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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Advances in electron microscopy reveal secrets of HIV and other viruses

Advances in electron microscopy reveal secrets of HIV and other viruses | Amazing Science |

UC Davis researchers are getting a new look at the workings of HIV and other viruses thanks to new techniques in electron microscopy developed on campus. The envelope (or Env) protein of HIV is a key target for vaccine makers: it is a key component in RV144, an experimental vaccine that is so far the only candidate to show promise in clinical trials. Also called gp120, the Env protein associates with another protein called gp41 and three gp120/gp41 units associate to form the final trimeric structure. The gp120 trimer is the machine that allows HIV to enter and attack host cells.

Professor R. Holland Cheng’s laboratory at UC Davis has previously shown how the gp120 trimer can change its conformation like an opening flower. The new study, published in Nature Scientific Reports Nov. 14, shows that a variable loop, V2, is located at the bottom of the trimer where it helps to hold gp41 in place — and not at the top of the structure, as previously thought.

New visualization of the V2 variable loop of the HIV Env protein (red) puts it at the bottom of the structure. “This challenges the existing dogma concerning the architecture of HIV Env immunogen,” Cheng said.

Making a vaccine against HIV has always been difficult, at least partly because the proteins on the surface of the virus change so rapidly. Better understanding the structure of the gp120/Env trimer could help in finding less-variable areas of these proteins, not usually exposed to the immune system, which might be targets for a vaccine. 

A second pair of back-to-back papers from Cheng’s lab uses new techniques in electron microscopy to probe how some common viruses hijack normal cellular processes to enter cells. Cheng’s lab has pioneered techniques in cryoelectron microscopy. Traditionally electron microscopy has relied on coating or impregnating samples with heavy metal elements. Cryoelectron microscopy uses extremely low temperatures to freeze biological structures in place instead.

By taking multiple images from slightly different angles and reconstructing them with computers, Cheng has been able to produce three-dimensional images of viruses and virus proteins and particularly, virus-infected cells. However, because of the way electrons are scattered from samples, cryoelectron microscopes can only use a limited range of angles, creating a “missing wedge” in imaging infected cells. In one of the papers recently published in the journal PLOS One, Lassi Paavolainen and colleagues present a new statistical technique to reconstruct this missing data with no prior knowledge of the sample.

In the companion paper, Pan Soonsawad and colleagues applied the new technique to study the vesicles, or small bubbles that form inside cells when a picornavirus enters. The picornaviruses are a large group that includes the viruses that cause colds, gut infections, polio, hepatitis A and the recent outbreaks of contagious hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) spread in infants and children of younger age in U.S. this summer.

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IBM developing 150-petaflops supercomputer for national labs

IBM developing 150-petaflops supercomputer for national labs | Amazing Science |

IBM recently announced that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded IBM contracts valued at $325 million to develop and deliver “the world’s most advanced ‘data-centric’ supercomputing systems” at Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories to advance innovation and discovery in science, engineering and national security.”

The world is generating more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of “big data” every day, according to IBM’s 2013 annual report, requiring entirely new approaches to supercomputing. Repeatedly moving data back and forth from storage to processor is unsustainable with the onslaught of Big Data because of the significant amount of time and energy that massive and frequent data movement entails, IBM says, so the emphasis on faster microprocessors becomes progressively more untenable because the computing infrastructure is dominated by data movement and data management.

To address this issue, for the past five years IBM researchers have pioneered a new “data centric” approach — an architecture that embeds compute power everywhere data resides in the system, allowing for a convergence of analytics, modeling, visualization, and simulation, and driving new insights at “incredible” speeds.

IBM says the two Laboratories anticipate that the new IBM OpenPOWER-based supercomputers will be among the “fastest and most energy-efficient” systems, thanks to this data-centric approach. The systems at each laboratory are expected to offer five to 10 times better performance on commercial and high-performance computing applications compared to the current systems at the labs, and will be more than five times more energy efficient.

The “Sierra” supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore and “Summit” supercomputer at Oak Ridge will each have a peak performance of more than 150 petaflops (compared to today’s fastest supercomputer, China’s Tianhe-2, with 33.86 petaflops) with more than five petabytes of dynamic and flash memory to help accelerate the performance of data-centric applications. The systems will also be capable of moving data to the processor, when necessary, at more than 17 petabytes per second (which is equivalent to moving over 100 billion photos on Facebook in a second) to speed time to insights.

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Autonomous, human-sized security robots are almost here

Autonomous, human-sized security robots are almost here | Amazing Science |

As the sun set on a warm November afternoon, a quartet of five-foot-tall, 300-pound shiny white robots patrolled in front of Building 1 on Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus. Looking like a crew of slickDaleks imbued with the grace of Fred Astaire, they whirred quietly across the concrete in different directions, stopping and turning in place so as to avoid running into trash cans, walls, and other obstacles.

The robots managed to appear both cute and intimidating. This friendly-but-not-too-friendly presence is meant to serve them well in jobs like monitoring corporate and college campuses, shopping malls, and schools.

Knightscope, a startup based in Mountain View, California, has been busy designing, building, and testing the robot, known as the K5, since 2013. Seven have been built so far, and the company plans to deploy four before the end of the year at an as-yet-unnamed technology company in the area. The robots are designed to detect anomalous behavior, such as someone walking through a building at night, and report back to a remote security center.

“This takes away the monotonous and sometimes dangerous work, and leaves the strategic work to law enforcement or private security, depending on the application,” Knightscope cofounder and vice president of sales and marketing Stacy Stephens said as a K5 glided nearby.

In order to do the kind of work a human security guard would normally do, the K5 uses cameras, sensors, navigation equipment, and electric motors—all packed into its dome-shaped body with a big rechargeable battery and a computer. There are four high-definition cameras (one on each side of the robot), a license-plate recognition camera, four microphones, and a weather sensor (which looks like a DVD-player slot) for measuring barometric pressure, carbon dioxide levels, and temperature. The robots use Wi-Fi or a wireless data network to communicate with each other and with people who can remotely monitor its cameras, microphones, and other sources of data.

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Clues Revealed About Hidden Interior of Uranus

Clues Revealed About Hidden Interior of Uranus | Amazing Science |

Long believed to be one of the blandest regions of any of the giant gas planets, the southern hemisphere of Uranus indicates a flurry of previously unknown atmospheric phenomena, hinting at an unusual feature in the interior of the planet. By re-analyzing images that NASA's Voyager-2 spacecraft took 28 years ago, University of Arizona astronomer Erich Karkoschka has teased out hidden features in Uranus' atmosphere that reveal an unexpected, strange rotation pattern and point to the possible existence of an unusual feature inside the planet's interior. The findings shed light on the interior structures of giant gas planets, not only of Uranus, a planet for which observational data are sparse, but also those of the many extrasolar planets that are being discovered.

When Voyager-2 flew by Uranus in January 1986 and sent the first close-up images back to Earth, it revealed a giant, pale blue icy ball that lacked the stunningly detailed, colorful bands and swirls of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. No more than eight faint features could be tracked, all located in the southern hemisphere. Only one of the eight features was located in the southern half of the southern hemisphere. Images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and the largest telescopes on Earth did not reveal any feature there. The southern half of Uranus' southern hemisphere seemed to be the blandest region in the outer solar system.

By teasing out subtle differences from the information contained in Voyager's images, Karkoschka discovered previously unseen features in Uranus' atmosphere, revealing that Uranus' southern hemisphere rotates unlike any region observed on the giant gas planets before. Karkoschka presented his findings at the meeting of the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Association in Tucson. "Some of these features probably are convective clouds caused by updraft and condensation," said Karkoschka, a senior staff scientist at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "Some of the brighter features look like clouds that extend over hundreds of kilometers. The unusual rotation of high southern latitudes of Uranus is probably due to an unusual feature in the interior of Uranus," he said. "While the nature of the feature and its interaction with the atmosphere are not yet known, the fact that I found this unusual rotation offers new possibilities to learn about the interior of a giant planet."

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Seaborgium Hexacarbonyl Sg(CO)6: First Carbonyl Complex of a Superheavy Element

Seaborgium Hexacarbonyl Sg(CO)6: First Carbonyl Complex of a Superheavy Element | Amazing Science |

Atoms with the same number of protons belong to the same element. Atomic nuclei with the same number of protons and different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. The elements up to uranium (element 92) exist in nature (except for technetium ). The elements heavier than uranium are man-made. All elements are arranged in the periodic table of the elements. Their positions in the periodic table correspond to their proton number; elements in the same column (i.e., in the same group) feature similar and electronic shell structure, which characterizes the chemical behavior of an element. An element's position in the periodic table and thus provides information on its chemical behavior, e.g., as a metal or an inert gas.

If atomic nuclei have too many protons (all of which repel each other) or have an this ratio is unfavorable proton to neutron ratio, the nuclei are not stable but undergo radioactive decay. The elements up to the element fermium (which has atomic number 100) can be produced at research reactors by irradiating a target of a heavy element with neutrons. The target atoms capture a neutrons and subsequently decay through β--emission, thus forming an element with the next higher proton number. This process can be repated, up to fermium.

As there are no isotopes of fermium which decay through β--emission, no elements with higher proton number can be synthesized by this method.

The heavier an atom is, the more protons are contained in its nucleus. With increasing proton number, the repulsive force of these protons will eventually lead to immediate disintegration of the nucleus. The elements with a proton number higher than 103 can only exist due to nuclear shell effects and are called the superheavy elements. A topic of intense research concerns the question of the heaviest possible element. To date, all elements up to element 112 as well as elements 114 and 116 are officially recognized as discovered, and reports about the observation also of element 113,115117, and 118 are also published. It is currently not clear, which element is the heaviest one that can exist.

The production of 265Sg and its separation in GARIS was perfected in preparatory work led by Dr. Hiromitsu Haba from RIKEN Nishina Center (RNC) and his team. In this nuclear reaction, a few Sg atoms per hour can be produced.

Seaborgium hexacarbonyl – Why is it so special?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known to form complexes with many transition metals. In 1890, Ludwig Mond, Carl Langer and Friedrich Quincke reported of the first synthesis of a carbonyl complex – nickeltetracarbonyl ( Ni(CO)4; see here). In this compound, the nickel (Ni) atom is surrounded by 4 carbon monoxide molecules (CO).

In this type of molecule, coordination bonds (rather than covalent bonds) form between the metal and the carbon monoxide.

The carbon monoxide ligands bind to the metal by forming a so-called σ-donation bond, and a π-backbond from the metal to the carbon monoxide ligand establishes. In the σ-donation bond the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) of the CO donates electron density into the σ-symmetric orbitals of the metal (s or p1/2 or dz2 orbitals). In the π-backbonding, electron density for the π-symmetric d-orbital is donated to the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO) of the CO-ligand. The σ-donation bond is the strongest bond, while the π-backbond is slightly weaker.

Synthesis of carbonyl complexes with fusion products directly behind the target in a CO-containing atomosphere is not possible, as the primary beam would pass the gas and create a plasma. This would destroy the CO molecules. Therefore, only our new approach to perform chemical experiments behind a separator like TASCA or GARIS allows the synthesis and study of this compound class.

Chemistry experiments with superheavy elements -  with periodic numbers higher than 104 – are difficult to perform. First, scientists have to produce the element artificially in a particle accelerator. The production rates are really low, usually lower than a few atoms per day. Furthermore, these atoms are very instable, and survive in the best case less than 10 seconds. However, science is still very interested to investigate the characteristics of these superheavy elements, since they allow to test the influence of Einstein's relativity theory on chemistry. The high number of positively charged protons in the atomic nucleus of superheavy elements accelerate the electrons in the different shells to extremely high velocities - close to 80% of the speed of light. Due to the relativistic effects at these speeds, electrons are much heavier than when they are at rest, which in turn should have some influence on the chemical properties of the superheavy atom. These effects will be compared with elements that possess a similar atomic structure but are lighter. Such studies will be of enormous interest to all basic chemists in the world.

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ESA's very first 3D printer in space is scheduled for installation aboard the Space Station next year

ESA's very first 3D printer in space is scheduled for installation aboard the Space Station next year | Amazing Science |

Designed and built in Italy, it will be put to the test as part as ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s Futura mission, and is set to reach orbit in the first half of next year. Samantha herself will be launched on her six-month Station assignment on 23 November.

“The POP3D Portable On-Board Printer is a small 3D printer that requires very limited power and crew involvement to operate,” explained Luca Enrietti of Altran, prime contractor for the compact printer.

The unit is a cube with 25 cm sides and prints with biodegradable and harmless plastic using a heat-based process.

“Part of the challenge of designing a 3D printer for the Station was to ensure its operation does not affect the crew environment,” added Giorgio Musso of Thales Alenia Space Italy, principal investigator for the project.

Funded by Italy’s ASI space agency, POP3D should take about half an hour to produce a single plastic part, which will eventually be returned to Earth for detailed testing, including comparison with an otherwise identical part printed on the ground.

The project was presented during a workshop on 3D printing for space held at ESA’s technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. More than 350 experts from across Europe came together to discuss the potential of 3D printing for space, both in orbit and in ground manufacturing. 

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Electric cars without drivers: They can drive autonomously, park themselves and find a charging station

Electric cars without drivers: They can drive autonomously, park themselves and find a charging station | Amazing Science |

E-Mobile will park independently in the future and will also be able to find the next charging station without a driver. Researchers are working on electric cars that can travel short distances autonomously. On the basis of cost-effective sensors, they are developing a dynamic model that perceives the environmental situation.

Whoever got his driver’s license twenty years ago and is back in a car for the first time is going to be rubbing his eyes in amazement. Electronic helpers warn of a possible collision when parking and keep the necessary distance to the car ahead during traffic. There are lane departure, crosswind, blind spot and high beam assistants, not to mention the anti-lock system. The car is taking over step by step in the cockpit. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA are one step ahead: They are dedicated to automated driving and are working on the vehicles of tomorrow, which can drive through traffic without human assistance. In this process, the Stuttgart engineers are particularly keeping an eye on electric cars.

The specialty of the researchers at the IPA is the development of robots. In the institute building, there is a prototype that independently finds its way on its four wheels through unknown territory. The challenges that are to be mastered are similar to those for automated driving. Here, as well, sensors need to recognize the environment so that the vehicle can navigate around obstacles and find its goal. Why not take advantage of that experience and apply it to the car, say the engineers in Stuttgart. That is why, one and a half years ago, an interdisciplinary team of computer scientists, mathematicians, electrical engineers and mechatronics engineers launched the project Afkar (a German abbreviation for “autonomous driving and intelligent chassis concept for an all-electric vehicle”).

In a first step, the electric car is intended to learn to find a parking space and to park without a scratch. The idea behind this is that the car should be able to recharge itself with electricity without human help. This would be particularly important for car-sharing. Imagine the following scenario: The driver easily parks the car in a properly equipped parking garage on any randomly available parking space. The car takes care of everything else itself. It communicates via a wireless interface with the charging station and the parking garage management. In this process, it provides information about its charge level and its location. If the battery is empty and a charging station is free, it maneuvers in the corresponding parking bay and is charged inductively, without a cable. Then it makes room for the next electric car and rolls to a free parking space. In this way, the few existing charging stations can be used effectively.

“The technology needed for this scenario is already available,” says Afkar project manager Benjamin Maidel. He is referring to the robots of the institute that find their way easily in a known environment, such as a factory floor. Rebuilding a similar car does not take a lot of effort. Many modern cars already have most of the sensors that are required for this. The data that these devices collect just have to be combined and interpreted accordingly so that they provide a picture of the environment. The Fraunhofer experts are currently developing the necessary technology with the help of complex simulation programs. Soon, they want to test the results in practice on a demonstration vehicle.

The Afkar group will first go with their test car to a cordoned-off test area. For public roads, a special permit is required. “Whether autonomous driving makes a breakthrough will be decided, along with the right price, by customer acceptance and the legal framework. For example, the liability for accidents has to be re-regulated. The technology will probably conquer the market step by step”, says Maidel. The advantages are obvious – particularly for car-sharing vehicles. Any customer could use his smart phone to call a car, which would then drive to the desired location. Car-sharing companies could utilize their fleets more fully than they do today.

Chris Hill's curator insight, November 14, 2014 12:59 PM

 “Whether autonomous driving makes a breakthrough will be decided, along with the right price, by customer acceptance and the legal framework. " (from the article)

Trevor's curator insight, December 2, 2014 4:31 PM

My goal 1-

This article caught my eye because of the potential of self-driving electric cars.  For me to enter into this type of field would require an electrical and mechanical engineering degree.  The fact that technology is already advanced enough to develop such vehicles is such a crazy reality for me.  I am curious about how things work and this definitely attracts me because of its relevance to the world.  Engineers are already developing technology that allows for cars to be built, but there are still many other factors that are, currently, holding back the potential of these kinds of electric cars to become popular such as the cost and design.  Further research, however, will soon allow cars to be built efficiently at a reasonable price for the public.  I want to be a part of this design and research someday to help meet people’s needs.  Helping design or study technology that could alter how our world interacts is my dream job.  This article proves that there is so much that engineers are capable of: they can help shape lives, the economy, and the world.

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Black Hole Turbulence May Stifle Star Birth

Black Hole Turbulence May Stifle Star Birth | Amazing Science |

The low birth rate for stars in distant galaxy clusters is one of astronomy's long-standing mysteries. The hot (107 to 108 kelvin), X-ray-emitting intracluster medium (ICM) is the dominant baryonic constituent of clusters of galaxies. In the cores of many clusters, radiative energy losses from the ICM occur on timescales much shorter than the age of the system1-3. Unchecked, this cooling would lead to massive accumulations of cold gas and vigorous star formation4, in contradiction to observations5.

Various sources of energy capable of compensating for these cooling losses have been proposed, the most promising being heating by the supermassive black holes in the central galaxies, through inflation of bubbles of relativistic plasma6-9. Regardless of the original source of energy, the question of how this energy is transferred to the ICM remains open. A research team now presents a plausible solution to this question based on deep X-ray data and a new data analysis method that enables them to evaluate directly the ICM heating rate from the dissipation of turbulence. They find that turbulent heating is sufficient to offset radiative cooling and indeed appears to balance it locally at each radius—it may therefore be the key element in resolving the gas cooling problem in cluster cores and, more universally, in the atmospheres of X-ray-emitting, gas-rich systems on scales from galaxy clusters to groups and elliptical galaxies.

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The battle of the sexes is waged using RNA scissors encoded on the Y chromosome, at least in persimmons

The battle of the sexes is waged using RNA scissors encoded on the Y chromosome, at least in persimmons | Amazing Science |

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes—individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at Kyoto University and the University of California, Davis have discovered how sex is determined in a species of persimmon, potentially opening up new possibilities in plant breeding. The work has been published in the journal Science.

Most plants have both male and female sex organs in the same individual. Some, like tomato, rice, beans and other cultivated species, cast pollen from male to female organs in the same flower. Others employ ingenious schemes to ensure that one individual pollinates the flower of another. Only about five percent of plant species have separate sexes, a condition called dioecy, or “two houses.”

“Think of it as nature’s best trick to ensure that reproduction involves two individuals, thus maximizing the mixing of genes. Persimmon, pistachio, wild grapevine, kiwi, hops, spinach and even marijuana are dioecious,” said Luca Comai, professor of plant biology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

In mammals, sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes: Males have an X and a Y; females have two X’s. A single gene on the Y is responsible for triggering the development of male traits. Most dioecious plants resemble the human system, with XY males and XX females. What gene may be responsible for determining plant sex has been a long-standing mystery.

Working on a family of persimmon trees (Diospyros lotus) established by Professor Ryutaro Tao at Kyoto University, researchers combed through the genomes of some of these trees looking for genes that were exclusive to males. They found an unusual gene they called OGI (Japanese for male tree). Unlike most genes, OGI does not encode a protein, they found. Instead, it codes for a very small piece of RNA that acts as “molecular scissors,” cutting down expression of another gene, called MeGI (Japanese for female tree).

In females, MeGI builds to high level and acts like a neutering agent, repressing pollen formation. In males, OGI prevents accumulation of MeGI. Regulation by RNA scissors can be fickle, and this may help explain why plants that are genetically one sex but functionally another can arise in dioecious species.

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New System Lets Humans Control Mouse Genes With Their Thoughts

New System Lets Humans Control Mouse Genes With Their Thoughts | Amazing Science |

Scientists have been able to tinker with the genes of other organisms for some time now—that’s nothing new. But controlling genes in another animal using only your thoughts? Sounds a rather insane idea that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sci-Fi movie, but it turns out it’s now possible, thanks to a newly-developed mind-controlled system.

As described in the journal Nature Communications, the system works by using brain waves from human participants to activate a light inside a mouse’s brain, which then switches on a particular set of genes. This marks the first time that synthetic biology has been linked to the mind, and the authors believe this work could lead to the development of novel ways totreat medical conditions. For example, the technology could one day be used to instantly deliver drugs when epileptic patients are about to experience a seizure. However, the authors note that the study is very much proof-of-concept at the moment.

To create the system, scientists from ETH Zurich married up two different technologies that were already in existence. The first is a brain computer interface (BCI) device that is capable of processing brain waves recorded by an electroencephalography (EEG) headset. Recently, this system allowed paralysed people to power a robotic arm using their thoughts. The second is a method called optogenetics which uses light to control specific events within cells.

The researchers started off by inserting a gene from a species of bacteria that uses light as a source of energy into designer human kidney cells. This gene is responsible for the production of a protein that is responsive to near-infrared light. The cells were engineered in such a way that when this protein is activated, a cascade of events are triggered that ultimately switch on a different gene that encodes a specific human protein. Alongside an infrared LED light that can be activated wirelessly, these cells were put inside a tiny implant that was inserted into the brain of a mouse.

Next, the researchers recorded the brain waves of eight volunteers while they were either meditating or concentrating. These activities produce different signatures of brain activity, which can then be recognized and processed by the EEG headset they were wearing. This information was then fed wirelessly into the brain implant, and if a particular threshold of brain activity was reached, the LED was switched on.

Via Neelima Sinha
Neelima Sinha's curator insight, November 12, 2014 5:29 PM

Mind control of gene expression, Wild!

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Stanford project brings machine learning right to your browser and will make your tabs a lot smarter

Stanford project brings machine learning right to your browser and will make your tabs a lot smarter | Amazing Science |

Deep learning is one of the buzziest topics in technology at the moment, and for good reason: This subset of machine learning can unearth all kinds of useful new insights in data and teach computers to do things like understand human speech and see things. It employs the use of artificial neural networks to teach computers things like speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing. In the last few years, deep learning has helped forge advances in areas like object perception and machine translation—research topics that have long proven difficult for AI researchers to crack.

Trouble is, deep learning takes a ton of computational power, so its use is limited to companies that have the resources to throw at it. But what if you could achieve this kind of heavy duty artificial intelligence in the browser? That's exactly the aim of a project out of Standford called ConvNetJS. It's a JavaScript framework that brings deep learning models to the browser without the need for all that computing muscle. In time, it could make your tabs a lot smarter.

"Deep Learning has relatively recently achieved quite a few really nice results on big, important datasets," says Andrej Karpathy, the Standard PhD student behind ConvNetJS. "However, the majority of the available libraries and code base are currently geared primarily towards efficiency." Caffe, a popular convolutional neural network framework used by Flickr for image recognition (among many others) is written in C++ and is slow to compile. "ConvNetJS is designed with different trade-offs in mind," says Karpathy.

So how does this actually play out in the real world? Right now, Karpathy's website points to a couple of basic, live demos: classifying digits and other data using a neural network and using deep learning to dynamically "paint" an image based on any photo you upload. They are admittedly geeky—and not especially practical—examples, but what's important is the computation that's happening on the front end and how that's likely to evolve in the future. One likely usage is the development of browser extensions that run neural networks directly on websites. This could allow for more easily implemented image recognition or tools that can quickly parse and summarize long articles and perform sentiment analysis on their text. As the client-side technology evolves, the list of possibilities for machine learning in the browser will only grow.

Because it's JavaScript-based, the framework can't pull off quite the computational heavy lifting that other tools can, but it nonetheless raises the interesting prospect of bringing machine learning directly into the browser. "The idea is that a website could train a network on their end and then distribute the weights to the client, so the compute all happens on client and not server side, perhaps significantly improving latencies and significantly simplifying the necessary codebase," Karpathy explains. "ConvNetJS is not where I want it to be," admits Karpathy. "I work on it on a side of my PhD studies and with many deadlines it's hard to steal time. But I am slowly working on cleaner API, more docs, and WebGL support. Regardless, I think the cool trend here more generally is the possibility of running (or training) neural nets in the browser. Making our tabs smarter."

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Google to Provide All Funding for Most Prestigious Award in Computing, Making It Worth $1 Million Per Year

Google to Provide All Funding for Most Prestigious Award in Computing, Making It Worth $1 Million Per Year | Amazing Science |
The A.M. Turing Award, ACM's most prestigious technical award, is given for major contributions of lasting importance to computing.

ACM announced on November 13, 2014 that the funding level for the ACM A.M. Turing Award is now $1,000,000, to be provided by Google Inc. The new amount is four times its previous level.

Leslie Lamport, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, has been named as the recipient of the 2013 ACM A.M. Turing Award for imposing clear, well-defined coherence on the seemingly chaotic behavior of distributed computing systems, in which several autonomous computers communicate with each other by passing messages. He devised important algorithms and developed formal modeling and verification protocols that improve the quality of real distributed systems. These contributions have resulted in improved correctness, performance, and reliability of computer systems.

View a video by Microsoft Research on Leslie Lamport's work and read his 1978 paper, "Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System," one of the most cited in the history of computer science. In a second video, in his own voice for the June 2014 issue ofCommunications of the ACM, Lamport asserts that the best logic for stating things clearly is mathematics, a concept, he notes, that some find controversial. Assessing his body of work, he concludes that he created a path that others have followed to places well beyond his imagination.

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Whole-genome sequences of 17 of the world’s oldest living people published

Whole-genome sequences of 17 of the world’s oldest living people published | Amazing Science |

Using 17 genomes, researchers were unable to find rare protein-altering variants significantly associated with extreme longevity, according to a study published November 12, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Hinco Gierman from Stanford University and colleagues.

Supercentenarians are the world’s oldest people, living beyond 110 years of age. Seventy-four are alive worldwide; 22 live in the U.S. The authors of this study performed whole-genome sequencing on 17 supercentenarians to explore the genetic basis underlying extreme human longevity.

From this small sample size, the researchers were unable to find rare protein-altering variants significantly associated with extreme longevity compared to control genomes. However, they did find that one supercentenarian carries a variant associated with a heart condition, which had little or no effect on his/her health, as this person lived over 110 years.

Although the authors didn’t find significant association with extreme longevity, the authors have publicly published the genomes, making them available as a resource for future studies on the genetic basis of extreme longevity.


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Elusive dark matter may be detected with GPS satellites

Elusive dark matter may be detected with GPS satellites | Amazing Science |

The everyday use of a GPS device might be to find your way around town or even navigate a hiking trail, but for two physicists, the Global Positioning System might be a tool in directly detecting and measuring dark matter, so far an elusive but ubiquitous form of matter responsible for the formation of galaxies.

Andrei Derevianko, of the University of Nevada, Reno, and his colleague Maxim Pospelov, of the University of Victoria and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have proposed a method for a dark-matter search with GPS satellites and other atomic clock networks that compares times from the clocks and looks for discrepancies.

"Despite solid observational evidence for the existence of dark matter, its nature remains a mystery," Derevianko, a professor in the College of Science at the University, said. "Some research programs in particle physics assume that dark matter is composed of heavy-particle-like matter. This assumption may not hold true, and significant interest exists for alternatives."

"Modern physics and cosmology fail dramatically in that they can only explain 5 percent of mass and energy in the universe in the form of ordinary matter, but the rest is a mystery." There is evidence that dark energy is about 68 percent of the mystery mass and energy. The remaining 27 percent is generally acknowledged to be dark matter, even though it is not visible and eludes direct detection and measurement.

"Our research pursues the idea that dark matter may be organized as a large gas-like collection of topological defects, or energy cracks," Derevianko said. "We propose to detect the defects, the dark matter, as they sweep through us with a network of sensitive atomic clocks. The idea is, where the clocks go out of synchronization, we would know that dark matter, the topological defect, has passed by. In fact, we envision using the GPS constellation as the largest human-built dark-matter detector."

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Removing the brake: How to increase brain activity and memory

Removing the brake: How to increase brain activity and memory | Amazing Science |

Is it possible to rapidly increase (or decrease) the amount of information the brain can store? A new international study led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) suggests is may be. Their research has identified a molecule that improves brain function and memory recall is improved. Published in the latest issue of Cell Reports, the study has implications for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as autism spectral disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our findings show that the brain has a key protein called FXR1P (Fragile X Related Protein 1) that limits the production of molecules necessary for memory formation,” says RI-MUHC neuroscientist Keith Murai, the study’s senior author and Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University. “When this brake-protein is suppressed, the brain is able to store more information.”

Murai and his colleagues used a mouse model to study how changes in brain cell connections produce new memories. When FXR1P was selectively removed from certain parts of the brain, new molecules were produced. They strengthened connections between brain cells, which correlated with improved memory and recall in the mice.

“The role of FXR1P was a surprising result,” says Dr. Murai. “Previous to our work, no-one had identified a role for this regulator in the brain. Our findings have provided fundamental knowledge about how the brain processes information. We’ve identified a new pathway that directly regulates how information is handled and this could have relevance for understanding and treating brain diseases.” 

“Future research in this area could be very interesting,” he adds. “If we can identify compounds that control the braking potential of FXR1P, we may be able to alter the amount of brain activity or plasticity. For example, in autism, one may want to decrease certain brain activity and in Alzheimer’s disease, we may want to enhance the activity. By manipulating FXR1P, we may eventually be able to adjust memory formation and retrieval, thus improving the quality of life of people suffering from brain diseases.” 

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Parmi les nombreuses proteines du cerveau, cette recherche se concentre sur la proteines FXR1P, qui agit comme un frein à la production de molécule nécessaire à la formation de molécules. Travailler sur cette protéine pourait être un élément clef dans le traitement du fonctionnement anormal du cerveau.

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Novel siRNA form successfully targets KRAS, a well-studied but hard to halt protein important for cancer development and metastasis

Novel siRNA form successfully targets KRAS, a well-studied but hard to halt protein important for cancer development and metastasis | Amazing Science |

Researchers from the UNC School of Medicine and colleagues at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have developed a new approach to block the KRAS oncogene, one of the most frequently mutated genes in human cancer. The approach, led by Chad Pecot, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at UNC, offers another route to attack KRAS, which has proven to be an elusive and frustrating target for drug developers.

The new method relies upon a specifically sequenced type of small interfering RNA – or siRNA. The findings, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, show that using a form of siRNA to halt KRAS not only dramatically stunted the growth of lung and colon cancers in cultured cells and mice but also stopped metastasis – the main cause of cancer deaths.

“KRAS has been widely regarded as an undruggable protein, but we show that that’s simply not the case,” said Pecot, the study lead author and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

KRAS is a signaling molecule – a protein switch that triggers a cascade of molecular events that tell cells to grow and survive. Mutations in the KRAS gene create a switch that is perpetually “on,” causing cells to divide uncontrollably. KRAS mutations are present in roughly 30 percent of human cancers, particularly lung, colon, pancreatic, and thyroid.

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Drugging the undruggable: Discovery opens up possibility of slowing cancer spread

Drugging the undruggable: Discovery opens up possibility of slowing cancer spread | Amazing Science |

A trawl through a library of more than 50,000 ‘small molecules’ has identified a potential candidate to inhibit the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. Reported today in the journal Nature Communications, the molecule targets a mechanism of tumour development that had previously been considered ‘undruggable’– in other words, extremely difficult, if not impossible, to target with a drug – and could open the door to further promising new candidates.

The cells in our body go through a continuous process of growth, division and death, but when this process goes awry it can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and the development of tumours. Unchecked, this growth first manifests as a localised tumour, but eventually the cancer will ‘metastasise’, invading surrounding tissues and organs. Over nine out of ten cancer deaths are attributable to such progression.

However, even in a sick patient, the vast majority of the body’s 50 trillion cells maintain accurate control over processes like growth and division for a lifetime. This process is orchestrated by proteins known as ‘transcription factors’ that instruct DNA in the cells to produce specific proteins needed by the cell at specific times. A transcription factor searches for specific genes on DNA and once it finds them, turns them on as needed. Common perturbations in cancer, such a mutation in the gene that produces a transcription factor, or an over-production of the factor itself, can disrupt the proper functioning of this network.

Recently, cancer biologists discovered that one particular transcription factor called FOXM1 is vastly over-abundant in many diverse types of cancers including breast, lung, ovarian and head and neck carcinomas. Importantly, the amount of FOXM1 present in a given tumour was shown to correlate with both the stage of the disease and the severity of prognosis, with high levels of FOXM1 indicative of advanced disease and poor patient outcome.

FOXM1 has been shown to control the activity of many gene targets known to play a role in the development and spread of cancer. However, transcription factors have long been considered ‘undruggable’.

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute hypothesized that FOXM1 might represent a novel target for next-generation chemotherapeutics and developed a tool to identify potential ‘small molecules’ that could inhibit the action of the transcription factor – like finding the correct key to fit into switch and deactivate the transcription factor.

Mike Gormally, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, explains: “Transcription factors bind a bit of DNA, but targeting the interface between DNA and the protein is difficult. It’s often much larger than can be targeted with a ‘small molecule’, and lacks well defined cavities for the drug to latch onto. That doesn't mean this is impossible, but it does make rational design of drugs much more difficult: it’s hard to pick a feature out and say, if we can drug this feature, we will inhibit this transcription factor.”

In collaboration with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a division of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the team used high throughput screening tools to probe a library of 54,211 small molecules and identified a promising candidate that binds to FOXM1 protein and blocks it from binding its target DNA. In human breast cancer cells, this compound, FDI-6, suppresses the genes targeted by FOXM1, halting cancer cell proliferation. Whilst not a drug itself, the molecule provides a tool to better understand how FOXM1 drives disease, and indicates promising potential for designing drugs to target FOXM1 in the clinic in future work.

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Wearable Competition Finalist: Wear a Spy Drone on Your Wrist

Wearable Competition Finalist: Wear a Spy Drone on Your Wrist | Amazing Science |

A drone that can be dispatched with the flick of a wrist feels like an invention likely to fly out from the Batcave, but a Stanford Ph.D. and a Google program manager are close to finalizing a quadcopter that can be worn like a slap bracelet.

Called Nixie, this diminutive drone weighs less than a tenth of a pound, but can capture HD images and sync with a smartphone while its owner is busy scaling an Alp or biking through the Teutoburg forest. “Quadcopters give you a new perspective you can’t get anywhere else,” says Jelena Jovanovic, Nixie’s project manager. “But it’s not really feasible to pilot a drone and keep doing what you’re doing.”

Being able to wear the drone is a cute gimmick, but it’s powerful software packed into a tiny shell could set Nixie apart from bargain Brookstone quadcopters. Expertise in motion-prediction algorithms and sensor fusion will give the wrist-worn whirlybirds an impressive range of functionality. A “Boomerang mode” allows Nixie to travel a fixed distance from its owner, take a photo, then return. “Panorama mode” takes aerial photos in a 360° arc. “Follow me” mode makes Nixie trail its owner and would capture amateur athletes in a perspective typically reserved for Madden all-stars. “Hover mode” gives any filmmaker easy access to impromptu jib shots. Other drones promise similar functionality, but none promise the same level of portability or user friendliness. “We’re not trying to build a quadcopter, we’re trying to build a personal photographer,” says Jovanovic.

Jovanovic and her partner Christoph Kohstall, a Stanford postdoc who holds a Ph.D. in quantum physics and a first-author credit in the journal Nature, believe photography is at a tipping point. Early cameras were bulky, expensive, and difficult to operate. The last hundred years have produced consistently smaller, cheaper, and easier-to-use cameras, but future developments are forking. Google Glass provides the ultimate in portability, but leaves wearers with a fixed perspective. Surveillance drones offer unique vantage points, but are difficult to operate. Nixie attempts to offer the best of both worlds. 

Nixie is an undeniably impressive concept, and while rough prototypes prove the principle, the question remains if its myriad design challenges can be solved without sacrificing the sleek look.

The team’s strong background suggests they can. As a teenager, Kohstall designed a telescope that could follow a point in the sky to take long exposure star photographs using bike frame parts and Lego motors before graduating to writing a treatise on Metastability and Coherence of Repulsive Polarons in a Strongly Interacting Fermi Mixture.

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The Role of Long-Distance Travel in the Spread of Epidemics Like Ebola

The Role of Long-Distance Travel in the Spread of Epidemics Like Ebola | Amazing Science |

The current Ebola outbreak shows how quickly diseases can spread with global jet travel. Yet, knowing how to predict the spread of these epidemics is still uncertain, because the complicated models used are not fully understood, says a University of California, Berkeley biophysicist.

Using a very simple model of disease spread, Oskar Hallatschek, assistant professor of physics, proved that one common assumption is actually wrong. Most models have taken for granted that if disease vectors, such as humans, have any chance of “jumping” outside the initial outbreak area – by plane or train, for example – the outbreak quickly metastasizes into an epidemic.

Hallatschek and coauthor Daniel S. Fisher of Stanford University found instead that if the chance of long-distance dispersal is low enough, the disease spreads quite slowly, like a wave rippling out from the initial outbreak. This type of spread was common centuries ago when humans rarely traveled. The Black Death spread through 14th century Europe as a wave, for example.

But if the chance of jumping is above a threshold level – which is often the situation today with frequent air travel –the diseases can generate enough satellite outbreaks to spread like wildfire. And the greater the chance that people can hop around the globe, the faster the spread.

“With our simple model, we clearly show that one of the key factors that controls the spread of infection is how common long-range jumps are in the dispersal of a disease,” said Hallatschek, who is the William H. McAdams Chair in physics and a member of the UC Berkeley arm of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). “And what matters most are the rare cases of extremely long jumps, the individuals who take plane trips to distant places and potentially spread the disease.”

This new understanding of a simple computer model of disease spread will help epidemiologists understand the more complex models now used to predict the spread of epidemics, he said, but also help scientists understand the spread of cancer metastases, genetic mutations in animal or human populations, invasive species, wildfires and even rumors.

The paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014.

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Preparing for Alien Life: NASA and Library of Congress Sponsored Event To Discuss the Inevitable

Preparing for Alien Life: NASA and Library of Congress Sponsored Event To Discuss the Inevitable | Amazing Science |
At a recent event sponsored by NASA and the Library of Congress, a group of scientists and scholars explored how we might prepare for the inevitable discovery of life beyond Earth.

This was the focus of a conference organized recently by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Library of Congress. For two days, a group of scientists, philosophers and theologians from around the world explored how we might prepare ourselves for the inevitable discovery of foreign life forms - microbial or intelligent - elsewhere in our Universe.

The video presentations can be viewed here.

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Meet the First Legally Recognized Cyborg That Can Hear Colors

Meet the First Legally Recognized Cyborg That Can Hear Colors | Amazing Science |

Neil Harbisson, who is an artist that was born color-blind, can’t recognize the difference between blue or green. This is a problem; his job revolves around creating harmony between primary and tertiary color and he wanted to find a fix. So, while studying at Plymouth University, in the UK, he developed a software that associated color with different sounds and had it drilled into his head. 

The software is called the eyeborg and it is attached to Neil’s skull, making him the first legally recognised cyborg. The eyeborg includes a camera that picks up colours and communicates them as a musical tone to his brain, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability that allows the eyeborg to operate wirelessly. Now, ten years later, he can hear color.
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A promising strategy against HIV: Genetically edit human blood stem cells with CRISPR-Cas9

A promising strategy against HIV: Genetically edit human blood stem cells with CRISPR-Cas9 | Amazing Science |

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Massachusetts General(MGH) and Boston Children’s hospitals (BCH) for the first time have used a relatively new gene-editing technique to create what could prove to be an effective technique for blocking HIV from invading and destroying patients’ immune systems.

This is the first published report of a group using CRISPR Cas technology ― it stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat-activated cells ― to efficiently and precisely edit clinically relevant genes out of cells collected directly from people, in this case human blood-forming stem cells and T-cells.

Though the researchers believe this new approach to HIV therapy might be ready for human safety trials in less than five years, they themselves offered three strong points of caution: The first and most obvious is that they could run into unexpected complications; the second is that the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is littered with “cures” that turned out not to be; and finally, even if this new approach works perfectly, it will require additional development to be applicable in the areas of the world that have been the hardest hit by the epidemic.

The work, led by Chad Cowan and Derrick Rossi, associate professors inHarvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, is featured on the cover of today’s issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

HIV specifically targets T cells, which make up a principal portion of the blood-based immune system, and enters via a gene receptor called CCR5 that serves as a doorway into the cells. Once inside the T cells, HIV replicates and kills off the host cells, leaving patients at the mercy of a variety of opportunistic infections.

Using the CRISPR Cas gene-editing technology, the Cowan and Rossi teams knocked the CCR5 receptor out of blood stem cells that they showed could give rise to differentiated blood cells that did not have CCR5. In theory, such gene-edited stem cells could be introduced into HIV patients via bone marrow transplantation, the procedure used to transplant blood stem cells into leukemia patients, to give rise to HIV-resistant immune systems. “We showed that you can knock out CCR5 very efficaciously, we showed that the cells are still functional, and we did very, very deep sequencing analysis to show that there were no unwanted mutations, so it appears to be safe,” Cowan said. He added that “there is obviously much more work to do.”

“The next step is animal trials in collaboration with the Ragon Institute at Mass. General,” Cowan said. “There are excellent mouse models you can give a human immune system and then infect with HIV. We can give our cells to the mice and see if they’re protected from HIV.” Once those studies are completed, and if they are successful and complications do not arise, the next step would be to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to launch phase 1 human trials, which are designed solely to test the safety of new treatments. Cowan said it is too early to predict how soon such trials might begin.

David Scadden, a hematologist/oncologist who is both co-director of HSCI and director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at MGH, called the new work “a tremendous first step in editing out what makes human cells vulnerable to HIV. It makes possible the idea that a person’s own immune cells can attack HIV without being susceptible to it. Since this was done in stem cells, the entire immune system may be durably brought to bear on the virus. That’s a powerful concept.

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Extreme Graphene and the Coming Super Materials' Gold Rush

Extreme Graphene and the Coming Super Materials' Gold Rush | Amazing Science |

In 2004, scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from the University of Manchester, used adhesive tape to lift a thin layer of carbon from a block of graphite, and placed it on a silicone wafer. Graphite is the stuff commonly found in pencil lead. As simple as this sounds, what these two scientists had created was a 2-dimensional form of carbon known as graphene, and in 2010 they received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. But that’s only part of the story. What makes the discovery of graphene so important is all of its unusual properties. It is a pure form of carbon that is very thin, very strong and very expensive.

  • SUPER THIN – It is only one atom thick, so it is almost transparent.
  • SUPER STRONG – Graphene is the strongest material ever discovered, 100 times stronger than diamond, and 200 times stronger than steel, and yet flexible and even stretchable.
  • SUPER CONDUCTOR – It conducts heat and electricity faster at room temperature than any other known material. It also charges and discharges electrically up to 1000x faster than traditional batteries.
  • SUPER EXPENSIVE – Even using the most advanced processes for manufacturing it, graphene still runs around about $100,000 per square meter.

These unusual attributes have made graphene the most exciting new material in all of science.  Since its discovery, a total of 8,413 patents were granted by February 2013 in areas such as super computing, electronics, energy storage, telecommunications, renewable power, health care, and telecommunications. That said, we are about to embark on the golden age of material science with digitally modeled materials being fabricated and used in thousands of experimental applications before landing on their primary uses in the business arena.

  • Aerogels are a synthetic porous ultralight material created with a process that replaces the liquid component of a gel with gas. The result is solid matter, typically carbon, but with extremely low density and low thermal conductivity. Sometimes researchers refer to it as “frozen smoke.” Its current uses include insulation for skylights, chemical absorber for cleaning up spills, thickening agents in some paints and cosmetics, drug delivery agents, and water purification. But we are only scratching the surface of the thousands of other uses still to come.
  • Stanene (two-dimensional tin sheets) may be the next super material that competes with graphene. Even though it’s still only a theoretical substance that’s never actually been produced, it has lots of the thought leaders in material science world buzzing.
  • Shrilk is a material made from leftover shrimp shells and proteins derived from silk. Its dissolve-over-time biodegradable attributes will allow it to serve as sutures or scaffolds for growing new tissues that disappear when they are no longer needed.
  • Biomimetic nanomaterials are just now coming online. As an example, lotus leaves that are resistant to wetting and dirt due to their nanostructured surface are being used to develop waterproof paints and textiles.
  • Growable metals are still only in the backroom laboratory stage, but speculation has them being developed by adding metal salts to the irrigation water in plants, and using a secret process to sort the metals from the organic matter.
  • Spider silk is made from a biopolymer called an aquamelt, which can be spun at room temperature 1,000 times more efficiently than plastics. While spider silk itself will probably never be used, researchers are looking to make other materials that mimic spider silk’s tricks.
  • Carbon nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family. Being carbon-based like graphene, carbon nanotubes compete on many levels with graphene in areas such as strength, conductivity, and stiffness. Even though the first paper describing carbon nanotubes appeared in 1991, no one has yet cracked the code for producing long strands inexpensively.

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Self-assembling DNA molecules can make future electronic devices even smaller

Self-assembling DNA molecules can make future electronic devices even smaller | Amazing Science |

Leonid Gurevich, Associate Professor at Aalborg University’s Department of Physics and Nanotechnology, has been involved in the successful experiments conducted by an international research consortium after years of focused collaboration to make molecular electronics a possible replacement for traditional solutions in our ever-smaller devices. In order to provide sufficient processing power in new computers, mobile phones and tablets, the industry is already producing chips today with billions of transistors squeezed into less than one square centimeter: We are now talking about transistors that are less than a thousand atoms across and fabricated with an accuracy of just tens of atoms. And that is just one of the reasons we are rapidly approaching the fundamental limit of conventional semiconductor electronics. A way out could be to mimic nature’s approach — use custom-designed molecules and let them self-assemble into functional devices, explains Leonid Gurevich.

The computer chip in the new iPhone 6 is a good example of what the electronics industry has achieved with constant miniaturization. The chip has two billion transistors and is produced with a resolution of 20 nanometers – just 0.00002 millimeters. Chip manufacturers are even on their way to producing chips with just 14 nanometers resolution. But miniaturization with conventional semiconductor electronics is approaching its fundamental limits, and molecular electronics can be the next step: The idea of molecules replacing electronic circuitry originated back in the 1970s, but it hasn’t left the laboratory yet and development in this field remains largely limited to very short molecules or molecular layers, while conclusive results on long molecules have yet to be obtained. With this paper we establish that charge transport through long molecules is possible, we describe a way to measure single molecules, and we identify the mechanism of charge transport in one of the most promising conductive molecules – G4 DNA. What is certain is that this finding will reinvigorate the field of molecular electronics, in particular DNA electronics, says Leonid Gurevich.

Of course, we cannot expect that DNA will replace silicon in our phones and computers tomorrow. The transition to DNA-based devices or molecular electronics in general will represent a paradigm shift in the way we design, assemble and program electronic devices today. It will be a long journey and we have many questions that we need to answer before DNA electronics becomes a reality. So it’s still too early to say when they will be part of our everyday life. But with sufficient funding, I believe the future looks bright, says Leonid Gurevich.

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Prototyping a biological drone, made from bacteria and fungi that melts away after use

Prototyping a biological drone, made from bacteria and fungi that melts away after use | Amazing Science |

What's stealthier than an ordinary drone? One that can disintegrate when it needs to, in order to destroy evidence of its spying activities. A team of researchers from various educational institutions and NASA Ames Research Center has developed a biodegradable drone made of mycelium (or the vegetative part of fungi), which recently completed its first flight. According to Lynn Rothschild of NASA Ames, once the drone, say, self-destroys by diving into a puddle, "No one would know if you'd spilled some sugar water or if there'd been an airplane there."

A New York company called Ecovative Design grew mycelia into a custom drone-shaped chassis you see above. Unfortunately, some parts of the drone just can't be replaced with biodegradable materials for now, though the team tried to stay true to the idea and used silver nanoparticle ink (which can disintegrate along with the chassis) to print the device's circuits. For the test flight earlier this month, the team had to use propellers, controls and batteries taken from an ordinary quadcopter, but that might change in the future. You can read all about the development process on the scientists' website, where you can also download some 3D printable files of a few drone chassis concepts.

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