November 30, 2015

Researchers Find New Phase of Carbon, Make Diamond at Room Temperature

This is a scanning electron microscopy image of microdiamonds made using the new technique.

(November 30, 2015)  Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered a new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, which is distinct from the known phases of graphite and diamond. They have also developed a technique for using Q-carbon to make diamond-related structures at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.

Phases are distinct forms of the same material. Graphite is one of the solid phases of carbon; diamond is another.

“We’ve now created a third solid phase of carbon,” says Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and lead author of three papers describing the work. “The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”

Q-carbon has some unusual characteristics. For one thing, it is ferromagnetic – which other solid forms of carbon are not.

“We didn’t even think that was possible,” Narayan says.

In addition, Q-carbon is harder than diamond, and glows when exposed to even low levels of energy.

“Q-carbon’s strength and low work-function – its willingness to release electrons – make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies,” Narayan says.

journal reference >>

Lazy Armchair

(November 30, 2015)  Lazy Armchair & Ottoman

Lazy is an armchair with sinuous lines and a wide, cosy seat, turning it into the perfect companion for the moments of relaxation. The soft seat and lumbar support cushion, that perfectly fits the cold-foamed polyurethane shell, makes this armchair extremely comfortable. The coated metal base version of Lazy is suitable for both home and contract environments, while the wooden one is meant to give the product a warm and elegant aura, enabling it to fit in any kind of environment.

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(November 30, 2015)  New Wave is composed of two parallel rectangular wood panels, one set inside the other, creating sinuous, natural curves which produce an effect of solidity and achieve a light elegant structural balance.


Worldwide glacier information system to go

Users find out about nearby glaciers and get information about their size,
elevation range, and ice loss.  (Image: World Glacier Monitoring Service)

(November 30, 2015)  A new «wgms Glacier App» of the World Glacier Monitoring Service shows how glaciers have evolved around the globe. Users find out about nearby glaciers and get information about their size, elevation range, and ice loss. Glaciologists of the University of Zurich developed the new app and launched it jointly with UNESCO in the forefront of the UN Climate Conference in Paris. The app is available free of charge for Apple and Android devices.

A compass shows the closest observed glaciers in all directions from the
user's current position. (Image: World Glacier Monitoring Service)

The «wgms Glacier App» provides scientific information and photographs of more than 3,700 glaciers. The app of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, hosted at the University of Zurich, provides public access to glacier observations from around the world. It shows how many glaciers are still advancing or how well developed glacier monitoring in your country is. The «wgms Glacier App» is based on a comprehensive research database and aims at bringing corresponding facts and figures to decision makers at governmental and intergovernmental levels. Glaciologists of the University of Zurich launched the new app jointly with UNESCO in the forefront of the UN Climate Conference in Paris. «We hope to raise the delegations’ awareness of climate change happening already today», states Michael Zemp, Director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service and glaciologist of the University of Zurich.
The app shows all observed glaciers on a satellite map.
(Image: World Glacier Monitoring Service)

Increase the visibility of glacier observers

The «wgms Glacier App» shows all observed glaciers on a satellite map. Basic information is provided for each glacier, including photographs and general information on size and elevation. A text search allows the user to filter the glaciers by name, country, region, and measurement type. They can learn which glaciers have gained or lost ice over the past decade. A compass shows the closest observed glaciers in all directions from the user’s current position. The card game allows the user to compare the best observed glacier in the world and to compete against the computer in the «Glacier Top Trumps». In addition, graphs with observation data illustrate the glaciers development, along with information on local investigators and detailed explanations of the measurement types. «We want to increase the visibility of the hundreds of glacier observers around the globe. Their work documents the impact of climate change on glaciers», says Nico Mölg, scientific project leader of the World Glacier Monitoring Service.

The card game allows the user to compare the best observed glacier in the
world and to compete against the computer in the «Glacier Top Trumps».
(Image: World Glacier Monitoring Service)

Available in four languages

The «wgms Glacier App» is available in German, English, Spanish and Russian for Apple and Android devices. It was jointly developed by the World Glacier Monitoring Service and Ubique, the company responsible for the technical implementation of the App. «The wealth of glacier data is optimally visualized with a great usability for each audience through the different interfaces such as map and text search, compass, and glacier game», says Mathias Wellig, CEO of Ubique.

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November 29, 2015

A promising new prototype of battery

© Cyril FRESILLON/CSE/CNRS Photothèque
Assembling a cell to test sodium-ion (Na-ion),
battery materials in a glove box.

(November 29, 2015)  After two years of research, a French team, mostly including researchers from the CNRS and CEA within the RS2E network on electrochemical energy storage (Réseau sur le stockage électrochimique de l'énergie)1 have just designed an alternative technology to Li-ion for application in specific sectors. The researchers have developed the first battery using sodium ions in the usual “18650” format, an industry standard. The main advantage of the prototype is that it relies on sodium, an element far more abundant and less costly than lithium. The batteries have displayed performance levels comparable to their lithium counterparts, and this new technology is already attracting industrial interest. It could be used to store renewable energies in the future.

© Vincent GUILLY/CEA
Standard "18650" sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery placed on a heap of salt (NaCl).
This is the first-ever sodium battery in this format.

The idea for using sodium in batteries dates back to the 1980s. At the time, lithium was preferred to sodium as the material of choice and it has been widely used ever since for portable electronic devices such as tablets, laptops and electric vehicles. However, lithium has a major drawback in that it is fairly rare on our planet. Teams from the RS2E (with the CNRS as the leading partner) therefore turned towards sodium, a thousand times more abundant. They developed sodium-ion battery prototypes where sodium ions move from one electrode to another in a liquid during the charge and discharge cycles.

© Cyril FRESILLON/CSE/CNRS Photothèque
Plugging a cell for basic research on sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery materials.
Its performance will thus be electro-chemically tested.

The first step was to find the ideal “recipe” for the positive electrode (cathode) of the battery. Six partner laboratories of the RS2E (see list below) were involved in the project with the goal to find the right composition for this sodium electrode. The development of a future prototype was then entrusted to CEA, a member of the RS2E network. In only six months, CEA was able to develop the first sodium-ion prototype in the “18650” format, that of the batteries found on the market, i.e. a cylinder 1.8cm in diameter and 6.5cm in height. This should facilitate technology transfer to existing production units. Other international laboratories also work on this technology, but none of them has yet announced the development of such a “18650” prototype.

© Vincent GUILLY/CEA
Standard "18650" sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries,
the first-ever in this format.

This second stage made it possible to move from the laboratory scale (synthesis of several grams of cathode material) to the “pre-industrial” scale (synthesis of 1kg batches). It enabled the production of batteries with unmatched power performance levels. This new technology is already showing promising results. Its energy density (the quantity of electricity that can be stored by Kg of battery) amounts to 90Wh/kg, a figure already comparable with the first lithium-ion batteries. And its lifespan—the maximum number of charge/discharge cycles that a battery can withstand without any significant loss of performance—exceeds 2,000 cycles. But most of all, these cells are capable of charging and delivering their energy very rapidly. The main advantage of the technology is that it does away with lithium, a rare element only found in specific locations, contrary to sodium. Its other advantage is financial, as using sodium could make it possible to manufacture less expensive batteries.

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November 28, 2015


(November 28, 2015)  A 17th century English archetype re-thought and updated for the 21st century. The extravagant and fully upholstered form has been tweaked and teased to give an even more rakish silhouette, the ergonomics adjusted for more comfort and the frame has been re-tooled for industrial production.

The result is an elegant functional sculpture fit for the members club, the hotel lobby or the parlour. Chair legs are made of copper-plated steel.

Collection also includes a chair, a dining chair and a sofa. All available in a wide range of colours and fabrics.

source >>


(November 28, 2015)   In many modern apartments living space is at a premium, so furniture should be compact and multi-functional. With this thought in mind I have created a sofa that can easily be converted into a small dining-table with six padded stools. The change either way can be made in a few moments, with minimum effort.

By combining the maximum of comfort and convenience, transformation furniture is ideal for a limited space.

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November 26, 2015


(November 26, 2015)   The ancient craft of traditional embroidery fused with the modern technique of mechanically punched plastic. By using blocks of color and highlighting the plastic grid the carpets are becoming fresh and playful.

The carpet can be endlessly multiplied as mosaic tiles to make it possible for the consumer to play with pattern and color.

One simple incision turns the carpet into a wobbling seat.
The carpets can be used in rooms with multiple functions

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Coming to a monitor near you: a defect-free, molecule-thick film

Schematic of a laser beam energizing a monolayer semiconductor made of
molybdenum disulfide, or MoS2. The red glowing dots are particles excited by
the laser. (Image by Der-Hsien Lien)

(November 26, 2015)  An emerging class of atomically thin materials known as monolayer semiconductors has generated a great deal of buzz in the world of materials science. Monolayers hold promise in the development of transparent LED displays, ultra-high efficiency solar cells, photo detectors and nanoscale transistors. Their downside? The films are notoriously riddled with defects, killing their performance.

But now a research team, led by engineers at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has found a simple way to fix these defects through the use of an organic superacid. The chemical treatment led to a dramatic 100-fold increase in the material’s photoluminescence quantum yield, a ratio describing the amount of light generated by the material versus the amount of energy put in. The greater the emission of light, the higher the quantum yield and the better the material quality.

Shown is a MoS2 monolayer semiconductor shaped into a Cal logo. The image on the left
shows the material before it was treated with superacid. On the right is the monolayer after
treatment. The researchers were able to achieve two orders of magnitude improvement in
emitted light with the superacid treatment. (Image by Matin Amani)

The researchers enhanced the quantum yield for molybdenum disulfide, or MoS2, from less than 1 percent up to 100 percent by dipping the material into a superacid called bistriflimide, or TFSI.

Their findings, to be published in the Nov. 27 issue of Science, opens the door to the practical application of monolayer materials, such as MoS2, in optoelectronic devices and high-performance transistors. MoS2 is a mere seven-tenths of a nanometer thick. For comparison, a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter.

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The Ego

(November  26, 2015)  Project is an attempt against the planned obscolence. I wanted to create a bond between user and the furniture - to last them together for many, many years. In my opinion this bond is the most important element in choosing things to keep them with you for long time. So I used handcraft tehniques and made every part with patience and emotion. The set is dedicated to bedroom, wardrobe or other private space, where you and only you can use it by keeping there the most important or intimate and precious things like cosmetics, clothes, underwear, jewellery, bed linen (and many others). It supopose to be selfish, cause everybody deserves to have a little something for their own.

I was inspired by traditional baskets from all over the world.

I wanted to adjust the weaving tehnique into diffrent materials... so i've made a few baskets

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Global warming will be faster than expected

(November 26, 2015)  Global warming will progress faster than what was previously believed. The reason is that greenhouse gas emissions that arise naturally are also affected by increased temperatures. This has been confirmed in a new study from Linköping University that measures natural methane emissions.

“Everything indicates that global warming caused by humans leads to increased natural greenhouse gas emissions. Our detailed measurements reveal a clear pattern of greater methane emissions from lakes at higher temperatures,” says Sivakiruthika Natchimuthu, doctoral student at Tema Environmental Change, Linköping University, Sweden, and lead author of the latest publication on this topic from her group.

Over the past two years the research team at Linköping University has contributed to numerous studies that all point in the same direction: natural greenhouse gas emissions will increase when the climate gets warmer. In the latest study the researchers examined the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from three lakes. The effects were clear and the methane emissions increased exponentially with temperature. Their measurements show that a temperature increase from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius almost doubled the methane level. The findings was recently published in Limnology and Oceanography.

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Sensor Detects Cable Fire before It Starts Burning

The sensor consists of four areas with different metal oxides. They change their
temperature-dependent electric resistance when coming into contact with gases.
(Photo: KIT/HsKA)

(November 26, 2015)  Hybrid Sensors Detect the Risk of Fires before They Can Even Be Noticed by Smell or Discoloration of Cable Insulations

Fires are frequently caused by smoldering cables. Novel sensors now help detect such smoldering fires at an early stage by analyzing the plastic vapors released by overheated insulating cables. Scientists of KIT and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences have developed these hybrid sensors that combine measurement processes with data evaluation. Their work is reported in the current issue of the Sensors & Transducers Journal.

A smoldering cable can be detected with a little luck before it starts burning: The plastic coating changes color, there is a smell of burning. Hybrid sensors might detect the risk of cable fires earlier, even before they are perceived by eyes and nose. They detect the gases released from the plastic coating due to heating and reliably identify and analyze the gas mixture and its concentration.

In addition, they can also detect interfering gases, such as propene or carbon monoxide, and, hence, exclude false alarms. To this end, the hybrid sensors do not only possess a gas-detecting sensor chip, but also the computation capacity and algorithms needed for evaluating measured data. “The combination of a smart evaluation process with physical measurement is the basic idea of this development,” Dr. Hubert Keller, Simulation and Measurement Project Head of KIT’s Institute for Applied Computer Science, explains.

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November 25, 2015

Stanford engineers develop 'invisible wires' that could improve solar cell efficiency

Researchers in Assistant Professor Yi Cui's lab (from left, graduate students Vijay Narasimhan,
Ruby Lai and Thomas Hymel) have discovered how to make the metal contacts on the surface
of solar cells nearly invisible to incoming light. The new technique could significantly improve
solar-cell efficiency. (Mark Shwartz / Precourt Institute for Energy)

(November 25, 2015)  Stanford scientists have discovered how to make the electrical wiring on top of solar cells nearly invisible to incoming light. The new design, which uses silicon nanopillars to hide the wires, could dramatically boost solar-cell efficiency.

A solar cell is basically a semiconductor, which converts sunlight into electricity, sandwiched between metal contacts that carry the electrical current. 

But this widely used design has a flaw: The critical but shiny metal on top of the cell reflects sunlight away from the semiconductor where electricity is produced, reducing the cell's efficiency.

Now, Stanford scientists have discovered how to hide the reflective upper contact and funnel light directly to the semiconductor below. Their findings, published in the journal ACS Nano, could lead to a new paradigm in the design and fabrication of solar cells.

"Using nanotechnology, we have developed a novel way to make the upper metal contact nearly invisible to incoming light," said study lead author Vijay Narasimhan, who conducted the work as a graduate student at Stanford. "Our new technique could significantly improve the efficiency and thereby lower the cost of solar cells."

Mirror-like metal

In most solar cells, the upper contact consists of a metal wire grid that carries electricity to or from the device. But these wires also act like a mirror and prevent sunlight from reaching the semiconductor, which is usually made of silicon.

"The more metal you have on the surface, the more light you block," said study co-author Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering.  "That light is then lost and cannot be converted to electricity."

Metal contacts, therefore, face a seemingly irreconcilable tradeoff between electrical conductivity and optical transparency, Narasimhan said. "But the nanostructure we created eliminates that tradeoff."

journal reference >>

Algae could be a new green power source

Concordia researchers create a technology to harness the electrical energy from plants

(November 25, 2015)  As world leaders prepare to gather in France for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change next week, global warming — and how to stop it — is a hot topic.

To limit climate change, experts say that we need to reach carbon neutrality by the end of this century at the latest. To achieve that goal, our dependence on fossil fuels must be reversed. But what energy source will take its place? Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal just might have the answer: algae.

In a study published in the journal Technology, a team led by Concordia engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy describe their invention: a power cell that harnesses electrical energy from the photosynthesis and respiration of blue-green algae.

Why plants? Because the energy is already there.

“Both photosynthesis and respiration, which take place in plants cells, involve electron transfer chains. By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally,” says Packirisamy.

Why blue-green algae? Because it’s everywhere.

Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are the most prosperous microorganisms on earth, evolutionarily speaking. They occupy a broad range of habitats across all latitudes. And they’ve been here forever: the planet's early fauna and flora owe their makeup to cyanobacteria, which produced the oxygen that ultimately allowed higher life forms to flourish.

“By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we’ve created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy,” says Packirisamy.

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NTU smart chip tells you how healthy your battery is

(November 25, 2015)  Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) have developed a smart chip which can tell you how healthy is your battery and if it is safe for use.

If the battery in your smartphone or electric vehicle is faulty and is at risk of catching fire, this smart chip will warn you. Current warning systems only alert users when the battery is already overheating which may be too late for any remedial action.

Developed by Professor Rachid Yazami of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), this smart chip is small enough to be embedded in almost all batteries, from the small batteries in mobile devices to the huge power packs found in electric vehicles and advanced aeroplanes.

A pioneer in battery research, Prof Yazami won the 2014 Draper Prize for Engineering awarded by the Washington-based National Academy of Engineering for being one of the three founders of lithium-ion battery. The prestigious award recognised his discovery in the 1980s in making lithium-ion batteries safely rechargeable, paving the way for its universal use today.

“Although the risk of a battery failing and catching fire is very low, with the billions of lithium-ion batteries being produced yearly, even a one-in-a-million chance would mean over a thousand failures,” explained Prof Yazami, who holds more than 50 patents and has authored more than 200 scientific papers, book chapters and reports on batteries.

“This poses a serious risk for electric vehicles and even in advanced aeroplanes as usually big battery packs have hundreds of cells or more bundled together to power the vehicle or aircraft. If there is a chemical fire caused by a single failed battery, it could cause fires in nearby batteries, leading to an explosion.”

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A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

(November 25, 2015)  Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye. There are many possible applications.

A nugget of real 20 carats gold, so light that it does not sink in a cappuccino, floating instead on the milk foam – what sounds unbelievable has actually been accomplished by researchers from ETH Zurich. Scientists led by Raffaele Mezzenga, Professor of Food and Soft Materials, have produced a new kind of foam out of gold, a three-dimensional mesh of gold that consists mostly of pores. It is the lightest gold nugget ever created. "The so-called aerogel is a thousand times lighter than conventional gold alloys. It is lighter than water and almost as light as air," says Mezzenga.

The new gold form can hardly be differentiated from conventional gold with the naked eye – the aerogel even has a metallic shine. But in contrast to its conventional form, it is soft and malleable by hand. It consists of 98 parts air and only two parts of solid material. Of this solid material, more than four-fifths are gold and less than one-fifth is milk protein fibrils. This corresponds to around 20 carat gold.

Milk protein filaments and gold salt are the starting materials for the gold foam.
(Ilustration: Nyström G et al. Advanced Materials 2015)

Drying process a challenge

The scientists created the porous material by first heating milk proteins to produce nanometre-fine protein fibres, so-called amyloid fibrils, which they then placed in a solution of gold salt. The protein fibres interlaced themselves into a basic structure along which the gold simultaneously crystallised into small particles. This resulted in a gel-like gold fibre network.

A foam of amyloid protein filaments without gold (above),
with gold microparticles (middle)
and gold nanoparticles (below).
(Photo: Nyström G et al. Advanced Materials 2015)

"One of the big challenges was how to dry this fine network without destroying it," explains Gustav Nyström, postdoc in Mezzenga's group and first author of the corresponding study in the journal Advanced Materials. As air drying could damage the fine gold structure, the scientists opted for a gentle and laborious drying process using carbon dioxide. They did so in an interdisciplinary effort assisted by researchers in the group of Marco Mazzotti, Professor of Process Engineering.

journal reference >>

Black Plane Chair

(November 25, 2015)  Blackplane is a chair with aerial yet contrasted lines which integrates an overflowing seat. The chair's seat extends purposely outside of the bearing structure, offering its user the possibility to place and arrange daily products.

The structure of black plane is composed of three bent tubular sections. All the steel parts are then welded together and powder in black matte. The seat, in solid oak is created using a CNC milling machine

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NASA Plans Twin Sounding Rocket Launches over Norway this Winter

An aurora is seen over Greenland on April 2, 2011. Two NASA sounding rockets
will launch into a particular type of aurora called a cusp aurora this winter to study
different processes related to the particle acceleration that causes cusp auroras.
The cusp is a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly
connected to the solar wind, allowing daytime auroras to form.
Credits: NASA/University of Maryland, College Park/Robert Michell

(November 25, 2015)  This winter, two sounding rockets will launch through the aurora borealis over Norway to study how particles move in a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind. After the launch window opens on Nov. 27, 2015, the CAPER and RENU 2 rockets will have to wait for low winds and a daytime aurora before they can send their instrument payloads soaring through the Northern Lights.

Both instrument packages are studying phenomena related to the cusp aurora, a particular subset of the Northern Lights in which energetic particles are accelerated downward into the atmosphere directly from the solar wind – that is, the constant outward flow of solar material from the sun. Though cusp auroras are not particularly rare, they are often difficult to spot because they only happen during the day, when sunlight usually drowns out what would otherwise be a spectacular light show. However, because the magnetic North Pole is offset from the geographic North Pole, it’s often possible to see cusp auroras in Northern Europe near the winter solstice.

Part of CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, is suspended
from the rail that will carry the rocket out to the launch pad. CAPER’s launch window will
open Nov. 27, 2015, and scientists will have to wait for good weather conditions and a daytime
cusp aurora before they can send their payload flying through the aurora borealis.
CAPER will study the electromagnetic waves that both create the cusp aurora and send
electrons flying out into space. Credits: NASA/Nate Empson

“The magnetic pole is tilted towards North America, putting this magnetic opening—the cusp—at a higher latitude on the European side,” said Jim LaBelle, principal investigator on the CAPER sounding rocket at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Combine that extra-high latitude with the winter solstice—when nights are longest, especially as you go farther north—and you can sometimes see this daytime aurora with the naked eye.”

The two sounding rocket teams will also employ data from ground-based radars to detect the cusp aurora even in the case of clouds.

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November 24, 2015

Tracking Down the "Missing" Carbon From the Martian Atmosphere

Carbon exchange and loss processes on Mars. Once in the atmosphere, CO2 can exchange
with the polar caps or dissolve into waters, which can precipitate out solid carbonatess.
CO2 in the atmosphere is lost to space at a rate controlled in part by the sun's activity.
Through the mechanism described in the study, UV radiation encounters a CO2 molecule
and produces CO and then C atoms. Since C-12 is more easily removed than the heavier
C-13, the current martian atmosphere is enriched in C-13.
Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

(November 24, 2015)  Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere—one that is far too thin to prevent large amounts of water on the surface of the planet from subliming or evaporating. But many researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in an atmosphere many times thicker than Earth's. For decades that left the question, "Where did all the carbon go?"

Now a team of scientists from Caltech and JPL thinks they have a possible answer. The researchers suggest that 3.8 billion years ago, Mars might have had only a moderately dense atmosphere. They have identified a photochemical process that could have helped such an early atmosphere evolve into the current thin one without creating the problem of "missing" carbon and in a way that is consistent with existing carbon isotopic measurements.

The scientists describe their findings in a paper that appears in the November 24 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

"With this new mechanism, everything that we know about the martian atmosphere can now be pieced together into a consistent picture of its evolution," says Renyu Hu, a postdoctoral scholar at JPL, a visitor in planetary science at Caltech, and lead author on the paper.

journal reference >>

Lactate for Brain Energy

(November 24, 2015)  Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid (lactate) has been a matter of intense research for many years. A hypothesis from the 1990’s postulates, that a well-orchestrated collaboration between two cell types, astrocytes and neurons, is the basis of brain energy metabolism. Astrocytes produce lactate, which flows to neurons to cover their high energy needs. Due to a lack of experimental techniques, it remained unclear whether an exchange of lactate existed between astrocytes and neurons. The group of Professor Bruno Weber from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology now shows that there is a significant concentration gradient of lactate between astrocytes and neurons.

Lactate transport is dependent on concentration
The entry and exit of lactate into and out of cells of the body is concentration dependent and is mediated by a specific lactate transporter (called monocarboxylate transporter or MCT). A typical property of certain transporter proteins is called trans-acceleration. “MCTs can be imagined as revolving doors in a shopping mall, which begin to turn faster when more people enter or exit”, explains Bruno Weber, Professor of Multimodal Experimental Imaging at the University of Zurich. The researchers made use of this property and accelerated the “revolving doors”. By increasing the extracellular pyruvate concentration, they stimulated the outward transport of lactate. Interestingly, lactate levels only changed in astrocytes but not in neurons. Based on this finding and on results from several control experiments a clear lactate gradient between astrocytes and neurons was confirmed. “Due to the fact that lactate transport by MCTs is a passive transport, such a concentration difference is a necessary condition for a lactate flux to be present”, says Bruno Weber.

journal reference >>

Inkjet Hologram Printing is Possible Now!

(November 24, 2015)  The team, led by Alexander Vinogradov, senior research associate at the International Laboratory of Solution Chemistry of Advanced Materials and Technologies (SCAMT) of ITMO University, developed colorless ink made of nanocrystalline titania, which can be loaded into an inkjet printer and then deposited on special microembossed paper, resulting in unique patterned images. The ink makes it possible to print custom holographic images on transparent film in a matter of minutes, instead of days as with the use of conventional methods.

Rainbow holograms are widely used to fight against the forgery of credit cards, money, documents and certain manufactured products that call for a high level of protection. Even though the technology of obtaining holographic images was already developed in the 1960s, there still exist numerous technical difficulties that impede its further spread and integration into polygraphic industry.

journal reference >>

November 23, 2015

No cable spaghetti in the brain

Randomly wired? A fluorescence microscope reveals the largely random network,
that neurons form in a culture dish. An international team of scientists, led by researchers
from the MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization, investigated whether nerve cells
in the brain wire randomly.
© Manuel Schottdorf, MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization

(November 23, 2015)  The brain is not relying on random-wiring, but self-organized neural networks for visual information processing

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance the set of rules that governs the connections between nerve cells and the organization of information therein. An international team led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen has now shed new light on these long-standing questions and found that networks are not governed by randomness. Some scientists considered this possibility for the organization of the brain, because randomly connected networks work well in computing applications. To test the random wiring hypothesis, the team examined whether the brain is using random connections to process visual stimuli. To this end, they calculated predictions that rely on the random wiring hypothesis and compared the results with precision measurements of the cortical architecture in various mammals. The result: random connections do not suffice to explain the observed layout of the brain. The scientists conclude that initially random connections in the visual cortex are reorganized to a precisely determined layout using self-organization. Random wiring, in the end, plays a small role.

Nerve cells in the human brain are densely interconnected and form a seemingly impenetrable meshwork. A cubic millimeter of brain tissue contains several kilometers of wires. A fraction of this wiring might be governed by random mechanisms, because random networks could at least theoretically process information very well. Let us consider the visual system: In the retina, several million nerve cells provide information for more than 100 Million cells in the visual cortex. The visual cortex is one of the first regions of the brain to process visual information. In this brain area, various features as spatial orientation, color and size of visual stimuli are processed and represented. The way information is sent may be comparable to a library, in which books can easier found if they are sorted not only alphabetically by title, but also by genre and by author. In a library, books are spread to different shelves, but typically not randomly. Similarly, various facets of visual perception are represented separately in the visual cortex. And the organization of this representation might be random. Mathematical modeling suggested that randomly distributed information is very well suited to separate features, in fact, better and better the more features are concerned.

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Ultrastable materials investigated in depth

Space telescope Herschel (2009-2013) allowed fascinating insight into the
birth of stars. (Photo: ESA)

(November 23, 2015)  PTB has measured thermal expansion at low temperatures for future space missions

Space holds numerous fascinating objects which we can only investigate by observing their radiation – even beyond the visible range. For space telescopes such as the European Space Agency's (ESA) infrared observatory Herschel, whose mission is to observe radiation in the far-infrared, cooling the instruments is of vital importance, since the instruments themselves must not emit disturbing infrared radiation. The mirrors of these telescopes, which are used at temperatures below -190 °C, are made of special, ultrastable ceramics such as silicon carbide. In order to plan the exact dimensions correctly, even at such low temperatures, the precise thermal expansion of the materials used must be known. Within the scope of a recently completed ESA project, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Braunschweig measured the thermal expansion of these ceramics as well as that of single-crystal silicon in the temperature range from -266 °C to +20 °C with high accuracy. In vast parts of the temperature range investigated, the accuracy attained corresponds to a relative change in length of approx. one billionth per degree Celsius. The investigations have also shown that the values used to date for the reference material of "single-crystal silicon" must be corrected. The latest issue of the renowned scientific journal "Physical Review B" contains a report dedicated to the latter of these two subjects.

Space telescopes such as Herschel explore spectral ranges that are not accessible from the Earth; they can therefore only be used in space. How critical it is to know the exact thermal expansion of the materials used when setting up such telescopes was clearly demonstrated during one of the latest ESA missions, as it was revealed that the simulations performed previously were not in agreement with the manufactured mirrors. The discrepancies were fortunately not discovered in space, but still led to unnecessary delays. To prevent such unpleasant surprises from recurring in the future, in-depth investigations of the materials used were required. For their investigations within the scope of the ESA project, René Schödel's research group used PTB's ultra-precise interferometer to measure the length of the samples across the whole temperature range with nanometer accuracy.

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Towards a bioeconomic future

An incredible amount of marine and land-based resources currently remain unexploited
because no-one is facilitating their development. Photo: ThinkStock

(November 23, 2015)  Can our forests, seaweed, grass and fisheries waste be transformed into new and valuable raw materials? Researchers are asking 1500 Norwegian companies what they’re currently doing with their resources, and what they see themselves doing in 2030.

According to the OECD, bioeconomics will represent the guiding principle of the European economy by 2055. This means that focus will be centred on the production and transformation of renewable biological resources from the agricultural, forestry and marine aquaculture sectors, and biomass will represent the major source of raw materials. If the experts are to be believed, we are in many ways on the brink of a new industrial revolution.

The Norwegian government is currently developing a national strategy in this field, and researchers will now be carrying out fundamental analytical work aimed at promoting a higher level of sustainable innovation in Norway. “As part of the Biosmart project we’ll be carrying out a futures analysis to identify stakeholders and others that will play a part in a bioeconomy, and to find out where the various resources will be found”, says Magnar Forbord at the Norwegian Centre for Rural Research (NCRR).

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