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Radiocarbon Dating: Nature's Timepiece Gets a Tune-Up

Radiocarbon Dating: Nature's Timepiece Gets a Tune-Up | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It’s relatively easy for scientists to see the signature of droughts and other climate events in the prehistoric past by digging into underground or seafloor sediments, or drilling into ancient ice. In order to say exactly when these events happened, though, you need a reliable natural dating method, and even the best of these is flawed.

 

However, one of the most familiar of these timelines, known as radiocarbon dating, just got a lot more precise. According to a paper published in the journal Science, measurements from the bottom of Japan’s Lake Suigetsu have allowed scientists to improve the technique dramatically.

 

Now, thanks to those lake sediments, scientists can narrow that range down to just 10 years or less -- but only if the sample is between 11,000 and 53,000 years old. Younger and there hasn't been enough breakdown in the radioactive carbon. Older, and the lake's sediments don't go back that far.

This impressive achievement comes thanks to Lake Suigetsu’s calm waters, and also from the lucky fact that the plant matter that drifts into the water and sinks to the bottom is light-colored in winter and dark in summer. The result: alternating layers under the lake bottom that make it easy to identify every year, one after the other, going well back into the last Ice Age.

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Primates, Including Humans, Are the Most Violent Animals

Primates, Including Humans, Are the Most Violent Animals | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Why do humans kill each other? It's a question that has been posed for millennia. At least part of the answer may lie in the fact that humans have evolved from a particularly violent branch of the animal family tree, according to a new study.

 

From the seemingly lovable lemur to the crafty chimpanzeeand mighty gorilla, the mammalian order of primates — to which humans belong — kill within their own species nearly six times more often than the average mammal does, Spanish researchers found.

 

Whales rarely kill each other; the same goes for bats and rabbits. Some species of felines and canines occasionally kill others within their own species — for example, when sparring over territory or mates. Yet most primates use lethal violence with greater frequency than these other animal groups, sometimes even killing their fellow species members in organized raids.


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New theory explains how metals melt and freeze

New theory explains how metals melt and freeze | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have developed a new theory of freezing and melting of metals such as iron or copper.

 

The new results are published online, in the scientific journal Nature Communications. The scientists behind the new study hope that the theory will bring them closer to understanding how metals develop under the extreme pressure inside the Earth and how the fluid metals solidify as they lose heat to their surroundings and cool.

 

The new results show how the temperature at which a substance melts--the melting point--changes at higher pressure. “The melting temperature typically increases when we increase the pressure. For example iron melts at 1,538 degrees centigrade at one atmospheres pressure. But at the high pressure of the Earth’s core, iron first melts at more than 5,000 degrees,” says lead author Ulf Rørbæk Pedersen, from Roskilde University, Denmark.

 

“The questions is, how melting and freezing phenomena changes as the pressure increases. An interesting suggestion is Lindemann’s theory from 1910,” says Pedersen.

 

When you heat up a crystal, the molecules start to move around as they vibrate around their positions within the crystal. Lindemann suggests that at some point the vibrations become so violent that the crystal simply breaks down and melts.

 

“Now for the first time, we can understand how big the vibrations need to be before the crystal melts and that depends on the pressure, which is the opposite of what Lindemann thought,” says Pedersen.

 

The physicists can now predict how quickly the fluid melts when the melting point is reached and conversely, how quickly the atoms organize themselves when the substance begins to crystallize.


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Global warming set to pass 2˚C threshold in 2050

Global warming set to pass 2˚C threshold in 2050 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Earth is on track to sail past the two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) threshold for dangerous global warming by 2050, seven of the world's top climate scientists warned Thursday.

 

"Climate change is happening now, and much faster than anticipated," said Sir Robert Watson, former head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the body charged with distilling climate science for policy makers.

 

Since 1990, devastating weather-related events—floods, drought, more intense storms, heat waves and wild fires—due to climate change have doubled in number, Watson and the other scientists said in a report.

 

"Without additional efforts by all major emitters (of greenhouse gases), the 2C target could be reached even sooner," he told journalists in a phone briefing.

 

The planet has already heated up 1.0 C (1.8 F) above the pre-industrial benchmark, and could see its first year at 1.5 C within a decade, scientists reported at a conference in Oxford last week.

 

The Paris Agreement, inked by 195 nations in December, set an even more ambitious target, vowing to cap warming at "well under" 2C, and even 1.5C if possible. The pact will likely enter into force by the end of year, record speed for an international treaty.



Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-09-global-2c-threshold.html#jCp

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IBM announces AI-powered decision-making for many industries

IBM announces AI-powered decision-making for many industries | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

IBM announced recently the Watson-based “Project DataWorks,” the first cloud-based data and analytics platform to integrate all types of data and enable AI-powered decision-making.

 

Project DataWorks is designed to make it simple for business leaders and data professionals to collect, organize, govern, and secure data, and become a “cognitive business.”

 

Achieving data insights is increasingly complex, and most of this work is done by highly skilled data professionals who work in silos with disconnected tools and data services that may be difficult to manage, integrate, and govern, says IBM. Businesses must also continually iterate their data models and products — often manually — to benefit from the most relevant, up-to-date insights.

 

IBM says Project DataWorks can help businesses break down these barriers by connecting all data and insights for their users into an integrated, self-service platform.

 

Available on Bluemix, IBM’s Cloud platform, Project DataWorks is designed to help organizations:

  • Automate the deployment of data assets and products using cognitive-based machine learning and Apache Spark;
  • Ingest data faster than any other data platform, from 50 to hundreds of Gbps, and all endpoints: enterprise databases, Internet of Things, weather, and social media;
  • Leverage an open ecosystem of more than 20 partners and technologies, such as Confluent, Continuum Analytics, Galvanize, Alation, NumFOCUS, RStudio, Skymind, and more.

 

More other partnerships will be announced soon.

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C2c2 is a single-component programmable RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR effector

C2c2 is a single-component programmable RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR effector | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system defends microbes against foreign genetic elements via DNA or RNA-DNA interference. A group of scientists now characterize the Class 2 type VI-A CRISPR-Cas effector C2c2 and demonstrate its RNA-guided RNase function. C2c2 from the bacterium Leptotrichia shahii provides interference against RNA phage. In vitro biochemical analysis show that C2c2 is guided by a single crRNA and can be programmed to cleave ssRNA targets carrying complementary protospacers. In bacteria, C2c2 can be programmed to knock down specific mRNAs. Cleavage is mediated by catalytic residues in the two conserved HEPN domains, mutations in which generate catalytically inactive RNA-binding proteins. These results broaden the understanding of CRISPR-Cas systems and suggest that C2c2 can be used to develop new RNA-targeting tools.

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ALMA Explores the Golden Age of Galaxy Formation - about 10 Billion Years Ago

ALMA Explores the Golden Age of Galaxy Formation - about 10 Billion Years Ago | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

International teams of astronomers have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to explore the distant corner of the Universe first revealed in the iconic images of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). These new ALMA observations are significantly deeper and sharper than previous surveys at millimetre wavelengths. They clearly show how the rate of star formation in young galaxies is closely related to their total mass in stars. They also trace the previously unknown abundance of star-forming gas at different points in time, providing new insights into the “Golden Age” of galaxy formation approximately 10 billion years ago.

 

The new ALMA results will be published in a series of papers appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. These results are also among those being presented this week at the Half a Decade of ALMA conference in Palm Springs, California, USA.

 

In 2004 the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images — pioneering deep-field observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — were published. These spectacular pictures probed more deeply than ever before and revealed a menagerie of galaxies stretching back to less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The area was observed several times by Hubble and many other telescopes, resulting in the deepest view of the Universe to date.

 

Astronomers using ALMA have now surveyed this seemingly unremarkable, but heavily studied, window into the distant Universe for the first time both deeply and sharply in the millimetre range of wavelengths [1]. This allows them to see the faint glow from gas clouds and also the emission from warm dust in galaxies in the early Universe.

 

ALMA has observed the HUDF for a total of around 50 hours up to now. This is the largest amount of ALMA observing time spent on one area of the sky so far.

 

One team led by Jim Dunlop (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom) used ALMA to obtain the first deep, homogeneous ALMA image of a region as large as the HUDF. This data allowed them to clearly match up the galaxies that they detected with objects already seen with Hubble and other facilities.

 

This study showed clearly for the first time that the stellar mass of a galaxy is the best predictor of star formation rate in the high redshift Universe. They detected essentially all of the high-mass galaxies [2] and virtually nothing else.

 

Jim Dunlop, lead author on the deep imaging paper sums up its importance: “This is a breakthrough result. For the first time we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant Universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimetre views of the Universe from ALMA.

 

The second team, led by Manuel Aravena of the Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile, and Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, conducted a deeper search across about one sixth of the total HUDF [3].

 

We conducted the first fully blind, three-dimensional search for cool gas in the early Universe,” said Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico, USA and member of the research team. “Through this, we discovered a population of galaxies that is not clearly evident in any other deep surveys of the sky.[4]

 

Some of the new ALMA observations were specifically tailored to detect galaxies that are rich in carbon monoxide, indicating regions primed for star formation. Even though these molecular gas reservoirs give rise to the star formation activity in galaxies, they are often very hard to see with Hubble. ALMA can therefore reveal the “missing half” of the galaxy formation and evolution process.

 

"The new ALMA results imply a rapidly rising gas content in galaxies as we look back further in time,” adds lead author of two of the papers, Manuel Aravena (Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile). “This increasing gas content is likely the root cause for the remarkable increase in star formation rates during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, some 10 billion years ago.

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In 10 Years on Mars? Elon Musk Reveals His Plan for Colonizing Mars

 

It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but there are many people who think Mars will be the next frontier for human life.

 

One of the highest profile believers, billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, revealed an ambitious plan on Tuesday, to start colonizing the Red Planet in the next 10 years.

 

Musk, who operates electric car company Tesla Motors, is also the founder and lead designer of aerospace company SpaceX, which is now focused on satellite deliveries and unmanned cargo runs to the International Space Station. But, the company is also working on an unmanned Dragon capsule launch for Mars in 2018.

 

Elon Musk wants a ticket to Mars to cost less than $200,000. It’s an ambitious goal, but then so is establishing a viable human presence on the Red Planet.

 

On Sept. 27, the SpaceX CEO laid out his blueprint for putting a colony on Mars, which he says would need at least a million people to become self-sustaining. It’s a milestone he says would be feasible within 40 to 100 years from today. Musk imagines fleets of hundreds of ships leaving Earth every few years, when the two planets are at their closest.

 

The timeline and the scale may sound ludicrous, but the point of the discussion—and SpaceX itself—is to “make Mars seem possible. Make it seem as though it is something we can do in our lifetimes.”

 

Speaking to a crowd of space fans at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk framed the challenge as one of ensuring the survival of the human species. “History suggests there will be some doomsday event,” he said. “The alternative is to become a space-going civilization and a multi-planet species.”

 

But he has motivations beyond saving the human race. “[T]he argument I actually find most compelling is that it would be an incredible adventure. I think it would be the most inspiring thing that I could possibly imagine. Life needs to be more than just solving problems every day. You need to wake up and be excited about the future.”

 

Musk estimated that the first spacecraft could be ready in four years, but he noted that when it comes to timelines, “I’m not the best at this sort of thing.” (His Falcon Heavy rocket is still years behind schedule, and his electric car company, Tesla, has been similarly prone to missing deadlines.)

 

Part of the solution is scaling up his current rocket technology. Musk showed off a huge, carbon fiber tank the company has built to contain propellant for the rocket that would take people to Mars, and earlier this week he tweeted out the news of the successful test-firing of its engine.

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Air Pollution: The Multi Billion Dollar Damage

Air Pollution: The Multi Billion Dollar Damage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The World Bank has released a new report highlighting the fact that air pollution costs world governments billions upon billions every year and ranks among the leading causes of death worldwide. The estimates — drawn from a number of sources, including the World Health Organization’s most recently completed data sets compiled in 2013 — can for the first time begin to examine the overall welfare cost of air pollution.

 

Specifically, researches studied the amount of money that world governments must spend on health emergencies, long term illnesses and chronic conditions caused by air pollution. They also took into account missed work and unemployment subsidies. The report finds that, in terms of the economy, the burden is extremely high.

 

To be sure, some countries come out of this analysis relatively well off. For example, Iceland only loses $3 million of its gross domestic product to air pollution. Given that the country has a relatively small population and a slight industrial profile, that’s probably not that surprising though.

 

Other countries, like Liberia, performed relatively well despite their low levels of economic development. Several African nations also have low overall air pollution impact costs. Despite mid-to-high populations, infrastructure is comparatively low density in places like Malawi and Zimbabwe, so perhaps this isn’t that surprising either.

 

It’s when we get to rapidly developing and “developed” nations that the costs really start to mount up. For example, the United States is estimated to lose $45 billion every year due to air pollution, while the UK loses $7.6 billion annually. Germany comes in at $18 billion, though it will be interesting to see how the country’s renewable energy strategy might alter that figure over the coming years.

 

China, one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world, is estimated to be losing a staggering 10 percent of its overall GDP, while India is not far behind at roughly eight percent.

Financial losses will, however, seem trivial when we look at the potential human cost of air pollution.

 

The World Bank estimates that global air pollution kills roughly five and a half million people every year, or to put that another way: it will kill one out of every ten people worldwide.

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The Incredible Shrinking Mercury is Tectonically Active After All

The Incredible Shrinking Mercury is Tectonically Active After All | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Images obtained by NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps— cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought. The findings are reported in a paper in the October issue of Nature Geoscience.

 

“The young age of the small scarps means that Mercury joins Earth as a tectonically active planet, with new faults likely forming today as Mercury’s interior continues to cool and the planet contracts,” said lead author Tom Watters, Smithsonian senior scientist at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

 

Large fault scarps on Mercury were first discovered in the flybys of Mariner 10 in the mid-1970s and confirmed by MESSENGER, which found the planet closest to the sun was shrinking. The large scarps were formed as Mercury’s interior cooled, causing the planet to contract and the crust to break and thrust upward along faults making cliffs up to hundreds of miles long and some more than a mile (over one-and-a-half kilometers) high.

 

In the last 18 months of the MESSENGER mission, the spacecraft’s altitude was lowered, which allowed the surface of Mercury to be seen at much higher resolution. These low-altitude images revealed small fault scarps that are orders of magnitude smaller than the larger scarps. The small scarps had to be very young, investigators say, to survive the steady bombardment of meteoroids and comets. They are comparable in scale to small, young lunar scarps that are evidence Earth’s moon is also shrinking.

 

This active faulting is consistent with the recent finding that Mercury’s global magnetic field has existed for billions of years and with the slow cooling of Mercury’s still hot outer core.  It’s likely that the smallest of the terrestrial planets also experiences Mercury-quakes—something that may one day be confirmed by seismometers.

 

“This is why we explore,” said NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “For years, scientists believed that Mercury’s tectonic activity was in the distant past. It’s exciting to consider that this small planet – not much larger than Earth’s moon – is active even today.”    

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A mighty salty ocean could lurk beneath Pluto's icy heart

A mighty salty ocean could lurk beneath Pluto's icy heart | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A salty ocean more than 100 kilometers deep might lurk beneath Pluto’s icy heart, a new study suggests. The buried reservoir could have helped tip the dwarf planet over at some point in its past, bringing the heart-shaped region in line with gravitational forces from Charon, Pluto’s largest moon.

 

A subsurface ocean isn’t a new idea; researchers proposed the possibility in March to explain the alignment between Charon and Sputnik Planum — the frozen impact basin that forms the left side of Pluto’s heart. Brandon Johnson, a planetary scientist at Brown University, and colleagues ran computer simulations to estimate the thickness of the putative sea. They report their results online September 19, 2016, in Geophysical Research Letters

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Drilling at Unfathomable Alien Landscapes - All in a Sols (Day’s) Work for Curiosity

Drilling at Unfathomable Alien Landscapes - All in a Sols (Day’s) Work for Curiosity | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Our beyond magnificent Curiosity rover has just finished her latest Red Planet drilling campaign – at the rock target called “Quela” – into the simply unfathomable alien landscapes she is currently exploring at the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp. And it’s all in a Sols (or Martian Day’s) work for our intrepid Curiosity!

 

“These images are literally out of this world.. I don’t think I have seen anything like them on Earth!” Jim Green, Planetary Sciences Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., explained. The “Murray Buttes” region is just chock full of the most stunning panoramic vistas that NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover has come upon to date. Observe and enjoy them in our exclusive new photo mosaics above and below.

 

“We always try to find some sort of Earth analog but these make exploring another world all worth it!” Green gushed in glee. They fill the latest incredible chapter in her thus far four year long quest to trek many miles (km) from the Bradbury landing site across the floor of Gale Crater to reach the base region of humongous Mount Sharp.

 

And these adventures are just a prelude to the even more glorious vistas she’ll investigate from now on – as she climbs higher and higher on an expedition to thoroughly examine the mountains sedimentary layers and unravel billions and billions of years of Mars geologic and climatic history.

 

Drilling holes into Mars during the Red Planet trek and carefully analyzing the pulverized samples with the rovers pair of miniaturized chemistry laboratories (SAM and CheMin) is the route to the answer of how and why Mars changed from a warmer and wetter planet in the ancient past to the cold, dry and desolate world we see today.

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Researchers restore first ever computer music recording

Researchers restore first ever computer music recording | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The first recording of computer-generated music, created in 1951 on a gigantic contraption built by British genius Alan Turing, is restored by New Zealand researchers.

 

The two-minute recording features short snippets of the tunes rendered in a slightly grating drone, like electronic bagpipes.

There are also a number of glitches and when the music halts during the Glenn Miller number, a presenter comments: "The machine's obviously not in the mood.

 

While Turing programmed the first musical notes into a computer, he had little interest in stringing them together into tunes. That work was carried out by a school teacher named Christopher Strachey, who went on to become a renowned computer scientist in his own right.

 

Strachey recalled that Turing's taciturn response upon hearing his machine play music was "good show".

 

Turing was a computer scientist, philosopher and cryptologist who played a crucial role in breaking the Nazis' Enigma Code.

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Random DNA + high-tech math = ‘universal microbial diagnostic’

Random DNA + high-tech math = ‘universal microbial diagnostic’ | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Rice University scientists have invented a technology that could potentially identify hundreds of bacterial pathogens simply, quickly and at low cost using a single set of random DNA probes. Rice’s “universal microbial diagnostic,” or UMD, uses pieces of randomly assembled DNA and mathematical techniques that were originally pioneered for signal processors inside digital phones and cameras.

 

In a paper online this week in Science Advances, Rice’s research team used lab tests to verify that UMD could identify 11 known strains of bacteria using the same five random DNA probes. Because the probes are not specific to a particular disease, the technology provides a genomic-based bacterial identification system that does not require a one-to-one ratio of DNA probes to pathogenic species.

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Researchers discover more efficient way to split water, produce hydrogen

Researchers discover more efficient way to split water, produce hydrogen | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Hydrogen is often considered a fuel for the future, in the form of fuel cells to power electric motors or burned in internal combustion engines. But finding a practical, inexpensive and nontoxic way to produce large amounts of hydrogen gas – especially by splitting water into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen – has been a challenge.

A team of researchers from the University of Houston and the California Institute of Technology has reported a more efficient catalyst, using molybdenum sulfoselenide particles on three-dimensional porous nickel diselenide foam to increase catalytic activity. The foam, made using commercially available nickel foam, significantly improved catalytic performance because it exposed more edge sites, where catalytic activity is higher than it is on flat surfaces, said Zhifeng Ren, MD Anderson Professor of physics at UH.

 

Ren is lead author of a paper in Nature Communications describing the discovery. Other researchers involved include Haiqing Zhou, Fang Yu, Jingying Sun, Ran He, Shuo Chen, Jiming Bao and Zhuan Zhu, all of UH, and Yufeng Huang, Robert J. Nielsen and William A. Goddard III of the California Institute of Technology. "With the massive consumption of fossil fuels and its detrimental impact on the environment, methods of generating clean power are urgent," the researchers wrote. "Hydrogen is an ideal carrier for renewable energy; however, hydrogen generation is inefficient because of the lack of robust catalysts that are substantially cheaper than platinum."

 

Platinum catalysts have the highest efficiency rate for hydrogen evolution, said Ren, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity. But platinum is rare, difficult to extract and too expensive for practical use, he said, and researchers continue to seek less expensive ways to split water into its component parts. Currently, most hydrogen is produced through steam methane reforming and coal gasification; those methods raise the fuel's carbon footprint despite the fact that it burns cleanly.

 

Molybdenum sulfoselenide and similar layered compounds have shown promise as catalysts, but so far no one has boosted their performance to viable levels in bulk form. The researchers say most active catalysis on those layered compounds, known as layered transition-metal dichalcogenides, or LTMDs, takes place at the edges, making the idea of a substrate with a large number of exposed edges more desirable. Also, they wrote, "arranging two different materials into hybrids might lead to synergistic effects that utilize the best properties of each component."

 

Their hybrid catalyst is composed of molybdenum sulfoselenide particles with vertically aligned layers on a 3-D porous conductive nickel diselenide scaffold. Testing determined that the hybrid catalyst required 69 millivolts from an external energy source to achieve a current density of 10 milliamps per square centimeter, which the researchers said is much better than many previously reported tests. In this case, the current "splits" the water, converting it to hydrogen at the cathode. Achieving the necessary current density with lower voltage improves energy conversion efficiency and reduces preparation costs.

 

A platinum catalyst required 32 millivolts in the testing, but Ren said ongoing testing has reduced the hybrid catalyst requirements to about 40 millivolts, close to the platinum requirements. Equally important, he said, was the ability to increase current output at a faster rate than the increase in required energy input. The catalyst remained stable after 1,000 cycles at a constant current.


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Shape-programmable miniscule robots

Shape-programmable miniscule robots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

One day, microrobots may be able to swim through the human body like sperm or paramecia to carry out medical functions in specific locations. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have developed functional elastomers, which can be activated by magnetic fields to imitate the swimming gaits of natural flagella, cilia and jellyfish. Using a specially developed computer algorithm, the researchers can now automatically generate the optimal magnetic conditions for each gait for the first time. According to the Stuttgart-based scientists, other applications for this shape-programming technology include numerous other micro-scale engineering applications, in which chemical and physical processes are implemented on a miniscule scale.

A sperm is equipped with a flagellum (tail-like extension), which can beat constantly back and forth to propel the sperm towards an egg. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have now enabled an extremely thin strip of silicone rubber, which is just a few millimetres in length, to achieve a very similar swimming pattern. To do this, they embedded magnetizable neodymium-iron-boron particles into an elastic silicone rubber and subsequently magnetized this elastomer in a controlled way. Once the elastomer is placed under a specified magnetic field, the scientists were then able to control the elastomer's shape, making it beat back and forth in a wave-like fashion.

 

The scientists also succeeded in imitating the complex rowing movement of a cilium in a very similar way. Cilia are extremely fine hairs found on the surface of paramecia – they propel the organisms forward by using highly complex rowing strokes. The researchers also constructed an artificial jellyfish that has two soft tentacles, which have been programmed to carry out rowing-like swimming movements.

 

The crucial factor behind all of these movement processes is that different areas of the elastomer can react differently to an external magnetic field: some zones have to be attracted and others repelled. Otherwise, the elastomer would not be able to reshape into a wave or begin to roll up at its ends.

 

In order to enable different magnetic response along the elastomer, the researchers leveraged two key ideas: "Firstly, we varied the density of the magnetizable particles along the elastomer and secondly we also controlled the magnetization orientation of these particles," explains Guo Zhan Lum, a scientist in the Department of Physical Intelligence at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart.


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Iron nanoparticles make immune cells attack cancer

Iron nanoparticles make immune cells attack cancer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Stanford researchers accidentally discovered that iron nanoparticles invented for anemia treatment have another use: triggering the immune system's ability to destroy tumor cells.

Iron nanoparticles can activate the immune system to attack cancer cells, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

 

The nanoparticles, which are commercially available as the injectable iron supplement ferumoxytol, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat iron deficiency anemia.

 

The mouse study found that ferumoxytol prompts immune cells called tumor-associated macrophages to destroy cancer cells, suggesting that the nanoparticles could complement existing cancer treatments. The discovery, described in a paper published online Sept. 26 in Nature Nanotechnology, was made by accident while testing whether the nanoparticles could serve as Trojan horses by sneaking chemotherapy into tumors in mice.

 

"It was really surprising to us that the nanoparticles activated macrophages so that they started to attack cancer cells in mice," said Heike Daldrup-Link, MD, who is the study's senior author and an associate professor of radiology at the School of Medicine. "We think this concept should hold in human patients, too."

 

Daldrup-Link's team conducted an experiment that used three groups of mice: an experimental group that got nanoparticles loaded with chemo, a control group that got nanoparticles without chemo and a control group that got neither. The researchers made the unexpected observation that the growth of the tumors in control animals that got nanoparticles only was suppressed compared with the other controls.

 

The researchers conducted a series of follow-up tests to characterize what was happening. Experimenting with cells in a dish, they showed that immune cells called tumor-associated macrophages were required for the nanoparticles' anti-cancer activity; in cell cultures without macrophages, the iron nanoparticles had no effect against cancer cells.


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Genome analysis shows how a flowering plant re-adapted to submerged saltwater living

Genome analysis shows how a flowering plant re-adapted to submerged saltwater living | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina to gain insight into how the flowering plant re-adapted to saltwater living. As the team led by Thorsten Reusch at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research-Kiel and Yves Van de Peer from Ghent University reported today in Nature, the Z. marina genome lost a number of genes that are integral for other angiosperms. At the same time, it regained functions that other flowering plants have lost.

 

Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that have returned to a marine environment and they are found throughout the temperate northern hemisphere in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There, they form underwater meadows in which a great number of species live, including sea otters, halibut, and clams, noted Susan Williams from the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, in a related Nature commentary.

 

But these environments are threatened, the researchers noted. "All this makes seagrass interesting for the study of the relationship between the complex gene networks affecting temperature tolerance, like climate warming, and the mechanisms of salt tolerance through osmoregulation," said first author Jeanine Olsen, a professor of marine biology at the University of Groningen, in a statement.

 

She and her colleagues collected Z. marina, also known as eelgrass, from the Archipelago Sea, southwest of Finland, for sequencing. Using a combination of fosmid-ends and whole-genome shotgun approaches, they generated a 202.3-megabase Z. marina genome that encodes some 20,450 protein-coding genes. Nearly 87 percent of those protein-coding genes are supported by transcriptomic data, they noted.

 

Based on an analysis of synonymous substitution, the researchers reported that the Z. marina genome harbors echoes of an ancient whole-genome duplication event that they estimated took place between 72 million years and 64 million years ago —after the divergence of Zostera and the freshwater duckweed Spirodela some 135 million and 107 million years ago. This, they said, indicates a duplication event that's independent from the two reported in Spirodela.

 

The researchers also noted transposable element activity in the Z. marinagenome and that genes gained by eelgrass tended to be closer to such elements than conserved genes.

 

Olsen and her colleagues then mapped those gains and losses of gene families onto a phylogenetic tree. While the researchers found that Zosteraand Spirodela share a number of genes, the Zostera genome has lost a number of genes linked to its saltwater home.

 

For instance, it has lost all genes involved in stomatal differentiation. In land plants, stomatas on leaves are a key structure that enables them to regulate gas exchange and prevent water loss. These pores, added Bodega's Williams, aren't essential in seagrass as they don't contend as much with moisture loss and instead absorb gasses directly through their outer cell layers.

 

The Zostera genome has also lost genes involved in volatile synthesis and sensing pathways, including ethylene sensing, and in UV damage response. Volatile compound sensing is a defense mechanism against insects, which seagrass doesn't have to contend with as much, while UV-induced damage is also less of an issue in seagrass' dimly lit submarine environment.

At the same time, the Zostera genome has gained genes that enable it to adapt to its environment.

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Babies make copies of maternal immune cells acquired through the mother's milk

Babies make copies of maternal immune cells acquired through the mother's milk | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have long understood that mother’s milk provides immune protection against some infectious agents through the transfer of antibodies, a process referred to as “passive immunity.”

 

A research team at the University of California, Riverside now shows that mother’s milk also contributes to the development of the baby’s own immune system by a process the team calls “maternal educational immunity.”

 

Specific maternal immune cells in the milk cross the wall of the baby’s intestine to enter an immune organ called the thymus. Once there, they “educate” developing cells to attack the same infectious organisms to which the mother has been exposed.

 

The research, which used mouse foster nursing models, has important implications for vaccinating newborn babies. The researchers show that you can vaccinate the mother and this results in vaccination of the baby through this process.

 

“It’s another way moms provide immune information to their babies,” said Ameae Walker, a professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine, who led the research. “It’s as though the mother is saying, ‘Look what I have seen in the environment that you need to be immune to as well.’  The replicas – the copies of the maternal immune cells that the baby makes – will provide immunity to the baby for life.”

 

The research results appear in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology

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Why Are Stars Emitting Light in Different Colors?

Why Are Stars Emitting Light in Different Colors? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Like everything else in the Universe, stars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and colors, and three of which are interconnected.

 

The wavelength at which a star emits the most light is called the star’s “peak wavelength” (which known as Wien’s Law), which is the peak of its Planck curve. However, how that light appears to the human eye is also mitigated by the contributions of the other parts of its Planck curve.

 

In short, when the various colors of the spectrum are combined, they appear white to the naked eye. This will make the apparent color of the star appear lighter than where star’s peak wavelength falls on the color spectrum. Consider our Sun. Despite the fact that its peak emission wavelength corresponds to the green part of the spectrum, its color appears pale yellow.

 

A star’s composition is the result of its formation history. Ever star is born of a nebula made up of gas and dust, and each one is different. While nebulas in the interstellar medium are largely composed of hydrogen, which is the main fuel for star creation, they also carry other elements. The overall mass of the nebula, as well as the various elements that make it up, determine what kind of star will result.

 

The change in color these elements add to stars is not very obvious, but can be studied thanks to the method known as spectroanalysis. By examining the various wavelengths a star produces using a spectrometer, scientists are able to determine what elements are being burned inside.

 

The other major factor effecting a star’s color is its temperature. As stars increase in heat, the overall radiated energy increases, and the peak of the curve moves to shorter wavelengths. In other words, as a star becomes hotter, the light it emits is pushed further and further towards the blue end of the spectrum. As stars grow colder, the situation is reversed (see picture).

 

A third and final factor that will effect what light a star appears to be emitting is known as the Doppler Effect. When it comes to sound, light, and other waves, the frequency can increase or decrease based on the distance between the source and the observer.

 

When it comes to astronomy, this effect causes the what is known as “redshift” and “blueshift” – where the visible light coming from a distant star is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum if it is moving away, and the blue end if it is moving closer.

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Europa

NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Europa | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.

 

The composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA’s Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity allowed for the features — rising over 100 miles (160 kilometers) above Europa’s icy surface — to be discerned. The water is believed to come from a subsurface ocean on Europa. The Hubble data were taken on January 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions.

 

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

 

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

 

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa’s surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.

 

The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa’s limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

 

The original goal of the team’s observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere. Using the same observing method that detects atmospheres around planets orbiting other stars, the team realized if there was water vapor venting from Europa’s surface, this observation would be an excellent way to see it.

“The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it,” Sparks explained. “If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter.”

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Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells

Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells. These biological building blocks could provide genetic information up to 50 times older than any DNA.

These proteins had been protected because they had been "entrapped" in surface minerals.

 

"The key thing here," said Prof Matthew Collins, from the University of York's department of archaeology, who led the research, "is that these proteins have been preserved for 3.8 million years in a very hot environment of equatorial Africa. "To date," he added, "DNA analysis from frozen sediments in the Arctic, for example, has been able to reach back to about 700,000 years ago, but human evolution left most of its traces in Africa and the higher temperature there takes its toll on preservation."

 

The researchers had speculated, though, that proteins might survive better if they were bound to solid surfaces, and so they tested that theory with the ancient eggshells, collected from well studied sites in Tanzania and South Africa. Fragments of ostrich eggshells are abundant in Africa, and often found at archaeological and palae-ontological sites. They were used by the earliest modern humans as raw materials for carrying water or even jewellery-making.

 

As well as extracting complete protein sequences from the shells, the team worked with colleagues from Sheffield University to develop a computer simulation that calculated that the protein sequences survived longer when they were stabilized by strong binding to the surface of minerals that made up hard shell.

While fragments of the amino acids that make up proteins have been found in much older fossils, the whole protein sequence contains much more valuable information.

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CRISPR inspires new tricks to edit genes

CRISPR inspires new tricks to edit genes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
CRISPR/Cas9 has been a rockstar gene-editing tool for just four years and it’s already being tweaked to do more things better.

 

So far CRISPR’s biggest impact has been felt in basic biology labs around the world. The inexpensive, easy-to-use gene editor has made it possible for researchers to delve into fundamental mysteries of life in ways that had been difficult or impossible.

 

Developmental biologist Robert Reed likens CRISPR to a computer mouse. “You can just point it at a place in the genome and you can do anything you want at that spot.”

Anything, that is, as long as it involves cutting DNA.

 

CRISPR/Cas9 in its original incarnation is a homing device (the CRISPR part) that guides molecular scissors (the Cas9 enzyme) to a target section of DNA. Together, they work as a genetic-engineering cruise missile that disables or repairs a gene, or inserts something new where it cuts.

 

Even with all the genetic feats the CRISPR/Cas9 system can do, “there were shortcomings. There were things we wanted to do better,” says MIT molecular biologist Feng Zhang, one of the first scientists to wield the molecular scissors. From his earliest report in 2013 of using CRISPR/Cas9 to cut genes in human and mouse cells, Zhang has described ways to make the system work more precisely and efficiently.

 

 

Turning CRISPR into a multitasker often starts with dulling the cutting-edge technology’s cutting edge. In many of its new adaptations, the “dead” Cas9 scissors can’t snip DNA. Broken scissors may sound useless, but scientists have upcycled them into chromosome painters, typo-correctors, gene activity stimulators and inhibitors and general genome tinkerers.

 

“The original Cas9 is like a Swiss army knife with only one application: It’s a knife,” says Gene Yeo, an RNA biologist at the University of California, San Diego. But Yeo and other researchers have bolted other proteins and chemicals to the dulled blades and transformed the knife into a multifunctional tool.

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Diagram captures microbes’ influence across species

Diagram captures microbes’ influence across species | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A network diagram of animal species shows that many microbes living in humans also make themselves at home in dogs, pigs and cattle.

 

At least 233 species of bacteria, viruses and more live on or inside both humans and dogs. That’s one finding from a study that matched animals with their known microbes and drew connections between species with similar microbial crews. The diagram below, published September 15 in Scientific Data, is a social network of species that resembles a vibrant tangle of yarn.

 

Each dot is an animal species; the creatures are clumped into colored groups such as light blue for fish and yellow for birds. Humans have the largest dot because they host at least 1,600 different microbes. The distance between dots and the lines connecting them indicate that many human microbes also reside in dogs, pigs and cattle.

Domesticated animals live beside humans, so the microbial overlap isn’t surprising, says study coauthor Maya Wardeh, a computational biologist at the University of Liverpool in England. Yet humans share microbes with fish and fall victim to Cryptosporidium fayeri, a diarrhea-inducing parasite that also infects the eastern gray kangaroo.

 

Wardeh and colleagues say that scientists can use the information to study how various diseases originate and jump between species.

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China Hunts for Scientific Glory, and even Aliens, With its New Telescope

China Hunts for Scientific Glory, and even Aliens, With its New Telescope | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The telescope, which officially began operating on Sunday in a majestic but poor part of Guizhou Province, embodies China’s ambitions as a scientific power.

 

When hundreds of engineers and builders began clambering up a jagged hill in southwestern China to assemble a giant telescope in a deep, bowl-shaped basin, poor villagers sometimes crept over the sheer slopes to glimpse the country’s latest technological wonder. “We’ve never seen anything like it, never imagined it,” said one villager, Huang Zhangrong, a sun-gnarled 66-year-old carpenter. “It’s a big circle, a big iron wok.”

 

The wok is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, and it officially began operating on Sunday, accompanied by jubilant national television coverage, after more than five years of construction. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, FAST for short, is intended to project China’s scientific ambitions deep into the universe, bringing back dramatic discoveries and honors like Nobel Prizes. Maybe even messages from aliens.

 

The telescope, which is in a majestic but impoverished part of Guizhou Province, embodies China’s plans to rise as a scientific power. The dish is made of 4,450 intricately positioned triangular panels and has a collecting area of 2.1 million square feet, equal to almost 450 basketball courts. At 1,640 feet in diameter, it will be roughly twice as sensitive as the world’s next-biggest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is 1,000 feet across.

 

The telescope will help China make “major advances and breakthroughs at the frontier of science,” President Xi Jinping of China said in acongratulatory message on Sunday. He called it China’s “eye in the sky.”

 

Astronomers will use the Guizhou telescope to map the shape and formation of the universe, relying on its large size and a mobile detector suspended above the dish to explore space more quickly, deeply and thoroughly than they can with smaller telescopes. The telescope cost $184 million, recent Chinese state news reports said, although that figure seems unduly modest, given the telescope’s size. To ensure the project remains undisturbed, the government is moving more than 9,000 people.

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World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians

World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa about 72,000 years ago.

 

It confirms modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia — a claim that has previously been the subject of debate.

 

Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago and arrived on supercontinent 'Sahul' around 50,000 years ago. By 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other, giving rise to great genetic diversity

 

And the genetic information also shows Aboriginal people living in desert conditions may have developed unique biological adaptations to survive the arid conditions.

 

The findings are contained in one of three papers published today in Nature that look at the dispersal of modern humans from our evolutionary birthplace in Africa to Europe, Asia and Oceania.

 

To date, academics have debated whether we all share the same ancestors from a single mass migration event, or that the dispersal took place in distinct waves at different times.

 

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