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New Materials

New Alloy Provides the Largest Shape-Memory Effect of Any Metal

December 3rd 2013

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Listen up nickel-titanium and all you other shape-memory alloys, there’s a new kid on the block that just claimed the championship for elasticity and is primed to take over the shape memory apps market at the nanoscale. A research team at Berkeley Lab has discovered a way to introduce a recoverable strain into bismuth ferrite of up to 14-percent on the nanoscale, larger than any shape-memory effect observed in a metal. This discovery opens the door to applications in a wide range of fields, including medical, energy and electronics.

“Our bismuth ferrite not only displayed the champion shape-memory value, it was also far more stable when reduced to nanometer size than shape-memory alloys,” says Jinxing Zhang, a post-doc for this study under Ramamoorthy Ramesh of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and now a faculty member at Beijing Normal University. “Also because our bismuth ferrite can be activated with only an electrical field rather the thermal fields needed to activate shape-memory alloys, the response time is much faster.” Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

New Weapons are Developed to Combat 'Super-Bugs'

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In the arms race between bacteria and modern medicine, bacteria have gained an edge. In recent decades, bacterial resistance to antibiotics has developed faster than the production of new antibiotics, making bacterial infections increasingly difficult to treat. Scientists worry that a particularly virulent and deadly "superbug" could one day join the ranks of existing untreatable bacteria, causing a public health catastrophe comparable with the Black Death.

Now research led by Dr. Udi Qimron of Tel Aviv University's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine has discovered a protein that kills bacteria. The isolation of this protein, produced by a virus that attacks bacteria, is a major step toward developing a substitute for conventional antibiotics. "To stay ahead of bacterial resistance, we have to keep developing new antibiotics," said Dr. Qimron. "What we found is a small protein that could serve as a powerful antibiotic in the future." Read more ..


Drone Wars

Congress Raises Privacy Concerns over Amazon Delivery Drones

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Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said privacy protections need to be in place before Amazon starts delivering packages with drones.

Markey noted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering expanding the commercial use of drones, but said privacy worries must be met first.

“Before drones start delivering packages, we need the FAA to deliver privacy protections for the American public," he said in a statement. "Convenience should never trump constitutional protections," Markey continued. “Before our skies teem with commercial drones, clear rules must be set that protect the privacy and safety of the public." The FAA is scheduled to issue a ruling on the impact of increasing the use of commercial drones on the U.S. airline industry by 2015. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Human Stem Cells Converted to Functional Lung Cells

December 1st 2013

Black lung

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in transforming human stem cells into functional lung and airway cells. The advance has significant potential for modeling lung disease, screening drugs, studying human lung development, and, ultimately, generating lung tissue for transplantation. The study was published today in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

"Researchers have had relative success in turning human stem cells into heart cells, pancreatic beta cells, intestinal cells, liver cells, and nerve cells, raising all sorts of possibilities for regenerative medicine," said study leader Hans-Willem Snoeck, MD, PhD. "Now, we are finally able to make lung and airway cells. This is important because lung transplants have a particularly poor prognosis. Although any clinical application is still many years away, we can begin thinking about making autologous lung transplants—that is, transplants that use a patient's own skin cells to generate functional lung tissue."

The research builds on Dr. Snoeck's 2011 discovery of a set of chemical factors that can turn human embryonic stem (ES) cells or human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into anterior foregut endoderm—precursors of lung and airway cells. (Human iPS cells closely resemble human ES cells but are generated from skin cells, by coaxing them into taking a developmental step backwards. Human iPS cells can then be stimulated to differentiate into specialized cells—offering researchers an alternative to human ES cells.)  Read more ..


Ancient Days

Palatial Wine Cellar in Israel may be World's Oldest

November 30th 2013

A team of American and Israeli researchers has unearthed what could be the largest and oldest wine cellar in the Near East. The group made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site in Israel, the ruins of a northern Canaanite city that dates back to approximately 1700 B.C.

The excavations at the vast palace of the rulers of the city are co-directed by Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University (GW), and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, with Andrew Koh of Brandeis University as associate director. As researchers excavated at the site, they uncovered a three-foot-long jug, later christened "Bessie."

"We dug and dug, and all of a sudden, Bessie's friends started appearing—five, 10, 15, ultimately 40 jars packed in a 15-by-25-foot storage room," said Dr. Cline, chair of GW's Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

The Sea Offers New Developments to Improve Human Bone Grafting

November 30th 2013

Sea coral could soon be used more extensively in bone grafting procedures thanks to new research that has refined the material's properties and made it more compatible with natural bone.

By partially converting calcium carbonate―found in the exoskeleton of sea coral―into coralline hydroxyapatite (CHA), the refined material, called coralline hydroxyapatite/calcium carbonate (CHACC), has been shown to 'considerably improve' the outcome of bone grafts in 16 patients.

The results of the small clinical study, showed that bone healing was observed in each of the patients after four months and that the CHACC had fully biodegraded after two years. CHA derived from sea coral has been used for many years as a successful bone graft material; however, its use has been limited to specific bones because it does not fully biodegrade. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Using Moving Cars to Measure Rainfall

November 28th 2013

traffic jam

Drivers on a rainy day regulate the speed of their windshield wipers according to rain intensity: faster in heavy rain and slower in light rain. This simple observation has inspired researchers from the University of Hanover in Germany to come up with 'RainCars', an initiative that aims to use GPS-equipped moving cars as devices to measure rainfall. The most recent results of the project are now published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Rainfall can be very variable across different parts of a region such as Northern Germany. Conventional rain gauges are accurate, but are often distributed too sparsely to capture much of this variation. Having good information about precipitation is important for flood prediction and prevention, for example. Read more ..


The Ocean's Edge

Google Earth Images Reveal Unaccounted Fish Catches

November 26th 2013

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Large fish traps in the Persian Gulf could be catching up to six times more fish than what’s being officially reported, according to the first investigation of fish catches based on images recorded from space. Using satellite imagery from Google Earth, researchers at the University of British Columbia estimated that there were 1,900 fishing weirs along the coast of the Persian Gulf during 2005. These weirs may have caught as much as 31,000 tonnes of fish that year. The official number reported by the seven countries in the region to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization was only 5,260 tonnes.

Fishing weirs are semi-permanent fence-like traps that take advantage of tidal differences to catch a wide variety of marine species. Used in Southeast Asia, Africa and parts of North America, some weirs can be more than 100 metres long. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Camera-Enhance Cockpit Recognizes Familiar Driver Face

November 21st 2013

Eye biometrics

Visteon has developed a new cockpit concept that uses multiple cameras in the vehicle to keep a constant eye on both the driver and the road ahead.

Designed with input from consumers, the new cockpit concept uses cameras to automatically enlarge certain driver controls, thus limiting the time needed to operate them and helping prevent potential collisions. The concept also recognizes the driver to adjust settings while helping prevent theft.

"Auto manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to reduce driver distraction while enhancing user experiences, and this new cockpit concept addresses both issues," said Anthony Ciatti, electronics innovator. "This solution offers advantages related to user-interface, anti-theft and safety to keep the driver focused on road and potential obstacles ahead." Read more ..


The Race for BioFuels

Harvesting Invasive Species for Biofuel: A Problem Solved

November 21st 2013

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Although invasive Asian carp have been successfully harvested and served on a dinner plate, harvesting invasive plants to convert into ethanol isn't as easy. According to a recent study at the University of Illinois, harvesting invasive plants for use as biofuels may sound like a great idea, but the reality poses numerous obstacles and is too expensive to consider, at least with the current ethanol pathways.

"When the topic of potential invasion by non-native biofuel crops has been raised at conferences I've attended, the ecologists in the room have suggested we use biomass from existing invaders instead," said Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist in U of Illinois's Energy Biosciences Institute. "They worry about the potential deployment of tens of thousands of acres of known invaders like Arundo donax for ethanol production. They'd say, 'we have all of these invasive plants. Let's just harvest them instead of planting new ones!' But when I analyzed the idea from a broader perspective, it just didn't add up." Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Computer Searches Web 24/7 to Analyze Images and Teach Itself Common Sense

November 20th 2013

Computers multiple

A computer program called the Never Ending Image Learner (NEIL) is running 24 hours a day at Carnegie Mellon University, searching the Web for images, doing its best to understand them on its own and, as it builds a growing visual database, gathering common sense on a massive scale.

NEIL leverages recent advances in computer vision that enable computer programs to identify and label objects in images, to characterize scenes and to recognize attributes, such as colors, lighting and materials, all with a minimum of human supervision. In turn, the data it generates will further enhance the ability of computers to understand the visual world.

But NEIL also makes associations between these things to obtain common sense information that people just seem to know without ever saying — that cars often are found on roads, that buildings tend to be vertical and that ducks look sort of like geese. Based on text references, it might seem that the color associated with sheep is black, but people — and NEIL — nevertheless know that sheep typically are white. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Ocean Acidification is Hard to Digest

November 17th 2013

Stormy Seas

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions do not only affect the climate but also our seas and oceans. One-quarter of all CO2 released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. Once there, the CO2 is converted to carbonic acid, making the water more acidic. Previous studies showed that marine species and ecosystems can suffer in an acidified environment. Although the reason for the sensitivity was seen in physiological processes, mechanisms remained unclear. Scientists from the universities of Gothenburg (GU) and Kiel (CAU), as well as GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) found that ocean acidification leads to reduced rates of digestion in larvae of the ecologically important green sea urchin Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. The findings are published in the international journal Nature Climate Change. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Amazon Rainforest Can Withstand More Drought than Previously Thought

November 16th 2013

Amazon rainforest

New research suggests that the Amazon rainforest may be more able to cope with dry conditions than previously predicted. Researchers at the University of Exeter and Colorado State University used a computer model to demonstrate that, providing forest conservation measures are in place, the Amazon rainforest may be more able to withstand periods of drought than has been estimated by other climate models.

Many climate models over predict the water stress plants feel during the dry season because they don't take into account the moisture that the forest itself can recycle in times of drought. In this study, published in the Journal of Climate, the researchers removed unrealistic water stress from their model and found that the moisture that is recycled by the forest is sufficient to reduce the intensity of drought conditions. Read more ..


The Edge of Light

US Researchers Pinpoint Polymers that React and Move to Light

November 13th 2013

Laser burst

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering claim it may be possible to make microvehicles move and other devices change shape without using power source other than a beam of light.

The researchers are investigating polymers that 'snap' when triggered by light and can convert light energy into mechanical work which could eliminate the need for traditional machine components such as switches and power sources.

The research, performed by M. Ravi Shankar. “I like to compare this action to that of a Venus Fly Trap,” said Shankar, whose research focuses on innovative nanomaterials. “The underlying mechanism that allows the Venus Fly Trap to capture prey is slow. But because its internal structure is coupled to use elastic instability, a snapping action occurs, and this delivers the power to shut the trap quickly. A similar mechanism acts in the beak of the Hummingbird to help snap-up insects” Read more ..


The Space Edge

Siberian Blast Points to More Destructive Meteors Ahead

November 11th 2013

Meteor Crater

The idea that the orbiting chunks of interplanetary rocks called asteroids could hit the Earth and wipe out cities, or even life itself, is a familiar theme in space-based adventure films. But according to three just-released scientific studies in the journals Nature and Science, the likelihood that dangerous asteroids will enter Earth’s atmosphere may be greater than previously believed.

On February 15 of this year, the world was inundated with dramatic video images of a 19-meter-wide meteor streaking across the sky above Chelyabinsk, Russia at nearly 67,000 kilometers per hour. Well over 1,000 people were injured by the event, mostly from the blinding flash and from broken window glass. Still, according to physicist Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario and an author of a study of the Chelyabinsk meteor just published in the journal “Nature”…  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Monkeys Use Their Minds to Move Virtual Arms

November 9th 2013

Macaque

Researchers have developed an interface between a monkey’s brains and a machine that could eventually be used to allow someone with a spinal cord injury to control an artificial arm or leg simply by thinking about it. 

Initially, interfaces developed by researchers at Duke University’s Center for Neuroengineering in Durham, North Carolina, could control only a single prosthetic limb. Now, the scientists have developed an interface that allows rhesus monkeys to move two arms at the same time, as they watch an avatar - a likeness of themselves - on a computer screen.

Virtual monkey avatar are shown from a 3rd person perspective as the movements of the two arms are decoded in real-time from the brain of a rhesus monkey. In the experiment the virtual arms and 3D target objects appear on the screen from a first-person perspective to the monkey, who receives a juice reward for correctly performed trials. 

Neurobiology professor Miguel Nicolelis said the monkeys first learned to control the avatar with a pair of joysticks, but then were trained to stay completely still. “They are trained not to move their arms,” Nicolelis said.  “They are trained just to imagine the movements.  And we get the signals from both parts of their brains - both hemispheres - to be routed to a computer that’s running a computer algorithm that translates their voluntary will to move into movements of a virtual body.” Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Predicting Alzheimer’s From Onset to Nursing Home to Death

November 7th 2013

Baby Boomer

A Columbia University Medical Center-led research team has clinically validated a new method for predicting time to full-time care, nursing home residence, or death for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The method, which uses data gathered from a single patient visit, is based on a complex model of Alzheimer’s disease progression that the researchers developed by consecutively following two sets of Alzheimer’s patients for 10 years each.

“Predicting Alzheimer’s progression has been a challenge because the disease varies significantly from one person to another—two Alzheimer’s patients may both appear to have mild forms of the disease, yet one may progress rapidly, while the other progresses much more slowly,” said senior author Yaakov Stern, PhD, professor of neuropsychology (in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology and in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center) at CUMC. “Our method enables clinicians to predict the disease path with great specificity.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Threats to "Cloud Data Storage, Mobile Devices Latest Cyber Threats

November 6th 2013

CG cloud

As more businesses find their way into the cloud, few engage in security measures beyond those provided by the associated cloud storage firm, a new report from Georgia Tech notes. Even fewer seek heightened data protection because of concerns that usability and access to remote data would be significantly reduced.

These concerns are among findings made by the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in today's release of the Georgia Tech Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2014. The report was released at the annual Georgia Tech Cyber Security Summit, a gathering of industry and academic leaders who have distinguished themselves in the field of cyber security.

"With recent revelations of data collection by the federal government, we will continue to see a focus on cloud security," said Wenke Lee, director of GTISC. "But encryption in the cloud often impacts data accessibility and processing speed. So we are likely to see increased debate about the tradeoffs between security, functionality and efficiency." Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Ancient Global Warming Caused Mammalian Dwarfing

November 5th 2013

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Mammal body size decreased significantly during at least two ancient global warming events. A new finding that suggests a similar outcome is possible in response to human-caused climate change, according to a University of Michigan paleontologist and his colleagues.

Researchers have known for years that mammals such as primates and the groups that include horses and deer became much smaller during a period of warming, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), about 55 million years ago. Now U-M paleontologist Philip Gingerich and his colleagues have found evidence that mammalian "dwarfing" also occurred during a separate, smaller global warming event that occurred about 2 million years after the PETM, around 53 million years ago.
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The Edge of Space

Astronomers Answer Key Question: How Common are Habitable Plants

November 4th 2013

North America sat image

NASA's Kepler spacecraft, now crippled and its four-year mission at an end, nevertheless provided enough data to complete its mission objective: to determine how many of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy have potentially habitable planets.

Based on a statistical analysis of all the Kepler observations, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Hawaii, Manoa, astronomers now estimate that one in five stars like the sun have planets about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to life.

"What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing," said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler data.

"It's been nearly 20 years since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around a normal star. Since then we have learned that most stars have planets of some size and that Earth-size planets are relatively common in close-in orbits that are too hot for life," said Andrew Howard, a former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow who is now on the faculty of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. "With this result we've come home, in a sense, by showing that planets like our Earth are relatively common throughout the Milky Way galaxy." Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Astronomer Identifies Earliest Galaxy Ever Detected

November 3rd 2013

Galaxies

 In a major new survey of the early universe conducted from the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, University of Massachusetts Amherst astronomer Mauro Giavalisco and colleagues at several other institutions identify the most distant, thus the earliest galaxy ever detected.

Although other Hubble-based observations have identified many other candidates for galaxies in the early universe, including some that may be even more distant, this galaxy is the farthest and earliest whose distance can be definitively confirmed with follow-up observations from the Keck I telescope, one of the largest on earth.

The surprise finding of a young galaxy from a survey that was not designed to find such bright early galaxies suggests that the infant universe may harbor a larger number of intense star-forming galaxies than astronomers believed possible, say first author Steve Finkelstein of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Giavalisco and others writing in a recent issue of Nature. This means theories and predictive models of the distribution of galaxies’ star formation activity may need revision. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

A Mighty Mouse that Uses Scorpion Venom as a Painkiller

November 2nd 2013

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The painful, potentially deadly stings of bark scorpions are nothing more than a slight nuisance to grasshopper mice, which voraciously kill and consume their prey with ease. When stung, the mice briefly lick their paws and move in again for the kill. The grasshopper mice are essentially numb to the pain, scientists have found, because the scorpion toxin acts as an analgesic rather than a pain stimulant.

The scientists published their research in Science magazine.

Ashlee Rowe, lead author of the paper, previously discovered that grasshopper mice, which are native to the southwestern United States, are generally resistant to the bark scorpion toxin, which can kill other animals. It is still unknown why the toxin is not lethal to the mice. “This venom kills other mammals of similar size,” said Rowe, Michigan State University assistant professor of neuroscience and zoology. “The grasshopper mouse has developed the evolutionary equivalent of martial arts to use the scorpions’ greatest strength against them.” Read more ..


The Edge of Tracking

NASA Tool Could Help Find Trapped People on Earth

November 1st 2013

Quake-damaged Alaska school 1964

A tracking technology NASA uses to monitor spacecraft could soon be used to find people trapped under debris on Earth. Rescuers at the Virginia Task Force 1 training facility in Lorton, Virginia, are testing the state-of-the-art radar tool.

FINDER, short for Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, is a portable radar device that can detect even unconscious people buried beneath 10 meters of rubble by registering their slightest movements. It is an example of a U.S. space agency innovation benefiting people here on Earth. 

"FINDER works by sending a low-power microwave signal, and it illuminates the rubble pile, and some of the microwaves go in and reflect off the victim inside and come back out," said Jim Lux of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "So FINDER sees both the reflection from the rubble, which does not move, and a very tiny reflection from the victim, which does move, because when you breathe and when your heart beats, your skin moves a little bit and we can see that." The device is small, easy to carry and easy to use.   Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Automated System Promises Precise Control of Medically Induced Coma

October 31st 2013

head injury

Putting patients with severe head injuries or persistent seizures into a medically induced coma currently requires that a nurse or other health professional constantly monitor the patient's brain activity and manually adjust drug infusion to maintain a deep state of anesthesia. Now a computer-controlled system developed by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators promises to automate the process, making it more precise and efficient and opening the door to more advanced control of anesthesia. The team, including colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), reports successfully testing their approach in animals in the open access journal PLOS Computational Biology.

"People have been interested for years in finding a way to control anesthesia automatically," says Emery Brown, MD, PhD, of the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, senior author of the report. "To use an analogy that compares giving anesthesia to flying a plane, the way it's been done is like flying a direct course for hours or even days without using an autopilot. This is really something that we should have a computer doing." Read more ..


The Edge of Robotics

Gimball: A Crash Happy Flying Robot

October 30th 2013

Flying Robot

Gimball bumps into and ricochets off of obstacles, rather than avoiding them. This 34 centimeter in diameter spherical flying robot buzzes around the most unpredictable, chaotic environments, without the need for fragile detection sensors. This resiliency to injury, inspired by insects, is what sets it apart from other flying robots. Gimball is protected by a spherical, elastic cage which enables it to absorb and rebound from shocks. It keeps its balance using a gyroscopic stabilization system. When tested in the forests above Lausanne, Switzerland, it performed brilliantly, careening from tree trunk to tree trunk but staying on course. It will be presented in public at the IREX conference in Tokyo, Japan from November 5-9, 2013.

Powered by twin propellers and steered by fins, Gimball can stay on course despite its numerous collisions. This feat was a formidable challenge for EPFL PhD student Adrien Briod. "The idea was for the robot's body to stay balanced after a collision, so that it can keep to its trajectory," he explains. "Its predecessors, which weren't stabilized, tended to take off in random directions after impact." With colleague Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski, Briod developed the gyroscopic stabilization system consisting of a double carbon-fiber ring that keeps the robot oriented vertically, while the cage absorbs shocks as it rotates. Read more ..


The Digial Edge

Seeing in the Dark

October 29th 2013

Radio and Infrared Emission

Thermal infrared (IR) energy is emitted from all things that have a temperature greater than absolute zero. Human eyes, primarily sensitive to shorter wavelength visible light, are unable to detect or differentiate between the longer-wavelength thermal IR "signatures" given off both by living beings and inanimate objects. While mechanical detection of IR radiation has been possible since Samuel Pierpont Langley invented the bolometer in 1880, devices that also can recognize and identify an IR source after detection have been more challenging to develop.

In a recent paper in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, researchers at two Chinese universities describe a novel instrument that successfully does both tasks with extremely high sensitivity by splitting the IR radiation given off by an object into a long-wave portion for detection and a mid-wave portion that can be spectrally analyzed for accurate identification.

Conventional remote sensing systems share a single sensor for both imaging and spectral data processing. The new instrument designed by the Chinese researchers has separate sensors for each task and uses a dichoric beamsplitter to divide the IR signal from an object into two components, a long-wave IR (LWIR) beam and a mid-wave IR (MWIR) beam. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible

October 28th 2013

xray laser

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon.

“It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially from such a distance,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “I attribute this success to the great work accomplished over the years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and their partnership with NASA.”

On Oct. 18, 2013, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a record-breaking rate.

LLCD is being flown aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite known as LADEE, currently orbiting the moon. LADEE is a 100-day robotic mission designed, built, tested and operated by a team from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Its primary science mission is to investigate the tenuous and exotic atmosphere that exists around the moon.

LADEE, with LLCD onboard, reached lunar orbit 30 days after launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., on Sept. 6.  During the trip, the LADEE team provided an opportunity for LLCD to make post-flight calibrations of its pointing knowledge. “Being able to make those calibrations allowed us to lock onto our signal almost instantaneously when we turned on the laser at the moon,” said Cornwell. “A critical part of laser communication is being able to point the narrow laser beam at a very small target over a great distance.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Material for Quantum Coputing

October 27th 2013

Oak Ridge Super Computer

A common blue pigment used in the £5 note could have an important role to play in the development of a quantum computer, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature.

The pigment, copper phthalocyanine (CuPc), which is similar to the light harvesting section of the chlorophyll molecule, is a low-cost organic semiconductor that is found in many household products. Crucially, it can be processed into a thin film that can be readily used for device fabrication, a significant advantage over similar materials that have been studied previously.

Now, researchers from the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and the University of British Columbia have shown that the electrons in CuPc can remain in 'superposition' – an intrinsically quantum effect where the electron exists in two states at once - for surprisingly long times, showing this simple dye molecule has potential as a medium for quantum technologies. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Breakthrough for Solar Cell Efficency

October 26th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Did you know that crystals form the basis for the penetrating icy blue glare of car headlights and could be fundamental to the future in solar energy technology?

Crystals are at the heart of diodes. Not the kind you might find in quartz, formed naturally, but manufactured to form alloys, such as indium gallium nitride or InGaN. This alloy forms the light emitting region of LEDs, for illumination in the visible range, and of laser diodes (LDs) in the blue-UV range.

Research into making better crystals, with high crystalline quality, light emission efficiency and luminosity, is also at the heart of studies being done at Arizona State University in the Department of Physics.

In an article recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, the ASU group, in collaboration with a scientific team at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just revealed the fundamental aspect of a new approach to growing InGaN crystals for diodes, which promises to move photovoltaic solar cell technology toward record-breaking efficiencies. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Orcam Device Turns the World into Speech for the Blind

October 25th 2013

Blind theater-goers

Liat Negrin is happy to demonstrate a new Israeli technology that “sees” and reads for her. She is visually impaired with coloboma, a birth defect that affects one in 10,000 people globally.

Wearing an OrCam device clipped to her glasses, Negrin — who works for the company — can now do the smallest things that sighted people take for granted.

Just by pointing her finger at objects and listening to the device read the words and numbers, she can hand over money at the store without fear of being shortchanged. She can easily step on the right bus as it approaches her stop. And she can “read” the ingredients labels on products at the supermarket. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Africa’s Tech Innovators Show Off at 'Demo Africa' in Nairobi

October 24th 2013

Computer Gaming

From games to mobile payment systems, entrepreneurs from across Africa are getting together in Nairobi, Kenya, to pitch their high-tech innovations to potential investors and partners. Some of the newest trends are on display at Demo Africa.

By his stall at the back of the showroom floor, Bayo Puddicombe of Nigeria plays a bus-driving game on his phone as he touts a new mobile payment system called ChopUP.

“ChopUP is a social platform that helps local developers to monetize using locally available payment messages, such as premium SMS and mobile money,” said Puddicombe.

The game shows how one can go to a “garage” for a bus and buy upgrades by using ChopUP to send the payment through existing mobile money transfer services. Puddicombe said the idea came to him following some early disappointments when he first tried to launch the game. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Ancient Near East Empires Collapsed Following a Climate Crisis

October 23rd 2013

Dr. Dafna Langgut examines Sea of Galilee core
Dr. Dafna Langgut examines Sea of Galilee core (credit: Tel Aviv University)

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University in The Kinneret, the Sea of Gallilee, has led to the dramatic discovery that ancient Near East empires collapsed following a climate crisis in the region. A study of fossil pollen particles in sediments extracted from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee has revealed evidence of a climate crisis that traumatized the Near East from the middle of the 13th to the late 12th century BCE. The crisis brought about the collapse of the great empires of the Bronze Age.

The study was conducted by Dr. Dafna Langgut and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Thomas Litt of the Institute of Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology at the University of Bonn, Germany. Prof. Mordechai Stein of the Hebrew University also participated in the research.

“In a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled,” explains Prof. Finkelstein. “The Hittite empire, Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Mycenaean culture in Greece, the copper producing kingdom located on the island of Cyprus, the great trade emporium of Ugarit on the Syrian coast and the Canaanite city-states under Egyptian hegemony—all disappeared and only after a while were replaced by the territorial kingdoms of the Iron Age, including Israel and Judah.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Need a Doctor? Turn on Your Electronic Device

October 22nd 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Picture youself at home with a bad cold, aching face and green mucus leaking from your nose. You can barely get out of bed, let alone get to a clinic. That was the predicament Diana Rae found herself in recently. The nurse educator from the small town of Tenino, Washington, called her doctor and described her symptoms, and eventually got a prescription.

But she could have talked to and been seen by a doctor from the comfort of home. All she needed was a wifi-connected device and a video-chat software, such as Skype.

Ben Green, a doctor with Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care in Tacoma, Washington, has patients describe their symptoms using this video conferencing method. The video chat allows the doctor to perform a physical exam by mimicking what he wants his patient to do. Green says a patient's ailment can be treated remotely about 75 percent of the time. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Ocean Currents Make the Northern Hemisphere Soggier than the Southern

October 20th 2013

Rain

A quick glance at a world precipitation map shows that most tropical rain falls in the Northern Hemisphere. The Palmyra Atoll, at 6 degrees north, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while an equal distance on the opposite side of the equator gets only 45 inches.

Scientists long believed that this was a quirk of the Earth's geometry – that the ocean basins tilting diagonally while the planet spins pushed tropical rain bands north of the equator. But a new University of Washington study shows that the pattern arises from ocean currents originating from the poles, thousands of miles away.

The findings, published in Nature Geoscience, explain a fundamental feature of the planet's climate, and show that icy waters affect seasonal rains that are crucial for growing crops in such places as Africa's Sahel region and southern India.

In general, hotter places are wetter because hot air rises and moisture precipitates out.
Read more ..


Healthy Edge

Advancement Made in Treating Rare Adrenal Cancer

October 20th 2013

One of the most challenging cancers to treat is also one of the rarest, which only adds to the challenge of finding potential new therapies. Now adrenal cancer researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are seeing the results of their laboratory studies translate to a clinical trial to test a potential new therapy in patients.

Researchers Tom Kerppola, Ph.D., and Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., collaborated to test a new compound, ATR-101, in cell lines and mice. Their studies found that ATR-101 selectively killed the adrenal and adrenal cancer cells with very little effect on other cells in the body. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Incredible Bionic Man Showcases Cutting-Edge Medical Technology

October 18th 2013

Robots (Star Wars)

A new state-of-the-art robot that walks, talks, grasps, sees and hears was recently the star attraction at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington.

The robot doesn’t walk very well and doesn’t dance, but the two-meter-tall bot holds great promise for the future. The Incredible Bionic Man, as he is called, is built entirely from artificial body parts and synthetic organs. He is the subject of a new documentary that chronicles the behind-the-scenes aspects of his story. 

Host Bertolt Meyer says it explores the question, "how far has medical technology come?" “What parts of the human body can we already replace today? If we get all of the spare parts that exist and put them together in one piece, what will it look like?  And the result is, it looks like this,” explained Meyer.

Like the Bionic Man, Meyer, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, has a bionic hand. The robot also has 27 other artificial body parts. “He has a great set of artificial organs already; he has an artificial heart, which is already used in patients; the artificial heart pumps artificial blood,” said Meyer. “He has the same bionic hand as I have, as I was born without my lower left arm, and he sits in a robotic exoskeleton. Think of this as the wheelchair of the future; a device that will restore the ability to walk to people who are paralyzed.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Technologies Save Lives When Disasters Strike

October 17th 2013

Facebook page

A new report claims digital innovations such as Facebook and Twitter are saving lives when natural disasters strike, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which has just published its World Disasters Report 2013, finds poor, disaster-prone nations are disadvantaged because they lack access to the new technologies. 

Red Cross Information Technology Specialist Sarmad Alsaffaj said the so-called digital divide is huge in the most disaster-prone countries, which tend to be some of the poorest in the world, and that the lack of access to modern communications increases the severity of the disasters and reduces people’s ability to cope with them.

“For example, social media is increasingly becoming a media for humanitarian workers to get information from disaster-affected areas.  The problem is relying on this specific technology puts us in a risk of actually isolating those who do not have access to this technology - those who are not connected,” said Alsaffaj. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Finding Blood Clots Before They Wreck Havoc

October 16th 2013

Blood Clot formation

Life-threatening blood clots can form in anyone who sits on a plane for a long time, is confined to bed while recovering from surgery, or takes certain medications.

There is no fast and easy way to diagnose these clots, which often remain undetected until they break free and cause a stroke or heart attack. However, new technology from MIT may soon change that: A team of engineers has developed a way to detect blood clots using a simple urine test.

The noninvasive diagnostic, described in a recent issue of the journal ACS Nano, relies on nanoparticles that detect the presence of thrombin, a key blood-clotting factor.

Such a system could be used to monitor patients who are at high risk for blood clots, says Sangeeta Bhatia. "Some patients are at more risk for clotting, but existing blood tests are not consistently able to detect the formation of new clots," says Bhatia.  Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Circadian Rhythms in Skin Stem Cells Protect Us Against UV Rays

October 13th 2013

stem cells

Human skin must cope with UV radiation from the sun and other harmful environmental factors that fluctuate in a circadian manner. A study has revealed that human skin stem cells deal with these cyclical threats by carrying out different functions depending on the time of day. By activating genes involved in UV protection during the day, these cells protect themselves against radiation-induced DNA damage. The findings could pave the way for new strategies to prevent premature aging and cancer in humans.

"Our study shows that human skin stem cells posses an internal clock that allows them to very accurately know the time of day and helps them know when it is best to perform the correct function," says study author Salvador Aznar Benitah. "This is important because it seems that tissues need an accurate internal clock to remain healthy."

A variety of cells in our body have internal clocks that help them perform certain functions depending on the time of day, and skin cells as well as some stem cells exhibit circadian behaviors. Benitah and his collaborators previously found that animals lacking normal circadian rhythms in skin stem cells age prematurely, suggesting that these cyclical patterns can protect against cellular damage. But until now, it has not been clear how circadian rhythms affect the functions of human skin stem cells. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

First Evidence of Comet Strike Found

October 12th 2013

Comet Garradd credit: NASA/Swift

A team of South African scientists writing in the journal ‘Earth and Planetary Science Letters’ said that they have found the first evidence of a comet striking Earth 28 million years ago.

“Comets always visit our skies – they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust – but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” said David Block, a member of the research team and a professor of the University of the Witwatersrand.

The researchers said that the comet shot into Earth’s atmosphere and blew up above what is now known as Egypt with blast that wiped out every living thing in its path.

As the fireball exploded it created a super-hot shock wave that heated the sand on the surface to about 2,000 degrees Celsius.  The extreme heat and pressure formed a great quantity of yellow silica glass that was spread throughout a 6,000 square kilometer area of the Sahara that’s known as the Libyan Desert Glass strewn field. Read more ..



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