The Edge of Nature
|Jennifer Frazer||September 29th 2014|
When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.
And this is likely bad news for its new host, the honeybee, matchmaker of crops and bringer of honey. These are two services for which humans are both eternally indebted, and, in the case of the former, possibly unable to live without. Bees pollinate the majority of our fruit and nut crops and many vegetables — some 90 all told — without which humanity would be nutritionally impoverished. Yet shortages are a possibility we are confronting, as bee populations in America have declined in recent years for reasons that seem to be both diverse and elusive. Colony collapse disorder, as whatever it is is called, was first reported in 2006 and has spread globally. Many viruses, parasites, and pesticides have been implicated, but no smoking gun has emerged. Read more ..
The Battery Edge
|Lakisha Ladson||September 28th 2014|
Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas have created technology that could be the first step toward wearable computers with self-contained power sources or, more immediately, a smartphone that doesn’t die after a few hours of heavy use.
This technology, published online in Nature Communications, taps into the power of a single electron to control energy consumption inside transistors, which are at the core of most modern electronic systems.
Researchers from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science found that by adding a specific atomic thin film layer to a transistor, the layer acted as a filter for the energy that passed through it at room temperature. The signal that resulted from the device was six to seven times steeper than that of traditional devices. Steep devices use less voltage but still have a strong signal.
“The whole semiconductor industry is looking for steep devices because they are key to having small, powerful, mobile devices with many functions that operate quickly without spending a lot of battery power,” said Dr. Jiyoung Kim, professor of materials science and engineering in the Jonsson School and an author of the paper. “Our device is one solution to make this happen.” Read more ..
|Nicol Casal Moore||September 26th 2014|
Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, University of Michigan astronomers theorize.
The researchers' work, published in the current issue of Science, helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago? Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk?
Between 30 and 50 percent came from the molecular cloud, says Ilse Cleeves, a doctoral student in astronomy at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. That would make it roughly a million years older than the solar system. Read more ..
|Ginger Pinholster||September 25th 2014|
|Great Mosque of Aleppo before its destruction.|
In war-torn Syria, five of six World Heritage sites now "exhibit significant damage" and some structures have been "reduced to rubble," according to new high-resolution satellite image analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The AAAS analysis, offering the first comprehensive look at the extent of damage to Syria's priceless cultural heritage sites, was completed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the analysis provides authoritative confirmation of previous on-the-ground reports of damage to individual sites. Read more ..
The Edge of Agriculture
|David Ruth||September 25th 2014|
As more gardeners and farmers add ground charcoal, or biochar, to soil to both boost crop yields and counter global climate change, a new study by researchers at Rice University and Colorado College could help settle the debate about one of biochar's biggest benefits -- the seemingly contradictory ability to make clay soils drain faster and sandy soils drain slower.
The study, available online this week in the journal PLOS ONE, offers the first detailed explanation for the hydrological mystery.
"Understanding the controls on water movement through biochar-amended soils is critical to explaining other frequently reported benefits of biochar, such as nutrient retention, carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions," said lead author Rebecca Barnes, an assistant professor of environmental science at Colorado College, who began the research while serving as a postdoctoral research associate at Rice. Read more ..
The Way We Were
|Diane Swanbrow||September 22nd 2014|
Man's nearest relatives kill each other in order to eliminate rivals and gain better access to territory, mates, food or other resources—not because human activities have made them more aggressive.
That is the conclusion of an international analysis of lethal aggression among different groups of chimpanzees in Africa studied over five decades. The research appears in the current issue of Nature.
"Observations that chimpanzees kill members of their own species have influenced efforts to understand the evolution of human violence," said University of Michigan anthropologist John Mitani, who helped to initiate and conceive the ambitious study that was conducted with 30 colleagues from around the world. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Kate McAlpine||September 19th 2014|
A new $1.9 million study at the University of Michigan seeks to make low-dose computed tomography scans a viable screening technique by speeding up the image reconstruction from half an hour or more to just five minutes.
The advance could be particularly important for fighting lung cancers, as symptoms often appear too late for effective treatment. The grant comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In December 2013, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended lung cancer screens for everyone between 55 and 80 years old who has been a smoker within the past 15 years. Roughly 90 percent of cases are related to smoking, and the health care costs are approximately $12 billion per year in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the CT scans that reliably identify tumors by creating 3D images of the lungs also expose the patient to an X-ray dose comparable to about five to eight months' worth of natural background radiation.
"It's known that a radiation dose can increase the risk of cancer, but nobody knows exactly how much," said Jeffrey Fessler, U-M professor of electrical and computer engineering who leads the project. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Suzanne Tainter||September 19th 2014|
A potential way to treat muscular dystrophy directly targets muscle repair instead of the underlying genetic defect that usually leads to the disease.
Muscular dystrophies are a group of muscle diseases characterized by skeletal muscle wasting and weakness. Mutations in certain proteins, most commonly the protein dystrophin, cause muscular dystrophy in humans and also in mice.
A University of Michigan team led by cell biologist Haoxing Xu, discovered that mice missing a critical calcium channel inside the cell, called TRPML1, showed similar muscle defects as those present in muscular dystrophy patients. Though these mice did not have the defect in dystrophin, they still developed muscular dystrophy-like muscle characteristics.
When researchers increased the activity of the calcium channel in the muscular dystrophic mice, it improved muscle membrane repair and restored muscle function. Read more ..
Nano Technology Edge
|Jade Boyd||September 17th 2014|
Rice University scientists who created a deicing film for radar domes have now refined the technology to work as a transparent coating for glass.
The new work by Rice chemist James Tour and his colleagues could keep glass surfaces from windshields to skyscrapers free of ice and fog while retaining their transparency to radio frequencies (RF).
The technology was introduced this month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.
The material is made of graphene nanoribbons, atom-thick strips of carbon created by splitting nanotubes, a process also invented by the Tour lab. Whether sprayed, painted or spin-coated, the ribbons are transparent and conduct both heat and electricity. Read more ..
|Kara Gavin||September 14th 2014|
When University of Michigan psychiatrist and neuroscientist Jacek Debiec, MD/PhD, worked with the grown children of Holocaust survivors in Poland, he was fascinated to discover they experienced nightmares, avoidance instincts, and even flashbacks related to traumatic experiences they never had themselves. While the survivors’ children would have learned about the Holocaust from their parents, this deeply ingrained fear indicated something more was at work in the population.
Debiec, who hails from Poland himself, went on to lead a study that suggests babies can learn what to fear in the first days of life just by smelling the odor of their distressed mothers. And not just “natural” fears: If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her baby will quickly learn to fear it too — through the odor she gives off when she feels fear. Read more ..
|Nanna Holm ||September 11th 2014|
It is the first time for over 60 years that a new Viking fortress is found in Denmark, says curator Nanna Holm of The Danish Castle Centre. Søren Sindbæk, professor of medieval archeology at Aarhus University, explains: "The Vikings have a reputation as a berserker and pirates. It comes as a surprise to many that they were also capable of building magnificent fortresses. The discovery of the new Viking fortress is a unique opportunity to gain new knowledge about Viking war and conflicts, and we get a new chance to examine the Vikings' most famous monuments. " The previously excavated Trelleborg-type fortresses – Fyrkat, Aggersborg and Trelleborg – are nominated for inscription in UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Read more ..
Edge of the Cosmos
|Brendan Lynch||September 8th 2014|
Astrophysicists believe that about 80 percent of the substance of our universe is made up of mysterious “dark matter” that can’t be perceived by human senses or scientific instruments.
“Dark matter has not yet been detected in a lab. We infer about it from astronomical observations,” said Mikhail Medvedev, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, who has just published breakthrough research on dark matter that merited the cover of Physical Review Letters, the world’s most prestigious journal of physics research.
Medvedev proposes a novel model of dark matter, dubbed “flavor-mixed multicomponent dark matter.”
“Dark matter is some unknown matter, most likely a new elementary particle or particles beyond the Standard Model,” Medvedev said. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Saurabh Thosar ||September 8th 2014|
An Indiana University study has found that three easy -- one could even say slow -- 5-minute walks can reverse harm caused to leg arteries during three hours of prolonged sitting.
Sitting for long periods of time, like many people do daily at their jobs, is associated with risk factors such as higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference that can lead to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. When people sit, slack muscles do not contract to effectively pump blood to the heart. Blood can pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow.
This study is the first experimental evidence of these effects, said Saurabh Thosar, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Science University, who led the study as a doctoral candidate at IU's School of Public Health-Bloomington. Read more ..
The Edge of Light
|Heather Dewar||September 7th 2014|
University of Maryland
New research at the University of Maryland could lead to a generation of light detectors that can see below the surface of bodies, walls, and other objects. Using the special properties of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon that is only one atom thick, a prototype detector is able to see an extraordinarily broad band of wavelengths. Included in this range is a band of light wavelengths that have exciting potential applications but are notoriously difficult to detect: terahertz waves, which are invisible to the human eye.
A research paper about the new detector was published Sunday, September 07, 2014 in Nature Nanotechnology. Lead author Xinghan Cai, a University of Maryland physics graduate student, said a detector like the researchers’ prototype “could find applications in emerging terahertz fields such as mobile communications, medical imaging, chemical sensing, night vision, and security.”
The light we see illuminating everyday objects is actually only a very narrow band of wavelengths and frequencies. Terahertz light waves’ long wavelengths and low frequencies fall between microwaves and infrared waves. The light in these terahertz wavelengths can pass through materials that we normally think of as opaque, such as skin, plastics, clothing, and cardboard. It can also be used to identify chemical signatures that are emitted only in the terahertz range. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Anjana Pasricha||September 6th 2014|
Scientists warn that agriculture around the world can be significantly affected by climate change, and are now teaching farmers new technologies to adapt.
At one “climate smart” village in northern India, farmers are changing age-old practices to overcome the challenge of increasingly erratic weather patterns.
Harpreet Singh of Taraori village in northern Haryana state says recent years of failed rains and rising temperatures have damaged the paddy of wheat crop on his sprawling 30-hectare farm. But unlike other farmers, this year’s weak monsoon rains did not worry him.
Singh has abandoned the age-old method of transplanting rice saplings after sprouting them in a nursery. Instead he planted “direct-seeded rice,” where seeds are sown and sprouted directly in the field. Singh smiles as he looks upon his lush rice crop, explaining the new laser-leveling technique that helps him conserve 25 to 30 percent more water. The high-tech approach to preparing soil reduces the need for irrigation by ensuring uniform distribution of moisture. Read more ..
|Maria C. Zacharias||September 5th 2014|
Scientists have discovered and described a new supermassive dinosaur species with the most complete skeleton ever found of its type. At 85 feet long and weighing about 65 tons in life, Dreadnoughtus schrani is the largest land animal for which a body mass can be accurately calculated.
Its skeleton is exceptionally complete, with over 70 percent of the bones, excluding the head, represented. Because all previously discovered super-massive dinosaurs are known only from relatively fragmentary remains, Dreadnoughtus offers an unprecedented window into the anatomy and biomechanics of the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.
"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," said Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences, who discovered the Dreadnoughtus fossil skeleton in southern Patagonia in Argentina and led the excavation and analysis. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jessica Berman||September 2nd 2014|
People with cognitive problems - including memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease - may someday be able to have their memory boosted with electric current. Researchers used a non-invasive procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to jumpstart a region of the brain that’s involved in forming memories.
Known as TMS, the technique uses a mild electrical current through the skull to strengthen communication among brain cells involved in memory. It could lead to new treatments for memory impairments caused by trauma, illness or aging. Current therapies - such as surgery and drugs - have not proven effective.
The neurons targeted by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are part of a pathway to the hippocampus, a deep brain region that’s involved in the formation of memories. Neuroscientist Joel Voss at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois explained that the stimulation is painless and non-invasive.
“What the TMS coil does is it produces a volley of pulses of this stimulation. And so it sounds like a high frequency tapping sound - like a duh, duh, duh, duh tapping sound - with about 20 clicks per second. And those clicks are aimed at the back part of the person’s head over the parietal cortex, and each one feels like a very slight tapping sensation on the outside of the head,” said Voss. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Sarah McDonnell||September 1st 2014|
Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and looks under a microscope for the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease. This approach gives an accurate count of how many parasites are in the blood — an important measure of disease severity — but is not ideal because there is potential for human error.
A research team from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) has now come up with a possible alternative. The researchers have devised a way to use magnetic resonance relaxometry (MRR), a close cousin of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to detect a parasitic waste product in the blood of infected patients. This technique could offer a more reliable way to detect malaria, says Jongyoon Han, a professor at MIT. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Rob Matheson||August 31st 2014|
MIT alumni entrepreneurs Gauti Reynisson MBA ’10 and Ívar Helgason HS ’08 spent the early 2000s working for companies that implemented medication-safety technologies — such as electronic-prescription and pill-barcoding systems — at hospitals in their native Iceland and other European countries.
But all that time spent in hospitals soon opened their eyes to a major health care issue: Surprisingly often, patients receive the wrong medications. Indeed, a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine found that 1.5 million hospitalized patients in the United States experience medication errors every year due, in part, to drug-administration mistakes. Some cases have adverse or fatal results.
Frustrated and seeking a solution, the Icelandic duo quit their careers and traveled to MIT for inspiration. There, they teamed up with María Rúnarsdóttir MBA ’08 and devised MedEye, a bedside medication-scanning system that uses computer vision to identify pills and check them against medication records, to ensure that a patient gets the right drug and dosage. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Clara Moskowitz||August 30th 2014|
Deep inside the sun pairs of protons fuse to form heavier atoms, releasing mysterious particles called neutrinos
in the process. These reactions are thought to be the first step in the chain responsible for 99 percent of the energy the sun radiates, but scientists have never found proof until now. For the first time, physicists have captured the elusive neutrinos produced by the sun’s basic proton fusion reactions.
Earth should be teeming with such neutrinos—calculations suggest about 420 billion of them stream from the sun onto every square inch of our planet’s surface each second—yet they are incredibly hard to find. Neutrinos almost never interact with regular particles and usually fly straight through the empty spaces between the atoms in our bodies and all other normal matter. Read more ..
The Edge of Weather
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM Satellite provided a look under the hood of Hurricane Cristobal as it continues moving north and paralleling the U.S. East Coast. NASA's HS3 hurricane mission also investigated the storm. Cristobal is now close enough to the coast to trigger high surf advisories.
On August 28, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for high surf of 6 to 12 feet and rip currents on the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Cristobal, still a minimal Category 1 hurricane on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, has been slowly making its way northward up from the southeastern Bahamas on a track generally parallel to the eastern seaboard. The storm now appears poised to recurve away from the U.S. East Coast and head for the central Atlantic as it begins to feel the effects of an approaching shortwave trough (elongated area of low pressure) embedded in the westerlies (winds) that are moving eastward out of the Great Lakes Region. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|George Putic||August 28th 2014|
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer that usually attacks children and young adults, causing severe pain. It can lead to deformity and even death. Twelve-year-old Qin’s second vertebra was so damaged by the cancer that doctors had to remove it.
But instead of replacing it with a simple titanium tube, surgeons made a computer-aided scan of the area and used special software to print a perfect replica on a 3-D printer. Instead of plastic, this printer uses biocompatible titanium powder, which does not trigger rejection. The director of orthopedics at Beijing University, who led the surgical team, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, said 3-D printing has a huge advantage for artificial implants. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Matthew Hilburn||August 26th 2014|
The major drought gripping the western United States is not only drying the landscape, it’s causing the land to rise.
Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego used GPS data to determine the drought has caused the land to rise, on average, 4 millimeters across the western states. The Sierra mountains of California rose over half an inch.
Duncan Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor and co-author of the paper said that “in areas of deep soil, the material behaves like a sponge. When the water dries out, it shrinks or goes down.”
“If you’re not on deep spoil the effect is that the earth is like a spring,” he said “The water is no longer pressing down on that area so it rises.” That’s what’s happening in the western U.S., and the findings quantify the staggering water loss wrought by the drought. Read more ..
The Health Edge
|Julie Newberg ||August 24th 2014|
Tuberculosis is one of the most persistent and deadliest infectious diseases in the world, killing one to two million people each year.
Scientists who study tuberculosis have long debated its origins. New research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native people there before Europeans landed on the continent.
The paper, "Pre-Columbian Mycobacterial Genomes Reveal Seals as a Source of New World Human Tuberculosis," was published in Nature. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Matthew Hilburn||August 18th 2014|
Scientists have created an army of small robots capable of taking the shape of various objects. They’re called “Kilobots.”
But before that name causes you conjure up images of a Terminator-like killer robots able to morph into nearly anything, the “flash mob” of these 1,024 tiny, minimalist robots have only so far morphed into simple shapes like a starfish, the letter K and a wrench.
The various shapes the robots take are drawn on a computer and then sent to each robot via an infrared light. Once the information is delivered the robots begin to organize themselves into the shape, each following the edge of the group until it reaches a desired location, each knowing its position relative to the others. They also self-correct. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|George Putic||August 16th 2014|
Among the challenges of deep-space travel is the amount of fuel needed for long flights. One of the solutions could be the electrical engine, powered by electricity from solar panels. Such engines already are in use aboard many satellites.
Physicists consider gravity a weak force. After all, we overcome its pull each morning when we get out of bed
However, launching a satellite requires more effort: a large rocket and a lot of chemical fuel, which is quickly burned as it powers upward. Once the payload reaches about 160 kilometers above the earth, the effect of gravity has weakened enough for it to stay in orbit.
A one-way mission into deep space would require even more fuel, according to NASA senior technologist for space propulsion, Michael Patterson. “For any mission application, particularly in deep space, the energy required to do the mission is huge, so the propellant fraction is typically quite large," he said.
Patterson said in the 1950s, the space agency started experimenting with so-called electric propulsion, or EP - - a jet of electrically charged particles that does not require too much power. Once in space, an EP-craft would keep gradually accelerating toward its destination, moving faster and faster the longer it travels. After four years, for example, it could be travelling at 10 kilometers a second. Read more ..
|Jennifer Chu||August 15th 2014|
The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were the golden age of dinosaurs, during which the prehistoric giants roamed the Earth for nearly 135 million years. Paleontologists have unearthed numerous fossils from these periods, suggesting that dinosaurs were abundant throughout the world. But where and when dinosaurs first came into existence has been difficult to ascertain.
Fossils discovered in Argentina suggest that the first dinosaurs may have appeared in South America during the Late Triassic, about 230 million years ago — a period when today’s continents were fused in a single landmass called Pangaea. Previously discovered fossils in North America have prompted speculation that dinosaurs didn’t appear there until about 212 million years ago — significantly later than in South America. Scientists have devised multiple theories to explain dinosaurs’ delayed appearance in North America, citing environmental factors or a vast desert barrier. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Connie Hughes||August 15th 2014|
Consistent with reports of an "opioid epidemic" in the United States, the results showed high and rising prevalence of opioid use by SSDI recipients. The percentage of beneficiaries taking opioids increased from 2007 through 2010. In 2011, the most recent year with available data, prevalence dipped slightly to 43.7 percent.
The percentage of these beneficiaries with chronic opioid use rose steadily, from 21.4 percent in 2007 to 23.1 percent in 2011. Chronic opioid users received numerous opioid prescriptions—at least six and generally 13 per year—typically prescribed by multiple doctors. Women were at greater risk of becoming chronic opioid users than men.
Among chronic opioid users, the average "morphine equivalent dose" (MED) also dipped in 2011. Still, nearly 20 percent of chronic users were taking a dose of at least 100 milligrams MED, while ten percent were taking 200 milligrams. Read more ..
The Nano Edge
|Kate McAlpine||August 13th 2014|
An outline of Marilyn Monroe's iconic face appeared on the clear, plastic film when a researcher fogs it with her breath. Terry Shyu, a doctoral student in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, was demonstrating a new high-tech label for fighting drug counterfeiting. While the researchers don't envision movie stars on medicine bottles, but they used Monroe's image to prove their concept.
Counterfeit drugs, which at best contain wrong doses and at worst are toxic, are thought to kill more than 700,000 people per year. While less than 1 percent of the U.S. pharmaceuticals market is believed to be counterfeit, it is a huge problem in the developing world where as much as a third of the available medicine is fake. To fight back against these and other forms of counterfeiting, researchers at U-M and in South Korea have developed a way to make labels that change when you breathe on them, revealing a hidden image. Read more ..
|Sabine Guinsbourg||August 12th 2014|
Visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem can see that some of its stones are extremely eroded. This is good news for people placing prayer notes in the wall's cracks and crevices, but presents a problem for engineers concerned about the structure’s stability.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the courtyard of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It is located in Jerusalem’s Old City at the foot of the Temple Mount.
To calculate the erosion in the different kinds of limestone that make up the Western Wall, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem used a laser scan to create an accurate three-dimensional computer model. The researchers are Dr. Simon Emmanuel, the Harry P. Kaufmann Senior Lecturer in Environmental Water Technology, and PhD student Mrs. Yael Levenson, at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Earth Sciences. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|George Putic||August 11th 2014|
One of the first discoveries of the space age, made in 1958, was that the Earth is surrounded with a doughnut-shaped field of highly charged particles. It was named the Van Allen radiation belt, after its discoverer, U.S. space scientist James Van Allen. But not much was known about it until NASA launched two probes in 2012. Scientists say the data they sent back to earth is very exciting.
Space weather can be as unpredictable as the weather on earth. Periodic eruptions on the sun's surface eject huge clouds of highly charged protons and electrons.
Some of them reach the earth and cause spectacular light displays like the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
When the clouds of charged particles are unusually strong, they can knock out power grids, disrupt communications and even damage electronic equipment. But most of the time they get trapped by the earth’s magnetic field in the so-called the Van Allen radiation belt.
Nevertheless, they can still inflict damage, says NASA’s program scientist, Mona Kessel. "We also have a lot of satellites that fly through that area - communications satellites, navigation satellites - and so we need to understand what it is that the effects are, because the effects can be quite dramatic," said Kessel. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Nancy de Grummond||August 10th 2014|
During a four-year excavation of an Etruscan well at the ancient Italian settlement of Cetamura del Chianti, a team led by a Florida State University archaeologist and art historian unearthed artifacts spanning more than 15 centuries of Etruscan, Roman and medieval civilization in Tuscany.
"The total haul from the well is a bonanza," said Nancy de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics at Florida State. De Grummond, who has performed work at the site since 1983, is one of the nation's leading scholars of Etruscan studies.
"This rich assemblage of materials in bronze, silver, lead and iron, along with the abundant ceramics and remarkable evidence of organic remains, create an unparalleled opportunity for the study of culture, religion and daily life in Chianti and the surrounding region," she said of the well excavation that began in 2011, which is part of a larger dig encompassing the entire Cetamura settlement. Read more ..
The Race for Alt Energy
|Rob Matheson||August 9th 2014|
It’s estimated that more than half of U.S. energy — from vehicles and heavy equipment, for instance — is wasted as heat. Mostly, this waste heat simply escapes into the air. But that’s beginning to change, thanks to thermoelectric innovators such as Gang Chen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thermoelectric materials convert temperature differences into electric voltage. About a decade ago, Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering and head of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, used nanotechnology to restructure and dramatically boost the efficiency of one such material, paving the way for more cost-effective thermoelectric devices.
Using this method, GMZ Energy, a company co-founded by Chen and collaborator Zhifeng Ren of the University of Houston, has now created a thermoelectric generator (TEG) — a one-square-inch, quarter-inch-thick module — that turns waste heat emitted by vehicles into electricity to lend those vehicles added power. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Catharine June||August 8th 2014|
A new wearable vapor sensor being developed at the University of Michigan could one day offer continuous disease monitoring for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. Wearable technologies, which include Google Glass and the Apple iWatch, are part of a booming market that's expected to swell to $14 billion in the next four years.
The new sensor, which can detect airborne chemicals either exhaled or released through the skin, would likely be the first wearable to pick up a broad array of chemical, rather than physical, attributes. U-M researchers are working with the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program to move the device from the lab to the marketplace.
"Each of these diseases has its own biomarkers that the device would be able to sense," said Sherman Fan, a professor of biomedical engineering. "For diabetes, acetone is a marker, for example."
Other chemicals it could detect include nitric oxide and oxygen, abnormal levels of which can point to conditions such as high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. Read more ..
The Space Edge
|Elaine St. Peter||August 7th 2014|
Brigham and Women's Hospital
In an extensive study of sleep monitoring and sleeping pill use in astronauts, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Colorado found that astronauts suffer considerable sleep deficiency in the weeks leading up to and during space flight. The research also highlights widespread use of sleeping medication use among astronauts.
The study, published in The Lancet Neurology on August 8, 2014, recorded more than 4,000 nights of sleep on Earth, and more than 4,200 nights in space using data from 64 astronauts on 80 Shuttle missions and 21 astronauts aboard International Space Station (ISS) missions. The 10-year study is the largest study of sleep during space flight ever conducted. The study concludes that more effective countermeasures to promote sleep during space flight are needed in order to optimize human performance.
"Sleep deficiency is pervasive among crew members," stated Laura K. Barger, PhD, lead study author. "It's clear that more effective measures are needed to promote adequate sleep in crew members, both during training and space flight, as sleep deficiency has been associated with performance decrements in numerous laboratory and field-based studies." Read more ..
The Ecology on Edge
|Rosanne Skirble||August 6th 2014|
This week 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, could not drink the water. The city’s water supply was polluted with a toxin linked to the overgrowth of algae. A pea green scum settled over the city’s water intake pipes. For 72 hours the residents relied on handouts of bottled water, which one woman said was stressful. “I have four children and dogs at home," she said, as she picked up free water. “I wanted to make sure we had enough water to brush our teeth and be able to drink it.”
Toledo gets its water from Lake Erie, which is the source of fresh water for 11 million people in the American Midwest. Lake Erie is by no means unique. Algal overload is common in waterways worldwide caused by fertilizer runoff and poor sewage management. Excessive algae deplete oxygen in the water and kill fish says Laura Johnson, a research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Neha Okhandiar||August 5th 2014|
Quenn Mary, University of London
Scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have identified differences in the proteins present in young and old tendons, in new research that could guide the development of treatments to stop tissue breakdown from occurring.
Tendon structure in horses is similar to humans, and both face common injuries. The researchers used a horse model to undertake a thorough analysis of all the proteins and protein fragments present in healthy and injured tendons.
Working with scientists at the University of Liverpool, the team collected data, which shows that healthy, older tendons have a greater amount of fragmented material within them, suggesting accumulated damage over time that has not been fully repaired.
When examining injured tendons, the team found even more evidence of protein breakdown. However, whilst in younger tendons, the cells were active and trying to repair the damage, there was an accumulation of different protein fragments in older tendons. This suggests the cells somehow lose the ability to repair damage during the ageing process.
"Normal function of tendons, such as the Achilles, is important not just for Commonwealth athletes but for everyday activities for ordinary people," said co-author Dr Hazel Screen, a Reader in biomedical engineering at QMUL's School of Engineering and Materials Science and Institute of Bioengineering. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Dawn Fuller||August 4th 2014|
University of Cincinnat
A new e-memo for the boss: Online breaks at work can refresh workers and boost productivity. Early findings from a University of Cincinnati study will be presented on Aug. 5, at the 74th annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Philadelphia.
The study led by Sung Doo Kim, a doctoral candidate in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, opens a rare avenue of research into coping with technology-induced distractions in our contemporary society.
Previous research has focused on breaks during off-job hours such as evening, weekend and vacation periods, or on traditional “offline” breaks taken during working hours, such as lunch or coffee breaks. Given the prevalence of online work breaks, the UC study examined this phenomenon in depth, utilizing extensive one-on-one interviews about online breaks with 33 professionals from a variety of industries and occupations. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||August 3rd 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
An American physician who was stricken with the Ebola virus while helping victims in Liberia has returned to the United States, becoming the first known Ebola patient on U.S. soil. Dr. Kent Brantly was flown from Liberia to Atlanta GA on August 2 on a specially equipped chartered medical plane.
After arriving at a Georgia military base, he was transferred to an ambulance that become part of a convoy that traveled to Emory University Hospital, a medical facility in the city of Atlanta.
Television video from the hospital showed two people emerging from the ambulance in white, full-body protective suits and entering the facility. Dr. Brantly could be seen emerging from an ambulance, walking with the help of medical personnel. The Emory University Hospital is one of only four in the U.S. that is equipped to handle such cases. Dr. Brantly will be treated in an isolation unit that is separate from the other patient areas. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Lenny Ruvaga||August 2nd 2014|
The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country.
This is the 3D MakerBot printer in action. The machine is a scanner that prints three-dimensional objects of almost any shape from electronic data -- using plastic as its raw material. This drastically reduces costs.
Twenty-one year old Alois Mbutura is a first-year electrical engineering student at the University of Nairobi.
In March, he came up with the idea of a ‘vein finder’ -- a device that will help doctors administer intravenous needles to tiny infants. Today he is perfecting his design, which currently is in the prototype phase
This 3D printer can produce 100 such devices in a day. "The vein finder was actually a solution that the School of Health and School of Engineering partnered to reduce the inability of health care people to find veins in babies and also for it to be economical and suited to Kenya," said Mbutura.
Affordable production is the hallmark of this Fabrication Laboratory.
“FabLab” as it’s called, is a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication at the University of Nairobi. It is part of the international FabLab network which started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Kamau Gachigi heads the FabLab here. Established five years ago, its initial aim was to make ‘almost anything.’ But new innovations and expertise have changed that aim to make 'machines that make almost anything.’ There are some 400 FabLabs worldwide and two in Kenya. Gachigi believes they will promote the creation of an atmosphere and culture of innovation. Read more ..
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