June 30, 2015


Methods Will Allow Researchers To Develop New “Smart” Materials

(June 30, 2015)  Carnegie Mellon University chemists have developed two novel methods to characterize 3-dimensional macroporous hydrogels — materials that hold great promise for developing “smart” responsive materials that can be used for catalysts, chemical detectors, tissue engineering scaffolds and absorbents for carbon capture.

Researchers working in the lab of Carnegie Mellon Professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski published their results in the May issue of Advanced Science, with the article featured on the journal’s back cover. Their findings are the latest in Matyjaszewski lab’s long history of breakthroughs in polymer science.

The 3DOM hydrogels contain a network of interconnected pores with uniform size. The configuration of these pores allows the materials to hold a large amount of liquid, and influences the material’s properties.

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Super graphene can help treat cancer

Silver is often used as a coating on medical equipment used for chemotherapy. The problem is that this silver coating can break down drugs. Now, researchers have found a graphene coating that will help boost the effect of chemotherapy.

(June 30, 2015)  Chemotherapy treatment usually involves the patient receiving medicine through an intravenous catheter. These catheters, as well as the the equipment attached to them, are treated with a silver coating which is antibacterial, preventing bacterial growth and unwanted infections during a treatment.

Researchers at the Department of Physics are now studying what happens when different drugs come in contact with this silver coating.

Silver breaks down chemotherapy drugs

“We wanted to find potential problem sources in the tubes used in intravenous catheters. An interaction between the coating and the drugs was one possibility. Chemotherapy drugs are active substances, so it isn’t hard to imagine that the medicine could react with the silver,” says Justin Wells.

Wells and his students used x-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS) to look at the surface chemistry of one of the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-Fu), and the interaction between it and the type of silver coating found in medical equipment.

Using an XPS instrument at the synchrotron lab MAX IV in Sweden, they found that the antibacterial silver coating actually breaks down the drugs. Not only does this reduce the effect of a chemotherapy treatment, but it also creates hydrogen fluoride, a gas that can be harmful both to the patients and to the medical equipment.

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New study reveals mechanism regulating methane emissions in freshwater wetlands

(June 30, 2015)  Though they occupy a small fraction of the Earth's surface, freshwater wetlands are the largest natural source of methane going into the atmosphere. New research from the University of Georgia identifies an unexpected process that acts as a key gatekeeper regulating methane emissions from these freshwater environments.

The study, published in Nature Communications by Samantha Joye and colleagues, describes how high rates of anaerobic methane oxidation, a process once considered insignificant in these environments, substantially reduce atmospheric emissions of methane from freshwater wetlands.

While anaerobic methane oxidation in freshwaters has been gathering scientific attention, the environmental relevance of this process was unknown.

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Scientists propose an enhanced new model of the source of a mysterious barrier to fusion known as the “density limit”

(June 30, 2015)  Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed a detailed model of the source of a puzzling limitation on fusion reactions. The findings, published this month in Physics of Plasmas, complete and confirm previous PPPL research and could lead to steps to overcome the barrier if the model proves consistent with experimental data. “We used to have correlation,” said physicist David Gates, first author of the paper. “Now we believe we have causation.” This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science.

At issue is a problem known as the “density limit” that keeps donut-shaped fusion facilities called tokamaks from operating at peak efficiency. This limit occurs when the superhot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions reaches a certain density and spirals apart in a flash of light, shutting down the reaction. Overcoming the limit could facilitate the development of fusion as a safe, clean and abundant source of energy for generating electricity.

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Fingerprinting Our Sense of Smell

Weizmann Institute Scientists develop an “olfactory fingerprint” test that may do more than just identify individuals

(June 30, 2015)  Each of us has, in our nose, about six million smell receptors of around four hundred different types. The distribution of these receptors varies from person to person – so much so that each person’s sense of smell may be unique. In research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Weizmann Institute scientists report on a method of precisely characterizing an individual’s sense of smell, which they call an “olfactory fingerprint.”

The implications of this study reach beyond the sense of smell alone, and range from olfactory fingerprint-based early diagnosis of degenerative brain disorders to a non-invasive test for matching donor organs.

The method is based on how similar or different two odors are from one another. In the first stage of the experiment, volunteers were asked to rate 28 different smells according to 54 different descriptive words, for example, “lemony,” or “masculine.” The experiment, led by Dr. Lavi Secundo, together with Dr. Kobi Snitz and Kineret Weissler, all members of the lab of Prof. Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, developed a complex, multidimensional mathematical formula for determining, based on the subjects’ ratings, how similar any two odors are to one another in the human sense of smell. The strength of this formula, according to Secundo, is that it does not require the subjects to agree on the use and applicability of any given verbal descriptor. Thus, the fingerprint is odor dependent but descriptor and language independent.

Graphene flexes its electronic muscles

Rice-led researchers calculate electrical properties of carbon cones, other shapes

(June 30, 2015) Flexing graphene may be the most basic way to control its electrical properties, according to calculations by theoretical physicists at Rice University and in Russia.

The Rice lab of Boris Yakobson in collaboration with researchers in Moscow found the effect is pronounced and predictable in nanocones and should apply equally to other forms of graphene.

The researchers discovered it may be possible to access what they call an electronic flexoelectric effect in which the electronic properties of a sheet of graphene can be manipulated simply by twisting it a certain way.

The work will be of interest to those considering graphene elements in flexible touchscreens or memories that store bits by controlling electric dipole moments of carbon atoms, the researchers said.

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UK researchers aim to develop ways to control and charge robots remotely

(June 29, 2015)  Researchers at three top UK universities are developing new ways to simultaneously power and communicate with robots and other digitally connected devices – commonly known as the Internet of Things.

Lancaster University, King’s College London and the University of Leeds are working on the £1million SWIFT project, which is the first collaborative UK effort to address the theory and practicalities of simultaneously transferring information and power across wireless networks.

The SWIFT project constitutes a paradigm shift in future wireless networks as it targets fundamental issues regarding the modelling, analysis, and design of wireless communication systems

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the SWIFT project is supported by leading UK industry partners in the field including Thales, the Mobile VCE, Instrumentel and Lime Microsystems along with prominent international partners from Princeton University and the National University of Singapore.

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New nanogenerator harvests power from rolling tires

(June 30, 2015)  A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers and a collaborator from China have developed a nanogenerator that harvests energy from a car's rolling tire friction.

An innovative method of reusing energy, the nanogenerator ultimately could provide automobile manufacturers a new way to squeeze greater efficiency out of their vehicles.

The researchers reported their development, which is the first of its kind, in a paper published May 6, 2015, in the journal Nano Energy.

Xudong Wang, the Harvey D. Spangler fellow and an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, and his PhD student Yanchao Mao have been working on this device for about a year.

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June 29, 2015

Major step for implantable drug-delivery device

MIT spinout signs deal to commercialize microchips that release therapeutics inside the body.

(June 29, 2015)  An implantable, microchip-based device may soon replace the injections and pills now needed to treat chronic diseases: Earlier this month, MIT spinout Microchips Biotech partnered with a pharmaceutical giant to commercialize its wirelessly controlled, implantable, microchip-based devices that store and release drugs inside the body over many years.

Invented by Microchips Biotech co-founders Michael Cima, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering, and Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, the microchips consist of hundreds of pinhead-sized reservoirs, each capped with a metal membrane, that store tiny doses of therapeutics or chemicals. An electric current delivered by the device removes the membrane, releasing a single dose. The device can be programmed wirelessly to release individual doses for up to 16 years to treat, for example, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and osteoporosis.

Now Microchips Biotech will begin co-developing microchips with Teva Pharmaceutical, the world’s largest producer of generic drugs, to treat specific diseases, with licensing potential for other products. Teva paid $35 million up front, with additional milestone payments as the device goes through clinical trials before it hits the shelves.

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Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor may take smartphone security to new level

(June 29, 2015)  Fingerprint sensor technology currently used in smartphones like the iPhone 6 produces a two-dimensional image of a finger's surface, which can be spoofed fairly easily with a printed image of the fingerprint. A newly developed ultrasonic sensor eliminates that risk by imaging the ridges and valleys of the fingerprint's surface, and the tissue beneath, in three dimensions.

"Using passwords for smartphones was a big security problem, so we anticipated that a biometric solution was ahead," said David A. Horsley, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis. He is a director of the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, which is located on the campuses of UC Davis and the University of California, Berkeley and is co-directed by professor Bernhard Boser at UC Berkeley.

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X-Rays and Electrons Join Forces To Map Catalytic Reactions in Real-Time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron x-rays at Brookhaven Lab to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

(June 29, 2015)  A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real time and under real operating conditions.

A team of scientists used a newly developed reaction chamber to combine x-ray absorption spectroscopy and electron microscopy for an unprecedented portrait of a common chemical reaction. The results demonstrate a powerful operando technique—from the Latin for "in working condition"—that may revolutionize research on catalysts, batteries, fuel cells, and other major energy technologies.

"We tracked the dynamic transformations of a working catalyst, including single atoms and larger structures, during an active reaction at room temperature," said study coauthor and Brookhaven Lab scientist Eric Stach. "This gives us unparalleled insight into nanoparticle structure and would be impossible to achieve without combining two complementary operando techniques."

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(June 29, 2015)  Social-networking sites such as Facebook can help students learn scientific literacy and other complex subjects that often receive short shrift in today’s time-strapped classrooms.

In a first-of-its-kind study, Michigan State University’s Christine Greenhow found that high school and college students engaged in vigorous, intelligent debate about scientific issues in a voluntary Facebook forum.

Such informal learning not only could supplement the content knowledge students acquire in class, but also connect them with professionals and experts in the field, spur interest in careers and inspire civic engagement.

“One of the things we struggle with as educators is how to take students’ spark of interest in something and develop it in ways that can serve them,” said Greenhow, assistant professor of educational psychology and educational technology. “If students had these kinds of niche communities to be part of, in addition to their formal curriculum, that could really provide a rich environment for them.”

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June 27, 2015

Orange is the New Red

Berkeley Lab Study Shows Orange Carotenoid Protein Shifts More Than Just Color for Cyanobacterial Photoprotection

(June 27, 2015)  Overexposure to sunlight, which is damaging to natural photosynthetic systems of green plants and cyanobacteria, is also expected to be damaging to artificial photosynthetic systems. Nature has solved the problem through a photoprotection mechanism called “nonphotochemical-quenching,” in which excess solar energy is safely dissipated as heat from one molecular system to another. With an eye on learning from nature’s success, a team of Berkeley Lab researchers has discovered a surprising key event in this energy-quenching process.

In a study led by Cheryl Kerfeld, a structural biologist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, the research team found that in cyanobacteria the energy-quenching mechanism is triggered by an unprecedented, large-scale movement (relatively speaking) from one location to another of the carotenoid pigment within a critical light-sensitive protein called the Orange Carotenoid Protein (OCP). As a result of this translocation, the carotenoid changes its shape slightly and interacts with a different set of amino acid neighbors causing the protein to shift from an “orange” light-absorbing state to a “red” photoprotective state. This turns out to be an unanticipated molecular priming event in photoprotection.

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June 26, 2015

Opening a New Route to Photonics

Berkeley Lab Researchers Find Way to Control Light in Densely Packed Nanowaveguides

(June 26, 2015)  A new route to ultrahigh density, ultracompact integrated photonic circuitry has been discovered by researchers with the  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley. The team has developed a technique for effectively controlling pulses of light in closely packed nanoscale waveguides, an essential requirement for high-performance optical communications and chip-scale quantum computing.

Xiang Zhang, director of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, led a study in which a mathematical concept called “adiabatic elimination” is applied to optical nanowaveguides, the photonic versions of electronic circuits. Through the combination of coupled systems – a standard technique for controlling the movement of light through a pair of waveguides – and adiabatic elimination, Zhang and his research team are able to eliminate an inherent and vexing “crosstalk” problem for nanowaveguides that are too densely packed.

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(June 26, 2015)  Research led by Michigan State University could someday lead to the development of new and improved semiconductors.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, the scientists detailed how they developed a method to change the electronic properties of materials in a way that will more easily allow an electrical current to pass through.

The electrical properties of semiconductors depend on the nature of trace impurities, known as dopants, which when added appropriately to the material will allow for the designing of more efficient solid-state electronics.

The MSU researchers found that by shooting an ultrafast laser pulse into the material, its properties would change as if it had been chemically “doped.” This process is known as “photo-doping.”

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Sliperiet at Umeå University is starting a project: 3D printing houses

(June 26, 2015)  In a collaborative project worth SEK 35 million, researchers and external partners are together developing a technology to make full-scale 3D prints of cellulose based material. It is not a matter of small prints – the objective is to make houses.

The impact of digitalisation on the manufacturing and construction industry is merely in its infancy. However, a large innovation project with its base at Sliperiet at Umeå Arts Campus, a part of Umeå University, is now setting the pace in the region’s journey to the forefront of this field.

“The idea of the project is to develop a technology that can be used in reinforcing the manufacturing industry in the region. For Sliperiet the project, entitled the +Project, is a part in the strategy of forming collaboration in an open and interdisciplinary innovative environment. Here, meetings and collaborations are created between various scientific areas and together with companies in the region,” says Marlene Johansson, director of Sliperiet.

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A 'hydrothermal siphon' drives water circulation through the seafloor

New study explains previous observations of ocean water flowing through the seafloor from one seamount to another

(June 26, 2015)  Vast quantities of ocean water circulate through the seafloor, flowing through the volcanic rock of the upper oceanic crust. A new study by scientists at UC Santa Cruz, published June 26 in Nature Communications, explains what drives this global process and how the flow is sustained.

About 25 percent of the heat that flows out of the Earth's interior is transferred to the oceans through this process, according to Andrew Fisher, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the study. Much of the fluid flow and heat transfer occurs through thousands of extinct underwater volcanoes (called seamounts) and other locations where porous volcanic rock is exposed at the seafloor.

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Helium ‘balloons’ offer new path to control complex materials

(June 26, 2015)  Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new method to manipulate a wide range of materials and their behavior using only a handful of helium ions.

The team’s technique, published in Physical Review Letters, advances the understanding and use of complex oxide materials that boast unusual properties such as superconductivity and colossal magnetoresistance but are notoriously difficult to control.

For the first time, ORNL researchers have discovered a simple way to control the elongation of a crystalline material along a single direction without changing the length along the other directions or damaging the crystalline structure. This is accomplished by adding a few helium ions into a complex oxide material and provides a never before possible level of control over magnetic and electronic properties.

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Southampton to provide major boost to UK robotics and autonomous systems capability

(June 26, 2015)  The University of Southampton is to play a major role in helping to boost the UK’s ability to develop and exploit the vast potential of robotics and autonomous systems.

Southampton is one of the founding partners of the EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS Network), which will bring together the country’s key academic capabilities in robotics innovation under national coordination for the first time. It will encourage academic and industry collaborations to accelerate the development and adoption of robotics and autonomous systems.

The Network was unveiled last night (24 June) at the Science Museum in London following a public lecture on Robot Ethics, organised by IET Robotics and Mechatronics Network in association with the Science Museum Lates and supported by the EPSRC UK-RAS Network.

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Unexpectedly Little Black-hole Monsters Rapidly Suck up Surrounding Matter

(June 26, 2015)  Using the Subaru Telescope, researchers at the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Russia and Kyoto University in Japan have found evidence that enigmatic objects in nearby galaxies – called ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) – exhibit strong outflows that are created as matter falls onto their black holes at unexpectedly high rates. The strong outflows suggest that the black holes in these ULXs must be much smaller than expected. Curiously, these objects appear to be “cousins” of SS 433, one of the most exotic objects in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The team’s observations help shed light on the nature of ULXs, and impact our understanding of how supermassive black holes in galactic centers are formed and how matter rapidly falls onto those black holes.

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Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Invests Into Bicycle E-Drive Created by KTU Student

(June 26, 2015)  Famous entrepreneur and venture capitalist from Silicon Valley Michael Baum, who is the founder and CEO of FOUNDER.org, has chosen a team from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) to the Class of 2016. Startup Rubbee offering the innovative e-bike conversion kit, created by KTU masters student Gediminas Nemanis, is among 41 companies selected for funding and mentoring by FOUNDER.org.

The young startup Rubbee from KTU has found itself among the most innovative teams from the best universities of the world. Nemanis, a marketing managing masters student, holding his first degree in mechatronics, met Baum during his visit at KTU earlier this year.

“Michael encouraged us to apply to the 8D company building programme. Our project was thoroughly analysed, and we received a very positive evaluation: we were selected to the Class of 2016 together with the teams from MIT, Berkeley and Oxford”, says Nemanis.

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Key protein may affect risk of stroke

(June 26, 2015)  Studies on mice reveal that a special protein in the brain’s tiniest blood vessels may affect the risk of stroke. Peter Carlsson, professor in genetics at the University of Gothenburg, and his research team are publishing new research findings in the journal Developmental Cell about how the blood-brain barrier develops and what makes the capillaries in the brain different from small blood vessels in other organs.

The brain’s smallest blood vessels differ from those in other organs in that the capillary walls are much more compact. The nerve cells in the brain get the nutrients they need by molecules actively being transported from the blood, instead of passively leaking out from the blood vessels.

This blood-brain barrier is vital, because it enables strict control over the substances with which the brain’s nerve cells come into contact. It has a protective function that if it fails, increases the risk of stroke and other complications.

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Rats 'dream' paths to a brighter future

(June 26, 2015)  When rats rest, their brains simulate journeys to a desired future such as a tasty treat, finds new UCL research funded by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.

The researchers monitored brain activity in rats, first as the animals viewed food in a location they could not reach, then as they rested in a separate chamber, and finally as they were allowed to walk to the food. The activity of specialised brain cells involved in navigation suggested that during the rest the rats simulated walking to and from food that they had been unable to reach.

The study, published in the open access journal eLife, could help to explain why some people with damage to a part of the brain called the hippocampus are unable to imagine the future.

“During exploration, mammals rapidly form a map of the environment in their hippocampus,” says senior author Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Experimental Psychology). “During sleep or rest, the hippocampus replays journeys through this map which may help strengthen the memory. It has been speculated that such replay might form the content of dreams. Whether or not rats experience this brain activity as dreams is still unclear, as we would need to ask them to be sure! Our new results show that during rest the hippocampus also constructs fragments of a future yet to happen. Because the rat and human hippocampus are similar, this may explain why patients with damage to their hippocampus struggle to imagine future events.”

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High-performance microscope displays pores in the cell nucleus with greater precision

(June 26, 2015)  The transportation of certain molecules into and out of the cell nucleus takes place via nuclear pores. For some time, detailed research has been conducted into how these pores embedded in the nuclear envelope are structured. Now, for the first time, biochemists from the University of Zurich have succeeded in elucidating the structure of the transportation channel inside the nuclear pores in high resolution using high-performance electron microscopes.

An active exchange takes place between the cell nucleus and the cytoplasm: Molecules are transported into the nucleus or from the nucleus into the cytoplasm. In a human cell, more than a million molecules are transported into the cell nucleus every minute. In the process, special pores embedded in the nucleus membrane act as transport gates. These nuclear pores are among the largest and most complex structures in the cell and comprise more than 200 individual proteins, which are arranged in a ring-like architecture. They contain a transportation channel, through which small molecules can pass unobstructed, while large molecules have to meet certain criteria to be transported. Now, for the first time, an UZH research team headed by Professor Ohad Medalia has succeeded in displaying the spatial structure of the transport channel in the nuclear pores in high resolution.

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June 25, 2015

Rare Neurons Enable Mental Flexibility

(June 25, 2015)  Behavioral flexibility – the ability to change strategy when the rules change – is controlled by specific neurons in the brain, Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have confirmed. Cholinergic interneurons are rare – they make up just one to two percent of the neurons in the striatum, a key part of the brain involved with higher-level decision-making. Scientists have suspected they play a role in changing strategies, and researchers at OIST recently confirmed this with experiments. Their findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

“Not much is known about these neurons,” said Sho Aoki, a post-doctoral researcher at OIST and lead author of the paper. “But we now have clear evidence that they play a key role in remaining flexible in this ever-changing world.”

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Computer vision and mobile technology could help blind people ‘see’

(June 25, 2015)  Computer scientists are developing new adaptive mobile technology which could enable blind and visually-impaired people to ‘see’ through their smartphone or tablet.

Funded by a Google Faculty Research Award, specialists in computer vision and machine learning based at the University of Lincoln, UK, are aiming to embed a smart vision system in mobile devices to help people with sight problems navigate unfamiliar indoor environments.

Based on preliminary work on assistive technologies done by the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems, the team plans to use colour and depth sensor technology inside new smartphones and tablets, like the recent Project Tango by Google, to enable 3D mapping and localisation, navigation and object recognition. The team will then develop the best interface to relay that to users – whether that is vibrations, sounds or the spoken word.

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Three Simple Rules Govern Complex Brain Circuit in Fly

New Study Unravels Neural Mystery With Imaging, Computation

(June 25, 2015)  Think the rat’s nest of cables under your desk is bad? Try keeping the trillions of connections crisscrossing your brain organized and free of tangles. A new study coauthored by researchers at UC San Francisco and the Freie Universität Berlin reveals this seemingly intractable job may be simpler than it appears.

The researchers used high-resolution time-lapse imaging of the developing brains of pupal fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) paired with mathematical simulations to unravel a trick of neural wiring that had stumped neuroscientists for decades. They discovered three simple rules that may explain how the complicated visual system of the humble fruit fly – with its eight-hundred-lens compound eyes – self-organizes as it grows. The authors said a similar approach could one day help us understand the rules governing the development of our own, much more complex brains.

The paper, titled, “The Developmental Rules of Neural Superposition in Drosophila,” appears online June 25 ahead of print in the July 2 issue of the journal Cell.

Electrical Engineers Break Power and Distance Barriers for Fiber Optic Communication

(June 25, 2015)  Electrical engineers have broken key barriers that limit the distance information can travel in fiber optic cables and still be accurately deciphered by a receiver. Photonics researchers at the University of California, San Diego have increased the maximum power — and therefore distance — at which optical signals can be sent through optical fibers. This advance has the potential to increase the data transmission rates for the fiber optic cables that serve as the backbone of the internet, cable, wireless and landline networks. The research is published in the June 26 issue of the journal Science.

The new study presents a solution to a long-standing roadblock to increasing data transmission rates in optical fiber: beyond a threshold power level, additional power increases irreparably distort the information travelling in the fiber optic cable.

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How does the brain recognize faces from minimal information?

Higher brain regions are only activated when predictions are false.

(June 25, 2015)  Our brain recognizes objects within milliseconds, even if it only receives rudimentary visual information. Researchers believe that reliable and fast recognition works because the brain is constantly making predictions about objects in the field of view and is comparing these with  incoming information. Only if mismatches occur in this process do higher areas of the brain have to be notified of the error in order to make active corrections to the predictions. Now scientists at the Goethe University have confirmed this hypothesis. As they report in the current edition of the "Journal of Neuroscience", those brain waves that are sent to higher brain areas increase their activity when a predictive error occurs. These results also promise a better understanding of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.

In order to induce predictive errors in their subjects, the researchers showed them so-called Mooney faces, named after their inventor Craig Mooney. These are photographs of faces which have been reduced entirely to black and white. We usually recognize these easily. We can even give details about the gender, age and facial expression – despite the fact that only the borders between black and white contain any information about the face. Moreover, even this minimal amount of information is ambiguous, because the boundaries either represent the transition between light and cast shadows or they confine the object itself.

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Breakthrough in graphene production could trigger revolution in artificial skin development

(June 25, 2015)  A pioneering new technique to produce high-quality, low cost graphene could pave the way for the development of the first truly flexible ‘electronic skin’, that could be used in robots.

Researchers from the University of Exeter have discovered an innovative new method to produce the wonder material Graphene significantly cheaper, and easier, than previously possible.

The research team, led by Professor Monica Craciun, have used this new technique to create the first transparent and flexible touch-sensor that could enable the development of artificial skin for use in robot manufacturing. Professor Craciun, from Exeter’s Engineering department, believes the new discovery could pave the way for “a graphene-driven industrial revolution” to take place.

She said: “The vision for a ‘graphene-driven industrial revolution’ is motivating intensive research on the synthesis of high quality and low cost graphene. Currently, industrial graphene is produced using a technique called Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). Although there have been significant advances in recent years in this technique, it is still an expensive and time consuming process.”


Crystalline semiconductors such as silicon can catch photons and convert their energy into electron flows. New research shows that a little stretching could give one of silicon's lesser-known cousins its own place in the sun.

(June 25, 2015)  Nature loves crystals. Salt, snowflakes and quartz are three examples of crystals – materials characterized by the lattice-like arrangement of their atoms and molecules.

Industry loves crystals, too. Electronics are based on a special family of crystals known as semiconductors, most famously silicon.

To make semiconductors useful, engineers must tweak their crystalline lattice in subtle ways to start and stop the flow of electrons.

Semiconductor engineers must know precisely how much energy it takes to move electrons in a crystal lattice.

This energy measure is the band gap. Semiconductor materials such as silicon, gallium arsenide and germanium each have a band gap unique to their crystalline lattice. This energy measure helps determine which material is best for which electronic task.

New conductive ink for electronic apparel

The development of advanced flexible large-area electronics such as flexible displays and sensors will thrive on engineered functional ink formulations for printed electronics where the spontaneous arrangement of molecules aids the printing processes. Here we report a printable elastic conductor with a high initial conductivity of 738 S cm−1 and a record high conductivity of 182 S cm−1 when stretched to 215% strain. The elastic conductor ink is comprised of Ag flakes, a fluorine rubber and a fluorine surfactant. The fluorine surfactant constitutes a key component which directs the formation of surface-localized conductive networks in the printed elastic conductor, leading to a high conductivity and stretchability. We demonstrate the feasibility of our inks by fabricating a stretchable organic transistor active matrix on a rubbery stretchability-gradient substrate with unimpaired functionality when stretched to 110%, and a wearable electromyogram sensor printed onto a textile garment.

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Fructose produces less rewarding sensations in the brain

(June 25, 2015)  Fructose not only results in a lower level of satiety, it also stimulates the reward system in the brain to a lesser degree than glucose. This may cause excessive consumption accompanied by effects that are a risk to health, report researchers from the University of Basel in a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Various diseases have been attributed to industrial fructose in sugary drinks and ready meals.

Fruit sugar, or fructose, is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables and is generally harmless in this form. Despite their similar structures, fructose and glucose – that is, pure grape sugar – affect the body very differently: an intake of glucose causes a sharp increase in blood insulin within minutes, whereas fructose stimulates insulin secretion to a limited degree only.

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Researchers question what happens in the brain when we think

(June 25, 2015)  New research from Lund University in Sweden questions the prevailing doctrine on how the brain absorbs and processes information. The idea that the brain has a mechanism to maintain activity at the lowest possible level is incorrect.

What happens in the brain when we think and which components make up a thought? Researchers in Lund have taken a major step towards understanding this central issue.

Since the 1980s, there has been a general consensus among neuroscientists that the brain has a system to maintain brain activity at the lowest possible level while retaining function. This is known as sparse coding. Anton Spanne and Henrik Jörntell question this doctrine in a recently published study in Trends in Neurosciences.

“We show that previous findings indicating that the brain has a sparse coding mechanism are wrong”, says Henrik Jörntell, Associate Professor at Lund University. “Our conclusions are controversial and will certainly be debated”.

The researchers’ most important observation is that the brain instead has a very large number of connections between nerve cells, which can be activated when we take in and process impressions. The Lund researchers drew these conclusions partly on the basis of previous research publications and partly from their own experiments.

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Research findings point way to designing crack-resistant metals

(June 25, 2015)  Potential solutions to big problems continue to arise from research that is revealing how materials behave at the smallest scales.

The results of a new study to understand the interactions of various metal alloys at the nanometer and atomic scales are likely to aid advances in methods of preventing the failure of systems critical to public and industrial infrastructure.

Research led by Arizona State University materials science and engineering professor Karl Sieradzki is uncovering new knowledge about the causes of stress-corrosion cracking in alloys used in pipelines for transporting water, natural gas and fossil fuels — as well as for components used in nuclear power generating stations and the framework of aircraft.

Sieradzki is on the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

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Spintronics advance brings wafer-scale quantum devices closer to reality

(June 25, 2015)  An electronics technology that uses the “spin”—or magnetization—of atomic nuclei to store and process information promises huge gains in performance over today’s electron-based devices. But getting there is proving challenging.

Now, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering have made a crucial step toward nuclear spintronic technologies. They have gotten nuclear spins to line themselves up in a consistent, controllable way, and they have done it using a high-performance material that is practical, convenient and inexpensive.

“Our results could lead to new technologies like ultra-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear gyroscopes and even computers that harness quantum mechanical effects,” said Abram Falk, the lead author of the report on the research, which was featured as the cover article of the June 17 issue of Physical Review Letters. Falk and colleagues in David Awschalom’s IME research group invented a new technique that uses infrared light to align spins. They did so using silicon carbide, an industrially important semiconductor.

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A novel microscope for nanosystems

LMU/MPQ-scientists can image the optical properties of individual nanoparticles with a novel microscope.

(June 25, 2015)  Nanomaterials play an essential role in many areas of daily life. There is thus a large interest to gain detailed knowledge about their optical and electronic properties. Conventional microscopes get beyond their limits when particle size falls to the range of a few ten nanometers where a single particle provides only a vanishingly small signal. As a consequence, many investigations are limited to large ensembles of particles. Now, a team of scientists of the Laser Spectroscopy Division of Prof. Theodor W. Hänsch (Director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Chair for Experimental Physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich) has developed a technique, where an optical microcavity is used to enhance the signals by more than 1000-fold and at the same time achieves an optical resolution close to the fundamental diffraction limit. The possibility to study the optical properties of individual nanoparticles or macromolecules promises intriguing potential for many areas of biology, chemistry, and nanoscience (Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8249, 24 June 2015).

Spectroscopic measurements on large ensembles of nanoparticles suffer from the fact that individual differences in size, shape, and molecular composition are washed out and only average quantities can be extracted. There is thus a large interest to develop single-particle-sensitive techniques. “Our approach is to trap the probe light used for imaging inside of an optical resonator, where it circulates tens of thousands of times. This enhances the interaction between the light and the sample, and the signal becomes easily measurable”, explains Dr. David Hunger, one of the scientists working on the experiment. “For an ordinary microscope, the signal would be only a millionth of the input power, which is hardly measurable. Because of the resonator, the signal gets enhanced by a factor of 50000.”

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June 24, 2015

Drexel's Microscale 'Transformer' Robots Are Joining Forces to Break Through Blocked Arteries

(June 24, 2015)  Swarms of microscopic, magnetic, robotic beads could be scrubbing in next to the world’s top vascular surgeons—all taking aim at blocked arteries. These microrobots, which look and move like corkscrew-shaped bacteria, are being developed by mechanical engineers at Drexel University as a part of a surgical toolkit being assembled by the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea.

MinJun Kim, PhD, a professor in the College of Engineering and director of the Biological Actuation, Sensing & Transport Laboratory (BASTLab) at Drexel, is adding his team’s extensive work in bio-inspired microrobotics to an $18-million international research initiative from the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technologies (KEIT) set on creating a minimally invasive, microrobot-assisted procedure for dealing with blocked arteries within five years.

DGIST, a government-funded research entity in Daegu, South Korea, is the leader of the 11-institution partnership, which includes some of the top engineers and roboticists in the world. Drexel’s team, the lone representatives from the United States, is already well on its way to tailoring robotic “microswimmer” technology for clearing arteries.

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First-ever flexible, skin-like displays have been developed


(June 24, 2015)  Structural colour arising from nanostructured metallic surfaces offers many benefits compared to conventional pigmentation based display technologies, such as increased resolution and scalability of their optical response with structure dimensions. However, once these structures are fabricated their optical characteristics remain static, limiting their potential application. Here, by using a specially designed nanostructured plasmonic surface in conjunction with high birefringence liquid crystals, we demonstrate a tunable polarization-independent reflective surface where the colour of the surface is changed as a function of applied voltage. A large range of colour tunability is achieved over previous reports by utilizing an engineered surface which allows full liquid crystal reorientation while maximizing the overlap between plasmonic fields and liquid crystal. In combination with imprinted structures of varying periods, a full range of colours spanning the entire visible spectrum is achieved, paving the way towards dynamic pixels for reflective displays.

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Artifical neuron mimicks function of human cells

(June 24, 2015)  Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have managed to build a fully functional neuron by using organic bioelectronics. This artificial neuron contain no ‘living’ parts, but is capable of mimicking the function of a human nerve cell and communicate in the same way as our own neurons do.

Neurons are isolated from each other and communicate with the help of chemical signals, commonly called neurotransmitters or signal substances. Inside a neuron, these chemical signals are converted to an electrical action potential, which travels along the axon of  the neuron until it reaches the end. Here at the synapse, the electrical signal is converted to the release of chemical signals, which via diffusion can relay the signal to the next nerve cell.

To date, the primary technique for neuronal stimulation in human cells is based on electrical stimulation. However, scientists at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Centre (SMNC) at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Neuroscience in collaboration with collegues at Linköping University, have now created an organic bioelectronic device that is capable of receiving chemical signals, which it can then relay to human cells.

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Nanowires could be the LEDs of the future

(June 24, 2015)  The latest research from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that LEDs made from nanowires will use less energy and provide better light. The researchers studied nanowires using X-ray microscopy and with this method they can pinpoint exactly how the nanowire should be designed to give the best properties. The results are published in the scientific journal, ACS Nano.

Nanowires are very small – about 2 micrometers high (1 micrometer is a thousandth of a millimetre) and 10-500 nanometers in diameter (1 nanometer is a thousandth of a micrometer).

Nanowires for LEDs are made up of an inner core of gallium nitride (GaN) and a layer of indium-gallium-nitride (InGaN) on the outside, both of which are semiconducting materials.

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Unlocking fermentation secrets open the door to new biofuels

(June 24, 2015)  Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have, for the first time, uncovered the complex interdependence and orchestration of metabolic reactions, gene regulation, and environmental cues of clostridial metabolism, providing new insights for advanced biofuel development

“This work advances our fundamental understanding of the complex, system-level process of clostridial acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation,” explained Ting Lu, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Illinois. “Simultaneously, it provides a powerful tool for guiding strain design and protocol optimization, therefore facilitating the development of next-generation biofuels.”

Microbial metabolism is a means by which a microbe uses nutrients and generates energy to live and reproduce. It typically involves complex biochemical processes implemented through the orchestration of metabolic reactions and gene regulation, as well as their interactions with environmental cues. One canonical example is the ABE fermentation by Clostridium acetobutylicum, during which cells convert carbon sources to organic acids that are later re-assimilated to produce solvents as a strategy for cellular survival.

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Silica ‘spiky screws’ could enhance industrial coatings, additive manufacturing

(June 24, 2015)  It took marine sponges millions of years to perfect their spike-like structures, but research mimicking these formations may soon alter how industrial coatings and 3-D printed to additively manufactured objects are produced.

A molecular process developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, paves the way for improved silica structure design by introducing microscopic, segmented screw-like spikes that can more effectively bond materials for commercial use.

The study, conducted by Jaswinder Sharma and his colleagues Panos Datskos and David Cullen, has been published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Authors said other applications of the screw-like spikes could include coatings for eyeglasses, television screens, commercial transportation and even self-cleaning windows and roofs in rural and urban environments.

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Giving atoms their marching orders

(June 24, 2015)  Chemistry professor Linda Shimizu oversees a series of crowd-pleasing chemistry demonstrations in middle and high schools throughout central South Carolina every year. They are spirited affairs, and her research in the laboratory is just as dynamic — but with a sense of order that really keeps atoms in line.

Shimizu’s lab recently developed a new system for studying gas flow in the most constricted environment possible. She and her co-workers have synthesized tubes so narrow that atoms can only move through them in single file.

Her team builds the tiny tubes by harnessing a process rooted in a molecular kind of self-love. The chemists first synthesize a cyclic organic compound — a molecular doughnut, if you will — that, by design, has an affinity for its own kind. When the molecular doughnuts are dissolved in a solvent and encounter each other in solution, they stack end-to-end like a roll of Life-Savers.

Sprayable foam that slows bleeding could save lives

(June 24, 2015)  Traumatic injuries, whether from serious car accidents, street violence or military combat, can lead to significant blood loss and death. But using a material derived from crustacean shells, scientists have now developed a foam that can be sprayed onto an open wound to stop the bleeding. They report their successful tests on pigs in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

For some serious injuries to arms and legs, medics can apply pressure to keep bleeding in check. But for major trauma to the torso, particularly when it affects vital organs, compression can make the situation worse. Currently, first responders have no way to stop this kind of bleeding, which is a leading cause of death among young adults and the most common cause of death from combat-related injuries. Srinivasa R. Raghavan, Matthew B. Dowling and colleagues wanted to find a simple way to treat these wounds quickly.

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Three Dimensional Plasmon Antenna Capable of Focusing Light into Few Nanometers

(June 24, 2015)  Professors Myung-Ki Kim and Yong-Hee Lee, both of the Physics Department at KAIST, and their research teams have developed a three dimensional (3D) gap-plasmon antenna which can focus light into a space a few nanometers wide. Their research findings were published in the June 10th issue of Nano Letters.

Focusing light into a point-like space is an active research field with many applications. However, concentrating light into a smaller space than its wavelength is often hindered by diffraction. To tackle this problem, many researchers have utilized the plasmonic phenomenon of a metal where light can be confined to a greater extent by overcoming the diffraction limit.

Many researchers have focused on developing a two dimensional (2D) plasmon antenna and were able to focus a light under 5 nanometers wide. However, this 2D antenna revealed a challenge: the light disperses to the opposite end regardless of how small its beam was focused. To solve this difficulty, a 3D structure had to be employed to maximize the light's intensity.

Adopting the proximal focused-ion-beam milling technology, the KAIST research team developed a 3D four nanometer wide gap-plasmon antenna. By squeezing the photons into a 3D nano space of 4 x 10 x 10 nm3 size, the researchers were able to increase the intensity of light by 400,000 times stronger than that of the incident light. Capitalizing on the enhanced intensity of light within the antenna, they intensified the second-harmonic signal and verified that the light was focused in the nano gap by scanning cathodoluminescent images.

The researchers anticipate that this technology will improve the speed of data transfer and processing up to the level of a terahertz (one trillion times per second) and to enlarge the storage volume per unit area on hard disks by 100 times. In addition, high definition images of submolecule size can be taken with actual light, instead of with an electron microscope, while improving the semiconductor process to a smaller size of few nanometers.

Professor Kim said, “A simple yet ingenious idea has shifted the research paradigm from 2D gap-plasmon antennas to 3D antennas. This technology will see numerous applications including in the field of information technology, data storage, imaging medical science, and semiconductor processes.”

The research was sponsored by the National Research Foundation of Korea.

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