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The Race for Solar

Nature Shows how Moth Eyes Increase the Efficiency of Photovoltaics

January 24th 2011

Animals - Moth

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

Crucial Spanish Wetland Beset by Dangerous Heavy Metals and Pesticides

January 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Huelva wetlands pollution

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

Scientists Find Evidence of the Oldest Vintner's Equipment Ever Discovered

January 18th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Bird Cave Armenia and wine press
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 ..

Travel Safe

Radioactive Isotopes Developed by Government Scientists Sniff Luggage for Bombs

January 10th 2011

Energy Topics - Nickel isotope

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

Power Plant: Algae as an Alternative Energy Source

January 10th 2011

Energy Topics - algae

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

Biofuel Grasslands Better for Birds than Ethanol Staple Corn

January 10th 2011

Energy / Environment - Biofuel field

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

Newly Bio-Engineered Yeast May Overcome Cellulosic Biofuel Production Obstacles

January 3rd 2011

Science - Funky Yeast stuff

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

Is Israel The Birthplace of Modern Human Beings?

January 3rd 2011

Archaeology Topics - Early tooth found in Israel

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

Astronomers Find that the Most Massive Stars are Born in Near Isolation

December 27th 2010

Science - Star view

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

Fossil Finger Bone Yields Genome of a Previously Unknown Human Relative

December 27th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Denisovan cave dig

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

Dead Sea Drilling Project To Chart Human History in the Region

December 27th 2010

Israel Topics - Dead Sea drilling

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

Israeli Scientists Digging Deep into Mankind’s Origins and Climate Change

December 27th 2010

Israel Topics - Zvi ben-Avraham
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 ..


Sleep on the Edge

Getting Ahead of the High Price of Sleep Disorders

December 21st 2010

Social Topics - Narcolepsy

Danish sleep researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Institute for Health Services Research have examined the socio-economic consequences of the sleep disorder hypersomnia in one of the largest studies of its kind.

The sleep disorder has far-reaching consequences for both the individual and society as a whole.

Hypersomnia is characterized by excessive tiredness during the day. Patients who suffer from the disorder are extremely sleepy and need to take a nap several times a day. This can occur both at work, during a meal, in the middle of a conversation or behind the steering wheel. Hypersomnia is often a symptom of sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, violent snoring and/or obesity-related breathing difficulties," explains Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology Poul Jennum from the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen. The professor also leads the Danish Center for Sleep Medicine at Glostrup Hospital, which each year treats patients from across the country. Read more ..


Edge on Global Warming

Ancient Reptile Extinctions Give Glimpse of Response to Human-caused Climate Change

December 21st 2010

Environment Topics - Lizard bowl

A wave of reptile extinctions on the Greek islands over the past 15,000 years may offer a preview of the way plants and animals will respond as the world rapidly warms due to human-caused climate change, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.

The Greek island extinctions also highlight the critical importance of preserving habitat corridors that will enable plants and animals to migrate in response to climate change, thereby maximizing their chances of survival.

As the climate warmed at the tail end of the last ice age, sea levels rose and formed scores of Aegean islands that had formerly been part of the Greek mainland. At the same time, cool and moist forested areas dwindled as aridity spread through the region. In response to the combined effects of a shifting climate, vegetation changes and ever-decreasing island size, many reptile populations perished. Read more ..


The Deep Edge

Big-Mouth Blue Whales are Super-Efficient Foragers

December 13th 2010

Energy / Environment - Blue whale

Blue whales eat 90 times more energy when diving than they use, thanks to big mouths. Diving blue whales can dive for anything up to 15 minutes. However, Bob Shadwick from the University of British Columbia, Canada, explains that blue whales may be able to dive for longer, because of the colossal oxygen supplies they could carry in their blood and muscles, so why don't they? 'The theory was that what they are doing under water must use a lot of energy,' says Shadwick. Explaining that the whales feed by lunging repeatedly through deep shoals of krill, engulfing their own body weight in water before filtering out the nutritious crustaceans, Shadwick says, "It was thought that the huge drag effect when they feed and reaccelerate this gigantic body must be the cost." Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Plant Disease Genome that Acts like Stealth Bomber of Plant Pathogens

December 13th 2010

Science - Funky spore

Research led by the University of Warwick and The Sainsbury Laboratory of the United Kingdom, in collaboration with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), has sequenced the genome of a plant disease-causing organism revealing that it acts like a "stealth bomber of plant pathogens." The research has uncovered the tactics used to sneak past the plant's immune defenses. That same discovery also provides tools for researchers to identify the components of the plant immune system and devise new ways to prevent disease.

The research looked at an obligate biotroph, a type of plant pathogen which has adapted so exquisitely to its host that it extracts nutrients only from living plant tissue and cannot grow away for their plant. While the organism may once have been able to exist by itself it has now evolved in such a way that it cannot survive without a host plant and usually that has to be a very specific type of host plant. Read more ..


Edge on Environment

Pennsylvania's Iron-Smelting History Leaves Traces in its Soils

December 13th 2010

Science - PA State soil sampling
Pennsylvania researchers check soil samples

Iron furnaces that once dotted central Pennsylvania may have left a legacy of manganese enriched soils, according to Penn State geoscientists. This manganese can be toxic to trees, especially sugar maples, and other vegetation.

The research, which quantified the amounts of manganese in soil core samples, was part of work done at the Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory funded by the National Science Foundation.

"Our group's focus was to study the soil chemistry," said Elizabeth M. Herndon, graduate student in geosciences. "We saw excess manganese in the soil and decided that we needed to quantify the manganese and determine where it came from." Read more ..


Health Edge

Research Shows that Cleaniless, Rather than Godliness, is Next to Sickness

December 6th 2010

Environment Topics - Triclosan

Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A among adults may negatively influence the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests. The paper is titled, “The Impact of Bisphenol A and Triclosan on Immune Parameters in the U.S. Population.”

Triclosan is a chemical compound widely used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices. Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in many plastics and, for example, as a protective lining in food cans. Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones. Read more ..


Edge on Environment

Understanding How Icebergs Form May Lead to Better Forecasts of Global Warming

December 6th 2010

Environment Topics - Glacier calving
Edge of Antarctic glacier calves into the sea

In an effort to understand how fast sea level could rise as the climate warms, a University of Michigan researcher has developed a new theory to describe how icebergs detach from ice sheets and glaciers. This process of "iceberg calving" isn't well understood.

While scientists believe it currently accounts for roughly half of the mass lost in shrinking ice sheets, current sea level rise models don't take changes in iceberg calving into account in their predictions, says Jeremy Bassis, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the institution based in Ann Arbor MI. "Our models cannot predict about half of the mass balance. We don't know how much of an effect this will have, but we've seen several prominent examples where calving is connected with speed-up of the ice-retreat process," Bassis said. The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica—a 2,000-square-mile, 700-foot-thick slab that had been stable for thousands of years—disintegrated in about six weeks between January and March of 2002. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Massive Galaxies Emerged at Onset of the Universe

November 29th 2010

Science - Young Galaxy NASA

Some of the universe's most massive galaxies may have formed billions of years earlier than current scientific models predict, according to surprising new research led by Tufts University. "We have found a relatively large number of very massive, highly luminous galaxies that existed almost 12 billion years ago when the universe was still very young, about 1.5 billion years old. These results appear to disagree with the latest predictions from models of galaxy formation and evolution," said Tufts astrophysicist Danilo Marchesini, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. "Current understanding of the physical processes responsible in forming such massive galaxies has difficulty reproducing these observations." Read more ..

China on the Edge

Google Attacked by China, Documents Suggest

November 29th 2010

China Topics - Chinese hackers

The massive hacking Google faced in China, first revealed in January, may have been an attack by Chinese government operatives, according to information revealed by Wikileaks.

Among the the more than 200,000 documents released by Wikileaks, one suggests a connection between the Chinese government and the Google hacking, which led the company to threaten to pull its operations from China.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the Wikileaks documents, reports that China’s Politburo may have directed the hacking. A Chinese contact who spoke with the American Embassy said as much in Beijing in January, one cable reveals. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Icelandic DNA study Shows Evidence of First Americans in Europe in 1000 CE

November 22nd 2010

History American - Ancient map
Medieval map showing the Old World and American coastline

When Christopher Columbus returned from his first voyage to the Americas, he shanghaied ten to twenty-five of the native peoples he encountered on the Caribbean islands he explored. Of these, only 6 were to be presented to the court of Spain's Catholic monarchs when he returned to the Iberian Peninsula in March 1493. These 6 American natives were presumed to be the first of the New World to set foot in the Old World. Until now.

King Ferndinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille had joined forces to unite Spain as the first modern nation-state, and by bankrolling Columbus they set about on a process of conquest, exchange, and transformation that still resonates today. Read more ..


Edge on Medicine

Changing Strategies to Address the Growing Spread of Whooping Cough

November 22nd 2010

Health/Medicine - Cough

Strategies for preventing the spread of whooping cough—on the rise in the United States and several other countries in recent years—should take into account how often people in different age groups interact, research at the University of Michigan suggests.

Thanks to widespread childhood vaccination, whooping cough (pertussis) once seemed to be under control. But the illness, which in infants causes violent, gasping coughing spells, has made a comeback in some developed countries since the 1980s, becoming a major public health concern. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Plotting the Planet Pluto and Beyond

November 22nd 2010

Science - Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde Tombaugh

In September 2010, a group of astronomers at the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey announced the discovery of the first so-called “Goldilocks planet.” Gliese 581g (also dubbed “Zarmina's World” by its discoverer, UC Santa Cruz astronomer Steven Vogt, who has romantically named the planet after his wife) is the first rocky planet outside our solar system known to be situated “just right” for life—that is, within the habitable zone of its star.

While its possibilities for harboring life have attracted new attention to the continuing search for other worlds, Gliese 581g is just one of hundreds of exoplanets located during the last few years. More than 20 light years from Earth, its discovery calls to mind the amazing story behind the discovery in 1930 of what was, for a time, the most distant known planet—Pluto. This year is the 80th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery, and it's fair to say that the pace of discovery is, to say the least, accelerating.

The six planets in outward progress from the sun—Mercury, Venus, Earth (naturally), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—have been known from antiquity. The seventh planet, Uranus, was accidentally discovered in 1781 by William Herschel, who, over the course of a few days in March of that year, observed an object moving steadily against the unmoving background stars. Herschel initially reported his finding as a comet, but by 1783 his and others’ observations had confirmed the planetary nature of Uranus. This revolutionary discovery greatly expanded the understood size of the Solar System, and suggested that more worlds might remain to be found. Read more ..


Brain Matters

Harnessing the Electricity of the Brain May Help Victims of Paralysis

November 15th 2010

Science - Brain Light

A paralyzed patient may someday be able to “think” a foot into flexing or a leg into moving, using technology that harnesses the power of electricity in the brain, and scientists at University of Michigan School of Kinesiology are now one big step closer.

Researchers at the school and colleagues from the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego have developed technology that for the first time allows doctors and scientists to noninvasively isolate and measure electrical brain activity in moving people.

This technology is a key component of the kind of brain-computer interfaces that would allow a robotic exoskeleton controlled by a patient’s thoughts to move that patient's limb, said Daniel Ferris, associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and author of a trio of papers detailing the research.

“Of course that is not going to happen soon but a step toward being able to do that is the ability to record brain waves while somebody is moving around,” said Joe Gwin, first author on the papers and a graduate research fellow in the School of Kinesiology and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Read more ..


Edge on Environment

Global Warming Brings Drought to Highland Peru

November 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - Lake Titicaca
NASA image of Lake Titicaca

Catastrophic drought is on the near-term horizon for the capital city of Bolivia, according to new research into the historical ecology of the Andes.

If temperatures rise more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above those of modern times, parts of Peru and Bolivia will become a desert-like setting.

The change would be disastrous for the water supply and agricultural capacity of the two million inhabitants of La Paz, Bolivia's capital city, scientists say.

The results, derived from research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and conducted by scientists affiliated with the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), appear in the November issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

Climatologist Mark Bush of FIT led a research team investigating a 370,000-year record of climate and vegetation change in Andean ecosystems.

The scientists used fossilized pollen trapped in the sediments of Lake Titicaca, which sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia.

They found that during two of the last three interglacial periods, which occurred between 130,000-115,0000 years ago and 330,000-320,000 years ago, Lake Titicaca shrank by as much as 85 percent.

Adjacent shrubby grasslands were replaced by desert.

In each case, a steady warming occurred that caused trees to migrate upslope, just as they are doing today. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Scientists Reveal Secrets of Exploding Plasma on the Sun

November 8th 2010

Science - Solar flare

Our sun sporadically expels trillions of tons of million-degree hydrogen gas in explosions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Such clouds are enormous in size (spanning millions of miles) and are made up of magnetized plasma gases, so hot that hydrogen atoms are ionized. CMEs are rapidly accelerated by magnetic forces to speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second to upwards of 2,000 kilometers per second in several tens of minutes. CMEs are closely related to solar flares and, when they impinge on the Earth, can trigger spectacular auroral displays. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Research on Papyri Reveals Modern Concerns of Ancient Writers

November 1st 2010

Archaeology Topics - Papyrus

Research conducted on papyri sheds light on an ancient world with surprisingly modern concerns: including hoped-for medical cures, religious confusion and the need for financial safeguards. The field of study known as papyrology is the study of texts on papyrus and other materials, mainly from ancient Egypt and from the period of Greek and Roman rule. Both Biblical and Classical scholars avidly study scrolls written on papyrus to reveal answers to questions about ancient texts. The recent research revealed fascinating details about daily life, including banking and the charging of interest on loans. Read more ..


Traveling Dangerously

Fatigue Standards for Truckers and Pilots Lag Behind Critical Research on Sleep Disorders

November 1st 2010

Science - sleep test

A sleep-deprived person behind the wheel or in the cockpit is just as dangerous as a drunken driver.

That’s one of the conclusions scientists have reached after years of study on the need for sleep—and what happens when people don’t get enough of it.

Scientific understanding of sleep has improved dramatically over the past 20 years with a surge of research on everything from sleep apnea and internal body clocks to the reaction times and judgments of those who are sleep-deprived. But U.S. transportation guidelines lag far behind the research.

The regulations are outdated across all sectors of transportation. Current flight-time restrictions for airline pilots haven’t significantly changed since the 1930s, although they are currently under review. Regulations governing truck and bus drivers were only recently updated, and those changes might be temporary due to legal challenges. And the U.S. Coast Guard has failed to act on at least six NTSB recommendations that date back as far as 1978 to revise hours-of-service regulations for commercial boaters.

Jim Hall, former chair of the NTSB, said it’s shocking that U.S. agencies that oversee air, rail, water and highway safety all have failed to take scientific evidence about “the limits on performance and the rest requirements for human beings and put that into the regulations.” Read more ..


Toxic Water

Studies Increasingly Show Growing Prevalence of Gender-Bending Toxins

October 27th 2010

Animals - Intersex fish
Potomac River smallmouth bass

New research has provided the first evidence that “gender bending” chemicals which find their way from human products into rivers and oceans can have a significant impact on the ability of fish to breed in rivers of the United Kingdom. The findings from the four year study, led by the universities of Exeter and Brunel, has important implications for understanding the impacts of these chemicals on ecosystem health and possibly on humans. They appear to bolster similar evidence found in watersheds of the United States.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) disrupt the ways that hormones work in the bodies of vertebrates (animals with backbones), including humans. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Archaeologists Find Evidence of Pre-Colombian Water Conservation

October 26th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Amazon reservoirs

The pre-Columbian American societies that once lived in the Amazon rainforests may have been much larger and more advanced than researchers previously realized. Brazilian and Swedish archaeologists have found the remains of approximately 90 settlements in an area South of the city of Santarém, in the Brazilian part of the Amazon.

"The most surprising thing is that many of these settlements are a long way from rivers, and are located in rainforest areas that extremely sparsely populated today," said Per Stenborg from the Department of Historical Studies of the University of Gothenburg , who led the Swedish part of the archaeological investigations in the area over the summer. He was accompanied by Brazilians Denise Schaan and and Marcio Amaral-Lima. Read more ..


The Earth on Edge

Computer Modeling Gives a Better Picture of Tectonic Plate Movement and Earthquakes

October 11th 2010

Energy / Environment - Cross section of New Hebrides area of Pacific
Cross section of Pacific Ocean showing plate boundaries

Computational scientists and geophysicists at the University of Texas at Austin and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed new computer algorithms that for the first time allow for the simultaneous modeling of the earth's Earth's mantle flow, large-scale tectonic plate motions, and the behavior of individual fault zones, to produce an unprecedented view of plate tectonics and the forces that drive it. Read more ..


Weather on the Edge

How Honeycomb Clouds Exhibit Self-organization

October 4th 2010

Environment Topics - Honeycomb clouds

Like shifting sand dunes, some clouds disappear in one place and reappear in another. New work this week in Nature shows why: Rain causes air to move vertically, which breaks down and builds up cloud walls. The air movement forms patterns in low clouds that remain cohesive structures even while appearing to shift about the sky, due to a principle called self-organization.

These clouds, called open-cell clouds that look like honeycombs, cover much of the open ocean. Understanding how their patterns evolve will eventually help scientists build better models for predicting climate change. This is the first time researchers have shown the patterns cycle regularly and why. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Oxygen-Starved Dead-Zones Continue to Grow in U.S. Waters

September 27th 2010

Environment Topics - drain to ocean

The number of “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters — where oxygen is so depleted that it can harm marine life — has soared 30-fold over the last half century, according to a new White House report that warns the phenomenon poses both economic and environmental hazards.

The report by a task force of federal, state and private scientists assembled by the White House said the rise of hypoxia in ocean waters can be traced mostly to pollution, such as wastewater and fertilizer runoff. The nutrient-rich pollutants fuel blooms of algae and other bacteria that suck oxygen out of the water, the researchers said. Read more ..


Agriculture on the Edge

Coffee Plants Benefit As Complex Biological Interactions Keep Pests at Bay

September 20th 2010

Science - Azteca ants

Proponents of organic farming often speak of nature's balance in ways that sound almost spiritual, prompting criticism that their views are unscientific and naïve. At the other end of the spectrum are those who see farms as battlefields where insect pests and plant diseases must be vanquished with the magic bullets of modern agriculture: pesticides, fungicides and the like.

Which view is more accurate? A 10-year study of an organic coffee farm in Mexico suggests that, far from being romanticized hooey, the "balance and harmony" view is on the mark. Ecologists John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan and Stacy Philpott of the University of Toledo have uncovered a web of intricate interactions that buffers the farm against extreme outbreaks of pests and diseases, making magic bullets unnecessary. Read more ..


Edge on Terror

Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Debated--But Looms as Real Threat

September 13th 2010

Military - EMP

Over the past decade there has been an ongoing debate over the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to modern civilization. This debate has been the most heated perhaps in the United States, where the commission appointed by Congress to assess the threat to the United States warned of the dangers posed by EMP in reports released in 2004 and 2008. The commission also called for a national commitment to address the EMP threat by hardening the national infrastructure.

There is little doubt that efforts by the United States to harden infrastructure against EMP — and its ability to manage critical infrastructure manually in the event of an EMP attack — have been eroded in recent decades as the Cold War ended and the threat of nuclear conflict with Russia lessened. This is also true of the U.S. military, which has spent little time contemplating such scenarios in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Read more ..


The Ancient World

Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Mayan Water Conservation Techniques

September 13th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Mayan archaeology at Uxul

Since 2009, researchers from Germany and Mexico have been systematically uncovering and mapping the old walls of Uxul, a Mayan city. In the process, researchers including Dr. Nikolai Grube of the University of Bonn and Mexican archaeologist Antonio Benavides Castillo came across two water reservoirs of approximately 100 yards square.

Such monster pools, which are also known from other Mayan cities, are called “aguadas. Similar to present-day water towers, they served to store drinking water. But the people of Uxul seem to have thought of a particularly smart way to seal their aguada. “We conducted a trial dig in the center of one of the water reservoirsm explains Nicolaus Seefeld, a young scholar. “We found that the bottom, which is at a depth of two meters, was covered with ceramic shards—probably from plates—practically without any gaps. But we don't know yet whether it's like this throughout the entire aguada. Read more ..


Edge on the Universe

Search for the Secrets of Dark Matter in Outer Space Goes Underground

September 6th 2010

Science - Galaxies

This month physicist Juan Collar and his associates are taking their attempt to unmask the secret identity of dark matter into a Canadian mine more than a mile underground.

The team is deploying a 4-kilogram bubble chamber at SNOLab, which is part of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario, Canada. A second 60-kilogram chamber will follow later this year. Scientists anticipate that dark matter particles will leave bubbles in their tracks when passing through the liquid in one of these chambers. Dark matter accounts for nearly 90 percent of all matter in the universe. Although invisible to telescopes, scientists can observe the gravitational influence that dark matter exerts over galaxies. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Retreating Glaciers in Asia Could Impact Water Supplies for Millions and Cause Floods

August 30th 2010

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

Many of Asia’s glaciers are retreating as a result of climate change.

This retreat impacts water supplies to millions of people, increases the likelihood of outburst floods that threaten life and property in nearby areas, and contributes to sea-level rise.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with 39 international scientists, published a report on the status of glaciers throughout all of Asia, including Russia, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

“Of particular interest are the Himalaya, where glacier behavior impacts the quality of life of tens of millions of people,” said USGS scientist Jane Ferrigno. “Glaciers in the Himalaya are a major source of fresh water and supply meltwater to all of the rivers in northern India.” Read more ..


The Mind's Edge

Researchers Discover How 'Special-K' can be Used as an Effective Anti-Depressant

August 23rd 2010

Science - Ketamine

Researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, have discovered how a novel anti-depressant can take effect in hours, rather than the weeks or months usually required for most drugs currently on the market. The findings should speed development of a safe and easy-to-administer form of the anti-depressant ketamine, which has already proven remarkably effective in treating severely depressed patients.

The Yale scientists found that, in rats, ketamine not only quickly improves depression-like behaviors but actually restores connections between brain cells damaged by chronic stress.

"It's like a magic drug—one dose can work rapidly and last for seven to 10 days," said Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale and senior author of the study.

Ketamine traditionally has been used as a general anesthetic for children, but a decade ago researchers at the Connecticut Mental Health Center found that, in lower doses, the drug seemed to give patients relief from depression, Duman said. In these initial clinical studies, which have been replicated at the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 70 percent of patients who are resistant to treatment with all other forms of antidepressants were found to improve within hours after receiving ketamine. Read more ..



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