsam Azgad||February 21st 2011|
When Prof. Nava Dekel of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Biological Regulation began studying a protein that plays a role in implanting fertilized ova in the uterus, she had no idea it would lead to a discovery that is now helping couples struggling with infertility to have children.
For many years, Prof. Dekel focused her investigations on the mechanisms responsible for ovum (egg) development and embryo implantation. “But in science,” she says, “you can never decide ‘this is what I’m going to study for the rest of my life.’ You follow a path, and somewhere along the way you say, ‘Wow—there’s something interesting!’” Read more ..
The Nano Edge
|Julien Happich||February 21st 2011|
Rice University researchers have learned to make pristine sheets of graphene, the one-atom-thick form of carbon, from plain table sugar and other carbon-based substances. They do so in a one-step process at temperatures low enough to make graphene easy to manufacture. The lab of Rice chemist James Tour reported that large-area, high-quality graphene can be grown from a number of carbon sources at temperatures as low as 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 F). As hot as that may seem, the difference between running a furnace at 800 and 1,000 degrees Celsius is significant, Tour said. Read more ..
Edge on Light
|Nicole Moore||February 21st 2011|
|Credit: Marcin Szczepanski, U-M College of Engineering|
Pure organic compounds that glow in jewel tones could potentially lead to cheaper, more efficient and flexible display screens, among other applications. University of Michigan researcher Jinsang Kim and his colleagues have developed a new class of material that shines with phosphorescence—a property that has previously been seen only in non-organic compounds or organometallics.
Kim and his colleagues made metal-free organic crystals that are white in visible light and radiate blue, green, yellow and orange when triggered by ultraviolet light. By changing the materials' chemical composition, the researchers can make them emit different colors. Read more ..
The Geologic Edge
|Shemina Davis||February 14th 2011|
Led by Professor Chris Clark from the University of Sheffield´s Department of Geography, a team of experts developed the maps to understand what effect the current shrinking of ice sheets in parts of the Antarctic and Greenland will have on the speed of sea level rise.
The unique maps record the pattern and speed of shrinkage of the large ice sheet that covered the British Isles during the last Ice Age, approximately 20,000 years ago. The sheet, which subsumed most of Britain, Ireland and the North Sea, had an ice volume sufficient to raise global sea level by around 2.5 meters when it melted. Read more ..
Edge on the Environment
|Brian Lin||February 14th 2011|
University of British Columbia researchers estimate that fisheries catches in the Arctic totaled 950,000 tonnes from 1950 to 2006, almost 75 times the amount reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during this period.
Led by Prof. Daniel Pauly, the research team from UBC’s Fisheries Centre and Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences reconstructed fisheries catch data from various sources—including limited governmental reports and anthropological records of indigenous population activities—for FAO’s Fisheries Statistical Area 18, which covers arctic coastal areas in northern Siberia (Russia), Arctic Alaska (the U.S.) and the Canadian Arctic.
The Arctic is one of the last and most extensive ocean wilderness areas in the world. The extent of the sea ice in the region has declined in recent years due to climate change, raising concerns over loss of biodiversity as well as the expansion of industrial fisheries into this area. Read more ..
Edge on the Universe
|Diego DiGhero||February 6th 2011|
The first stars in the universe were not as solitary as previously thought. In fact, they could have formed alongside numerous companions when the gas disks that surrounded them broke up during formation, giving birth to sibling stars in the fragments. These are the findings of studies performed with the aid of computer simulations by researchers at Heidelberg University’s Centre for Astronomy together with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and the University of Texas at Austin. The group’s findings, being published in Science magazine, cast an entirely new light on the formation of the first stars after the Big Bang. Read more ..
Google on Edge
|Sara Jerome||February 6th 2011|
|Fortune Cover, Nov 9, 2009|
Saddled with the perception that it is a darling of the Obama administration, Google may have it tough with Republicans. The company whose chief executive campaigned for President Obama stands to become a target of investigations by multiple committees. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has promised to be an aggressive watchdog as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has led congressional Republicans in questioning whether Google has inappropriate ties to the Obama administration.
Issa wrote to the White House in April to ask whether a technology official and former Google employee had unethical contact with the company. “The American people have a right to expect that White House employees are working to advance the public interest and not the interests of the lobby shops who formerly employed them,” Issa said in the letter.His spokesman, Seamus Kraft, said the committee “will continue to be concerned about consumer privacy issues and the Presidential Records Act.” Both issues directly affect Google.
Watchdogs have also questioned Google’s ties to Democrats. The pro-free-market group National Legal and Policy Center, for example, has labeled the company the Halliburton of the Obama years. Halliburton was closely associated with the administration of President George W. Bush. Read more ..
|Yivsam Azgad||February 6th 2011|
Protection against nerve gas attack is a significant component of the defense system of many countries around the world. Nerve gases are used by armies and terrorist organizations, and constitute a threat to both the military and civilian populations, but existing drug solutions against them have limited efficiency.
A multidisciplinary team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science succeeded in developing an enzyme that breaks down such organophosphorus nerve agents efficiently before damage to nerves and muscles is caused. Their results have been published, while recent experiments performed in a U.S. military laboratory (the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, or USAMRICD) have shown that injecting a relatively small amount of this enzyme into animals provides protection against certain types of nerve agents, for which current treatments show limited efficacy. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Thekla Hritz||February 6th 2011|
Physicists, led by a researcher at the University of Warwick, studying new images of clouds of material exploding from the Sun have spotted instabilities forming in that exploding cloud that are similar to those seen in clouds in Earth’s atmosphere.
These results could greatly assist physicists trying to understand and predict our Solar System’s “weather.”
The researchers, led by of the Centre for Fusion Space and Astrophysics, at the the UK’s University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, made their discovery when examining new images of clouds of material exploding from the Sun known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These images were provided by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) experiment on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). SDO was been launched last year and provides unprecedented views of the Sun in multiple temperatures. Read more ..
Oceans on the Edge
|Traver Riggins||January 30th 2011|
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists/Center for Public Integrity
As part of their continuing effort to take a lead in managing global fisheries, officials with the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration told Congress earlier this month that they’ll work with six countries – singled-out for their lack of enforcement—to cut down on illegal fishing around the globe.
A NOAA taskforce identified vessels in Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or IUU. Most infractions were for fishing out of season or without proper registration, but in one instance driftnets were used illegally by an Italian vessel to catch 24 eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna—20 of them under the legal catch size—in the summer of 2009. Read more ..
Edge on Maternity
|Genevieve Shuler||January 24th 2011|
Antioxidants are sold over the counter everywhere. They’re added to food, drink, and face cream. But according to Prof. Nava Dekel of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Biological Regulation, we still don’t have a complete understanding of how they act in our bodies. New research by Prof. Dekel and her Israeli team, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), has revealed an unexpected possible side effect of antioxidants: they might cause fertility problems in females.
Common antioxidants include vitamins C and E. These work by eliminating molecules called reactive oxygen species that are produced naturally in the body. Stress can cause these chemically active molecules to be overproduced; in large amounts they damage cells indiscriminately. By neutralizing these potentially harmful substances, antioxidants may, theoretically, improve health and slow down the aging process. Read more ..
The Robotic Edge
|Joshua E. Brown||January 24th 2011|
Want to build a really tough robot? Forget about Terminator. Instead, watch a tadpole turn into a frog.
Or at least that’s not too far off from what University of Vermont roboticist Josh Bongard has discovered.
In a first-of-its-kind experiment, Bongard created both simulated and actual robots that, like tadpoles becoming frogs, change their body forms while learning how to walk. And, over generations, his simulated robots also evolved, spending less time in “infant” tadpole-like forms and more time in “adult” four-legged forms. Read more ..
The Pre-Historic Edge
|Diego DiGhero||January 24th 2011|
|Female Pterodactyl (l), Male Pterodactyl (r)|
The discovery of an ancient fossil, nicknamed 'Mrs. T', has allowed scientists for the first time to sex pterodactyls – flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs between 220-65 million years ago. Pterodactyls featured prominently in Steven Spielberg's movie Jurassic Park III and are a classic feature of many dinosaur movies where they are often depicted as giant flying reptiles with a crest. The discovery of a flying reptile fossilized together with an egg in Jurassic rocks (about 160 million years old) in China provides the first direct evidence for gender in these extinct fliers. This fossil shows that females were crestless, solving the long-standing problem of what some pterosaurs did with their spectacular head crests: showy displays by males. According to a news release, the find was made by an international team of researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Lincoln in the UK, as well as the Geological Institute of Beijing. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Angela Stark||January 24th 2011|
The eyes of moths, which allow them to see well at night, are also covered with a water-repellent, anti-reflective coating that makes their eyes among the least reflective surfaces in nature and helps them hide from predators in the dark. Mimicking the moth eye's microstructure, a team of researchers in Japan has created a new film, suitable for mass-production, for covering solar cells that can cut down on the amount of reflected light and help capture more power from the sun. Read more ..
Edge on Pollution
|Diego DiGhero||January 18th 2011|
According to the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, the Estero de Domingo Rubio wetland, located near the Marismas del Odiel Natural Area in the Huelva estuary of the Odiel River in Andalucia, is regionally, nationally and internationally protected thanks to its ecological value. However, its tributary rivers and the Ría de Huelva estuary pump manmade pollutants into it, which could affect its water quality and ecosystem. The city of Huelva lies on Spain's Mediterranean shore between the Guadiana and Gualdalquivir rivers.
Industrial activity, accumulations of dangerous waste, the expansion of farming, and excessive extraction of sand and gravel for the construction industry are the leading threats to the Estero de Domingo Rubio wetland, the tidal system of which plays a "crucial" role in transporting and dispersing pollutants. Read more ..
The Anceint Edge
|Meg Sullivan||January 18th 2011|
|Archaeologists observe ancient wine press|
Analysis by a UCLA-led team of scientists has confirmed the discovery of the oldest complete wine production facility ever found, including grape seeds, withered grape vines, remains of pressed grapes, a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat apparently used for fermentation, wine-soaked potsherds, and even a cup and drinking bowl.
The facility, which dates back to roughly 4100 B.C. — 1,000 years before the earliest comparable find — was unearthed by a team of archaeologists from Armenia, the United States and Ireland in the same mysterious Armenian cave complex where an ancient leather shoe was found, a discovery that was announced last summer.
"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," said Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Read more ..
|Agatha Bardoel||January 10th 2011|
When Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspectors swipe a cloth over your luggage and then place it in an analyzer to check for explosives residue, they are using a device containing 63Ni, a radioactive isotope of nickel, made at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Oak Ridge is the exclusive producer for 63Ni in North America and perhaps worldwide. "Our only competition would probably be Russia. They have high-flux research reactors and may well be supplying the material also," explained Mitch Ferren in the ORNL Isotope Business Office. The office coordinates production of the 63Ni and other isotopes.
To detect explosives, or hazardous chemicals and vapors, an area of public safety increasingly important since the September 11 attacks, the 63Ni's beta emitter acts as an annihilation source, stripping the molecules that are given off by a material and analyzing these in the device.
To make 63Ni, technicians at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center at HFIR prepare targets of enriched stable 62Niand then bombard them with neutrons in HFIR. Each target contains 25 grams of pressed 62Ni metal pellets stacked in a 35 inch long aluminum target capsule, 12.5 grams at each end. Under bombardment with neutrons, 62Ni becomes activated and the result is a new, radioactive isotope useful for airport and transportation security applications. The 62Ni comes from an inventory of stable isotopes maintained by ORNL's Isotope Development Group. Read more ..
The Race for Alt Fuel
|Genevieve Shuler||January 10th 2011|
Weizmann Institute of Science
Prof. Avihai Danon of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Plant Sciences has been working with algae—simple, photosynthetic life forms that can be found all over the world—for more than 20 years. Algae are diverse, having many thousands of species, and adaptive, thriving in a variety of conditions; these attributes can teach scientists a lot and make algae, as Prof. Danon says, “a great model system to study.” For example, in his research focusing on how they adapt to sunlight, Prof. Danon found that there is a very sophisticated level of regulation inside algae. “On the one hand, the plant utilizes sunlight for energy production through photosynthesis,” a process that, while beneficial, must be very carefully calibrated because “on the other hand, it can kill the plant in seconds,” he says. He likes to compare a plant’s ability to perform photosynthesis to having an atomic reactor in your stomach: the reactor can provide you with free energy, but if it’s not tightly controlled, then it can melt down. Read more ..
The Race for Biofuels
|Mark Fellows||January 10th 2011|
Developing biofuel from native perennials instead of corn in the Midwest’s rolling grasslands would better protect threatened bird populations, Michigan State University research suggests.
Federal mandates and market forces both are expected to promote rising biofuel production, MSU biologist Bruce Robertson says, but the environmental consequences of turning more acreage over to row crops for fuel are a serious concern.
Ethanol in America is chiefly made from corn, but research is focusing on how to cost-effectively process cellulosic sources such as wood, corn stalks and grasses. Perennial grasses promise low cost and energy inputs—planting, fertilizing, watering—and the new study quantifies substantial environmental benefits.
“Native perennial grasses might provide an opportunity to produce biomass in ways that are compatible with the conservation of biodiversity and important ecosystem services such as pest control,” Robertson said. “This work demonstrates that next-generation biofuel crops have potential to provide a new source of habitat for a threatened group of birds.” With its rich variety of ecosystems, including historic prairie, southern Michigan provided a convenient place to compare bird populations in 20 sites of varying size for each of the three fuel feedstocks. Grassland birds are of special concern, Robertson said, having suffered more dramatic population losses than any other group of North American birds. Read more ..
The Race for Alt-Fuel
|Diana Yates||January 3rd 2011|
A newly engineered yeast strain can simultaneously consume two types of sugar from plants to produce ethanol, researchers report.
The sugars are glucose, a six-carbon sugar that is relatively easy to ferment; and xylose, a five-carbon sugar that has been much more difficult to utilize in ethanol production. The new strain, made by combining, optimizing and adding to earlier advances, reduces or eliminates several major inefficiencies associated with current biofuel production methods. The findings, from a collaborative led by researchers at the University of Illinois, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California and the energy company BP, are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more ..
Edge on Anthropology
|David Landis||January 3rd 2011|
While it has long been believed that modern man emerged from the continent of Africa 200,000 years ago, Tel Aviv University archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago — the earliest evidence for the existence of modern man anywhere in the world.
The findings were discovered in the Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. Professor Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, as well as Professor Israel Hershkowitz of the university's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine and an international team of scientists, performed a morphological analysis on eight human teeth found there. This analysis, which included CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the Qesem Cave are very similar to other evidence of modern man from Israel, dated to around 100,000 years ago, discovered in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. Read more ..
Edge of Space
|Nicole Casal-Moore||December 27th 2010|
New observations by University of Michigan astronomers add weight to the theory that the most massive stars in the universe could form essentially anywhere, including in near isolation; they don't need a large stellar cluster nursery.
This is the most detailed observational study to date of massive stars that appear (from the ground) to be alone. The scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to zoom in on eight of these giants, which range from 20 to 150 times as massive as the Sun. The stars they looked at are in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that's one of the Milky Way's nearest neighbors. Their results, published in the Dec. 20 edition of the Astrophysical Journal, show that five of the stars had no neighbors large enough for Hubble to discern. The remaining three appeared to be in tiny clusters of ten or fewer stars. Doctoral student Joel Lamb and associate professor Sally Oey, both in the Department of Astronomy, explained the significance of their findings in a paper entitled "The Sparsest Cluster with O Stars." Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Tim Stephens||December 27th 2010|
A 30,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in southern Siberia came from a young girl who was neither an early modern human nor a Neanderthal, but belonged to a previously unknown group of human relatives who may have lived throughout much of Asia during the late Pleistocene epoch. Although the fossil evidence consists of just a bone fragment and one tooth, DNA extracted from the bone has yielded a draft genome sequence, enabling scientists to reach some startling conclusions about this extinct branch of the human family tree, called “Denisovans” after the cave where the fossils were found.
These were the findings of an international team of scientists, including many of the same researchers who earlier this year published the Neanderthal genome. Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, played a lead role in the analysis of the genome sequence data, for which a special portal was designed on the UCSC Genome Browser. The team was led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|David Landis||December 27th 2010|
About 50 miles from Bethlehem, a drilling project is determining the climate and earthquake activity of the region of Israel. Scientists from eight nations are examining the samples taken from beneath the Dead Sea, after drilling a borehole in this deepest basin in the world. The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) brings together research teams from Israel, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the U.S. and Germany. Researchers were also drawn from Jordan and areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Scientists and technicians of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences have now completed a geophysical measurement procedure in the hole and helped with the initial examination of the cores in a field laboratory. According to a statement, “We have drilled through about half a million years of sedimentary deposits,” estimates Dr. Ulrich Harms from the ICDP’s operational support group at the GFZ. “From this, we can deduce not only the climate history, but also the earthquake activity in this seismically very active region.” The direction and inclination of the well were determined with high precision below the Dead Sea, which is around 1000 feet deep at the site of drilling rig, while the physical properties of the rocks were measured down to the bottom of the 1500-foot deep bore hole. Read more ..
Edge on Global Warming
|Diego DiGhero||December 27th 2010|
|Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham|
Israeli researchers are drilling through four ice ages, epic sandstorms, mankind’s migration from Africa to the New World, and the biggest droughts in history. Tel Aviv University is heading an international study that for the first time will dig deep beneath the Dead Sea, about a third of a mile down under the ground and about a fifth of a mile under water. Drilling with a special rig, the researchers will look back in time to collect a massive amount of information about climate change and earthquake patterns.
The study is led by Professor Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University’s Minerva Dead Sea Research Center. Said Ben-Avraham, it “aims to get a complete record in unprecedented resolution—at one year intervals—of the last 500 thousand years,” says Prof. Ben-Avraham.
Looking at the core sample to be dug about five miles offshore near Ein Gedi, Israel, the researchers hope to pinpoint particular years in Earth’s history to discover the planet’s condition. They hope to find out what the climate was like 365,250 years ago, for instance, or determine the year of a catastrophic earthquake. Read more ..
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