December 24, 2014

World’s most complex crystal simulated at U-Michigan

The most complicated crystal structure ever produced in a computer simulation has been achieved by researchers at the University of Michigan. They say the findings help demonstrate how complexity can emerge from simple rules.

Their "icosahedral quasicrystal" (eye-KO-suh-HE-druhl QUAZ-eye-cris-tahl) looks ordered to the eye, but has no repeating pattern. At the same time, it's symmetric when rotated, like a soccer ball with five-fold and six-fold patches.

Use-Dependent Cortical Processing from Fingertips in Touchscreen Phone Users

• Smartphone users have an enhanced thumb sensory representation in the brain
• The brain activity is proportional to use accumulated over the previous 10 days
• An episode of intense use is transiently imprinted on the sensory representation
• Sensory processing in the brain is adjusted on demand by touchscreen phone use

Egg and sperm race: Scientists create precursors to human egg and sperm

Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with the Weizmann Institute have created primordial germ cells – cells that will go on to become egg and sperm – using human embryonic stem cells. Although this had already been done using rodent stem cells, the study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first time this has been achieved efficiently using human stem cells.

The Ants That Conquered the World

About one tenth of the world’s ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. “If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ants,” says Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University’s Professor Evan Economo. Pheidole fill niches in ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts. Yet until now, researchers have never had a global perspective of how the many species of Pheidole evolved and spread across the Earth. Economo, researchers in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, and colleagues at the University of Michigan compared gene sequences from 300 species of Pheidole from around the world.

December 23, 2014

Researchers shed light on how ‘microbial dark matter’ might cause disease

Breakthrough by scientists from UCLA, J. Craig Venter Institute and U. of Washington may be roadmap for study of other elusive bacteria

One of the great recent discoveries in modern biology was that the human body contains 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. But much of that bacteria is still a puzzle to scientists.

Nano Filter cleans dirty industry

Prototypes of nano-cellulose based filters with high purification capacity towards environmentally hazardous contaminants from industrial effluents eg. process industries, have been developed by researchers at Luleå University of Technology. The research, conducted in collaboration with Imperial College in the UK has reached a breakthrough with the prototypes and they will now be tested on a few industries in Europe.

Argonne/EPA system captures mercury from air in gold shops

In any given year, workers in artisanal and small-scale gold mining shops in remote locales like Brazil and Peru release an estimated 700 tons of airborne mercury from their rooftops.

Collectively, these shops purify nearly 20 percent of the world’s gold supply before it is shaped and sold in stores. Through a generations-old process, small-scale miners use hand tools and chemicals to extract gold from the ground. Miners use mercury as an easy way to extract gold pieces during the sifting process, which separates out dirt and other materials. The resulting gold and mercury mixture is then brought to shops that separate this harmful chemical from the gold.


PPPL, Princeton launch hunt for Big Bang particles offering clues to the origin of the universe

23-Dec-2014 10:00 AM EST
Billions upon billions of neutrinos speed harmlessly through everyone’s body every moment of the day, according to cosmologists. The bulk of these subatomic particles are believed to come straight from the Big Bang, rather than from the sun or other sources. Experimental confirmation of this belief could yield seminal insights into the early universe and the physics of neutrinos. But how do you interrogate something so elusive that it could zip through a barrier of iron a light-year thick as if it were empty space?

2015 to mark the year of disruptive technology, says Advanced 365 report

Internet of Things, Intercloud, Avatars and Software Defined Networks to dominate business agendas

Greater global connectivity and mass customisation of products and services are creating significant implications and opportunities for businesses in the current economy. This is a key finding in a new report – ‘What’s Hot in 2015 – technology trends’ published today by Advanced 365 (Advanced) in association with Global Futures & Foresight.

Bacteria could be rich source for making terpenes

New research at Brown University and in Japan suggests bacteria could be a rich source of terpenes, the natural compounds common in plants and fungi that are used to make drugs, food additives, perfumes, and other products.

Study finds Facebook popularity hampers fundraising efforts

People with fewer friends on Facebook raise more money for charity than those with lots of connections, research by an economist at the University of Warwick has found.

Professor Kimberley Scharf analysed data from and found a negative correlation between the size of a group and the amount of money given by each donor – with the average contribution by each person dropping by two pence for every extra connection someone had on Facebook.

"Mind the gap" between atomically thin materials

Colorized TEM image of tungsten disulfide triangles (black) growing on graphene substrate (green).

When it comes to engineering single-layer atomic structures, "minding the gap" will help researchers create artificial electronic materials one atomic layer at a time, according to a team of materials scientists. 

The gap is a miniscule vacuum that researchers in Penn State's Center for 2-Dimensional and Layered Materials believe is an energy barrier keeping electrons from easily crossing from one layer of material to the next.

Armed virus shows promise as treatment for pancreatic cancer

A new combination of two different approaches – virotherapy and immunotherapy - is showing “great promise” as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, according to new research from QMUL.

The study, funded by the UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, investigated whether the effectiveness of the Vaccinia oncolytic virus – a virus modified to selectively infect and kill cancer cells - as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, would be improved by arming it with a gene which modulates the body’s immune system.

Top 10 TechTank Posts of 2014

We launched TechTank in March 2014. As the new year comes to a close we thought it would be interesting to share the post popular blog posts of 2014.

E-Readers Foil Good Night’s Sleep

Light-emitting electronic devices keep readers awake longer than old-fashioned print

Use of a light-emitting electronic book (LE-eBook) in the hours before bedtime can adversely impact overall health, alertness and the circadian clock, which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep to external environmental time cues, according to Harvard Medical School researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Hands on: Crafting ultrathin color coatings


In a sub-basement deep below the Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering at Harvard University, Mikhail Kats gets dressed. Mesh shoe covers, a face mask, a hair net, a pale gray jumpsuit, knee-high fabric boots, vinyl gloves, safety goggles, and a hood with clasps at the collar—these are not to protect him, Kats explains, but to protect the delicate equipment and materials inside the cleanroom.

NUS researchers develop new-generation ‘thinking’ biomimetic robots as ocean engineering solutions

Latest turtle robot capable of performing more complicated tasks such as surveillance and energy harvesting, and operates on a self-charge mode

NUS Engineering researchers are closer to creating underwater robotic creatures with a brain of their own – besides behaving like the real thing. In the near future, it would not be too tall an order for the team to produce a swarm of autonomous tiny robotic sea turtles and fishes for example, to perform hazardous missions such as detecting nuclear wastes underwater or other tasks too dangerous for humans.

Scientists discover oldest stone tool ever found in Turkey

Scientists have discovered the oldest recorded stone tool ever to be found in Turkey, revealing that humans passed through the gateway from Asia to Europe much earlier than previously thought, approximately 1.2 million years ago.

December 22, 2014

More knowledge needed to ensure safe use of botanicals in food

The challenges related to assessing the safety of botanicals in foods and food supplements and regulating their use were highlighted at a conference held in Denmark in November 2014. The conference identified a need for more data to be generated on the risks botanicals pose to human health. Participants also called for harmonisation of approaches and systems between countries so that scientific information can be easily shared supporting the safe use of botanicals and paving the way for greater cross-agency cooperation. The conference was organised by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark along with the French institute for risk assessment, ANSES, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, BfR.

Piezoelectricity in a 2D Semiconductor

A door has been opened to low-power off/on switches in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and nanoelectronic devices, as well as ultrasensitive bio-sensors, with the first observation of piezoelectricity in a free standing two-dimensional semiconductor by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Mysteries of ‘molecular machines’ revealed

Scientists are making it easier for pharmaceutical companies and researchers to see the detailed inner workings of molecular machines.

“Inside each cell in our bodies and inside every bacterium and virus are tiny but complex protein molecules that synthesize chemicals, replicate genetic material, turn each other on and off, and transport chemicals across cell membranes,” said Tom Terwilliger, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist. “Understanding how all these machines work is the key to developing new therapeutics, for treating genetic disorders, and for developing new ways to make useful materials.”

New technology makes tissues, someday maybe organs

A new instrument could someday build replacement human organs the way electronics are assembled today: with precise picking and placing of parts.

In this case, the parts are not resistors and capacitors, but 3-D microtissues containing thousands to millions of living cells that need a constant stream of fluid to bring them nutrients and to remove waste. The new device is called “BioP3” for pick, place, and perfuse. A team of researchers led by Jeffrey Morgan, a Brown University bioengineer, and Dr. Andrew Blakely, a surgery fellow at Rhode Island Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School, introduces BioP3 in a new paper in the journal Tissue Engineering Part C.

Suppressing a protein reduces cancer spread in mice

Scientists have found that decreasing the levels of or blocking a specific protein commonly found in humans and many other animals allowed them to slow the spread of two different kinds of cancer to the lungs of mice. The research indicates that when the protein becomes dysregulated it helps pave the way for cancers to spread and suggests that addressing such dysregulation is a lead worth pursuing in fighting metastasis.

Fast-Food Consumption Linked to Lower Test Score Gains in 8th Graders

The more children ate in 5th grade, the slower their academic growth by 8th grade

The amount of fast food children eat may be linked to how well they do in school, a new nationwide study suggests.

Researchers found that the more frequently children reported eating fast food in fifth grade, the lower their growth in reading, math, and science test scores by the time they reached eighth grade.

Average temperature in Finland has risen by more than two degrees

Over the past 166 years, the average temperature in Finland has risen by more than two degrees. During the observation period, the average increase was 0.14 degrees per decade, which is nearly twice as much as the global average.

According to a recent University of Eastern Finland and Finnish Meteorological Institute study, the rise in the temperature has been especially fast over the past 40 years, with the temperature rising by more than 0.2 degrees per decade.

Engineers deliver instrument to study ‘greenhouse gases’ from a NASA unmanned aircraft

Engineers in Edinburgh used to building instruments to look at the atmospheres of stars and distant planets have turned their attention to the atmosphere of Earth.  A prototype instrument designed and built at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) is on its way to NASA in the USA to help improve our understanding of the Earth’s natural carbon cycle.

Supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Edinburgh will use the instrument to measure the emission and uptake of greenhouse gases.  Understanding these gases is a prerequisite for managing future levels of carbon dioxide to support effective international agreements and national emission reduction programmes.

Intelligent façades generating electricity, heat and algae biomass

Materials scientists coordinate new EU-project on intelligent façades

Windows that change their light permeability at the touch of a button, façades, whose color can be changed according to the sunlight, façades and window parts in which transparent photovoltaic modules are integrated or in which microalgae are being bred to provide the house with its own biofuel: This is what the buildings of the future could feature, or at least something similar. "Many of these ideas are certainly within imagination end even technological feasibility, today, in particular within the field of façades which may adapt to their environment and thus improve the energy efficiency of modern buildings," states Prof. Dr.-Ing. Lothar Wondraczek from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (Germany). "But only a fraction of this potential has been tackled so far, as the relevant materials and production processes are still missing," he further explains.

Ecosystems need maths not random nature to survive

A previously unknown mathematical property has been found to be behind one of nature’s greatest mysteries – how ecosystems survive.

Found in nature and common to all ecosystems the property, Trophic Coherence, is a measure of how plant and animal life interact within the food web of each ecosystem – providing scientists with the first ever mathematical understanding of their architecture and how food webs are able to grow larger while also becoming more stable.

December 20, 2014

Epithelial tube contraction

A new feedback mechanism for regulating contractility

Many of the fundamental processes of life rely on biological structures known as epithelial tubes. These tubes serve to transport various gases, liquids and cells around the body. With each breath, for example, epithelial tubes transport oxygen to the lungs. Our blood vessels, kidneys and pancreas, mammary, salivary and tear glands, are all essentially composed of epithelial tubes. However, these tubes are more than just a biological plumbing system. Instead, they are dynamic structures which must counter outward pressures to prevent their swelling or rupture. An intrinsic ability of epithelial tubes to constrict helps maintain their integrity. This constriction results from actomyosin contractility, a co-ordinated movement of filaments made of a protein known as actin, and a motor protein known as myosin. Problems in epithelial tube contractility are responsible for asthma, raised blood pressure and gastrointestinal disorders. Each one of these diseases affects millions of people worldwide, dramatically affecting their quality of life.

IU researchers to study balance between privacy and public use of wearable cameras

The increasing presence of wearable cameras -- such as smartphones, Google Glass and lifelogging devices like the Narrative Clip and Autographer -- has facilitated benefits in a variety of societal areas, including police investigations, lifestyle monitoring, and aiding patients with memory loss and families with autistic children.

But for two Indiana University professors, the trend toward pervasive, automatic image capturing raises new and important questions about privacy, surveillance and the use of technical data derived from those images.

Atom-thick CCD could capture images

Rice University scientists develop two-dimensional, light-sensitive material

An atomically thin material developed at Rice University may lead to the thinnest-ever imaging platform.

Synthetic two-dimensional materials based on metal chalcogenide compounds could be the basis for superthin devices, according to Rice researchers. One such material, molybdenum disulfide, is being widely studied for its light-detecting properties, but copper indium selenide (CIS) also shows extraordinary promise.

Lost memories might be able to be restored, new UCLA study indicates

New UCLA research indicates that lost memories can be restored. The findings offer some hope for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

For decades, most neuroscientists have believed that memories are stored at the synapses — the connections between brain cells, or neurons — which are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. The new study provides evidence contradicting the idea that long-term memory is stored at synapses.

December 19, 2014

How nanostrings and quantum bits go ‘out of tune’

The key to quantum computing is preserving quantum information. A classic computer bit has two states: 1 or 0. A quantum bit however has the special property that it can be not just 1 or 0, but also 1 and 0 at the same time, and, in fact, everything in between. The biggest challenge for quantum researchers is that a qubit in these ‘in-between’ states lose their quantum information very quickly due to a process called ‘decoherence’ arising from disturbances of the qubit from its surroundings. Researchers from Delft University of Technology studied how decoherence could be measured in mechanical resonators, basically tiny vibrating strings made from carbon nanotubes, and found that the processes of decoherence in a vibrating nanotube can be thought of in a very similar way as the decoherence of a quantum bit. Using this similarity, you can visualize the loss of quantum information by thinking about a vibrating guitar string. Their work was reported in Nature Communications on Friday, December 19th.

Yellowstone's Thermal Springs -- Their Colors Unveiled

Scientists from Montana and Germany develop simple new model that explains the brilliant deep hues of Yellowstone National Park’s most beautiful thermal springs.

Researchers at Montana State University and Brandenburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany have created a simple mathematical model based on optical measurements that explains the stunning colors of Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs and can visually recreate how they appeared years ago, before decades of tourists contaminated the pools with make-a-wish coins and other detritus. The model, and stunning pictures of the springs, appear today in the journal Applied Optics, which is published by the Optical Society (OSA).

Microplastics in the ocean: biologists study effects on marine animals

Ingestion of microplastic particles does not mechanically affect marine isopods. This was the result of a study by biologists at the North Sea Office of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) that was published recently in the journal “Environmental Science and Technology”. The study marks the launch of a series of investigations aimed at forming a risk matrix on the sensitivity of different marine species to microplastic pollution.

Quantum world without queues could lead to better solar cells

In a recent study from Lund University in Sweden, researchers have used new technology to study extremely fast processes in solar cells. The research results form a concrete step towards more efficient solar cells.

The upper limit for the efficiency of normal solar cells is around 33 per cent. However, researchers now see a possibility to raise that limit to over 40 per cent, thereby significantly improving the potential of this energy source.

A "GPS" for molecules

Researchers at the University of Bonn are developing novel methods for exploring the structure of enzymes

In everyday life, the global positioning system (GPS) can be employed to reliably determine the momentary location of one en route to the desired destination. Scientists from the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry of the University of Bonn have now developed a molecular  "GPS" with which the whereabouts of metal ions in enzymes can be reliably determined. Such ions play important roles in all corners of metabolism and synthesis for biological products. The  "molecular GPS" is now being featured in the journal "Angewandte Chemie".

Trade Winds ventilate the Tropical Oceans

Kiel marine scientists find explanation for increasing oxygen deficiency

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the Collaborative Research Centre 754 "Climate – Biogeochemical Interactions in the Tropical Ocean" have found an explanation with the help of model simulations: a natural fluctuation of the trade winds. The study has been published in the international journal Geophysical Research Letters.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Experts look back at a successful decade and carve out future priorities

To continue its striking development, ocean acidification research needs to bridge between its diverging branches towards an integrated assessment. This is the conclusion drawn by Prof. Ulf Riebesell from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Dr. Jean-Pierre Gattuso from the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Université Pierre et Marie Curie. In a commentary in the journal “Nature Climate Change”, the two internationally renowned experts reflect on the lessons learned from ocean acidification research and highlight future challenges.

The State of Shale

Pitt faculty edit, contribute findings to special issue of Energy Technology

University of Pittsburgh researchers have shared their findings from three studies related to shale gas in a recent special issue of the journal Energy Technology, edited by Götz Veser, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

breakthrough in optical fibre communications

Researchers from the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton working with Eblana Photonics Inc, in Ireland, have revealed a breakthrough in optical fibre communications in a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

Academics from the ORC have collaborated with colleagues at Eblana Photonics Inc to develop an approach that enables direct modulation of laser currents to be used to generate highly advanced modulation format signals.

Televised medical talk shows - health education or entertainment?

For millions of people around the world, televised medical talk shows have become a daily viewing ritual. Programs such as The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors have attracted massive followings as charismatic hosts discuss new medical research and therapies while offering viewers their own recommendations for better health. For show producers it’s a winning ratings formula, but for viewers eager for a healthier life, the results aren’t so clear cut.

New technique reveals immune cell motion through variety of tissues

Neutrophils, cells recruited by the immune system to fight infection, need to move through a great variety of tissues. New research shows how neutrophils move through confined spaces in the body. A new system can mimic tissues of different densities and stiffness, enabling improved development and testing of drugs.

December 18, 2014

Science Unveils Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2014

The comet-chasing Rosetta mission was at the top of the journal’s annual list of groundbreaking scientific achievements.

The Rosetta spacecraft caught up with the comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko beyond Mars this August, and its preliminary results — along with the studies it will allow in the near future — top this year's list of the most important scientific breakthroughs, according to the editors of Science.

This annual list of groundbreaking scientific achievements, published in the 19 December issue of the journal, also includes advances in medicine, robotics, synthetic biology, and paleontology.

Rice study fuels hope for natural gas cars

Rice University scientists identify metal organic framework candidates for methane storage 

Cars that run on natural gas are touted as efficient and environmentally friendly, but getting enough gas onboard to make them practical is a hurdle. A new study led by researchers at Rice University promises to help.

Rather than shoehorn bulky high-pressure tanks like those used in buses and trucks into light vehicles, the Department of Energy (DOE) encourages scientists to look at new materials that can store compressed natural gas (CNG) at low pressure and at room temperature. Cage-like synthetic macromolecules called metal organic frameworks (MOFs) are among the candidates.

Of Bugs and Brains

Brain structures devoted to learning and memory are highly conserved in the animal kingdom, suggesting a common evolutionary origin.

It turns out that the structure and function of brain centers responsible for learning and memory in a wide range of invertebrate species may possibly share the same fundamental characteristics, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology and performed by University of Arizona neuroscientists Nicholas Strausfeld, Regents' Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, part of the UA's School of Mind, Brain and Behavior, and Gabriella Wolff.

New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs' extinction

A definitive geological timeline shows that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago spewed enormous amounts of climate-altering gases into the atmosphere immediately before and during the extinction event that claimed Earth's non-avian dinosaurs, according to new research from Princeton University.

Oregon researchers glimpse pathway of sunlight to electricity

Collaboration with Lund University uses modified UO spectroscopy equipment to study 'maze' of connections in photoactive quantum dots

Four pulses of laser light on nanoparticle photocells in a University of Oregon spectroscopy experiment has opened a window on how captured sunlight can be converted into electricity.  

Instant-start computers possible with new breakthrough

To encode data, today’s computer memory technology uses electric currents – a major limiting factor for reliability and shrinkability, and the source of significant power consumption. If data could instead be encoded without current – for example, by an electric field applied across an insulator – it would require much less energy, and make things like low-power, instant-on computing a ubiquitous reality.

Research aims to improve rechargeable batteries by focusing on graphene oxide paper

A Kansas State University engineering team has discovered some of graphene oxide's important properties that can improve sodium- and lithium-ion flexible batteries.

Gurpreet Singh, assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, and Lamuel David, doctoral student in mechanical engineering, India, published their findings in the Journal of Physical Chemistry in the article "Reduced graphene oxide paper electrode: Opposing effect of thermal annealing on Li and Na cyclability."