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Advanced humanoid Roboy to be ‘born’ in nine months

Advanced humanoid Roboy to be ‘born’ in nine months | Amazing Science |

Meet Roboy, “one of the most advanced humanoid robots,” say researchers at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the University of Zurich. Their 15 project partners and over 40 engineers and scientists are constructing Roboy as a tendon-driven robot modeled on human beings (robots usually have their motors in their joints, giving them that “robot” break-dance look), so it will move almost as elegantly as a human.


Roboy will be a “service robot,” meaning it will execute services independently for the convenience of human beings, as in the movie Robot & Frank.


And since service robots share their “living space” with people, user-friendliness and safety, above all, are of great importance, roboticists point out.

Which is why “soft robotics” — soft to the touch, soft in their interaction, soft and natural in their movements — will be important, and Roboy will be covered with “soft skin,” making interacting with him safer and more pleasant.


Service robots are already used in a wide variety of areas today, including for household chores, surveillance work and cleaning, and in hospitals and care homes. Our aging population is making it necessary to keep older people as autonomous as possible for as long as possible, which means caring for aged people is likely to be an important area for the deployment of service robots, roboticists say.


To speed up the process, the AI Lab researchers set a goal to build Roboy in just 9 months (the project began five months ago). Roboy will be unveiled at the Robots on Tour March 8 and 9, 2013 in Zurich.

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities

20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science |

The following topics are covered:


Aerospace, Anthropology, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biology, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Cognitive Science, Computers, Cosmology, Dentistry, Electrical Engineering, Engineering, Environment, Future, General Science, Geoscience, Machine Learning, Material Science, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, Metallurgy, Mining, Nanotechnology, Oceanography, Philosophy, Physics, Physiology, Robotics, and Sociology.


Lectures are in Playlists and are alphabetically sorted with thumbnail pictures. No fee, no registration required - learn at your own pace. Certificates can be arranged with presenting universities.


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NOTE: All articles in the amazing-science newsletter can also be sorted by topic. To do so, click the FIND buntton (symbolized by the FUNNEL on the top right of the screen)  and display all the relevant postings SORTED by TOPICS.


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Michel Jammes's curator insight, December 30, 2013 1:02 AM

MOOC , not a buzz word , a reality...

Margarida Sá Costa's curator insight, January 31, 6:55 AM

Lectures are in Playlists and are alphabetically sorted with thumbnail pictures. No fee, no registration required - learn at your own pace. Certificates can be arranged with presenting universities.

Casper Pieters's curator insight, March 9, 4:21 PM

Great resources for online learning just about everything.  All you need is will power and self- discipline.

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Distant Black Hole Spins at Half the Speed of Light

Distant Black Hole Spins at Half the Speed of Light | Amazing Science |
Back when the universe was half its present age, supermassive black holes were feeding from a steady and plentiful diet of neighboring galaxies, the first measurement of a distant supermassive black hole’s spin shows.

Taking advantage of a naturally occurring zoom lens in space, astronomers analyzed X-rays streaming from near the mouth of a supermassive black hole powering a quasar about 6 billion light years from Earth.

“The ‘lens’ galaxy acts like a natural telescope, magnifying the light from the faraway quasar,” University of Michigan astronomer Rubens Reis explains in a paper published in this week’s Nature.

Analyzing four magnified images created by the lens galaxy -- an elliptical galaxy about 3 billion light years away -- Reis and colleagues found that the quasar’s black hole is spinning at half the speed of light.

The spin rate directly relates to how black holes feed and grow: The steadier the diet, the faster the spin, computer models show. “If the mass accretion was more messy it would suggest that the black hole would have a lower spin,” astronomer Mark Reynolds, also with University of Michigan, told Discovery News.

“What we found in this system is that it’s spinning very rapidly,” Reynolds said, consuming mass equivalent to about one sun per year. Spin rates may evolve over time, reflecting changes in evolution of galaxies.

At some distance, the black holes’ spins might be even higher, approaching light speed, and then slow down to RX J1131’s spin rate.

“If we go back further, maybe they’ll all be maximally spinning because of more mergers and more things happening. Or maybe they’ll be less spinning. We can theoretically produce both scenarios at the moment,” Reynolds said.

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New Land Rover Discovery has an ‘invisible bonnet’ to detect obstacles

New Land Rover Discovery has an ‘invisible bonnet’ to detect obstacles | Amazing Science |
IT could be the biggest breakthrough in driveway safety yet — even though it was originally designed to help four-wheel-drives navigate tricky bush tracks.

Land Rover has come up with a camera system that appears to make the bonnet invisible — by projecting the image of what’s below, into the windscreen directly in front of the driver. While there is a public push to make rear-view cameras mandatory on new cars, figures show that 40 per cent of driveway deaths occur when vehicles are driven forwards because the view is obscured by the large bonnets of family-sized SUVs. The British brand developed the technology for off-road use to help drivers navigate obstacles with ease.

But the system, unveiled on the eve of the New York motor show, could find more regular use in driveways. Tiny cameras fitted below the grille are paired with a display that is projected into the windscreen so that it appears as if the vehicle’s bonnet is transparent. The system is only at the experimental stage for now but is expected to be available on the new Land Rover Discovery, due on sale next year.

The Land Rover concept also has lasers mounted in the front fog lights that continuously scan the terrain ahead “and renders a contour map” on the screen in the dash to help drivers plot a path off the beaten track. The same lasers can also test the depth of water in river crossings, Land Rover says. Camera technology is making rapid progress in new cars of all shapes and sizes. Japanese car maker Nissan has unveiled a new rear-view “mirror” that actually shows the view from a camera instead.

Originally scooped by @Onisha Ellis

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Frozen in time: Three-million-year-old landscape still exists beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet

Frozen in time: Three-million-year-old landscape still exists beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet | Amazing Science |
NSF's mission is to advance the progress of science, a mission accomplished by funding proposals for research and education made by scientists, engineers, and educators from across the country.

Some of the landscape underlying the massive Greenland ice sheet may have been undisturbed for almost 3 million years, ever since the island became completely ice-covered, according to researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Basing their discovery on an analysis of the chemical composition of silts recovered from the bottom of an ice core more than 3,000 meters long, the researchers argue that the find suggests "pre-glacial landscapes can remain preserved for long periods under continental ice sheets."

In the time since the ice sheet formed "the soil has been preserved and only slowly eroded, implying that an ancient landscape underlies 3,000 meters of ice at Summit, Greenland," they conclude.

They add that "these new data are most consistent with [the concept of] a continuous cover of Summit… by ice … with at most brief exposure and minimal surface erosion during the warmest or longest interglacial periods."

They also note that fossils found in northern Greenland indicated there was a green and forested landscape prior to the time that the ice sheet began to form. The new discovery indicates that even during the warmest periods since the ice sheet formed, the center of Greenland remained stable, allowing the landscape to be locked away, unmodified, under ice through millions of years of cyclical warming and cooling.

"Rather than scraping and sculpting the landscape, the ice sheet has been frozen to the ground, like a giant freezer that's preserved an antique landscape", said Paul R. Bierman, of the Department of Geology and Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont and lead author of the paper.

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Study Shows: 99.9% Likelyhood That Humans Have Caused Global Warming

Study Shows: 99.9% Likelyhood That Humans Have Caused Global Warming | Amazing Science |
A new analysis found the carbon-dioxide from burning fossil fuels has the greatest impact on our climate, which means we caused climate change – it’s not a natural phenomenon.

McGill University physics professor, Shaun Lovejoy crunched numbers and applied a statistical methodology, to determine the probability that global warming is NOT a natural phenomenon.

He did this because one of the most heated debates revolves around whether or not global warming is something we can counter, because if it’s a natural process, there may be nothing we can do.

The debate is fierce in the United States, where politicians, scientists, and big oil and gas companies fight for their own specific interests.

Big oil companies in the United States have released their own findings onclimate change, and not surprisingly, their research says global warming is a natural process, which occurs over time.

Numerous American politicians with a track record of backing oil companies, have used these studies to defend the oil and gas industry. They argue against any policies that negatively impacts that industry. Some have even gone as far as denying global warming entirely.

American scientists for the most part agree that global warming exists, but depending on who’s paying for the research, have differing views as to whether it is the natural warming of our planet, or if our burning of fossil fuels are to blame.

“This study will be a blow to any remaining climate change deniers,” Lovejoy says. “Their two most convincing arguments – that the warming is natural in origin and that the computer models are wrong – are either directly contracted by this analysis, or simply do not apply to it.”

Lovejoy’s study uses “multi-proxy climate reconstructions” which is a scientific method of taking historical temperature data, along with natural markers left by climatic events over time, such as tree rings, ice core samples and lake sediments, to map out our climate over a very long time period.

Lovejoy’s analysis found the carbon-dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels to be the greatest impact on our climate, which means we caused climate change – it’s not a natural phenomenon.

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Scientists discover the animal kingdom’s first ‘female penis’ used to gather sperm from the male

Scientists discover the animal kingdom’s first ‘female penis’ used to gather sperm from the male | Amazing Science |

Scientists have discovered four species of Brazilian insects in which the females possess a penis and the males possess a vagina. This announcement, made today in the journal Current Biology, represents the first documented instance of a "female penis" in the animal kingdom.

Contrary to popular belief, the presence or absence of certain sex organs isn't the determining factor when deciding which animal of a species is female and which is male. In fact, biologists don't use sex chromosomes either. They actually rely on the size of an animal's gametes — sperm in males and oocytes in females. As the rule goes, females are the sex that contribute the largest gametes, whereas males are the sex that contribute the smallest gametes and therefore expend the least amount of energy on producing these cells. So, in this particular instance of sex-role reversal, the convention still applies: the female in these species of insect produces the largest gametes — egg cells. She simply also happens to sport a penis that she introduces into the male's vagina during copulation.

"The female penis is a completely novel structure," said Yoshizawa Kazunori, an entomologist at Japan's Hokkaido University and co-author of the study, in an email toThe Verge. Except for producing the larger gametes and having an egg-laying apparatus, the females in these four species of winged insects, called Neotrogla, seem to have become "very masculine" over evolutionary time, Kazunori added. The appearance of such a novel structure is exceptionally rare, he said, and "may be comparable with the origin of insect wings."

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Tamiflu Is Ineffective as an Antiviral Drug

Tamiflu Is Ineffective as an Antiviral Drug | Amazing Science |
After finally getting their hands on full clinical study reports, independent reviewers say the antiviral drug is ineffective.

Governments have spent billions of dollars stockpiling the antiviral medication Tamiflu. Earlier reviews of the drug called into question just how effective it was, and the latest analysis, published today (April 10) in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), concludes that the money has been going “down the drain.”

An international team found that while Tamiflu might reduce the duration of flu symptoms by half a day, there’s no evidence that it reduces hospital admissions or complications of an infection. On top of that, the antiviral’s side effects include nausea and vomiting. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of authors of the review and a professor at Oxford University, told reporters.

The data for this most recent review came from full study reports—data generated by clinical trials that are usually not open for scrutiny by independent researchers. Efforts by the BMJ and the research team convinced drugmaker Roche, which markets Tamiflu, to release the reports.

Fiona Godlee, an editor at BMJ, said that the picture of Tamiflu was previously much more positive than after the full study reports were disclosed. “Why did no one else demand this level of scrutiny before spending such huge sums on one drug?” she said at a press briefing. “The whole story gives an extraordinary picture of the entrenched flaws in the current system of drug regulation and drug evaluation.”

Roche stands by the utility of Tamiflu. “We fundamentally disagree with the overall conclusions” of the review, the company told MedPage Today. And others have said that the results don’t necessitate an end to stockpiling the drug. Sabrina Spinosa of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approved the use of Tamiflu in 2002, told Nature that the agency had reviewed the same clinical trial reports. “The review does not raise any new concerns,” she said, adding that the EMA maintains its position on the risks and benefits of Tamiflu.

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Google's Street View address reading software also able to decipher CAPTCHAs

Google's Street View address reading software also able to decipher CAPTCHAs | Amazing Science |

Google engineers working on software to automatically read home and business addresses off photographs taken by Street View vehicles, have created a product so good that not only can it be used for address reading, it can solve CAPTCHAs, as well.

CAPTCHAs are, of course, words that have been intentionally distorted presented to live humans who wish to enter a web site—to gain access, they must correctly type the word into a box. CAPTCHAs are believed to be difficult if not impossible for spam bots to decipher, thus they serve to protect the site—at least for now.

It's sort of ironic actually, that software has inadvertently been created that thwarts the efforts of other software engineers attempting to keep spam bots from accessing web sites. The finding was posted by Google Product Manager Vinay Shet on the Google blog.

To make Google Street View (part of Google Maps) ever smarter, engineers have been hard at work developing a sophisticated neural network based on both prior research and new image recognition techniques. The aim is to make Google's products more accurate. To display an image of a house or building given an address by a user takes a lot of computer smarts—Google connects new addresses to older known addresses, constantly updating its databases.

Presumably, the goal is to map every building in the known world to an address. But the work has produced an unexpected by-product, the very same software developed for Street View can also be used to decipher CAPTCHAs with 96 percent accuracy (98.8 percent when working on Google's own reCAPTCHA).

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DNA cube programmed to unzip and release trapped load in response to a carefully chosen trigger

DNA cube programmed to unzip and release trapped load in response to a carefully chosen trigger | Amazing Science |

Scientists in Canada have made DNA cubes that are programmed to unzip and reveal molecules locked inside them in response to a carefully chosen trigger. Hanadi Sleiman and colleagues at McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, designed the cubes to release the drug cargo they might be carrying only in diseased cells and not normal cells.

‘In the future, we would like to use our DNA cubes in the treatment of cancer and other diseases with a genetic component,’ says Sleiman. The cube opens into a flat assembly when a specific RNA sequence, in this case a gene product that is unique to prostate cancer cells, binds to two single-stranded DNA overhangs on the corners of the cube, disrupting the hydrogen-bonds that maintain the cube’s shape. Sleiman says it would be easy to change the sequence to which the cube responds and since the cube has two overhangs, ‘it would also be possible to make a cube that responds to two different triggers.’

The DNA cube was also modified with hydrophobic and hydrophilic chains to modulate its cellular uptake and prevent enzymatic degradation.

‘Compared with previous DNA origami-based designs the present system does not rely on the use of M13 [bacteriophage] DNA and can therefore be applied to many targets,’ comments Hiroshi Sugiyama, a DNA nanotechnology expert at Kyoto University in Japan.

Reference: K E Bujold et alChem. Sci., 2014, DOI: 10.1039/c4sc00646a

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Kids with a mutation in the gene encoding MOGS (a protein processing glycans) are found to be immune to many viruses

Kids with a mutation in the gene encoding MOGS (a protein processing glycans) are found to be immune to many viruses | Amazing Science |

Most proteins, including immunoglobulins, human virus receptors, and viral-coded proteins, are post-translationally modified with sugars or sugar chains that are generically referred to as glycans. Glycans are primarily classified as N-linked or O-linked oligosaccharides, depending on whether they are bound to the amide group of asparagine (N-linked) or the hydroxyl group of serine or threonine (O-linked). Glycans are associated with protein conformation, folding, solubility, stability, half-life, and antigenicity and are the moieties recognized by glycan-binding proteins. The congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDGs) are genetic disorders affecting the N-glycosylation process. CDGs are divided into defects in the synthesis of N-glycans (CDG-I) and defects in the processing of N-glycans (CDG-II). CDG-IIb (Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database number, 606056) is caused by mutations in the gene encoding MOGS (also known as glucosidase 1). MOGS is an enzyme that is expressed in the endoplasmic reticulum and is involved in the trimming of N-glycans.1 A single case of CDG-IIb has been reported; the patient died at the age of 74 days from severe neurologic complications.2 In this study, scientists evaluated the immune system and susceptibility to viral diseases in two siblings with CDG-IIb who presented with severe hypogammaglobulinemia but not many infections.

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Infected Tasmanian devils reveal how cancer cells evolve in response to humans

Infected Tasmanian devils reveal how cancer cells evolve in response to humans | Amazing Science |
Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) has ravaged the world's largest carnivorous marsupial since it emerged in 1996, resulting in a population decline of over 90%. Conservation work to defeat the disease has including removing infected individuals from the population and new research explains how this gives us a unique opportunity to understand how human selection alters the evolution of cancerous cells. DFTD is an asexually reproducing clonal cell line, which during the last 16 years has been exposed to negative effects as infected devils, approximately 33% of the population, have been removed from one site, the Forestier Peninsula, in Tasmania between 2006 and 2010.

However, this parasitical disease has been able survive and counteract the effect of deleterious mutation, genomic instability as well as being able to infect more than 100,000 devils.

"In this study, we focus on the evolutionary response of DFTD to a disease suppression trial," said Beata Ujvari, from the, The University of Sydney. "Tumors collected from devils subjected to the removal programme showed accelerated temporal evolution of tetraploidy compared with tumors from other populations where no increase of tetraploid tumors were observed."

The disease eradication trial provides a unique opportunity to discover the long-term effects of human selection on DFTD evolution and to explore this, the team collected tumour tissue samples between 2006 and 2011 at 11 sites within the DFTD affected areas of Tasmania.

"Our study clearly demonstrates that DFTD tumors are able to rapidly respond to increased selection and adapt to a selective regime," said Ujvari. "The results suggest that ploidization may offer yet another pathway to which DFTD is able to adapt to the ever-changing evolutionary landscape sculptured by the devils' immune system. Our study is the first to show that anthropogenic selection may enhance cancer evolution in the wild, and it therefore cautions about what measures we employ to try to halt the spread of this devastating disease."


  1. Beata Ujvari, Anne-Maree Pearse, Kate Swift, Pamela Hodson, Bobby Hua, Stephen Pyecroft, Robyn Taylor, Rodrigo Hamede, Menna Jones, Katherine Belov, Thomas Madsen. Anthropogenic selection enhances cancer evolution in Tasmanian devil tumoursEvolutionary Applications, 2014; 7 (2): 260 DOI: 10.1111/eva.12117
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NASA: International Space Station to beam video via laser back to Earth

NASA: International Space Station to beam video via laser back to Earth | Amazing Science |

NASA is preparing for an April 14 launch to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX-3 mission to test NASA’s first space-to-Earth optical communication system.

The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) system will demonstrate up to 50 megabits per second transmission, compared to 200 to 400 kilobits per second for many deep-space missions. Future deep space optical communication systems will provide more than one gigabit per second from Mars, NASA says.

Fast laser communications between Earth and spacecraft like the space station or NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover would enhance their connection to engineers and scientists on the ground as well as to the public, NASA says.

However, this mission is only intended for testing. As the space station orbits Earth, a ground telescope tracks it and transmits a laser beacon to OPALS. While maintaining lock on the uplink beacon, the orbiting instrument’s flight system will downlink a modulated laser beam with a formatted video.

Each demonstration, or test, will last approximately 100 seconds as the station instrument and ground telescope maintain line of sight. It will be used to study pointing, acquisition and tracking of the very tightly focused laser beams, taking into account the movement of the space station, and to study the characteristics of optical links through Earth’s atmosphere. NASA will also use OPALS to educate and train personnel in the operation of optical communication systems.

NASA says the success of OPALS will provide increased impetus for operational optical communications in NASA missions, noting that “the space station is a prime target for multi-gigabit-per-second optical links.”

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EPA drastically underestimated methane released at drilling sites, by a factor of over 100-fold

EPA drastically underestimated methane released at drilling sites, by a factor of over 100-fold | Amazing Science |
Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The EPA has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Carbon dioxide released by the combustion of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change, but methane — the chief component of natural gas — is about 20 to 30 times more potent when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane emissions make up 9% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions and are on track to increase, according to the White House.

The Pennsylvania study was launched in an effort to understand whether the measurements of airborne methane matched up with emissions estimates based on readings taken at ground level, the approach the EPA and state regulators have historically used.

Researchers flew their plane about a kilometer above a 2,800 square kilometer area in southwestern Pennsylvania that included several active natural gas wells. Over a two-day period in June 2012, they detected 2 grams to 14 grams of methane per second per square kilometer over the entire area. The EPA’s estimate for the area is 2.3 grams to 4.6 grams of methane per second per square kilometer.

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Stem-Cell Therapy for Blindness Is Moving Towards Clinical Trials

Stem-Cell Therapy for Blindness Is Moving Towards Clinical Trials | Amazing Science |
Advanced Cell Technology is testing a stem-cell treatment for blindness that could preserve vision and potentially reverse vision loss.

A new treatment for macular degeneration is close to the next stage of human testing—a noteworthy event not just for the millions of patients it could help, but for its potential to become the first therapy based on embryonic stem cells.

This year, the Boston-area company Advanced Cell Technology plans to move its stem-cell treatment for two forms of vision loss into advanced human trials. The company has already reported that the treatment is safe (see “Eye Study Is a Small but Crucial Advance for Stem-Cell Therapy”), although a full report of the results from the early, safety-focused testing has yet to be published. The planned trials will test whether it is effective. The treatment will be tested both on patients with Stargardt’s disease (an inherited form of progressive vision loss that can affect children) and on those with age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss among people 65 and older.

Although complete data from the trials of ACT’s treatments have yet to be published, the company has reported impressive results with one patient, who recovered vision after being deemed legally blind. Now the company plans to publish the data from two clinical trials taking place in the U.S. and the E.U. in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Each of these early-stage trials includes 12 patients affected by either macular degeneration or Stargardt’s disease.

The more advanced trials will have dozens of participants, says ACT’s head of clinical development, Eddy Anglade. If proved safe and effective, the cellular therapy could preserve the vision of millions affected by age-related macular degeneration. By 2020, as the population ages, nearly 200 million people worldwide will have the disease, estimate researchers. Currently, there are no treatments available for the most common form, dry age-related macular degeneration.

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Solar-Panel Windows Made Possible by Quantum Dot Breakthrough

Solar-Panel Windows Made Possible by Quantum Dot Breakthrough | Amazing Science |
Researchers create transparent solar cells that could be used to replace windows and power homes in the future.

Luminescent solar concentrators are cost-effective complements to semiconductor photovoltaics that can boost the output of solar cells and allow for the integration of photovoltaic-active architectural elements into buildings (for example, photovoltaic windows).

Colloidal quantum dots are attractive for use in luminescent solar concentrators, but their small Stokes shift results in reabsorption losses that hinder the realization of large-area devices. Here, we use ‘Stokes-shift-engineered’ CdSe/CdS quantum dots with giant shells (giant quantum dots) to realize luminescent solar concentrators without reabsorption losses for device dimensions up to tens of centimeters.

Monte-Carlo simulations show a 100-fold increase in efficiency using giant quantum dots compared with core-only nanocrystals. We demonstrate the feasibility of this approach by using high-optical-quality quantum dot–polymethylmethacrylate nanocomposites fabricated using a modified industrial method that preserves the light-emitting properties of giant quantum dots upon incorporation into the polymer. Study of these luminescent solar concentrators yields optical efficiencies >10% and an effective concentration factor of 4.4. These results demonstrate the significant promise of Stokes-shift-engineered quantum dots for large-area luminescent solar concentrators.

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Researchers discover that tin selenide is best at converting waste heat to electricity

Researchers discover that tin selenide is best at converting waste heat to electricity | Amazing Science |

One strategy for addressing the world’s energy crisis is to stop wasting so much energy when producing and using it, which can happen in coal-fired power plants or transportation. Nearly two-thirds of energy input is lost as waste heat.

Now Northwestern University scientists have discovered a surprising material that is the best in the world at converting waste heat to useful electricity. This outstanding property could be exploited in solid-state thermoelectric devices in a variety of industries, with potentially enormous energy savings.

An interdisciplinary team led by inorganic chemist Mercouri G. Kanatzidis found the crystal form of the chemical compound tin selenide conducts heat so poorly through its lattice structure that it is the most efficient thermoelectric material known. Unlike most thermoelectric materials, tin selenide has a simple structure, much like that of an accordion, which provides the key to its exceptional properties.

The efficiency of waste heat conversion in thermoelectrics is reflected by its figure of merit, called ZT. Tin selenide exhibits a ZT of 2.6, the highest reported to date at around 650 degrees Celsius. The material’s extremely low thermal conductivity boosts the ZT to this high level, while still retaining good electrical conductivity.

The ZT metric represents a ratio of electrical conductivity and thermoelectric power in the numerator (which needs to be high) and thermal conductivity in the denominator (which needs to be low).

Potential areas of application for the high-temperature thermoelectric material include the automobile industry (a significant amount of gasoline’s potential energy goes out of a vehicle’s tailpipe), heavy manufacturing industries (such as glass and brick making, refineries, coal- and gas-fired power plants) and places where large combustion engines operate continuously such as in large ships and tankers.

“A good thermoelectric material is a business proposition -- as much commercial as it is scientific,” said Vinayak P. Dravid, a senior researcher on the team. “You don’t have to convert much of the world’s wasted energy into useful energy to make a material very exciting. We need a portfolio of solutions to the energy problem, and thermoelectric materials can play an important role.”

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Electrochemical exfoliation produces high-quality graphene in a very short time

Electrochemical exfoliation produces high-quality graphene in a very short time | Amazing Science |

Graphene is easy to acquire, at least in small amounts. The first scientists to isolate the strong, two-dimensional carbon material simply pressed a piece of Scotch tape to a chunk of graphite and peeled it off. But mass production of graphene for commercial uses remains a challenge. Now, scientists have shown they can rapidly produce large quantities of graphene using a bath of inorganic salts and an electric current (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/ja5017156).

Several other methods have been developed for producing graphene, but each has its drawbacks. Growing the carbon sheets takes too long, and chemical vapor deposition requires a metal catalyst, with a second step to remove the metal. Other methods using solvents or surfactants can harm the electronic properties of graphene or produce lower yields.

Xinliang Feng and Klaus Müllen of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, in Mainz, Germany, and their colleagues decided to improve upon an electrochemical technique for producing graphene. Instead of using acids, which oxidize the graphene and reduce its conductivity, the researchers prepared solutions of various salts, including ammonium sulfate, potassium sulfate, and sodium sulfate. Into their mixtures they placed two electrodes, one made of platinum and the other of graphite, which is essentially a conglomeration of many layers of graphene.

When they ran 10 V of direct current through the graphite electrode, it began to shed layers into the solution, a process called exfoliation. They kept the current running for three to five minutes, separated the exfoliated flakes from the solution, and washed away excess salt with water.

The process turned more than 75% of the graphite electrode into graphene flakes. Approximately 85% of the flakes consisted of one to three layers of graphene—the most desirable electrical properties come from single and double layers of graphene.

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Researchers Clone Cells From Two Adult Men

Researchers Clone Cells From Two Adult Men | Amazing Science |
After years of failed attempts, researchers have successfully generated stem cells from adults. The process could provide a new way for scientists to generate healthy replacements for diseased or damaged cells in patients

After years of failed attempts, researchers have finally generated stem cells from adults using the same cloning technique that produced Dolly the sheep in 1996.

A previous claim that Korean investigators had succeeded in the feat turned out to be fraudulent. Then last year, a group at Oregon Health & Science University generated stem cells using the Dolly technique, but with cells from fetuses and infants.In this case, cells from a 35-year-old man and a 75-year-old man were used to generate two separate lines of stem cells.

The process, known as nuclear transfer, involves taking the DNA from a donor and inserting it into an egg that has been stripped of its DNA. The resulting hybrid is stimulated to fuse and start dividing; after a few days the “embryo” creates a lining of stem cells that are destined to develop into all of the cells and tissues in the human body. Researchers extract these cells and grow them in the lab, where they are treated with the appropriate growth factors and other agents to develop into specific types of cells, like neurons, muscle, or insulin-producing cells.

Reporting in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, and his colleagues found that tweaking the Oregon team’s process was the key to success with reprogramming the older cells. Like the earlier team, Lanza’s group used caffeine to prevent the fused egg from dividing prematurely. Rather than leaving the egg with its newly introduced DNA for 30 minutes before activating the dividing stage, they let the eggs rest for about two hours. This gave the DNA enough time to acclimate to its new environment and interact with the egg’s development factors, which erased each of the donor cell’s existing history and reprogrammed it to act like a brand new cell in an embryo.

The team, which included an international group of stem cell scientists, used 77 eggs from four different donors. They tested their new method by waiting for 30 minutes before activating 38 of the resulting embryos, and waiting two hours before triggering 39 of them. None of the 38 developed into the next stage, while two of the embryos getting extended time did. “There is a massive molecular change occurring. You are taking a fully differentiated cell, and you need to have the egg do its magic,” says Lanza. “You need to extend the reprogramming time before you can force the cell to divide.”

While a 5% efficiency may not seem laudable, Lanza says that it’s not so bad given that the stem cells appear to have had their genetic history completely erased and returned to that of a blank slate. “This procedure works well, and works with adult cells,” says Lanza.

The results also teach stem cell scientists some important lessons. First, that the nuclear transfer method that the Oregon team used is valid, and that with some changes it can be replicated using older adult cells. “It looks like the protocols we described are real, they are universal, they work in different hands, in different labs and with different cells,” says Shoukhrat Mitalopov, director of the center for embryonic cell and gene therapy at Oregon Health & Science University, and lead investigator of that study.

VIDEO: Breakthrough in Cloning Human Stem Cells: Explainer

MORE: Stem-Cell Research: The Quest Resumes

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Currently, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck

Currently, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck | Amazing Science |

A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the evening event at Seattle's Museum of Flight, shows that "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck."

Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas, made evident by a nuclear weapons test warning network. In a recent press release B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu states:

  • "This network has detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare—but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them."

The B612 Foundation is partnered with Ball Aerospace to build the Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope Mission. Once positioned in solar orbit closer to the Sun from Earth, Sentinel will look outwards in infrared to detect hundreds of thousands of as-yet unknown near-Earth objects over 140 meters in size. The privately-funded spacecraft is slated to launch in 2017-18 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

In addition to Lu, Space Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders will be speaking at the event, titled "Saving the Earth by Keeping Big Asteroids Away."

Read more on the B612 Foundation website.

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First Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found – Kepler-186f

First Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found – Kepler-186f | Amazing Science |
Five hundred light years from Earth, Kepler-186f orbits in the habitable zone of its red dwarf star.

A team of astrophysicists at the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center has just reached a major milestone in the search for life-supporting planets outside our solar system. For the first time, they have discovered an Earth-sized planet nestled in the temperate, liquid-water supporting distance from its star—the so-called habitable zone. 

"This is a historic discovery," says Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the research, "it's the best case for a habitable planet yet found." 

The planet, called Kepler-186f, lies 500 light years from Earth. Scientists discovered it using the now-defunct, Kepler telescope. Between 2009 and 2013 (before a mechanical failure crippled the $600 million planet-hunter) the Kepler telescope tracked roughly 150,000 stars in a small patch of sky, searching for stars that dim at regular intervals as planets pass in front of them. And despite the telescope's premature demise, astronomers still comb through the massive trove of publicly available data, which is how planets such as the one announced today continue to tumble out of the sky. 

The research team estimates that Kepler-186f is only about 10 percent larger than Earth. It orbits its star every 130 days, and inhabits the chillier end of its star's habitable zone. "The temperature on the planet is likely cool, similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day," Marcy says. 

Unlike Earth, Kepler-186f orbits a red dwarf star, one roughly half the size of our sun. Red dwarfs are the most abundant type of stars in the sky—cooler than our sun but more volatile during their early life. Because of Kepler-186f's vast distance from Earth, and the fact that the Kepler telescope's can reveal only the size and orbit of the planet, most of the other details about the planet remain murky at best.

"We can say it's probably rocky," says Tom Barclay, an astrophysicist with the NASA Ames Research Center team. "And because the planet is closer to its star, its days are likely much longer than those on Earth." As for the planet's atmosphere, composition, and whether it harbors liquid water, nobody can say. "And it's important to note that just because this planet is in the habitable zone—that it could support water—that doesn't mean that it is habitable," he says. 

Nonetheless, the fact that the planet's size and distance from its star are right for life (as we know it) has many researchers excited. 

"For literally thousands of years people have wondered: Are there planets like Earth out there?" says Jeff Coughlin, a SETI astronomer with the research team. "And although we've started to find over the years that yes, planets are out there and are quite common, most of them have been rather large gas giants, much like Jupiter. We still haven't found a definitive Earth analogue—a planet with the right size and right temperature. But we are now getting close." 

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Fertility mystery solved: Juno protein discovered that joins sperm with eggs

Fertility mystery solved: Juno protein discovered that joins sperm with eggs | Amazing Science |

British scientists' identification of Juno molecule opens door to new developments in fertility treatment and contraception.

A fundamental key to fertility has been uncovered by British scientists with the discovery of an elusive protein that allows eggs and sperm to join together. The molecule – named Juno after the Roman goddess of fertility – sits on the egg surface and binds with a male partner on a fertilising sperm cell.

Japanese researchers identified the sperm protein in 2005, sparking a decade-long hunt for its "mate". Understanding the process by which the molecules interact opens the door to new developments in fertility treatment and contraception.

"We have solved a long-standing mystery in biology by identifying the molecules displayed on all sperm and egg that must bind each other at the moment we were conceived," said lead researcher Dr Gavin Wright, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.

"Without this essential interaction, fertilisation just cannot happen. We may be able to use this discovery to improve fertility treatments and develop new contraceptives."

The Sanger Institute team first created an artificial version of the sperm protein, called Izumo1 after a Japanese marriage shrine.

This was then used to search for binding partners on the surface of the egg. A single protein, Juno, was identified as Izumo1's "other half".

Juno's importance to fertility was revealed by female laboratory mice engineered to produce eggs lacking the molecule.

All the animals were infertile, their eggs incapable of fusing with normal sperm. Male mice missing Izumo1 were also unable to conceive, highlighting this protein's role in male fertility.

The research, reported in the journal Nature, also suggests that Juno plays a role in preventing additional sperm fusing with an already fertilized egg. 

After the initial binding of sperm and egg, Juno bows out, becoming virtually undetectable after 40 minutes, the scientists found.

This may help explain why as soon as an egg is fertilised by one sperm cell it puts up a barrier against others.

Fertilisation involving more than one sperm would lead to the formation of abnormal doomed embryos with too many chromosomes.

Juno belongs to a family of "folate receptor" proteins, but unlike its brethren is unable to bind to folic acid. The researchers looked at three folate receptors, and found that only Juno interacted with Izumo1.

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Black holes, fate of quantum information, and optimal quantum cloning machines

Black holes, fate of quantum information, and optimal quantum cloning machines | Amazing Science |

The fate of classical information incident on a quantum black hole has been the subject of an ongoing controversy in theoretical physics, because a calculation within the framework of semi-classical curved-space quantum field theory appears to show that the incident information is irretrievably lost, in contradiction to time-honored principles such as time-reversibility and unitarity. Within this framework embedded in quantum communication theory that signaling from past to future infinity in the presence of a Schwarzschild black hole can occur with arbitrary accuracy, and thus that classical information is not lost in black hole dynamics. The calculation relies on a treatment that is manifestly unitary from the outset, where probability conservation is guaranteed because black holes stimulate the emission of radiation in response to infalling matter. This stimulated radiation is non-thermal, and contains all of the information about the infalling matter, while Hawking radiation contains none of it.

Lenny Susskind writes in his book "The Black Hole War" that he proposed (in front of Sid Coleman and Stephen Hawking) that the problem would be solved if "the region just outside the horizon is occupied by a lot of tiny invisible Xerox machines" [6, p. 227]. But he then immediately retreated from this idea, because he thought it would violate the no-cloning theorem (Which we now know it does not)Susskind later revived the idea in his "black hole complementarity" proposal, claiming that somehow information would both fall into the black hole and be reflected at the horizon, but that the no-cloning theorem would not be violated because nobody would ever know (as you can't make an experiment both inside and outside of the black hole). This idea is based on a profound misunderstanding of quantum cloning, and in particular its relation to stimulated emission of radiation.

Further reading

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Deadly H5N1 bird flu needs just 5 mutations to spread easily among people

Deadly H5N1 bird flu needs just 5 mutations to spread easily among people | Amazing Science |

It’s a flu virus so deadly that scientists once halted research on the disease because governments feared it might be used by terrorists to stage a biological attack.

Yet despite the fact that the H5N1 avian influenza has killed 60% of the 650 humans known to be infected since it was identified in Hong Kong 17 years ago, the “bird flu” virus has yet to evolve a means of spreading easily among people.

Now Dutch researchers have found that the virus needs only five favorable gene mutations to become transmissible through coughing or sneezing, like regular flu viruses.

World health officials have long feared that the H5N1 virus will someday evolve a knack for airborne transmission, setting off a devastating pandemic. While the new study suggests the mutations needed are relatively few, it remains unclear whether they’re likely to happen outside the laboratory.

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A new self-healing chemistry for plastics

A new self-healing chemistry for plastics | Amazing Science |

Scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) andEvonik Industries have developed a self-healing chemistry that allows for rapid healing of a plastic material using mild heating, restoring its initial molecular structure. It is based on a reversible chemical crosslinking reaction.

  • The reaction happens at temperatures from 50°C (122°F) to 120°C (248°F).
  • The material can be restored completely in less than 5 minutes, and is bound even more strongly than before.
  • Flowability is enhanced at higher temperatures, so the material can also be molded.
  • The self-healing properties can be transferred to a variety of plastics, including fiber-reinforced plastics components for automotive vehicles and aircraft.
  • Healing is also possible for material with scratches.

The research results were published in the journal Advanced Materials. Research partners were the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research, Dresden, and the Australian National University, Canberra.

* The material uses a new low-temperature reversible system based on covalent chemistry, using “hetero Diels–Alder (HDA)” reactions via a new cyanodithioester compound with cyclopentadiene.

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OSIRIS-REx: Mission to asteroid Bennu to map its surface and return a sample to Earth

OSIRIS-REx: Mission to asteroid Bennu to map its surface and return a sample to Earth | Amazing Science |

Bennu (the asteroid formerly known as “1999 RQ36”) is a time capsule from 4.5 billion years ago. A pristine, carbonaceous asteroid containing the original material from the solar nebula, from which our Solar System formed.

This is the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth, addressing multiple NASA Solar System Exploration objectives to understand not just the origin of the Solar System, but the origin of water and organic material on Earth.

Key OSIRIS-REx science objectives include:

  • Return and analyze a sample
  • Create maps of the asteroid
  • Document the sample site
  • Measure the orbit deviation caused by non-gravitational forces
  • Compare observations at the asteroid to ground-based observations

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will launch from Earth and travel for nearly two years to the asteroid Bennu. Upon arrival, OSIRIS-REx will map the total surface, creating a detailed shape model of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx will also measure the magnitude of the Yarkovsky effect, a factor in the orbits of asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth. The craft will then approach — not land upon — Bennu, and extend a robotic arm to obtain a sample of pristine surface material (at least 60 grams or 2.1 ounces).

Returning to Earth in a Sample Return Capsule, a proven model originally used during the NASA Stardust mission, the material will then be studied by scientists at the NASA Johnson Space Center and from around the world for clues about the composition of the very early Solar System, the source of what may have made life possible on Earth. The data collected at the asteroid will aid our understanding of asteroids that pose an impact hazard to Earth, and the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be a pathfinder for future spacecraft that perform reconnaissance on any newly-discovered threatening objects.

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NASA to conduct unprecedented twin experiment in space

NASA to conduct unprecedented twin experiment in space | Amazing Science |
Consider a pair of brothers, identical twins. One gets a job as an astronaut and rockets into space. The other gets a job as an astronaut, too, but on this occasion he decides to stay home. After a year in space, the traveling twin returns home and they reunite.

Are the identical twins still identical? NASA is about to find out.

In March of 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will join cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko on a one-year mission to the International Space Station. Their lengthy stay aims to explore the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.

The interesting thing about Scott is, he's a twin. His brother Mark is also an astronaut, now retired. While Scott, the test subject, spends one year circling Earth at 17,000 mph, Mark will remain behind as a control.

"We will be taking samples and making measurements of the twins before, during, and after the one-year mission," says Craig Kundrot of NASA's Human Research Program at the Johnson Space Center. "For the first time, we'll be able two individuals who are genetically identical."

NASA's study won't test the flow of time. The ISS would have to approach the speed of light for relativistic effects to kick in. Just about everything else is covered, though. NASA's Human Research Program recently announced the selection of 10 research proposals to study the twins' genetics, biochemistry, vision, cognition and much more.

A few examples to give the flavor of the research: "We already know that the human immune system changes in space. It's not as strong as it is on the ground," explains Kundrot. "In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react."

Another experiment will look at telomeres—little molecular "caps" on the ends of human DNA. Here on Earth, the loss of telomeres has been linked to aging. In space, telomere loss could be accelerated by the action of cosmic rays. Comparing the twins' telomeres could tell researchers if space radiation is prematurely aging space travelers.

Meanwhile in the gut, says Kundrot, "there is a whole microbiome essential to human digestion. One of the experiments will study what space travel does to the inner bacteria which, by the way, outnumber human cells by 10-to-1."

Other proposals are equally fascinating. One seeks to discover why astronaut vision changes in space. "Sometimes, their old glasses from Earth don't work," notes Kundrot. Another will probe a phenomenon called "space fog"—a lack of alertness and slowing of mental gears reported by some astronauts in orbit.

"These will not be 10 individual studies," says Kundrot. "The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological. We'll be studying the entire astronaut."

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