The Ecological Edge
|Deborah Block||July 15th 2014|
|Water Wheel in action|
Trash in waterways around the world is a major environmental issue. The U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, is tackling its problem with a one-of-a-kind contraption with a water wheel that pulls in garbage. Since it began operating last May, the water wheel has proved more effective than other means of picking up trash in the water.
The odd-looking contraption sits on the Jones Falls River that flows into Baltimore's harbor. Every year, storm run-off from city streets carries huge amounts of garbage and debris into the river, polluting the harbor.
â€œAfter a rainstorm, we could get a lot of trash in Baltimore Harbor," said Adam Lindquist, who is with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, the group that sponsors the water wheel. "Sometimes the trash was so bad it looked like you could walk across the harbor on nothing but trash.â€ Read more ..
The Edge of Ecology
|Faiza Elmasry||July 14th 2014|
Ancient Egyptians turned papyrus into paper and provided the world with it for thousands of years. Hundreds of thousands of books in the Royal Library in Alexandria and Rome's 58 public libraries were made of papyrus, almost all of the Western worldâ€™s literature and sacred texts at the time.
But the value of papyrus is not limited to paper. Writer and ecologist John Gaudet says ancient scholars considered it the wonder of the age. Egyptian civilization, he adds, might not have developed without papyrus.
â€œIn the Nile Valley, to do things on a day-to-day basis, you also had to be able to get on the water so they used to use papyrus boats," he said. "And they used papyrus boats the way people today use fiberglass. People still make them in Ethiopia so we know what theyâ€™re like. Read more ..
|Layne Cameron||July 13th 2014|
For the first time, the genome of the electric eel has been sequenced. This discovery has revealed the secret of how fishes with electric organs have evolved six times in the history of life to produce electricity outside of their bodies.
The research, published in the current issue of Science, sheds light on the genetic blueprint used to evolve these complex, novel organs. It was co-led by Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Texas-Austin and the Systemix Institute.
â€œItâ€™s truly exciting to find that complex structures like the electric organ, which evolved completely independently in six groups of fish, seem to share the same genetic toolkit,â€ said Jason Gallant, MSU zoologist and co-lead author of the paper. â€œBiologists are starting to learn, using genomics, that evolution makes similar structures from the same starting materials, even if the organisms arenâ€™t even that closely related.â€ Read more ..
|Diane Swanbrow||July 10th 2014|
Computerized tomography (CT) scans of two newborn woolly mammoths recovered from the Siberian Arctic are revealing previously inaccessible details about the early development of prehistoric pachyderms. In addition, the X-ray images show that both creatures died from suffocation after inhaling mud. Lyuba and Khroma, who died at ages 1 and 2 months, respectively, are the most complete and best-preserved baby mammoth specimens ever found. Lyuba's full-body CT scan, which used an industrial scanner at a Ford testing facility in Michigan, was the first of its kind for any mammoth.
"This is the first time anyone's been able to do a comparative study of the skeletal development of two baby mammoths of known age," said University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher. "This allowed us to document the changes that occur as the mammoth body develops," Fisher said. "And since they are both essentially complete skeletons, they can be thought of as Rosetta Stones that will help us interpret all the isolated baby mammoth bones that show up at other localities." Fisher, director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology, is lead author of a paper published online July 8 in a special issue of the Journal of Paleontology. Read more ..
The Race for Induction
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||July 9th 2014|
BMW has granted an insight to its development of inductive charging schemes for electric vehicles. In the medium term, the company plans to launch series production for the technology. The project is conducted along with competitor Daimler; both companies plan to provide a uniform charging technology for the garage at home.
The system consists of two components: A primary coil integrated into a base plate which itself is placed beneath the vehicle, for instance in the floor of a garage or parking lot. This coil induces electric energy to the secondary coil in the car floor.
The arrangement of the coils, and consequently of the field pattern, is based on a design derived from their circular shape that offers a number of benefits such as a compact yet light construction as well as an effective spatial confinement of the magnetic field - a feature important to maintain high efficiency. The alternating magnetic field between the coils transmits the electric energy wirelessly at a power of up to 3.6 kW. BMW specifies the energy efficiency of this arrangement at 90%. The system aims at charging high-voltage batteries for plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars. Read more ..
|Gerry Everding||July 9th 2014|
Modern humans emerged from a complex 'labyrinth of biology and peoples,' findings suggest. Re-examination of a circa 100,000-year-old archaic early human skull found 35 years ago in Northern China has revealed the surprising presence of an inner-ear formation long thought to occur only in Neandertals.
"The discovery places into question a whole suite of scenarios of later Pleistocene human population dispersals and interconnections based on tracing isolated anatomical or genetic features in fragmentary fossils," said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, PhD, a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Steve Baragona||July 7th 2014|
Malaria infection makes mice smell a bit better to mosquitoes, raising the odds that theyâ€™ll be bitten and spread the disease. Thatâ€™s according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research could point the way to a Breathalyzer-style diagnostic test for malaria infection. And itâ€™s the latest example of how parasites manipulate the creatures they infect for their own nefarious aims.
Penn State University biologist Mark Mescher has seen it before. But not in people, in squash. When squash plants are infected with cucumber mosaic virus, they produce chemicals that attract aphids. The aphids pick up the virus when they come to the plant for the advertised meal.
The virus even goes an extra step: It makes the plant less nutritious to the insects. After a few bites, Mescher said, the aphids â€œdonâ€™t like the plant very much. So, rather than staying there for the long term they move on and go to the next plant,â€ spreading the virus with them. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Ziatica Hoke||July 6th 2014|
Scientists in London are working to develop a wheelchair that can be maneuvered simply by looking in the direction in which the user wishes to travel. If the project succeeds, relatively inexpensive software could be used to provide better mobility to paralyzed people and people without arms.
Most people suffering from multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries can still move their eyes because they are directly connected to the brain. Some existing technologies already allow severely disabled people to stare at arrows on a computer and direct the movement of a wheelchair. But there are problems with that system, including a delay between the movement of the eyes and the wheelchair.
"Current tracking software often uses a screen-based system where you have a screen open and you look at locations on the screen. The problem with that is that it's very simplistic and also diverts the users' attention from the outside world and therefore there's more risk of not noticing obstacles or other things in the way," said Kirubin Pillay, a PhD student at Imperial College London. Read more ..
The Great Lakes on Edge
|Jim Erickson||July 5th 2014|
Construction of two new fish-spawning reefs is about to begin in the St. Clair River northeast of Detroit, the latest chapter in a decade-plus effort to restore native species such as lake sturgeon, walleye and lake whitefish.
The new reefs will be built this summer and fall at two locations on the St. Clair. The goal of the University of Michigan-led project is to boost fish populations by providing river-bottom rock structures suitable for spawning.
The crevice-filled rock beds are designed to mimic the natural limestone reefs that existed before the rivers connecting lakes Huron and Erie were dredged and blasted to create shipping canals, and before an increased flow of sediments into the system from agricultural and urban runoff. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jessica Berman||July 4th 2014|
Autism is a mysterious developmental disorder, whose cause is unknown. But for the first time, researchers have discovered a gene that's linked to the disorder in an estimated one half of one percent of patients. Their findings could lead to a way to do genetic testing for autism.
Children with mutations of the gene called CHD8 have a larger head size, wide-set eyes and gastrointestinal problems. In addition to their characteristic appearance, they experience sleep disturbances.
In a collaboration involving 13 institutions around the world, investigators examined more than 6,000 youngsters with autism spectrum disorder. They found 15 of the children had mutations to CHD8. All of those children had similar physical features.
Researchers confirmed the findings in experiments with zebra fish. They altered the CHD8 gene and fish were born with large heads and wide-set eyes. Investigators then fed the fish fluorescent pellets and saw they had problems eliminating waste and were constipated. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Clara Moskowitz||July 3rd 2014|
Billions of particles of invisible "dark matter" are probably flying through your body right now, passing through the spaces between your atoms without a trace. According to conventional thinking, these particles should be somewhat less abundant during the winter and should peak around June 1. But a new study suggests this calculation is way off; the real peak is at the beginning of March.
Dark matter is thought to constitute almost 27 percent of the universe's total mass and energy, but its nature is a mystery. One of physicists' best guesses is that theorized particles called WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) make up this matter, but WIMPs have so far eluded detection. Whatever dark matter is, it appears to clump into large clouds called haloes that engulf galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
Facebook "purposefully messed with people's minds" in a "secretive and non-consensual" study on nearly 700,000 users whose emotions were intentionally manipulated when the company altered their news feeds for research purposes, a digital privacy rights group charges in a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the complaint Thursday, asking the FTC to impose sanctions on Facebook. The study violated terms of a 20-year consent decree that requires the social-networking company must protect its users' privacy, EPIC said. EPIC also wants Facebook to be forced to disclose the algorithms it uses to determine what appears in users' news feeds. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Chris Bunting||July 1st 2014|
University of Leeds
A new data analysis technique radically improves monitoring of kidney patients, according to a University of Leeds-led study, and could lead to profound changes in the way we understand our health.
The research, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, provides a way of making sense out of the huge number of clues about a kidney transplant patient's prognosis contained in their blood.
By applying sophisticated "big data" analysis to the samples, scientists were able to crunch hundreds of thousands of variables into a single parameter indicating how a kidney transplant was faring. That allowed the team of physicists, chemists and clinicians to predict poor function of a kidney after only two days in cases that may not previously have been detected as failing until weeks after transplant. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
How the Neolithic people found their way to Europe has long been a subject of debate. A study of genetic markers in modern populations may offer some new clues. Their paper, "Maritime route of colonization of Europe," appears in the online edition of the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.
Between 8,800 to 10,000 B.C., in the Levant, the region in the eastern Mediterranean that today encompasses Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and part of southern Turkey, people learned how to domesticate wild grains. This accomplishment eventually allowed them to abandon their lives as nomadic hunter-gathers and become farmers. Read more ..
|Diane Swanbrow||June 27th 2014|
Intense rainstorms, floods and heat waves will become more common in the Great Lakes region due to climate change in the coming decades, and ice-cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season on the lakes, according to a new summary report released today at the start of a three-day climate-adaptation conference at the University of Michigan.
In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase some crop yields in the region, but those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events, according to the report prepared by the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA), a federally funded collaboration between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|George Putic||June 26th 2014|
Fossils from Californiaâ€™s La Brea Tar Pits keep supplying scientists with excellent material for studying the regionâ€™s past. Ancient animals, from mammoths to tiny insects, reveal facts about climate changes during the last Ice Age and help scientists understand the modern climate.
For millennia, natural tar that seeped from the ground in what is now southern California trapped large and small animals, preserving their fossils and providing scientists with a trove of specimens suitable for study.
Anna Holden, a researcher at the Page Museum in Los Angeles, is analyzing fossilized bees to learn about the ancient environment of the tar pits. In trying to reconstruct what the climate and local habitat were like, she said, â€œthis bee offered kind of unprecedented information."
By exposing the fossils to a micro CT scanner, scientists discovered that the beeâ€™s habitat was warmer than expected. They concluded that at the end of the Ice Age, about 11,500 years ago, this area was not covered with snow and ice, as previously thought.
Insectsâ€™ limited range â€“ unlike that of the large mammals that came to La Brea from South America or across the land bridge now covered by the Bering Strait â€“ allows the collection of detailed information about their immediate environment, Holden said. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Rosanne Skirble||June 25th 2014|
Scientists in England report the development of a new solar cell that minimizes environmental risks in the manufacturing process by using an element used in bath salts.
Many of the solar panels you see on roof tops use special materials called semiconductors such as silicon to generate electricity. However, silicone is not especially good at absorbing sunlight, says Jon Major, physics professor at the University of Liverpool in England.
â€œTo absorb a useful amount of sunlight with silicon we would need to use around 200 micrometers of material." Major said. "For absorbers such as cadmium telluride, we need to use only 1 percent of the same material.â€
Which is why cadmium telluride is now firmly established as the market standard for making the next generation of solar cells. It results in more flexible panels and dramatically outperforms silicone, with one major drawback. â€œThe problem is cadmium telluride itself is a highly toxic compound," Major said. "Itâ€™s been linked to genetic defect, and if it gets into the water supply, it can poison fish for generations.â€ Read more ..
|T.R. Kidder||June 23rd 2014|
For thousands of years, Mother Nature has taken the blame for tremendous human suffering caused by massive flooding along the Yellow River, long known in China as â€œChinaâ€™s Sorrowâ€ and â€œScourge of the Sons of Han.â€ Now, new research from Washington University in St. Louis links the riverâ€™s increasingly deadly floods to a widespread pattern of human-caused environmental degradation and related flood-mitigation efforts that began changing the riverâ€™s natural flow nearly 3,000 years ago. Read more ..
The Edge of Disaster
|Alexandra Witze||June 22nd 2014|
A new catalog of earthquake lightsâ€”mysterious glows sometimes reported before or during seismic shakingâ€”finds that they happen most often in geological rift environments, where the ground is pulling apart. The work is the latest to tackle the enigmatic lights, which have been described by eyewitnesses for centuries but are yet to be fully explained by scientists.
The study pulls together several strands of research to propose a mechanism by which earthquake lights form. The authors suggest that, during an earthquake, the stress of rocks grinding against each other generates electric charges, which travel upwards along the nearly vertical geological faults that are common in rift zones. When the charges reach Earth's surface and interact with the atmosphere, they create a glow. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Lyndsay Meyer||June 19th 2014|
Before they excise a tumor, surgeons need to determine exactly where the cancerous cells lie. Now, research published today in The Optical Societyâ€™s (OSA) journal Optics Letters details a new technique that could give surgeons cheaper and more lightweight tools, such as goggles or hand-held devices, to identify tumors in real time in the operating room.
The new technology, developed by a team at the University of Arizona and Washington University in St. Louis, is a dual-mode imager that combines two systemsâ€”near-infrared fluorescent imaging to detect marked cancer cells and visible light reflectance imaging to see the contours of the tissue itselfâ€”into one small, lightweight package approximately the size of a quarter in diameter, just 25 millimeters across.
"Dual modality is the path forward because it has significant advantages over single modality," says author Rongguang Liang, associate professor of optical sciences at the University of Arizona. Read more ..
The Robotic Edge
|Steve Baragona||June 17th 2014|
At his dairy operation in rural Maryland, John Fendrick has seen the future for milking his cows, and it is robotic.
Gone are the quaint days of milkmaids, milk stools and the pit-pat of a stream of milk into a tin pail in a bucolic barn setting. At Woodbourne Creamery about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., it is robots doing the work that Fendrick admits he doesnâ€™t care for. â€œI donâ€™t like milking,â€ he said during a recent tour.
Fendrick is one of a growing number of dairy operations around the United States, Europe and Australia that are using the latest evolution in milking technology. â€œYouâ€™re given your freedom back, essentially," he said. "So it allows me or the people who work for me to do other things on the farm.â€
With the exception of small-scale farmers, dairy operations have long since moved beyond the stool and the pail. Most larger dairies have long used mechanized vacuum pumps to increase yields and cut down on labor costs, but they still required workers to tend the milking process and the machinery. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Michelle Mia||June 16th 2014|
University of Washington
our eye could someday house its own high-tech information center, tracking important changes and letting you know when itâ€™s time to see an eye doctor.
University of Washington engineers have designed a low-power sensor that could be placed permanently in a personâ€™s eye to track hard-to-measure changes in eye pressure. The sensor would be embedded with an artificial lens during cataract surgery and would detect pressure changes instantaneously, then transmit the data wirelessly using radio frequency waves.
The device would be placed in an artificial lens with its antenna circling the perimeter, and the sensor and radio frequency chip inside. The researchers recently published their results in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering and filed patents on an initial prototype of the pressure-monitoring device.
â€œNo one has ever put electronics inside the lens of the eye, so this is a little more radical,â€ said Karl BÃ¶hringer, a UW professor of electrical engineering. â€œWe have shown this is possible in principle. If you can fit this sensor device into an intraocular lens implant during cataract surgery, it wonâ€™t require any further surgery for patients.â€ Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Faiza Elmasry||June 10th 2014|
George Boyce and his wife Eva Fallon have finally made their lifelong dream a reality. Last year, the couple founded GreenSTEMs, a non-profit that promotes science and creativity.
They turned an empty store in downtown Greenbelt, Maryland, into a community clubhouse. It's a space where people, especially kids, come together to work -- individually or in groups -- on science projects and hobbies.
From the outside, Club 125, which is named for its street address, looks like any other store in a shopping area. But step inside and you'll see a science club with dozens of computers, laptops, wires, light bulbs and screws.
â€œOur three core areas are robotics, micro electronics and computer science,â€ said founder George Boyce. â€œ[It] gives us an opportunity to introduce kids and families and adults to science and technology. It gives people an opportunity to work hands-on and learn some new stuff that might not be able to learn at school, or as adults, they donâ€™t have they donâ€™t have the opportunity to work with because they donâ€™t have the right resources.â€ Boyce and his wife Eva Fallon, both work in Internet technology. School children come here with their teachers or parents. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Junko Yoshida||June 6th 2014|
The automotive industry is caught between an app and a hard place. On one hand, carmakers are feeling growing pressure from thoroughly modern consumers, who expect their next car to respond more like a smartphone. On the other hand, the complexity inherent in developing connected cars and autonomous driving is so dire that cars of tomorrow will need to be designed more like airplanes.
James Buczkowski, Henry Ford technical fellow and director for EE systems at Ford Motor Co., came to the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco this week and issued a "call for action." In a dual keynote speech with Jim Tung, MathWorks fellow at MathWorks, the Ford executive concluded that, without tools and methods that keep up with the automotive design challenges, a car's complexity will just keep growing. No longer will consumers be able to say: "It just works." Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Sean Nealon ||June 5th 2014|
A team of University of California, Riversideâ€™s Bourns College of Engineering students created a roof tile coating that when applied to an average-sized residential roof breaks down the same amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxides per year as a car driven 11,000 miles.
They calculated 21 tons of nitrogen oxides would be eliminated daily if tiles on one million roofs were coated with their titanium dioxide mixture. They also calculated it would cost only about $5 for enough titanium dioxide to coat an average-sized residential roof.
That would have a significant impact in Southern California, where 500 tons of nitrogen oxides are emitted daily in the South Coast Air Quality Management District coverage area, which includes all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
A species of bee from Europe that has stronger resistance to parasite infections than native bumblebees has spread across the UK, according to new research at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, shows that tree bumblebees have rapidly spread despite them carrying high levels of an infection that normally prevents queen bees from producing colonies. The species arrived in the UK from continental Europe 13 years ago and has successfully spread at an average rate of nearly 4,500 square miles â€“ about half the size of Wales â€“ every year.
Researchers collected tree bumblebee queens from the wild, checked them for parasites and then monitored colony development in a laboratory. Despite the bees having low genetic diversity and high levels of a nematode parasite that usually castrates other species, 25 per cent of the queens were able to produce offspring. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Carol Thorbes ||June 4th 2014|
Tinkering with climate change through climate engineering isn't going to help us get around what we have to do says a new report authored by researchers at six universities, including Simon Fraser University.
After evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming, the interdisciplinary team concluded there's no way around it. We have to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.
"Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper. But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad," says Jonn Axsen.
The assistant professor in SFU's School of Resource and Environmental Management is a co-author on this study, which appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It is the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics. Read more ..
|Diane Swanbrow||May 30th 2014|
As new research documents growing inequalities in health and wealth, the gap between "haves" and "have-nots" is growing in the field of scientific research itself, says University of Michigan sociologist Yu Xie.
"It's surprising that more attention has not been paid to the large, changing inequalities in the world of scientific research, given the preoccupation with rising social and economic inequality in many countries," said Xie, research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research and professor of sociology, statistics and public policy.
The forces of globalization and internet technology have altered the intensities and mechanisms of the basic structure of inequalities in science, he points out.
In fact, Xie says, scientific outputs and rewards are much more unequally distributed than other outcomes of well-being such as education, earnings or health. Read more ..
The Anthropological Edge
|Ewen Callaway||May 29th 2014|
Another ancient genome, another mystery. DNA gleaned from a 400,000-year-old femur from Spain has revealed an unexpected link between Europeâ€™s hominin inhabitants of the time and a cryptic population, the Denisovans, who are known to have lived much more recently in southwestern Siberia.
The DNA, which represents the oldest hominin sequence yet published, has left researchers baffled because most of them believed that the bones would be more closely linked to Neanderthals than to Denisovans. â€œThatâ€™s not what I would have expected; thatâ€™s not what anyone would have expected,â€ says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at Londonâ€™s Natural History Museum who was not involved in sequencing the femur DNA. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Rosanne Skirble||May 28th 2014|
The Hubble Space Telescope has changed the way we see the universe. For almost a quarter of a century, it has sent vast amounts of data and images from space. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington documents how Hubbleâ€™s remarkable success has hinged on its ability to be repaired and serviced in orbit.
Hubble was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Mission Control saw something it hadnâ€™t expected: fuzzy images. Hubble Space Telescope Program Manager Douglas Broome delivered the troubling news:
â€œThe conclusion weâ€™ve come to is that a significant spherical aberration appears to be present in the optics, in the optical telescope system optics,â€ he said. In other words - the outer edge of Hubble's primary mirror had been ground too flat, off by roughly one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. In 1993, a shuttle mission carried a replacement camera, WFPC2 and an instrument with corrective lenses called COSTAR for astronauts to install on the telescope. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Diego DiGhero||May 27th 2014|
Cave-diving scientist Patricia A. Beddows of Northwestern University is a member of an international team of researchers and cave divers who recently their discovery in an underwater cave in Mexico's YucatÃ¡n Peninsula one of the oldest human skeletons found in North America. Beddows is assistant chair and assistant professor of instruction in the department of Earth and planetary sciences in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
Details about a teenage girl who researchers have dubbed 'Naia' was published in the journal Science. They theorize the girl went underground to seek water and fell to her death in a large pit named Hoyo Negro ("black hole" in Spanish). Read more ..
The Graphene Edge
|George Putic||May 25th 2014|
A relatively new substance called graphene is being hailed as the wonder material of the 21st century, but no one has developed a way to mass produce it. However, one Irish scientist says he may have a solution.
Graphite is another name for pure carbon, a well-known material used for - among other things - pencil lead.
But when the layers of graphite are separated into sheets only one atom thick, the material, known as graphene, behaves quite differently. At that level, the atoms form strict geometric patterns, making it not only stronger than steel but also the best conductor of heat and electricity.
Theoretically, graphene could radically change the way we manufacture batteries, computer chips and flexible screens, or approach cancer therapy. Industry experts say separating and manipulating extremely thin sheets of graphene is a huge challenge. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|David Orenstein||May 24th 2014|
Bats appear to use a network of hair-thin muscles in their wing skin to control the stiffness and shape of their wings as they fly, according to a new study. The finding provides new insight about the aerodynamic fine-tuning of membrane wings, both natural and man-made. A new study of bats reveals a capability within their wondrous wings that may help them fine-tune their flight.
Bats employ a network of nearly hair-thin muscles embedded in the membrane of their inherently floppy wing skin to adjust the wingsâ€™ stiffness and curvature while they fly, Brown University researchers report. Birds and insects have stiff wings, but the new evidence suggests bats have evolved this muscular means of preserving or adjusting wing shape.
â€œAerodynamic performance depends upon wing shape,â€ said Brown biology graduate student Jorn Cheney, lead author of the newly published paper in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. â€œThe shape of a membrane wing might initially begin flat but as soon as it starts producing lift itâ€™s not going to remain flat because it has to deform in response to that aerodynamic load. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Yivsam Azgad||May 22nd 2014|
When a supernova â€“ the explosion of a giant star â€”was discovered last year, astrophysicists, with the help of telescopes around the globe, rushed to observe the fireworks. With its dramatic dying flares, this star â€“ a rare type more than 10 times the mass of our sun â€“ can tell us something about the life of these fascinating cosmic bodies, as well as helping paint the picture of how all the heavier elements in the universe are formed.
To understand the star that produced the supernova, the researchers identified the mix of elements that was thrown off right before the explosion began. Prof. Avishay Gal-Yam of the Weizmann Institute of Scienceâ€™s Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics explains that the star can be identified by the proportion of such elements as carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen detected in the material ejected into space. These elements are created in the nuclear fusion that powers some stars. For example, in our own sun, hydrogen â€“ the lightest atom â€“ fuses to make helium and stops there; but in the massive, hot stars, fusion continues as helium atoms unite to form heavier elements, all the way up to iron. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Sue Mc Greevey||May 21st 2014|
Massachusetts General Hospital
Application of a technology currently used to disinfect food products may help to get around one of the most challenging problems in medicine today, the proliferation of bacteria resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs. In a paper appearing in the June issue of the journal Technology and already released online, investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Engineering in Medicine describe how the use of microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage non-thermal electric fields successfully killed resistant bacteria infecting experimentally induced burns in mice, reducing bacterial levels up to 10,000-fold.
"Pulsed electrical field technology has the advantages of targeting numerous bacterial species and penetrating the full thickness of a wound," says Alexander Golberg, PhD, of the MGH Center for Engineering in Medicine (MGH-CEM), first author of the paper. "This could lead to a completely new means of burn wound disinfection without using antibiotics, which can increase bacterial resistance." Read more ..
The Digital Edge
Ohio Supercomputer Center
A recent study into the biomechanics of the necks of ants â€“ a common insect that can amazingly lift objects many times heavier than its own body â€“ might unlock one of natureâ€™s little mysteries and, quite possibly, open the door to advancements in robotic engineering.
A small group of engineers at The Ohio State University combined laboratory testing and computational modeling An electron microscope shows the neck region of the Allegheny mound ant.conducted at the Ohio Supercomputer Center to determine the relationship between the mechanical function, structural design and material properties of the Allegheny mound ant (Formica exsectoides). Their results were recently published in an article, â€œThe exoskeletal structure and tensile loading behavior of an ant neck joint,â€ in the Journal of Biomechanics.Carlos Castro, Ph.D. Read more ..
The Robotic Edge
|George Putic||May 18th 2014|
An international team of engineers based in Switzerland built a robotic arm that learned to perform complex movements.
The term "robotic arm" covers a variety of mechanical devices â€” from robots that weld automotive chassis to emotely controlled cranes on the International Space Station. In between are artificial arms developed for humanoid robots or people who have lost limbs.
Developed at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, the device, built in cooperation with robotic manufacturer Simlab, is even capable of grabbing flying objects.
According to researcher Seungsu Kim, the arm's processor takes only milliseconds to calculate three primary parameters.
"First thing is to predict the whole trajectory," said Kim. "Second is finding the best catching posture, and third is generation of arm motion."
But what most of us know how to do instinctively, the robotic arm had to learn from scratch.
While catching a tennis racquet is easy compared to catching, say, a half-empty bottle of water with liquid sloshing in flight, unpredictably changing its trajectory, researcher Ashwini Shukla says different objects were thrown in its direction many times until the processor learned to compare and predict flight patterns.
â€œWe teach the robot how to reach towards an object from many different directions, and from that same time we teach it the coordination it needs to have between the arm and the fingers to be able to successfully catch the object," said Shukla. The team's leader, Professor Aude Billard, is especially proud of their achievement. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
Texas A&M Agrilife Communications
A team of Texas A&M University System scientists have investigated how "body clock dysregulation" might affect obesity-related metabolic disorders.
The team was led by Dr. Chaodong Wu and Dr. David Earnest,from the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Study results were published recently on the Journal of Biological Chemistry website at http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2014/04/25/jbc.M113.539601.
"Animal sleeping and eating patterns, including those of humans, are subject to a circadian rhythmicity," Earnest said. "And previous studies have shown an association between the dysregulation of circadian or body clock rhythms and some metabolic disorders."
Wu said circadian clocks in peripheral tissues and cells drive daily rhythms and coordinate many physiological processes, including inflammation and metabolism. "And recent scientific observations suggest that disruption of circadian clock regulation plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes," he noted. Read more ..
The Racde for Batteries
|Paul Buckley||May 13th 2014|
A research team from Rice University has developed a flexible material with nanoporous nickel-fluoride electrodes layered around a solid electrolyte to deliver battery-like supercapacitor performance.
The material combines the best qualities of a high-energy battery and a high-powered supercapacitor without the lithium found in commercial batteries.
The development by Rice chemist James Tour and his colleagues puts flexible, portable and wearable electronics in its sights with the creation of a thin film for energy storage. The research is detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The electrochemical capacitor is about a hundredth of an inch thick but can be scaled up for devices either by increasing the size or adding layers, said Rice postdoctoral researcher Yang Yang, co-lead author of the paper with graduate student Gedeng Ruan. The researchers expect that standard manufacturing techniques may allow the battery to be even thinner. In tests, the students found their square-inch device held 76 percent of its capacity over 10,000 charge-discharge cycles and 1,000 bending cycles. Read more ..
Edge of Climate Change
|Cathy Lawhorn||May 13th 2014|
A rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in irreversible decline, with nothing to stop the entire glacial basin from disappearing into the sea, according to researchers at UC Irvine and NASA.
The new study presents multiple lines of evidence â€“ incorporating 40 years of observations â€“ that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector â€œhave passed the point of no return,â€ according to glaciologist Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine Earth system science professor who is also with NASAâ€™s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Read more ..
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