April 30, 2014

Harnessing Magnetic Vortices for Making Nanoscale Antennas

Scientists explore ways to synchronize spins for more powerful nanoscale electronic devices

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are seeking ways to synchronize the magnetic spins in nanoscale devices to build tiny yet more powerful signal-generating or receiving antennas and other electronics. Their latest work, published in Nature Communications, shows that stacked nanoscale magnetic vortices separated by an extremely thin layer of copper can be driven to operate in unison, potentially producing a powerful signal that could be put to work in a new generation of cell phones, computers, and other applications.

The gene that helps plant cells finding the right direction

Plant physiologist Stefano Pietra shows in his thesis that the SABRE gene is necessary for plants to coordinate the polarity of their cells. The gene “tells” all cells in a certain region what is up and what is down and how they should modify their form accordingly. Stefano Pietra defends his results on Friday May 9 at Umeå University.

Search for life on exoplanets more difficult than thought

UTSC Assistant Professor Hanno Rein.

A new study from the University of Toronto Scarborough suggests the search for life on planets outside our solar system may be more difficult than previously thought.

The study, authored by a team of international researchers led by UTSC Assistant Professor Hanno Rein from the Department of Physical and Environmental Science, finds the method used to detect biosignatures on such planets, known as exoplanets, can produce a false positive result.

The Intergalactic Medium Unveiled: Caltech's Cosmic Web Imager Directly Observes "Dim Matter"

Caltech astronomers have taken unprecedented images of the intergalactic medium (IGM)—the diffuse gas that connects galaxies throughout the universe—with the Cosmic Web Imager, an instrument designed and built at Caltech. Until now, the structure of the IGM has mostly been a matter for theoretical speculation. However, with observations from the Cosmic Web Imager, deployed on the Hale 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory, astronomers are obtaining our first three-dimensional pictures of the IGM. The Cosmic Web Imager will make possible a new understanding of galactic and intergalactic dynamics, and it has already detected one possible spiral-galaxy-in-the-making that is three times the size of our Milky Way.

April 29, 2014

Depression is detectable in the blood

Researchers at the MedUni Vienna have demonstrated the possibility of using a blood test to detect depression. While blood tests for mental illnesses have until recently been regarded as impossible, a recent study clearly indicates that, in principle, depression can in fact be diagnosed in this way and this could become reality in the not too distant future.

Label-free, Sequence-specific, Inexpensive Fluorescent DNA Sensors

Intensity of glow indicates level of genetic match; potentially useful for identifying microbes, harmful agents, and more

Using principles of energy transfer more commonly applied to designing solar cells, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new highly sensitive way to detect specific sequences of DNA, the genetic material unique to every living thing. As described in a paper published in the journal Chemistry of Materials, the method is considerably less costly than other DNA assays and has widespread potential for applications in forensics, medical diagnostics, and the detection of bioterror agents.

Insects Represent a Link for Antibiotic Resistance Traits

A recent Kansas State University study shows that insects link places such as food animal farms and wastewater facilities to the urban environment for antibiotic resistance.

Those pesky house flies buzzing around your home or invading your springtime picnic could be doing more harm to human health than you realize. According to a recent study by Kansas State University, published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal, insects carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria from one point to another, including from food animal farms and wastewater treatment facilities, for example, to urban areas.

Newly Identified ‘Universal’ Property of Metamagnets May Lead to Everyday Uses

A new physics discovery made by a University of Virginia-led team may lead to more efficient refrigerators, heat pumps and airport scanners, among many possible uses –perhaps within a decade.

The team of physicists and materials scientists have discovered a universal law governing the magnetic properties of metamagnets – metal alloys that can undergo dramatic increases in magnetization when a small external magnetic field is applied, such as from a permanent magnet or an electromagnet.

Graphene Not All Good

Material that could change electronics industry is shown to be very mobile in water and likely to cause negative environmental impacts if spilled

In a first-of-its-kind study of how a material some think could transform the electronics industry moves in water, researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering found graphene oxide nanoparticles are very mobile in lakes or streams and therefore likely to cause negative environmental impacts if released.

Graphene oxide nanoparticles are an oxidized form of graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms prized for its strength, conductivity and flexibility. Applications for graphene include everything from cell phones and tablet computers to biomedical devices and solar panels.

Solving a mystery of thermoelectrics

New analysis explains why some materials are good thermal insulators while similar ones are not.

Materials that can be used for thermoelectric devices — those that turn a temperature difference into an electric voltage — have been known for decades. But until now there has been no good explanation for why just a few materials work well for these applications, while most others do not. Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere say they have finally found a theoretical explanation for the differences, which could lead to the discovery of new, improved thermoelectric materials.

ARPA-E Announces $60 Million for Disruptive Technologies to Cut Emissions, Boost Energy Efficiency

Today, at the Advanced Energy Conference in Albany, New York, Acting ARPA-E Director Cheryl Martin announced up to $60 million for two new programs to detect and measure methane emissions and develop innovative localized thermal management systems that cut the energy needed to heat and cool buildings.  The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, encourages America’s top scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs from different organizations, scientific disciplines, and technology sectors to form new projects teams for applications that leverage interdisciplinary and cross-organizational collaboration.

Graphene only as strong as weakest link

Rice, Georgia Tech experiments determine real-world limits of two-dimensional carbon

There is no disputing graphene is strong. But new research by Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology should prompt manufacturers to look a little deeper as they consider the miracle material for applications.

How the koala retrovirus genome evolved

Retroviruses invaded the genome of koalas with strongly pathological effects: the viruses weaken the immune defense and threaten the viability of the already reduced koala population. An international team of scientists from Europe and North America now applied the technique of hybridisation capture to analyse the entire genome of koala retroviruses and used museum samples to monitor its variation across 130 years. The findings were just published in the scientific online-journal PLOS ONE.

Environmentally friendly production method for transparent conductive films

In a commanding position – and now cheaper

Transparent conductive films are now an integral part of our everyday lives. Whether in smartphones, tablets, laptops, flat screens or (on a larger scale) in solar cells. Yet they are expensive and complex to manufacture. Now, researchers at Empa have succeeded in developing a method of producing such TCO films, as they are known, that is not only cheaper, but also simpler and more environmentally friendly.

April 28, 2014

How to create nanowires only three atoms wide with an electron beam

Junhao Lin, a Vanderbilt University Ph.D. student and visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has found a way to use a finely focused beam of electrons to create some of the smallest wires ever made. The flexible metallic wires are only three atoms wide: One thousandth the width of the microscopic wires used to connect the transistors in today’s integrated circuits.

Programming the smart home: ‘If this, then that’

Homes already have intelligent devices beyond the TV remote — garage door openers, coffee makers, laundry machines, lights, HVAC — but each has its own arcane steps for programming. User research now shows that “trigger-action programming” could give users a reliable and simple way to control everything, as easy as “If this, then that.”

Scientists pack lab into pill using idea inspired by breath-freshening strips

Inspiration can come in many forms, but this one truly was a breath of fresh air.

A group of McMaster researchers has solved the problem of cumbersome, expensive and painfully slow water-testing by turning the process upside-down.

Instead of shipping water to the lab, they have created a way to take the lab to the water, putting potentially life-saving technology into the hands of everyday people.

A Glassy Look for Manganites: Berkeley Lab Researchers at the ALS Observe Glass-like Behavior in the Electron-Spins of PCMO Crystals

Manganites – compounds of manganese oxides – show great promise as “go-to” materials for future electronic devices because of their ability to instantly switch from an electrical insulator to a conductor under a wide variety of external stimuli, including magnetic fields, photo-excitations and vibrational excitations. This ultrafast switching arises from the many different ways in which the electrons and electron-spins in a manganite may organize or re-organize in response to such external stimuli. Understanding the physics behind these responses is crucial for the future development of manganites.

Stanford scientists create circuit board modeled on the human brain

Stanford scientists have developed faster, more energy-efficient microchips based on the human brain – 9,000 times faster and using significantly less power than a typical PC. This offers greater possibilities for advances in robotics and a new way of understanding the brain. For instance, a chip as fast and efficient as the human brain could drive prosthetic limbs with the speed and complexity of our own actions.

Flexible battery, no lithium required

Rice University lab creates thin-film battery for portable, wearable electronics 

A Rice University laboratory has flexible, portable and wearable electronics in its sights with the creation of a thin film for energy storage.

Rice chemist James Tour and his colleagues have developed a flexible material with nanoporous nickel-fluoride electrodes layered around a solid electrolyte to deliver battery-like supercapacitor performance that combines the best qualities of a high-energy battery and a high-powered supercapacitor without the lithium found in commercial batteries today.

April 25, 2014

Revolutionary 'Metamaterial' Has Potential to Reshape Neurosurgery

Graphene Has Possible Uses in Brain Cancer Treatment, Neuroregeneration, Functional Neurosurgery, and More

The development of graphene—a highly advanced metamaterial with many unique and varied properties—may lead to exciting new applications in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases, according to a report in the May issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

Tobias A. Mattei, MD, of Invision Health/Brain & Spine Center – Buffalo, New York and Azeem A. Rehman, BS, of The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria present a "primer" on the development of graphene-based metamaterials that may lead to new advances in several areas of neurosurgery. Mattei and Rehman write, "As a surgical specialty that heavily relies on technological innovations, it is expected that neurosurgery will significantly benefit from several graphene-based technological developments in the next decades."

Biologists discover a key regulator in the pacemakers of our brain and heart

Biologists have discovered how an outer shield over T-type channels change the electrochemical signaling of heart and brain cells.  Understanding how these shields work will help researchers eventually develop a new class of drugs for treating epilepsy, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Seeking the Causes of Hyperactivity

The 60 trillion cells that comprise our bodies communicate constantly.  Information travels when chemical compounds released by some cells are received by receptors in the membrane of another cell. In a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the OIST Cell Signal Unit, led by Professor Tadashi Yamamoto, reported that mice lacking an intracellular trafficking protein called LMTK3, are hyperactive.  Hyperactivity is a behavioral disorder that shows symptoms including restlessness, lack of coordination, and aggressive behavior.  Identifying the genetic factors that contribute to such behaviors may help to explain the pathological mechanisms underlying autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, in humans.

Metabolism may have started in our early oceans before the origin of life

Chemical reactions crucial to the formation of metabolites in modern organisms may have started spontaneously in the Earth's early oceans. This new finding casts doubt on the accepted sequence of events thought to have led to the origin of life.

Chemical reactions crucial to the formation of metabolites in modern organisms may have started spontaneously in the Earth’s early oceans. This new finding casts doubt on the accepted sequence of events thought to have led to the origin of life.

Reconstructed ancient ocean reveals secrets about the origin of life

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have published details about how the first organisms on Earth could have become metabolically active. The results, which are reported in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, permit scientists to speculate how primitive cells learned to synthesize their organic components – the molecules that form RNA, lipids and amino acids. The findings also suggest an order for the sequence of events that led to the origin of life.

Astronomical Forensics Uncover Planetary Disks in NASA's Hubble Archive

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have applied a new image processing technique to obtain near-infrared scattered light photos of five disks observed around young stars in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes database. These disks are telltale evidence for newly formed planets.

April 24, 2014

Microscopic Organism Plays a Big Role in Ocean Carbon Cycling, Scripps Scientists Discover

Taken-for-granted ocean carbon consumption highlights key role of individual species

It’s broadly understood that the world’s oceans play a crucial role in the global-scale cycling and exchange of carbon between Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere. Now scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have taken a leap forward in understanding the microscopic underpinnings of these processes.

Study finds accelerated soil carbon loss, increasing the rate of climate change

Research published in Science found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.

Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2 accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.

Plants Send Out Signals Attracting Harmful Bacteria, MU Study Finds

Findings could lead to natural bacterial anti-infectives in food-producing plants

When bacteria attack plants, they often inject harmful proteins into the host plants’ cells to weaken and suppress natural defenses. However, in some plants, bacteria attack once they’ve recognized the plant cells as a potential host. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have identified and replicated the process that allows the bacteria—known mostly for attacking tomatoes—to invade its host. This discovery could lead to natural anti-infective treatments that work with food-producing plants to enhance resistance to harmful bacteria in the field.

Microscopic Organism Plays a Big Role in Ocean Carbon Cycling, Scripps Scientists Discover

Taken-for-granted ocean carbon consumption highlights key role of individual species

It’s broadly understood that the world’s oceans play a crucial role in the global-scale cycling and exchange of carbon between Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere. Now scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have taken a leap forward in understanding the microscopic underpinnings of these processes.

Scripps Research Institute Scientists Find New Point of Attack on HIV for Vaccine Development

A team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) working with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has discovered a new vulnerable site on the HIV virus. The newly identified site can be attacked by human antibodies in a way that neutralizes the infectivity of a wide variety of HIV strains.


Closely resembling plump grains of wild rice set in motion, the three-banded panther worms swimming in  disposable  containers  in Whitehead Institute Member Peter Reddien’s lab hardly seem like the next big thing in regeneration. And yet, these little-studied organisms possess the ability to regenerate any part of their bodies and are amenable to molecular studies in the lab, making them a valuable addition to a field keen on understanding how mechanisms controlling regeneration have evolved over millennia and how they might be activated in humans.

‘Double-duty’ electrolyte enables new chemistry for longer-lived batteries

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new and unconventional battery chemistry aimed at producing batteries that last longer than previously thought possible.

Study supports safety of antimicrobial peptide-coated contact lenses

Contact lenses coated with an antimicrobial peptide could help to lower the risk of contact lens-related infections, reports a study in Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry.

Studies in animals and now humans support the biocompatibility and safety of lenses coated with the antimicrobial peptide melimine, according to the new research by Debarun Dutta, B.Optom, of The University of New South Wales, Sydney, and colleagues. They write, "[T]his study has shown that melimine coated contact lenses can be safely worn by humans without any major side effects."

Bionic ear technology used for gene therapy

Researchers at UNSW have for the first time used electrical pulses delivered from a cochlear implant to deliver gene therapy, thereby successfully regrowing auditory nerves.

The research also heralds a possible new way of treating a range of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric conditions such as depression through this novel way of delivering gene therapy.

When Things Get Glassy, Molecules Go Fractal

Explaining the mysterious dynamics of glassy materials

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common -- they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between liquids and gases, but centuries of scholarship have failed to produce consensus about how to categorize glass.

Now, combining theory and numerical simulations, researchers have resolved an enduring question in the theory of glasses by showing that their energy landscapes are far rougher than previously believed. The findings appear April 24 in the journal Nature Communications.

WSU innovation improves drowsy driver detection

Researchers at Washington State University Spokane have developed a new way to detect when drivers are about to nod off behind the wheel.

Their recently patented technology is based on steering wheel movements—which are more variable in drowsy drivers—and offers an affordable and more reliable alternative to currently available video-based driver drowsiness detection systems.

April 23, 2014

Copper nanowires could become basis for new solar cells

By looking at a piece of material in cross section, Washington University in St. Louis engineer Parag Banerjee, PhD, and his team discovered how copper sprouts grass-like nanowires that could one day be made into solar cells.

Banerjee, assistant professor of materials science and an expert in working with nanomaterials, Fei Wu, graduate research assistant, and Yoon Myung, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate, also took a step toward making solar cells and more cost-effective.


The road uniting quantum field theory and general relativity – the two great theories of modern physics – has been impassable for 80 years. Could a tool from condensed matter physics finally help map the way?

Perimeter Associate Faculty member Sung-Sik Lee is a condensed matter physicist – but he has his eye on quantum gravity.

Lee lays out the problem: “Physics has one theory to describe how planets orbit the sun and another to describe how electrons ‘orbit’ an atomic nucleus. Both theories – gravity as described by Einstein’s general relativity and quantum field theory – are great triumphs. Both are well-tested and powerful. The trouble is, we can’t use both at once.”

Halving hydrogen

First view of nature-inspired catalyst after ripping hydrogen apart provides insights for better, cheaper fuel cells

Like a hungry diner ripping open a dinner roll, a fuel cell catalyst that converts hydrogen into electricity must tear open a hydrogen molecule. Now researchers have captured a view of such a catalyst holding onto the two halves of its hydrogen feast. The view confirms previous hypotheses and provides insight into how to make the catalyst work better for alternative energy uses.

Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery

Treating cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar cell materials with cadmium-chloride improves their efficiency, but researchers have not fully understood why. Now, an atomic-scale examination of the thin-film solar cells led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has answered this decades-long debate about the materials’ photovoltaic efficiency increase after treatment.

Superconducting Qubit Array Points the Way to Quantum Computers

A new five-qubit array from UCSB’s Martinis Group is on the threshold of making a quantum computer technologically feasible to build

A group of UC Santa Barbara physicists has moved one step closer to making a quantum computer a reality by demonstrating a new level of reliability in a five-qubit array. Their findings appear Thursday in the journal Nature.

Quantum computing is anything but simple. It relies on aspects of quantum mechanics such as superposition. This notion holds that any physical object, such as an atom or electron — what quantum computers use to store information — can exist in all of its theoretical states simultaneously. This could take parallel computing to new heights.

Gold nanoparticles help target, quantify breast cancer gene segments in a living cell

Purdue University researchers have developed a way to detect and measure cancer levels in a living cell by using tiny gold particles with tails of synthetic DNA.

A team led by Joseph Irudayaraj, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, used gold nanoparticles to target and bind to fragments of genetic material known as BRCA1 messenger RNA splice variants, which can indicate the presence and stage of breast cancer. The number of these mRNA splice variants in a cell can be determined by examining the specific signal that light produces when it interacts with the gold nanoparticles.

Study to examine welfare aspects of cat containment

The first study of its kind will assess the impact that electronic containment systems may have on cat welfare.

Researchers at the University ofLincoln, UK, aim to recruit around 60 cat-owning households from across Englandin order to evaluate the effects these systems have on pets

UV-radiation data to help ecological research

Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have processed existing data on global UV-B radiation in such a way that scientists can use them to find answers to many ecological questions. According to the paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, an online journal of the British Ecological Society, this data set allows drawing new conclusions about the global distribution of animal and plant species.

Nanomaterial Outsmarts Ions

Ions are an essential tool in chip manufacturing, but these electrically charged atoms can also be used to produce nano-sieves with homogeneously distributed pores. A particularly large number of electrons, however, must be removed from the atoms for this purpose. Such highly charged ions either lose a surprisingly large amount of energy or almost no energy at all as they pass through a membrane that measures merely one nanometer in thickness. Researchers from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) report in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters that this discovery is an important step towards developing novel types of electronic components made of graphene

Cloaked DNA nanodevices survive pilot mission

It's a familiar trope in science fiction: In enemy territory, activate your cloaking device. And real-world viruses use similar tactics to make themselves invisible to the immune system. Now scientists at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have mimicked these viral tactics to build the first DNA nanodevices that survive the body's immune defenses.

Does the ‘self-prophecy effect’ precipitate our sustainable choices?

Concordia research reveals new reasons why consumers buy environmentally friendly products

Whether it’s recycling, composting or buying environmentally friendly products, guilt can be a strong motivator — and not just on Earth Day.

New research from Concordia's John Molson School of Business (JMSB) published in the Journal of Business Ethics proves that merely asking ourselves, or predicting, whether we will engage in sustainable shopping behaviour can increase the likelihood of following through, especially when there's an audience.

Vacuum Ultraviolet Lamp of the Future Created in Japan

First Solid-State Vacuum UV Phosphor, Described in APL-Materials, Promises Smaller, Safer, Longer Lasting, Low Power Lamps for Industrial Applications

A team of researchers in Japan has developed a solid-state lamp that emits high-energy ultraviolet (UV) light at the shortest wavelengths ever recorded for such a device, from 140 to 220 nanometers. This is within the range of vacuum-UV light -- so named because while light of that energy can propagate in a vacuum, it is quickly absorbed by oxygen in the air.

This fact makes vacuum UV light extremely useful for industrial applications from sterilizing medical devices to cleaning semiconductor substrates because when it strikes oxygen-containing molecules on a surface, it generates highly reactive oxygen radicals, which can completely destroy any microbes contaminating that surface. 

Mantis Shrimp Stronger than Airplanes

Inspired by mantis shrimp, researchers design composite material stronger than standard used in airplane frames

Inspired by the fist-like club of a mantis shrimp, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University, have developed a design structure for composite materials that is more impact resistant and tougher than the standard used in airplanes.

“The more we study the club of this tiny crustacean, the more we realize its structure could improve so many things we use every day,” said David Kisailus, a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Science and the Winston Chung Endowed Chair of Energy Innovation at the UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering.