|Marie-Helene Thibeault||March 15th 2014|
They're called the Alberta oilsands but most of the sand actually came from the Appalachian region on the eastern side of the North American continent, a new University of Calgary-led study shows.
The oilsands also include sand from the Canadian Shield in northern and east-central Canada and from the Canadian Rockies in western Canada, the study says. This study is the first to determine the age of individual sediment grains in the oilsands and assess their origin.
"The oilsands are looked at as a Western asset," says study lead author Christine Benyon, who is just completing her Master's degree in Geoscience in the Faculty of Science.
"But we wouldn't have oilsands without the sand, and some of that sand owes its origin to the Appalachians and other parts of Canada."
The research, which also involved study sponsor Nexen Energy ULC and the University of Arizona LaserChron Center, was published last week in the Journal of Sedimentary Research. The findings contribute to geologists' fundamental understanding of the oilsands.
They also help oilsands companies better understand the stratigraphy, or layers, of sand and the ancient valleys where sediment was deposited, "and that could lead to better production techniques," Benyon says.
To determine the origin of the sand, the researchers used a relatively new technique called "detrital zircon uranium-lead geochronology." Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jean-Phillippe Thiran||March 14th 2014|
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Technology now allows us to read facial expressions and identify which of the seven universal emotions a person is feeling: fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, or suspicion. This is very useful in video game development, medicine, marketing, and, perhaps less obviously, in driver safety. We know that in addition to fatigue, the emotional state of the driver is a risk factor.
Irritation, in particular, can make drivers more aggressive and less attentive. EPFL researchers, in collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroën, have developed an on-board emotion detector based on the analysis of facial expressions. Tests carried out using a prototype indicate that the idea could have promising applications.
It's not easy to measure emotions within the confines of a car, especially non-invasively. The solution explored by scientists in EPFL's Signal Processing 5 Laboratory (LTS5), who specialize in facial detection, monitoring and analysis, is to get drivers' faces to do the job. In collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroën, LTS5 adapted a facial detection device for use in a car, using an infrared camera placed behind the steering wheel. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Dacid Byrd||March 13th 2014|
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web. What started as a way for scientists to share research has changed life worldwide forever.
In March 1989, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland.
Scientists would come to CERN from all over the world, but others could not view their research because their computers were not compatible. Berners-Lee thought it would be easier if all the computers could talk to one another and swap information directly.
So he proposed linking the machines. The response from his bosses to his proposal, titled Information Management: A Proposal? “Vague, but exciting.” Little did they know. Berners-Lee’s proposal would later become known as the World Wide Web. It took two years before he and a colleague could successfully link a computer server and a web browser through the Internet. It would be officially launched in August 1991.By 1993 there were more than 500 web servers. Today, there are more than 1.7 billion people on the web worldwide. Read more ..
The Race for Nuclear Power
|Kate McAlpine||March 12th 2014|
A handheld radiation camera developed by University of Michigan engineering researchers offers nuclear plant operators a faster way to find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods.
The new 'Polaris-H' detector lays a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, pinpointing radiation sources with unprecedented precision. At least four U.S. nuclear power plants are using versions of the camera, which is now available commercially through the U-M spinoff company H3D.
"This technology enables people to 'see' radiation," said Zhong He, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at U-M and CEO of H3D. "This should enable the early detection of leaks by locating abnormal radiation, a much better understanding of radiation sources to protect workers, and it could be a tool for the cleanup effort of nuclear waste and fallout, such as in Fukushima in Japan." Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Rosanne Skirble||March 11th 2014|
Satellite tracking devices attached to young sea turtles have provided new information on the so-called ‘lost years’ of this endangered species. As soon as the hatchlings emerge from their sandy nest, they scurry down the beach to the ocean and disappear into the deep for many years before returning to the beach to mate.
The young turtles are tiny and always on the move, making them almost impossible to track. A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to report their early behavior and movement.
Lead author Kate Mansfield, a marine biologist at the University of Central Florida, credits small remote sensing devices. Loggerhead turtles were tagged and released from Florida’s Atlantic coast, then followed for up to 220 days.
“Because they were solar powered, they did not require huge batteries in order to communicate with overhead satellites,” she explained. “So we were able to use much smaller tags that had become available [to put] on smaller turtles.” Read more ..
Edge of Space
|Nicole Casal Moore ||March 10th 2014|
Astronomers at the University of Michigan have for the first time directly measured the spin of a distant supermassive black hole.
The findings, published online in Nature, provide insights into how these black holes and their host galaxies grow and change over time.
Supermassive black holes are believed to lurk at the cores of most, if not all, galaxies. They are millions or billions of times more massive than our sun and they play an important role in how galaxies evolve.
"The growth history of a supermassive black hole is encoded in its spin, so studies of spin versus time can allow us to study the co-evolution of black holes and their host galaxies," said study co-author Mark Reynolds, assistant research scientist in astronomy at the U-M College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Florian Aigner||March 9th 2014|
Vienna University ofm Technology
It does not get any thinner than this: The novel material graphene consists of only one atomic layer of carbon atoms and exhibits very special electronic properties. As it turns out, there are other materials too, which can open up intriguing new technological possibilities if they are arranged in just one or very few atomic layers. Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have now succeeded for the first time in creating a diode made of tungsten diselenide. Experiments show that this material may be used to create ultrathin flexible solar cells. Even flexible displays could become possible.
Thin Layers are Different
At least since the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded in 2010 for creating graphene, the "two dimensional crystals" made of carbon atoms have been regarded as one of the most promising materials in electronics. In 2013, graphene research was chosen by the EU as a flagship-project, with a funding of one billion euros. Graphene can sustain extreme mechanical strain and it has great opto-electronic properties. With graphene as a light detector, optical signals can be transformed into electric pulses on extremely short timescales. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jennifer Nachbur||March 8th 2014|
University of Vermont
In end-stage lung disease, transplantation is sometimes the only viable therapeutic option, but organ availability is limited and rejection presents an additional challenge. Innovative research efforts in the field of tissue regeneration, including pioneering discoveries by University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues, hold promise for this population, which includes an estimated 12.7 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
In the past year alone, Weiss and colleagues published four articles in Biomaterials, the leading bioengineering journal, as well as two March 2014 articles by first author Darcy Wagner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Weiss’ lab, reporting their development of new methods and techniques for engineering lungs for patients with COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.
Weiss and his team’s work focuses on lung tissue bioengineering, which involves the use of a scaffold – or framework – of lungs from human cadavers to engineer new lungs for patients with end-stage disease. Their studies have examined multiple perspectives on the process of stripping the cellular material from these lungs – called decellularizing – and replacing it with stem cells (recellularization), in an effort to grow new, healthy lungs for transplantation.
Working in animal and human models, Wagner, Weiss and colleagues have addressed numerous challenges faced during the lung tissue bioengineering process, such as the storage and sterilization of decellularized cadaveric scaffolds and the impact of the age and disease state of donor lungs on these processes. In one of the latest Biomaterials studies, the researchers report on novel techniques that increase the ability to perform high-throughput studies of human lungs. Read more ..
The Automotive Edge
|George Putic||March 7th 2014|
Car shows around the world increasingly suggest that in the not-too-distant future, cars will feature autopilots handling some of the driving. The auto show now under way in Geneva, Switzerland, is showcasing other possible trends - including cars manufactured by 3D printers.
The future of automobile travel - for the wealthy, at least - may look like very different. Swiss design firm Rinspeed is exhibiting a luxury vehicle, based on the U.S. electric car Tesla Model S, with swiveling recliner seats, a large TV screen and an espresso maker.
Rinspeed’s CEO Frank Rinderknecht says, in a car with autopilot, he does not want to just sit and watch the steering wheel turn left and right. “I want to sleep, relax, watch movies, news, anything else. So that's the vision, which we have," he said. "That one day on the boring motorway traffic, you just do anything which makes your life better.” Read more ..
The Edge of the Ocean Depths
|George Putic||March 6th 2014|
A new diving suit will allow oceanographers to explore the underwater world up to four times deeper than today’s most advanced compressed air gear. In addition, the new suit will allow divers to stay underwater for hours, so they can explore marine life up close as never before.
The so-called Exosuit is made of aluminum alloy, stands about two meters tall and weighs more than 240 kilograms. It is designed to protect divers below 300 meters, where the pressure is 30 times greater than on the surface.
The Exosuit, unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has 18 rotary joints, providing better freedom of movement than similar suits.
Still, says Michael Lombardi, the museum's diving safety officer who tested the suit, it takes some time to get used to. “It takes an effort to find a comfortable spot in the suit, but at the same time you don't feel claustrophobic. I get that question all the time because it's so tight," said Lombardi. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|David Orenstein||March 5th 2014|
When a person becomes sick or is exposed to an unwelcome substance, the body mobilizes specific proportions of different immune cells in the blood. Methods of discovering and detecting those profiles are therefore useful both clinically and in research. In a new paper in the journal Genome Biology, a team of scientists describes a new and uniquely advantageous way to detect them.
All the current means of counting immune cells in a blood sample require whole cells, said Karl Kelsey, professor of epidemiology at Brown and corresponding author, but the new system relies on something far less ephemeral: DNA. Its use of hardy strands of genetic material allows it to handle even archived samples where cells have lost their physical integrity.
All of a person’s immune cells — in fact, nearly all of their cells — have exactly the same DNA, but what makes a kidney cell different from a brain cell or a T-cell distinct from a B-cell are chemical alterations known as epigenetic marks. Those cause a cell’s genes to be expressed in the particular way that makes them different. One type of those alterations is methylation, and every kind of cell has its own methylation signature. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|George Putic||March 4th 2014|
The last common ancestor of flies and humans lived more than 500 million years ago. But scientists say as both organisms evolved they developed similar strategies to sense movement around them. So - scientists at Stanford University are using flies - in an effort to better understand how the human brain works.
A human brain contains more than 100 billion neurons while the fly’s brain has just 100,000. So it is much easier for scientists to study how a fly reacts to a perceived motion. To do this, scientists designed a tiny treadmill in the shape of a ball, which a fly attached to a pole can move with its feet in any direction.
A small panoramic screen in front of it displays moving objects, causing the fly to avoid them by moving its feet. Thomas Clandinin is Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford University:
“By moving the treadmill they tell us what they saw and we can measure the relationship between what they see and what they do by this kind of automatic report," said Clandinin. In another part of the lab a volunteer is watching the same images while his brain activity is being recorded. Scientists say they were surprised to find that human brains and fly brains both follow the same patterns. Read more ..
The Race for Wind
|Rosanne Skirble||March 3rd 2014|
Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of new electricity around the world. In 2012, global wind energy capacity grew by 19 percent, with more than 150,000 turbines operating in 90 countries.
Now a new study suggests offshore turbines could have an additional environmental benefit: weakening the power of hurricanes.
Over several decades, Stanford University's Mark Jacobson has developed a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate. The engineering professor recently used it to address a nagging question facing the renewable energy industry: could hurricane force winds destroy offshore windmills?
“The first thought I had was, well maybe the turbines would extract enough power from the hurricane to diminish the hurricane, but I couldn’t prove that yet, unless I ran some numerical simulations,” he said. Read more ..
Man's Best Friend
|Karin Kloosterman||March 2nd 2014|
“After we break the ice, we can bark,” says Yonatan Dror, CEO of a new Israeli pet chip monitor company called Oggii. This would sound like a weird proposition if Dror hadn’t first developed a company that attempted to decode the secret language of dogs.
After securing financing from a pet-loving “angel” friend of his, and delving into the idea, speaking Dog proved more challenging that Dror thought. So he moved to another language: decoding movement patterns in dogs to determine if they are healthy.
You can’t take blood pressure or heart rate as reliable indicators of canine health, Dror says. His company Oggii (previously Oggway), uses a chip and patented algorithms to correlate pet movements with possible problems such as ticks, skin allergies, seizures, arthritis, poor joints, brain damage and even ear infections, which account for 30 percent of all visits to the vet. Pet owners receive action alerts like “diet” or “go to the vet.” Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Shaun Mason||March 1st 2014|
Researchers from UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed an innovative cancer-fighting technique in which custom-designed nanoparticles carry chemotherapy drugs directly to tumor cells and release their cargo when triggered by a two-photon laser in the infrared red wavelength.
The research findings by UCLA's Jeffrey Zink, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Fuyu Tamanoi, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and their colleagues were published online Feb. 20 in the journal Small and will appear in a later print edition.
Light-activated drug delivery holds promise for treating cancer because it give doctors control over precisely when and where in the body drugs are released. Delivering and releasing chemotherapy drugs so that they hit only tumor cells and not surrounding healthy tissues can greatly reduce treatment side effects and increase the drugs' cancer-killing effect. But the development of a drug-delivery system that responds to tissue-penetrating light has been a major challenge. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Nicole Casal Moore||February 28th 2014|
Two newer classes of drugs to treat adult-onset diabetes may be no more effective than the old standby, yet they cost significantly more over the course of a patient's disease.
That's according to a National Science Foundation-funded study by researchers at the University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic and North Carolina State University.
Based on a simulation model that involved 15 years worth of actual patient data from more than 37,000 individuals, the researchers found that the newer drugs cost patients and insurance companies anywhere from $1,600 to $2,400 more.
That's from the time a person is diagnosed until he or she develops heart problems, circulatory complications or dies. The exact time period varies widely, but it can be more than a decade.
Some 25 million Americans live with type 2 diabetes today, so the researchers say the findings offer an avenue for substantial savings. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Lisa Merki||February 27th 2014|
University of Houston
A University of Houston (UH) scientist and his team are working to develop the next generation of prostate cancer therapies, which are targeted at metabolism.
With approximately one out of six American men being diagnosed and nearly a quarter of a million new cases expected this year, prostate cancer is the most common malignancy among men in the U.S. Since prostate cancer relies on androgens for growth and survival, androgen ablation therapies are the standard of care for late-stage disease. While patients initially respond favorably to this course of treatment, most experience a relapse within two years, at which time limited treatment options exist. At this stage, known as castration-resistant prostate cancer, androgen-deprivation therapies are no longer effective, but interestingly, androgen receptor signaling is still active and plays a large role in the progression of the cancer. Because of this, both androgen receptors and the processes downstream of the receptor remain viable targets for therapeutic intervention. Unfortunately, it is unclear which specific downstream processes actually drive the disease and, therefore, what should be targeted. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Matthew Hilburn||February 26th 2014|
While the National Security Agency has been getting a lot of attention for its global surveillance endeavors, a small army of private and often secretive companies is quietly peddling spyware with NSA-like capabilities to governments around the world. Among their clients; the NSA.
Many of these products go beyond simple monitoring of huge amounts of traffic or stealing files. These new programs can target individuals, infect their computers, phones, web cameras or other devices to watch and record the every move of people targeted.
The software does have legitimate uses such as gathering data about criminal activities, but critics say it too often is used by authoritarian regimes to spy on their own people. The most recent public case involves an American citizen who goes by the alias “Mr. Kidane.” Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Kate McAlpine||February 25th 2014|
Poets and physicians know that a scarred heart cannot beat the way it used to, but the science of reprogramming cells offers hope—for the physical heart, at least. A team of University of Michigan biomedical engineers has turned cells common in scar tissue into colonies of beating heart cells. Their findings could advance the path toward regenerating tissue that's been damaged in a heart attack.
Previous work in direct reprogramming, jumping straight from a cell type involved in scarring to heart muscle cells, has a low success rate. But Andrew Putnam, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and head of the Cell Signaling in Engineered Tissues Lab, thinks he knows at least one of the missing factors for better reprogramming. "Many reprogramming studies don't consider the environment that the cells are in—they don't consider anything other than the genes," he said. "The environment can dictate the expression of those genes." Read more ..
The Digital Edge
Imagine a user who intends to send $2 to a friend through PayPal. Embedded malware in the user’s laptop, however, converts the $2 transaction into a $2,000 transfer to the account of the malware author instead.
Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a prototype software, Gyrus, that takes extra steps to prevent malware from sending spam emails and instant messages, and blocking unauthorized commands such as money transfers.
Current protection programs might recognize the original user’s intent to send email, transfer money or engage in other transactions but cannot verify the specifics such as email contents or amount of money. Without context, it is impossible to properly verify the user’s full intent, regardless of whether the software is protecting a financial transfer, an industrial control system or a wide range of other user-driven applications. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|George Putic||February 24th 2014|
Researchers in Hungary have confirmed something many dog owners have long suspected: that canines understand our feelings.
Using a Magnetic Resonance Scanner, or MRI, scientists found that when it comes to emotions, dogs' brains are similar to those of humans.
Dogs are usually not relaxed in a lab environment, but with a little petting and lots of treats they can be trained to sit still even in an MRI scanner. That’s how researchers in Hungary’s ELTE University were able to get images of their brains at work.
Research fellow Attila Andics says it helped them better understand the dogs’ relationship with humans. “We have known for a long time that dogs and humans share similar social environment, but now our results show that dogs and humans also have similar brain mechanisms to process social information," said Andics.
After training 11 dogs to stay motionless while their brains were scanned, the researchers checked their neurological responses to about 200 emotionally significant sounds, from whining and crying to playful barking and laughing. They then compared the responses from human subjects. They found striking similarities. Andics says it opens new possibilities for research. Read more ..
Ecology on Edge
|Rosanne Skirble||February 23rd 2014|
A new study finds that honeybees managed by beekeepers could be infecting their wild bumblebee cousins with disease.
While honeybees and bumblebees come from the same bee family, the smaller honeybees live in managed hives, which beekeepers move from farm to farm to pollinate crops and produce honey. Bumblebees live in much smaller colonies in the wild. Both get pollen from the same flowers and crops, which is how they come into contact.
Lab experiments show that bumblebees suffer from the same parasites, pathogens and disease as honeybees. Scientists wanted to determine how that would impact bumblebees.
“We infected bees and checked their infection status and their longevity, and we found a significant reduction in their longevity," said study co-author Matthias Furst of Royal Holloway University of London. "So these pathogens are really infective and really impact our bee population.”
Bumblebees' lifespans were shortened by one-quarter to one-third, reducing the amount of food they could provide to their colonies. Co-author Mark Brown, also with Royal Holloway University, says that loss is greater for bumblebees because their colonies, or family groups, are much smaller than honeybees' hives. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Anne M. Stark||February 22nd 2014|
For the first time, an international team of astrophysicists, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists, have unraveled how stars blow up in supernova explosions.
Using NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) -- a high-energy X-ray observatory -- the international collaboration created the first-ever map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant, named Cassiopeia A, or Cas A for short. The findings reveal how shock waves likely rip apart massive dying stars, and ultimately end their lives.
A supernova is the cataclysmic death of a star, which is extremely luminous and causes a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy before fading from view. The explosion expels much or all of a star's material at a velocity of 10 percent of the speed of light, driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium. This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.
"Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power," said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at the California Institute of Technology and one of the lead authors of a new paper. "Our new results show how the explosion's heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating." Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jessica Berman||February 21st 2014|
By tightly coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and basic sewing thread, an international team of researchers have created artificial muscles of superhuman strength that can be made on the cheap.
“In terms of comparison, if you had a muscle made from our material that was the same length and weight as a natural muscle, in general it could lift about a hundred times more force than a natural muscle can,” said Carter Haines, a PhD student at the University of Texas Nanotech Institute in Dallas, which led the international research team.
For heavy lifting, researchers say a single artificial muscle of bundled, twisted fishing line can lift 7.25 kilograms. Writing in the journal Science, Haines, the report's lead author, says the synthetic muscles could be used to power human-like robots, prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons for people whose muscles have atrophied.
“One of the simpler things to do, as opposed to, let's say, replace a missing limb, is to see [if we can] create something like a glove that would fit over" a hand or limb that has lost function, he said.
According to the report, the scientists say twisted sewing thread of a diameter less than human hair works just as well and could be used for applications requiring less force. For example, a synthetic muscle used to power mechanical robots that perform minimally invasive microsurgery, Haines says. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Xudong Wang||February 20th 2014|
University of Wisconsin-Madison
A multi-university team of engineers has developed what could be a promising solution for charging smartphone batteries on the go — without the need for an electrical cord.
Incorporated directly into a cell phone housing, the team's nanogenerator could harvest and convert vibration energy from a surface, such as the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, into power for the phone. "We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics," says Xudong Wang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wang, his Ph.D. student Yanchao Mao and collaborators from Sun Yat-sen University in China, and the University of Minnesota Duluth described their device, a mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator, in the January 27, 2014, issue of the journal Advanced Energy Materials. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Dan Ferber||February 19th 2014|
A new bioprinting method developed at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) creates intricately patterned 3D tissue constructs with multiple types of cells and tiny blood vessels. The work represents a major step toward a longstanding goal of tissue engineers: creating human tissue constructs realistic enough to test drug safety and effectiveness.
The method also represents an early but important step toward building fully functional replacements for injured or diseased tissue that can be designed from CAT scan data using computer-aided design (CAD), printed in 3D at the push of a button, and used by surgeons to repair or replace damaged tissue.
"This is the foundational step toward creating 3D living tissue," said Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D., senior author of the study, who is a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard SEAS. Along with lead author David Kolesky, a graduate student in SEAS and the Wyss Institute, her team reported the results February 18 in the journal Advanced Materials.
Tissue engineers have tried for years to produce lab-grown vascularized human tissues robust enough to serve as replacements for damaged human tissue. Others have printed human tissue before, but they have been limited to thin slices of tissue about a third as thick as a dime. When scientists try to print thicker layers of tissue, cells on the interior starve for oxygen and nutrients, and have no good way of removing carbon dioxide and other waste. So they suffocate and die. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Marianne Brown||February 18th 2014|
Until Sunday, the world’s most popular smartphone game was “Flappy Bird,” a simple but frustratingly difficult video game that was created by a developer in Vietnam. But just as its popularity soared, its creator abruptly removed the game from the marketplace.
Surprisingly difficult and infuriatingly addictive, Flappy Bird has become a global sensation. Last week it became a top seller on both Apple iPhones and smartphones using the Google Android operating system.
The game uses simple graphics, that reminded many of Nintendo’s “Super Mario Brothers,” a classic video game from the 1980s, players guide a flapping bird between broken pipes by tapping the screen. Smartphone games are big business, with many companies hiring teams of programmers to make the next hit. But indie developer Nguyen Ha Dong said it only took him a few days to create Flappy Bird. Read more ..
Nature on Edge
|Johannes M.H. Knops||February 17th 2014|
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Fertilizer could be too much of a good thing for the world's grasslands, according to study findings to be published online Feb. 16 by the journal Nature.
The worldwide study shows that, on average, additional nitrogen will increase the amount of grass that can be grown. But a smaller number of species thrive, crowding out others that are better adapted to survive in harsher times. It results in wilder swings in the amount of available forage.
"More nitrogen means more production, but it's less stable," said Johannes M.H. Knops, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln biologist and one of the paper's international co-authors. "There are more good years and more bad years. Not all years are going to be good and the bad years are going to be worse."
The three-year study monitored real-world grasslands at 41 locations on five continents. The sites included alpine grasslands in China, tallgrass prairies in the United States, pasture in Switzerland, savanna in Tanzania and old fields in Germany. Two sites in Nebraska were part of the study, the Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala and the Barta Brothers Ranch in the Sandhills near Valentine. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Matthew Hilburn||February 16th 2014|
Researchers at the Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab say they have uncovered what they’re calling “one of the most advanced global cyber-espionage operations to date.”
The malware is called “Careto,” which roughly means face or mask in Spanish. Since at least 2007, it has netted 380 unique victims in 31 countries, Kaspersky said.
Kaspersky called the Mask “an extremely sophisticated piece of malware,” which is very hard to detect. The malware predominantly targets government institutions, diplomatic offices and embassies, energy, oil and gas companies, research organizations and activists, Kaspersky said.
Countries where Mask infections have been observed include several in Latin America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela. Additional countries included China the United States, Turkey, Egypt, France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Caroline Perry||February 15th 2014|
On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil—an 8-foot-tall "lung" for their underground nest. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony's life-sustaining project will continue.
Inspired by the termites' resilience and collective intelligence, a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots—any number of robots—that cooperate by modifying their environment.
Harvard's TERMES system demonstrates that collective systems of robots can build complex, three-dimensional structures without the need for any central command or prescribed roles. The results of the four-year project were presented this week at the AAAS 2014 Annual Meeting and published in the February 14 issue of Science. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Antoine Blua||February 14th 2014|
When Dennis Aabo Sorensen lost his left hand 10 years ago while handling fireworks, it was safe to assume its sense of touch went with it.
But with the aid of new bionic technology, the 36-year-old once again knows what it feels like to grasp a ball, or pick up an object using his left hand.
Sorensen, a real-estate developer in the Danish city of Aalborg, recently made headlines when he became the first in the world to test a prototype prosthetic hand that allowed him to identify objects he was touching while blindfolded.
"I was totally amazed because suddenly I could feel something that I hadn't been feeling for almost 10 years," Sorensen says. "The first thing was this baseball that they put in the prosthetic hand, and suddenly I could tell that I was holding a round piece -- a kind of a hard ball. So that was so incredible to have that feeling again." Read more ..
Edge of Sports
|Nicole Casal Moore||February 13th 2014|
The head of a crash-test dummy wore a football helmet as it hung upside-down on a laboratory drop tower. James Eckner, M.D., stood on a ladder next to it holding its tether. He counted to five and let go.
The bust smacked into another just like it three feet below – with about the force of two linemen colliding at the start of a play.
How hard was the hit? Where was it centered? And what reactions did it cause in the defensive dummy head? Sensors sent answers to a laptop across the room.
It’ll take weeks for the University of Michigan-based researchers to fully analyze the data from several days of drops – part of an effort in Michigan Engineering’s Biomechanics Research Lab to help improve understanding of how the head and brain react to impacts. It’s a ripe field, as the sports and science communities are becoming aware of the devastating long-term effects that decades’ worth of concussions and head hits can have on players. Read more ..
The Leftovers of War
|Arash Arabassadi||February 12th 2014|
Landmines are one of the more controversial weapons of war. Hidden from sight, they maim and kill and remain long after conflicts end. According to the United Nations, 110 million active landmines are scattered over 70 countries.
For five decades, Colombia has been plagued by insurgencies and countless, planted landmines. But, one company there may have found a way to defeat the explosives our eyes can’t see.
After decades of armed conflict, landmines remain buried all over Colombia. De-miners use high-tech gear to find these explosives, but that does little for civilians.
“What we wanted was to come up with an idea for a product that could greatly benefit the soldiers and farmers that are affected by these explosives,” said Jose Ivan Perez, creative director of Lemur Studio, an industrial design firm in Bogota. He’s been developing an insole that alerts the wearer of nearby landmines.
“The concept is a metal detector with a planar coil [sensor] made of conductive material that sends a signal to a device on the user’s wrist,” he said. Perez says the signal will help the wearer either avoid or remove the explosive device. The Colombian government is welcoming the technology.
“If we are a country so affected by the mine problem, it is clearly justifiable and necessary that we develop our own national capabilities: research and technological development that allows for the de-miners, for example, to more safely go out to the fields to do their work,” said Daniel Avila Camacho, director of Colombia’s Mine Action Program. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Phil Sneiderman||February 11th 2014|
Johns Hopkins University
Juggling may sound like mere entertainment, but a study led by Johns Hopkins engineers has used this circus skill to gather critical clues about how vision and the sense of touch help control the way humans and animals move their limbs in a repetitive way, such as in running. The findings eventually may aid in the treatment of people with neurological diseases and could lead to prosthetic limbs and robots that move more efficiently.
Johns Hopkins engineers, led by Noah Cowan, studied a juggling task to learn how the sense of touch contributes to rhythmic movement such as running.
In their paper, the team led by Johns Hopkins researchers detailed the unusual jump from juggling for fun to serious science. Jugglers, they explained, rely on repeated rhythmic motions to keep multiple balls aloft. Similar forms of rhythmic movement are also common in the animal world, where effective locomotion is equally important to a swift-moving gazelle and to the cheetah that’s chasing it.
“It turns out that the art of juggling provides an interesting window into many of the same questions that you try to answer when you study forms of locomotion, such as walking or running,” said Noah Cowan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who supervised the research. “In our study, we had participants stand still and use their hands in a rhythmic way. It’s very much like watching them move their feet as they run. But we used juggling as a model for rhythmic motor coordination because it’s a simpler system to study.” Read more ..
|Laura Williams||February 10th 2014|
Dengue fever and West Nile fever are mosquito-borne diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide each year, but there is no vaccine against either of the related viruses.
A team of scientists at the University of Michigan and Purdue University has discovered a key aspect both to how the viruses replicate in the cells of their host and how they manipulate the immune system as they spread. In a study published online in the journal Science, researchers led by Janet Smith of the U-M Life Sciences Institute describe for the first time the structure of a protein that helps the viruses replicate and spread infection. "Seeing the design of this key protein provides a target for a potential vaccine or even a therapeutic drug," Smith said.
The protein, NS1, is produced inside infected cells, where it plays a key role in replication of the virus. NS1 is also released into the bloodstream, where it may help disguise the infection from the patient's immune system and may play a role in the hemorrhage that is seen in severe dengue virus infection. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Abby Abazorius||February 9th 2014|
A cochlear implant that can be wirelessly recharged would use the natural microphone of the middle ear rather than a skull-mounted sensor
Cochlear implants — medical devices that electrically stimulate the auditory nerve — have granted at least limited hearing to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who otherwise would be totally deaf. Existing versions of the device, however, require that a disk-shaped transmitter about an inch in diameter be affixed to the skull, with a wire snaking down to a joint microphone and power source that looks like an oversized hearing aid around the patient's ear.
Researchers at MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratory (MTL), together with physicians from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), have developed a new, low-power signal-processing chip that could lead to a cochlear implant that requires no external hardware. The implant would be wirelessly recharged and would run for about eight hours on each charge. Read more ..
Edge of Climate Change
|John Landis||February 8th 2014|
Over the past two decades, ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet increased four-fold contributing to one-quarter of global sea level rise. However, the chain of events and physical processes that contributed to it has remained elusive. One likely trigger for the speed up and retreat of glaciers that contributed to this ice loss is ocean warming.
A review paper by physical oceanographers Fiamma Straneo at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Patrick Heimbach at MIT published in Nature explains what scientists have learned from their research on and around Greenland over the past 20 years and describes the measurements and technology needed to continue to move the science forward. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||February 8th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old. The discovery would set its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK have detected and sequenced the RNA genome of Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus (BSMV) in a 750-year-old barley grain found at a site near the River Nile in modern-day Egypt. Their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
This new find challenges current beliefs about the age of the BSMV virus, which was first discovered in 1950 with the earliest record of symptoms just 100 years ago. Read more ..
The Edge of Materials Science
|George Putic||February 7th 2014|
In 2004, two scientists at the University of Manchester in England isolated a carbon-based material called graphene, with some unusual properties. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov hailed it as 'the wonder material of the 21st century,' and they were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics. Scientists now say that someday, graphene may change the way we live.
Graphene is the first man-made two-dimensional material. It is actually only a one-atom-thick layer of pure carbon. It is closely related to nanotubes, and microscopic graphite balls called fullerenes. Graphene is basically graphite, like the core of pencils, but its neatly-arranged and tightly-woven atoms make it 200 times stronger than a steel sheet of the same thickness. The leader of the graphene research team at Manchester University, Aravind Vijayaraghavan, said incredible strength is not its only quality. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Rick Pantaleo||February 6th 2014|
Utah researchers say they’ve developed a technique that allows patients to use the power of their minds to help treat chronic pain.
One in five people worldwide suffers from daily chronic pain, according to a 2004 report. A 2011 paper from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) showed that one in three U.S. adults is affected by this condition.
The University of Utah’s Eric Garland said his team’s technique not only helps relieve pain, but can also decrease prescription opioid misuse among chronic pain patients.
A variety of therapies are used to treat chronic pain including over-the-counter pain relievers, exercise and diet, alternative medical therapies such as acupuncture, and prescription opiate-based pain medications, which can have serious side effects and lead to dependency.
Garland calls his new intervention technique Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) and said it is designed to train people to react differently to pain, stress and opioid-related cues. “Mental interventions can address physical problems, like pain, on both psychological and biological levels because the mind and body are interconnected,” Garland said. “Anything that happens in the brain happens in the body—so by changing brain functioning, you alter the functioning of the body.” Read more ..
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