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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Why ‘white graphene’ structures are cool

Why ‘white graphene’ structures are cool | Amazing Science |

Boron nitride is a chemical compound with chemical formula BN, consisting of equal numbers of boron and nitrogen atoms. BN is isoelectronic to a similarly structured carbon lattice and thus exists in various crystalline forms. The hexagonal form corresponding to graphite is the most stable and softest among BN polymorphs, and is therefore used as a lubricant and an additive to cosmetic products. The cubic (sphalerite structure) variety analogous to diamond is called c-BN. Its hardness is inferior only to diamond, but its thermal and chemical stability is superior. The rare wurtzite BN modification is similar to lonsdaleite and may even be harder than the cubic form.

Because of excellent thermal and chemical stability, boron nitride ceramics are traditionally used as parts of high-temperature equipment. Boron nitride has potential use in nanotechnology. Nanotubes of BN can be produced that have a structure similar to that of carbon nanotubes, i.e. graphene (or BN) sheets rolled on themselves, but the properties are very different.

Three-dimensional structures of boron nitride are a viable candidate as a tunable material to keep electronics cool, according to scientists at Rice University researchers Rouzbeh Shahsavari and Navid Sakhavand. Their work appears this month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In its two-dimensional form, hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN), aka white graphene, looks just like the atom-thick form of carbon known as graphene. One difference: h-BN is a natural insulator, where perfect graphene presents no barrier to electricity (is a natural electrical conductor).

But like graphene, h-BN is a also a good conductor of heat, which can be quantified in the form of phonons. (Technically, a phonon is a “quasiparticle” in a collective excitation of atoms.) “Typically in all electronics, it is highly desired to get heat out of the system as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said. “One of the drawbacks in electronics, especially when you have layered materials on a substrate, is that heat moves very quickly in one direction, along a conductive plane, but not so good from layer to layer. Multiple stacked graphene layers is a good example of this.”

Heat moves ballistically across flat planes of boron nitride, too, but the Rice simulations showed that 3-D structures of h-BN planes connected by boron nitride nanotubes would be able to move phonons in all directions, whether in-plane or across planes, Shahsavari said.

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Revolutionizing the already revolutionary technology of optogenetics

Revolutionizing the already revolutionary technology of optogenetics | Amazing Science |
In most optogenetics experiments, light is delivered to cells from lasers through fiber optic cables. A new research project focuses on making cells produce their own light, letting them control their own activity or the activity of neighboring cells.

First introduced in a practical form in 2005, optogenetics gave brain scientists the amazing new capability to use pulses of laser light to control almost any type of neuron in any area with precise timing. Prior means of controlling neurons weren't ideal. Electrical pulses were powerful but drove all the cells in an area, not just desired cell types. Drugs couldn't confine control to a particular area and didn't have precise timing. Optogenetics could do it all by genetically engineering cells to become excited or suppressed by different colors of light.

But optogenetics can still do more, said Christopher Moore, associate professor of neuroscience at Brown, who leads the new project, funded by a new $1-million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. His goal is to make cells "smart" enough to emit light precisely when needed in order to optogenetically control themselves or their neighbors. If optogenetics is ever approved for human use, this new form of self-regulation—which would not involve injecting light into the body from outside—could produce new ways to treat problems ranging from epileptic seizures to Parkinson's disease to diabetes.

In 2013, Moore's collaborator Ute Hochgeschwender, associate professor at CMU, demonstrated how to make optogenetic cells emit their own light using a capability widely found in nature: bioluminescence.

Bioluminescence is the natural chemical reaction that allows fireflies and many sea creatures to make light. The advance of pairing bioluminescence with optogenetics allowed scientists to make the technology wireless. In most optogenetic experiments, laser light is delivered into the body by a fiber optic cable, but with BL-OG—shorthand for BioLuminescent-OptoGenetics—a cool, biologically compatible light could be triggered in cells just by administering a drug. Now the team of Moore, Hochgeschwender, and Brown professors Barry Connors, Julie Kauer and Diane Lipscombe, interim director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, will pursue the next big step.

The team plans to try out that idea by focusing on the flow of calcium ions among cells in various parts of the body, a particular area of Lipscombe's expertise. Calcium excites cells, such as neurons, by building up positive charges in them until they cross a threshold for action. In epilepsy, for example, there is too much of that excitation. Connors has studied that in detail.

Here is how the team proposes to help: With BL-OG, they already know how to make target cells capable of emitting and/or responding to light. The next step is to link those capabilities to sensing the levels of calcium ions. Synthetic biology, in which scientists add snippets of DNA instructions to the genome of a cell or whole organism to essentially program in a new capability, offers one potential way to make that feasible.

In the example of epilepsy, BL-OG-enabled neurons in the brain could be programmed to glow red (like a traffic light) if calcium ions are surging in too quickly. That red glow could trigger neighboring optogenetic cells to dampen their excitation amid the calcium buildup, effectively stopping a seizure as soon as it starts.

"A similar effect could normalize brain activity in Parkinson's disease, where runaway bursting in specific brain areas is thought to underlie the symptoms of that disorder," Moore said. Moreover, optogenetics works in other parts of the body. In the pancreas, the team hopes to see if it is possible to program BL-OG-capable cells to sense low blood glucose levels. Calcium ions have an important role in insulin secretion, so when sugars are too low, cells programmed to be self-regulating could trigger a glow of light to optogenetically increase the excitation of cells involved in signaling insulin production.

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One the way to breaking the terahertz barrier for graphene nanoelectronics

One the way to breaking the terahertz barrier for graphene nanoelectronics | Amazing Science |

Simple thermodynamics defines the performance of ultrafast graphene transistors and photodetectors.

A team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) discovered that electrical conduction in graphene on the picosecond timescale – a picosecond being one thousandth of one billionth of a second – is governed by the same basic laws that describe the thermal properties of gases. This much simpler thermodynamic approach to the electrical conduction in graphene will allow scientists and engineers not only to better understand but also to improve the performance of graphene-based nanoelectronic devices.

The researchers found that the energy of ultrafast electrical currents passing through graphene is very efficiently converted into electron heat, making graphene electrons behave just like a hot gas. “The heat is distributed evenly over all electrons. And the rise in electronic temperature, caused by the passing currents, in turn has a strong effect on the electrical conduction of graphene” explains Professor Mischa Bonn, Director at the MPI-P. The study, entitled “Thermodynamic picture of ultrafast charge transport in graphene”, has recently been published in Nature Communications.

Graphene – a single sheet of carbon atoms – is known to be a very good electrical conductor. As a result, graphene finds a multitude of applications in modern nanoelectronics. They range from highly efficient detectors for optical and wireless communications to transistors operating at very high speeds. A constantly increasing demand for telecommunication bandwidth requires an ever faster operation of electronic devices, pushing their response times to be as short as a picosecond. “The results of this study will help improve the performance of graphene-based nanoelectronic devices such as ultra-high speed transistors and photodetectors” says Professor Dmitry Turchinovich, who led the research at the MPI-P. In particular they show the way for breaking the terahertz operation speed barrier – i.e. one thousand billions of oscillations per second – for graphene transistors.

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Nanoscale device that can emit light as powerfully as an object 10,000 times its size

Nanoscale device that can emit light as powerfully as an object 10,000 times its size | Amazing Science |
University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers have created a nanoscale device that can emit light as powerfully as an object 10,000 times its size. It's an advance that could have huge implications for a variety of imaging and energy applications.

In a paper published July 10, 2015 in the journal Physical Review Letters, Zongfu Yu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, and his collaborators describe nanoscale device that  that drastically outpaces previous technology in its ability to scatter light.  They showed how a single nanoresonator can manipulate light to cast a very large "reflection."  The nanoresonator's capacity to absorb and emit light energy is such that it can make itself—and, in applications, other very small things—appear 10,000 times as large as its physical size.

"Making an object look much 10,000 times larger than its physical size has lots of implications in technologies related to light," Yu says. The researchers realized the advance through materials innovation and a keen understanding of the physics of light. Much like sound, light can resonate, amplifying itself as the surrounding environment manipulates the physical properties of its wave energy. The researchers took advantage of this by creating an artificial material in which the wavelength of light is much larger than in a vacuum, which allows light waves to resonate more powerfully.

In a paper published July 10, 2015 in the journal Physical Review Letters, Zongfu Yu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, and his collaborators describe nanoscale device that  that drastically outpaces previous technology in its ability to scatter light.  They showed how a single nanoresonator can manipulate light to cast a very large "reflection."

The nanoresonator's capacity to absorb and emit light energy is such that it can make itself—and, in applications, other very small things—appear 10,000 times as large as its physical size.

"Making an object look much 10,000 times larger than its physical size has lots of implications in technologies related to light," Yu says. The researchers realized the advance through materials innovation and a keen understanding of the physics of light. Much like sound, light can resonate, amplifying itself as the surrounding environment manipulates the physical properties of its wave energy. The researchers took advantage of this by creating an artificial material in which the wavelength of light is much larger than in a vacuum, which allows light waves to resonate more powerfully.

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Fossilized sperm cells found in Antarctica are world's oldest, say scientists

Fossilized sperm cells found in Antarctica are world's oldest, say scientists | Amazing Science |

The world’s oldest fossilized sperm has been discovered in the wall of a worm cocoon found in Antarctica, raising scientists’ hopes of recovering more extremely rare fossils of microscopic soft-bodied lifeforms.

The prehistoric sex cells belong to a class of earthworms and leeches called Clitellata, and date from 50m years ago, in the early Eocene period when the first horses, rhinos and sheep emerged.

The fossil was able to form and survive so long because the sperm became trapped in the jelly-like wall of the Clitellata cocoon before it hardened. In a manner similar to bugs becoming trapped in amber, the creature was then fossilised and preserved over millions of years.

“Spermatozoa, being very transient and delicate, are hardly ever preserved in the fossil record,” said Benjamin Bomfleur, a paleobotanist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and an author of the study. “We have uncovered a new type of medium which we think will hold great potential for similar findings in future studies.”

Though spectacularly well-preserved, the fossilized remains do not contain any organic material, ruling out the prospect of a Jurassic Park-style effort to extract DNA from the material.

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Researchers uncover that abnormal C9orf72 is linked to ALS and frontotemporal dementia

Researchers uncover that abnormal C9orf72 is linked to ALS and frontotemporal dementia | Amazing Science |

A University of Toronto research team has discovered new details about a key gene involved in ALS, perhaps humanity’s most puzzling, intractable disease.

In this fatal disorder with no effective treatment options, scientists (including members of U of T) achieved a major breakthrough in 2011 when they discovered mutations in the gene C9orf72, as the most frequent genetic cause of ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But little was known about how this gene and its related protein worked in the cell.

To solve this problem, Professor Janice Robertson and her team at the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases developed novel antibodies that not only specifically detected C9orf72 in human tissues, but could also distinguish between both the long and short isoforms.  

“Using these antibodies we have made the remarkable discovery that C9orf72 is localized to the nuclear membrane in healthy neurons, but is mislocalized to the plasma (outer membrane) in diseased neurons,” says Robertson, whose research was published July 14 online in the journal Annals of Neurology. 

Robertson and her team also showed that C9orf72 directly interacts with components of the nuclear shuttling complex, which is responsible for the movement of proteins across the nuclear membrane. One such protein is TDP-43, which normally resides in the nucleus but is wrongly localized to the cytoplasm in diseased neurons in ALS. TDP-43 accumulation and aggregation in the cytoplasm diagnoses most ALS cases – but the link with C9orf72 was absent. Now through the use of the C9orf72 antibodies the Robertson lab has found that loss of C9orf72 from the nuclear membrane correlates with TDP-43 pathology. These results suggest that defects in C9orf72 affect the proper functioning of the nuclear shuttling complex, resulting in TDP-43 build up in the cytoplasm.

“We’ve discovered a link between the genetic cause of ALS and its pathology that appears to be important for all cases, not just familial ones,” says Robertson, a Canada Research Chair in ALS. “The possible involvement of C9orf72 in the shuttling between nucleus and cytoplasm opens intriguing new avenues of research into the causes of ALS – and hopefully, one day an effective treatment or cure.”

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A jet engine powered by lasers and nuclear explosions? Boeing gets awarded with patent

A jet engine powered by lasers and nuclear explosions? Boeing gets awarded with patent | Amazing Science |

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded a patent (US 9,068,562) to Boeing engineers and scientists for a laser- and nuclear-driven airplane engine.

“A stream of pellets containing nuclear material such as Deutrium or Tritium is fed into a hot-stop within a thruster of the aircraft,” Patent Yogi explains. “Then multiple high powered laser beams are all focused onto the hot-spot. The pellet is instantly vaporized and the high temperature causes a nuclear fusion reaction. In effect, it causes a tiny nuclear explosion that scatters atoms and high energy neutrons in all directions. This flow of material is concentrated to exit out of the thruster thus propelling the aircraft forward with great force.

“And this is where Boeing has done something extremely clever. The inner walls of the thurster are coated with a fissile material like Uranium-238 that undergoes a nuclear fission upon being struck by the high energy neutrons. This releases enormous energy in the form of heat. A coolant is circulated along the inner walls to pick up this heat and power a turbine which in turn generates huge amounts of electric power. And guess what this electric power is used for? To power the same lasers that created the electric power! In effect, this space-craft is self-powered with virtually no external energy needed.

“Soon, tiny nuclear bombs exploding inside a plane may be business as usual.”

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Astronomers find a massive black hole that outgrew its galaxy

Astronomers find a massive black hole that outgrew its galaxy | Amazing Science |

Astronomers have spotted a super-sized black hole in the early universe that grew much faster than its host galaxy. The discovery runs counter to most observations about black holes, which are massive areas of space with extraordinarily strong gravity that can pull in anything — even light. In most cases, black holes and their host galaxies expand at the same rate.

This particular black hole formed in the early universe, roughly two billion years after the Big Bang. An international research group made the discovery during a project to map the growth of supermassive black holes across cosmic time. The team included astronomers from Yale University, ETH Zurich, the Max-Planck Institute in Germany, Harvard University, the University of Hawaii, INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, and Oxford University.

“Our survey was designed to observe the average objects, not the exotic ones,” said C. Megan Urry, Yale’s Israel Munson Professor of Astrophysics and co-author of a study about the phenomenon in the journal Science. “This project specifically targeted moderate black holes that inhabit typical galaxies today. It was quite a shock to see such a ginormous black hole in such a deep field.”

Deep-field surveys are intended to look at faint galaxies; they point at small areas of the sky for a longer period of time, meaning the total volume of space being sampled is relatively small. This particular black hole, located in the galaxy CID-947, is among the most massive black holes ever found. It measures nearly 7 billion solar masses.

However, it was the mass of the surrounding galaxy that most surprised the research team. “The measurements correspond to the mass of a typical galaxy,” said lead author Benny Trakhtenbrot, a researcher at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Astronomy. “We therefore have a gigantic black hole within a normal-size galaxy.”

Most galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have a black hole at their center, holding millions to billions of solar masses. Not only does the new study challenge previous notions about the way host galaxies grow in relation to black holes, it also challenges earlier suggestions that the radiation emitted by expanding black holes curtails the creation of stars.

Stars were still forming in CID-947, the researchers said, and the galaxy could continue to grow. They said CID-947 could be a precursor of the most extreme, massive systems observed in today’s local universe, such as the galaxy NGC 1277 in the Perseus constellation, 220 million light years from the Milky Way. But if so, they said, the growth of the black hole still greatly anticipated the growth of the surrounding galaxy, contrary to what astronomers thought previously.

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The origin of biological clocks

The origin of biological clocks | Amazing Science |
Most of Earth’s creatures keep time with the planet’s day/night cycle. Scientists are still debating how and why the circadian clocks that govern biological timekeeping evolved.

The Earth has rhythm. Every 24 hours, the planet pirouettes on its axis, bathing its surface alternately in sunlight and darkness. Organisms from algae to people have evolved to keep time with the planet’s light/dark beat. They do so using the world’s most important timekeepers: daily, or circadian, clocks that allow organisms to schedule their days so as not to be caught off guard by sunrise and sunset.

A master clock in the human brain appears to synchronize sleep and wake with light. But there are more. Circadian clocks tick in nearly every cell in the body. “There’s a clock in the liver. There’s a clock in the adipose [fat] tissue. There’s a clock in the spleen,” says Barbara Helm, a chronobiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Those clocks set sleep patterns and meal times. They govern the flow of hormones and regulate the body’s response to sugar and many other important biological processes (SN: 4/10/10, p. 22).

Having timekeepers offers such an evolutionary advantage that species have developed them again and again throughout history, many scientists say. But as common and important as circadian clocks have become, exactly why such timepieces arose in the first place has been a deep and abiding mystery.

Many scientists favor the view that multiple organisms independently evolved their own circadian clocks, each reinventing its own wheel. Creatures probably did this to protect their fragile DNA from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. But a small group of researchers think otherwise. They say there had to be one mother clock from which all others came. That clock evolved to shield the cell from oxygen damage or perhaps provide other, unknown advantages.

The original biological timepiece may not have resembled the precision body clocks that scientists study today. The ancestral clock may have started out as simple as a sundial, researchers say, but it provided a foundation for building the more elaborate mechanisms that now control everything from blood pressure to bedtime.

Circadian clocks don’t have gears and hands. They’re composed of RNA molecules and proteins that oscillate in abundance. At particular times of day, certain clock proteins switch on production of messenger RNA, used by the cell to bake fresh batches of other clock proteins. Eventually levels of those proteins reach a certain threshold; they then shut off creation of the messenger RNA that produces them. The self-suppressing proteins disintegrate or get nibbled away by other proteins until their levels fall below a threshold, signaling the need for another batch, and the cycle starts again.

Marcelo Errera's curator insight, July 19, 2015 11:28 AM

There are two separate processes: how the rhythm evolved and how it was encoded. They're both continuing process.

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Gecko-inspired adhesives helps humans to climb glass walls and may provide a better grip for robotic arms

Gecko-inspired adhesives helps humans to climb glass walls and may provide a better grip for robotic arms | Amazing Science |

Forget Spider-man, and meet Geckoman. Researchers at Stanford University have created a gecko-inspired human climbing system that allowed a grad student to scale a glass wall using two hand-sized sticky pads. The researchers, led by engineer Mark Cutkosky, also hope to use the adhesives in manufacturing equipment, making grippers for manipulating huge solar panels, displays, and other objects without the need for suction power or chemical glues. The team is also working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to adapt the adhesive for use by robots.

Gecko toes are incredibly sticky because they are covered with groups of long, thin spatula-shaped structures called setae that increase surface area and amplify weak electrical attractions between the toes and a surface. Gecko feet stick well but are readily released when the animal shifts its weight; and of course, they can stick again and again, unlike most man-made adhesive tapes.

Researchers have made various artificial adhesives that work the same way, using clusters of carbon nanotubes or microscale wedges of molded rubber to mimic the high surface area of the setae on gecko feet. But these mechanisms have only worked well for small weights. Carrying larger weights requires materials with larger surface areas.

Using previous materials, a 70 kilogram human would require gecko-foot-like pads 10 times larger than a normal human hand in order to scale a wall. “Scaling gecko adhesion is a challenge,” says Cutkosky.

In 2015, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPAannounced that its Z-Man program had, for the first time, made a gecko-adhesive-based climbing system that enabled a person to scale a wall. Although DARPA didn’t provide details on how this was accomplished, the Stanford group, which participated in the Z-Man work, has made a similar demonstration using its own adhesive system. The work is described in research published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

To make the climbing system, the researchers started with an existing adhesive based on molded microwedges made from a polymer material called PDMS. They attached tiles of this material to a flat, hexagonal, hand-sized gripper. Each gripper was backed with a spring that distributed weight across the pad, and absorbed some of the force involved in climbing. To make climbing easier, the researchers also linked the grippers to platform for a person’s feet, thereby transferring the work of climbing to the legs.

Jeffrey Karp, a bioengineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, notes that the test situation involved a very smooth, clean, flat surface. Karp, who cofounded a company called Gecko Biomedical to commercialize a bioinspired surgical adhesive, says the Stanford researchers will need to show that their system works in less ideal environments. In the real world, a climbing system is liable to be exposed to humidity, rain, pollen, dust, and other contaminants, he notes.

The Stanford group hopes to test the adhesive in especially extreme conditions. This month they tested it in a zero-gravity airplane with NASA and found that it still worked.

Lucile Debethune's curator insight, July 15, 2015 7:35 AM

l'homme augmenté pourra bientot grimper sur des surfaces verticales.. avec le même système que les gecko (de petites impulsions electrique, de très grande surfaces adhésives, et une capacité à faire passer la charge d'un endroit à l'autre facilement, et de manière quasi illimité . Waow

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Comprehensive genomic profiles of small cell lung cancer : Virtually all had Rb and p53 inactivation

Comprehensive genomic profiles of small cell lung cancer :  Virtually all had Rb and p53 inactivation | Amazing Science |
We have sequenced the genomes of 110 small cell lung cancers (SCLC), one of the deadliest human cancers. In nearly all the tumours analysed we found bi-allelic inactivation of TP53 and RB1, sometimes by complex genomic rearrangements. Two tumours with wild-type RB1 had evidence of chromothripsis leading to overexpression of cyclin D1 (encoded by the CCND1 gene), revealing an alternative mechanism of Rb1 deregulation. Thus, loss of the tumour suppressors TP53 and RB1 is obligatory in SCLC. We discovered somatic genomic rearrangements of TP73 that create an oncogenic version of this gene, TP73Δex2/3. In rare cases, SCLC tumours exhibited kinase gene mutations, providing a possible therapeutic opportunity for individual patients. Finally, we observed inactivating mutations in NOTCH family genes in 25% of human SCLC. Accordingly, activation of Notch signalling in a pre-clinical SCLC mouse model strikingly reduced the number of tumours and extended the survival of the mutant mice. Furthermore, neuroendocrine gene expression was abrogated by Notch activity in SCLC cells. This first comprehensive study of somatic genome alterations in SCLC uncovers several key biological processes and identifies candidate therapeutic targets in this highly lethal form of cancer.
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Rapid Ebola diagnostic successful in field trial

Rapid Ebola diagnostic successful in field trial | Amazing Science |
A new test can accurately diagnose Ebola virus disease within minutes, providing clinicians with crucial information for treating patients and containing outbreaks.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health and Boston Children's Hospital have shown that a new commercially developed rapid diagnostic test performed at bedside was as sensitive as the conventional laboratory-based method used for clinical testing during the recent outbreak in Sierra Leone. The results are published in The Lancet.

While the West African Ebola epidemic has slowed since its peak last fall, the crisis simmers on; there were still 24 confirmed cases of Ebola reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone in the week ending June 14, 2015.

To fight Ebola, the first step is to determine which patients are sick with the disease and which with other illnesses with a similar presentation. To use the currently recommended molecular approach, laboratories must be built and samples of highly infectious blood must be drawn, often with unsafe needles and syringes, and then shipped over potentially great distances at substantial risk to the health care workers involved in the process. Then, clinicians and patients must wait for results—sometimes for several days.

These obstacles and delays prevent timely diagnosis and treatment, and also result in individuals without Ebola being admitted to holding units where they may become infected with the virus, the researchers said.

"Simplifying the process and speeding up diagnosis could have a major impact," said Nira Pollock, senior author of the paper and HMS assistant professor of medicine and associate medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital.

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began to surge in 2014, Pollock and Partners In Health researcher Jana Broadhurst worked with the research core of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine to reach out to teams around the world who were developing diagnostic tools that would enable clinicians to diagnose Ebola patients quickly.

One candidate, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test, developed by Corgenix, seemed like a promising tool. Working with colleagues at Partners In Health and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone, the HMS team was able to plug into an environment that allowed it to train local technicians to perform the test and help collect data for the study. The team at the Public Health England lab at Port Loko, where clinical samples were routinely sent for standard molecular diagnostic testing, were also key collaborators. Corgenix donated test kits to the HMS team.

The field trial took place at two treatment centers operated by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone and supported by PIH, where 106 patients suspected of having Ebola were tested during February 2015 using the rapid diagnostic test (performed on a fingerstick blood sample at the point of care). The patients were also tested using the standard RT-PCR (performed on plasma in the laboratory). Both rapid diagnostic tests, on whole blood, and RT-PCR, on plasma, were also performed on 284 samples in the laboratory.

The rapid diagnostic test detected all confirmed cases of Ebola that were positive by the benchmark test in both point-of-care and laboratory testing with sensitivity of 100 percent (identifying all patients with Ebola found by the benchmark method), and a specificity of 92 percent (few false positives).

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Clever cloaks: Unique metamaterials preserve phase when guiding surface waves around ultrasharp corners and bumps

Clever cloaks: Unique metamaterials preserve phase when guiding surface waves around ultrasharp corners and bumps | Amazing Science |

Today's photonic and plasmonic devices – the latter based on surface plasmons (a coherent delocalized electron oscillations that exist at the interface between metal and dielectric) and combining the small size and manufacturability of electronics with the high speeds of optics – need the ability to guide surface electromagnetic waves around disorder, such as ultrasharp corners and bumps, without disturbing the wave amplitude or phase. That being said, achieving this preservation of phase and amplitude has been difficult due to the fact that light momentum must be conserved in a scattering event (that is, when electromagnetic radiation or particles are deflected or diffused by localized non-uniformities in the medium through which that radiation is passing). However, scientists at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology created (so-called invisibility) cloaks based on specifically-designed nonmagnetic anisotropic, or directionally dependent, metamaterials that achieve nearly ideal transmission efficiency over a broadband frequency range. The researchers state that results the viability of applying transformation optics – which applies metamaterials to produce spatial variations, derived from coordinate transformations, which can direct chosen bandwidths of electromagnetic radiation – to plasmonic circuits, and in so doing could lead to high-performance, large-scale integrated photonic circuits.

Prof. Hongsheng Chen at Zhejiang University and Prof. Baile Zhang at Nanyang Technological University discussed the paper that they and their colleagues published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "In overcoming narrow-band light transmission limitations and disorder-related phase disturbances in guiding surface electromagnetic waves, the fundamental challenge lies in realizing broadband scattering-free propagation – that is, how to match momentum when the surface wave propagates before or after the disorder in a broad band," Chen tells In other words, surface waves suffer from scattering loss as a result of momentum mismatch when encountering sharp corners or other irregular disorders.

A related obstacle was demonstrating – both theoretically and experimentally – broadband surface electromagnetic wave guidance around ultrasharp corners and bumps with no perceptible changes in amplitude and phase. "Theoretically, transformation optics can potentially provide a solution to guide the surface wave by warping the electromagnetic space around ultrasharp corners, so that electromagnetic surface waves will be deceived as if they were still propagating along a flat surface without any corner," Chen explains. However, he adds, since this generally requires both electric and magnetic anisotropic materials and is therefore difficult to implement, the main theoretical challenge in cloaking disorders is to design a feasible coordinate transformation with anisotropic parameters. "Experimentally," Chen continues, "the main challenge is designing and implementing a feasible non-magnetic metamaterial that meets the parameter requirements derived from transformation optics, because a stable magnetic response is difficult to realize over a broad frequency band."

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Genomics vs. YouTube and Twitter: Genome researchers raise alarm over big data

Genomics vs. YouTube and Twitter: Genome researchers raise alarm over big data | Amazing Science |

Storing and processing genome data will exceed the computing challenges of running YouTube and Twitter, biologists warn.

The data-handling requirements of YouTube are well documented. Users upload 300 hours of video every minute. If the site keeps growing at its current rate, researchers think users could be uploading 1,700 hours of video a minute by 2025, a total that would amount to 2 exabytes of data per year. Yet if a new analysis is right, the computing crunch facing genomics could dwarf these challenges.

The computing resources needed to handle genome data will soon exceed those of Twitter and YouTube, says a team of biologists and computer scientists who are worried that their discipline is not geared up to cope with the coming genomics flood. Other computing experts say that such a comparison with other ‘big data’ areas is not convincing and a little glib. But they agree that the computing needs of genomics will be enormous as sequencing costs drop and ever more genomes are analysed.

By 2025, between 100 million and 2 billion human genomes could have been sequenced, according to the report1, which is published in the journal PLoS Biology. The data-storage demands for this alone could run to as much as 2–40 exabytes (1 exabyte is 1018 bytes), because the number of data that must be stored for a single genome are 30 times larger than the size of the genome itself, to make up for errors incurred during sequencing and preliminary analysis.

The team says that this outstrips YouTube’s projected annual storage needs of 1–2 exabytes of video by 2025 and Twitter’s projected 1–17 petabytes per year (1 petabyte is 1015 bytes). It even exceeds the 1 exabyte per year projected for what will be the world’s largest astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array, to be sited in South Africa and Australia. But storage is only a small part of the problem: the paper argues that computing requirements for acquiring, distributing and analysing genomics data may be even more demanding.

“This serves as a clarion call that genomics is going to pose some severe challenges,” says biologist Gene Robinson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), a co-author of the paper. “Some major change is going to need to happen to handle the volume of data and speed of analysis that will be required.”

Narayan Desai, a computer scientist at communications giant Ericsson in San Jose, California, is not impressed by the way the study compares the demands of other disciplines. “This isn’t a particularly credible analysis,” he says. Desai points out that the paper gives short shrift to the way in which other disciplines handle the data they collect — for instance, the paper underestimates the processing and analysis aspects of the video and text data collected and distributed by Twitter and YouTube, such as advertisement targeting and serving videos to diverse formats.

Nevertheless, Desai says, genomics will have to address the fundamental question of how much data it should generate. “The world has a limited capacity for data collection and analysis, and it should be used well. Because of the accessibility of sequencing, the explosive growth of the community has occurred in a largely decentralized fashion, which can't easily address questions like this," he says. Other resource-intensive disciplines, such as high-energy physics, are more centralized; they “require coordination and consensus for instrument design, data collection and sampling strategies”, he adds. But genomics data sets are more balkanized, despite the recent interest of cloud-computing companies in centrally storing large amounts of genomics data.

Astronomers and high-energy physicists process much of their raw data soon after collection and then discard them, which simplifies later steps such as distribution and analysis. But genomics does not yet have standards for converting raw sequence data into processed data.

The variety of analyses that biologists want to perform in genomics is also uniquely large, the authors write, and current methods for performing these analyses will not necessarily translate well as the volume of such data rises. For instance, comparing two genomes requires comparing two sets of genetic variants. “If you have a million genomes, you’re talking about a million-squared pairwise comparisons,” says Saurabh Sinha, a computer scientist at the UIUC and a co-author of the paper. “The algorithms for doing that are going to scale badly.

Samuel Viana's comment, July 17, 2015 10:37 AM
Just to stress out that 1 exabyte is 10^18 bytes, not 'just' 1018 bytes. Loss of formatting in much copy+paste in the middle.
Samuel Viana's curator insight, July 17, 2015 10:42 AM

Com a queda dos preços de sequenciação do genoma, muita gente especula que atingimos a fase do 'single-molecule sequencing', ou seja, a possibilidade de sequenciar o genoma inteiro de uma pessoa.
O problema é que, de acordo, com o artigo publicado no PlosOne, a necessidade de encontrar armazenamento físico para guardar semelhante volume de informação seria inexequível, devido à forma como a necessidade de armazenamento cresce de forma exponencial comparactivamente com outros factos. O Youtube é dado como exemplo comparativo.

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Density-Near-Zero Acoustical Metamaterial Made in China

Density-Near-Zero Acoustical Metamaterial Made in China | Amazing Science |

When a sound wave hits an obstacle and is scattered, the signal may be lost or degraded. But what if you could guide the signal around that obstacle, as if the interfering barrier didn't even exist? Recently, researchers at Nanjing University in China created a material from polyethylene membranes that does exactly that.

Their final product, described this week in the Journal of Applied Physics, from AIP Publishing, was an acoustical "metamaterial" with an effective density near zero (DNZ). This work could help to endow a transmission network with coveted properties such as high transmission around sharp corners, high-efficient wave splitting, and acoustic cloaking.

"It's as if the entire [interior] space is missing," said Xiaojun Liu, a professor in the physics department at Nanjing University's Collaborative Innovation Center of Advanced Microstructures.
"We were curious about whether we could make a simple but compact density-near-zero metamaterial from just a few tiny membranes," Liu said, "and, if so, can we further manipulate sound and make acoustic invisibility cloaks and other strange functional devices?"

Previous prototypes had attempted to achieve density-near-zero by using coiled structures and phononic crystals to create "Dirac cones," but required large physical dimensions, complex geometric structures, and the difficult feat of slowing sound waves to extremely low velocities within scattering cylinders to be effective -- limiting their practical applications.

Their current paper proposes a physical, minimalist realization of their original density-near-zero idea, consisting of 0.125 mm-thick polyethylene membranes perforated with 9-millimeter-radius holes in a square grid inside of a metal waveguide, a physical structure for guiding sound waves. The intensive resonances of the membranes significantly reduce the structure's effective mass density, which is a measure of its dynamic response to incident sound waves.

By Newton's second law, this reduction causes the average acceleration of the structure to approach infinity, which gives rise to sound tunneling. When sound at a frequency of 990 Hz is then conducted and rapidly accelerated through the material, the membranes act as a tunnel for sound, encapsulating the waves into local subwavelength regions. This arrangement allows the sound waves to pass through without accumulating a phase change or distorting the wavefront -- analogous to the quantum tunneling effect, in which a particle crosses through a potential energy barrier otherwise insurmountable by classical mechanics.

For future applications, the metamaterial would likely be integrated into acoustic circuits and structures. When implemented in a wave splitter, the researchers found an 80 percent increase in the efficiency of energy transmission, regardless of the wave's incident angle. Additionally, the researchers are able to tune the frequency of the metamaterial network by altering the membrane's tension and physical dimensions, which they were unable to do in previous prototypes.

Liu and his colleagues have already used the membrane network to fabricate a planar hyperlens, a device which magnifies one and two-dimensional objects on the subwavelength scale to compensate for the losses of acoustic waves carrying fine details of images as they pass a lens. This can allow scientists to see fine features of objects such as tumors, or minute flaws within airplane wings in industrial testing, that may otherwise be unobservable due to an instrument's diffractive limit.

Additional planned applications include using smart acoustic structures, such as logic gates that can control acoustic waves by altering their propagation, for communication systems in environmental conditions too extreme for conventional electronic devices and photonic structures.

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Continued destruction of Earth's plant life places humans in jeopardy

Continued destruction of Earth's plant life places humans in jeopardy | Amazing Science |
Unless humans slow the destruction of Earth's declining supply of plant life, civilization like it is now may become completely unsustainable, according to a paper published recently by University of Georgia researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years," said the study's lead author, John Schramski, an associate professor in UGA's College of Engineering. "The sun's energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished."

Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life, he explained, and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun's light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.

The study's calculations are grounded in the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, a branch of physics concerned with the relationship between heat and mechanical energy. Chemical energy is stored in plants, or biomass, which is used for food and fuel, but which is also destroyed to make room for agriculture and expanding cities.

Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.

"If we don't reverse this trend, we'll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us," Schramski said.

If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.

"I'm not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics," Schramski said. "These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it's exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it."

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From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons

From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons | Amazing Science |

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA's New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

"Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations."

“Home run!” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is returning amazing results already. The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing."

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago -- mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.  

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer at SwRI.

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. A new sneak-peek image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33 kilometers).

The observations also indicate Hydra's surface is probably coated with water ice. Future images will reveal more clues about the formation of this and the other moon billions of years ago. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto. 

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Researchers successfully combine two different materials to create new hyper-efficient light-emitting crystal

Researchers successfully combine two different materials to create new hyper-efficient light-emitting crystal | Amazing Science |
It's snack time: you have a plain oatmeal cookie, and a pile of chocolate chips. Both are delicious on their own, but if you can find a way to combine them smoothly, you get the best of both worlds.

Researchers in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering used this insight to invent something totally new: they've combined two promising solar cell materials together for the first time, creating a new platform for LED technology.

The team designed a way to embed strongly luminescent nanoparticles called colloidal quantum dots (the chocolate chips) into perovskite (the oatmeal cookie). Perovskites are a family of materials that can be easily manufactured from solution, and that allow electrons to move swiftly through them with minimal loss or capture by defects.

The work is published in the international journal Nature on July 15, 2015.

"It's a pretty novel idea to blend together these two optoelectronic materials, both of which are gaining a lot of traction," says Xiwen Gong, one of the study's lead authors and a PhD candidate working with Professor Ted Sargent. "We wanted to take advantage of the benefits of both by combining them seamlessly in a solid-state matrix."

The result is a black crystal that relies on the perovskite matrix to 'funnel' electrons into the quantum dots, which are extremely efficient at converting electricity to light. Hyper-efficient LED technologies could enable applications from the visible-light LED bulbs in every home, to new displays, to gesture recognition using near-infrared wavelengths.

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Development of smart clothes for personalized cooling and heating

Development of smart clothes for personalized cooling and heating | Amazing Science |

Instead of heating or cooling your whole house, imagine a fabric that will keep your body at a comfortable temperature — regardless of how hot or cold it actually is. That’s the goal of an engineering project called ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating) at the University of California, San Diego, funded with a $2.6M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

By regulating the temperature around an individual person, rather than a large room, the smart fabric could potentially cut the energy use of buildings and homes by at least 15 percent, said project leader Joseph Wang, distinguished professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego.

“In cases where there are only one or two people in a large room, it’s not cost-effective to heat or cool the entire room,” said Wang. “If you can do it locally, like you can in a car by heating just the car seat instead of the entire car, you can save a lot of energy.”

The smart fabric will be designed to regulate the temperature of the wearer’s skin — keeping it at 93° F — by adapting to temperature changes in the room. When the room gets cooler, the fabric will become thicker. When the room gets hotter, the fabric will become thinner, using polymers inside the smart fabric that expand in the cold and shrink in the heat.

“93° F is the average comfortable skin temperature for most people,” added Renkun Chen, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego, and one of the collaborators on this project.

The clothing will incorporate printable “thermoelectrics” into specific spots of the smart fabric to regulate the temperature on “hot spots” — such as areas on the back and underneath the feet — that tend to get hotter than other parts of the body when a person is active.

“With the smart fabric, you won’t need to heat the room as much in the winter, and you won’t need to cool the room down as much in the summer. That means less energy is consumed,” said Chen.

The researchers are also designing the smart fabric to power itself, using rechargeable batteries to power the thermoelectrics and biofuel cells that can harvest electrical power from human sweat.

The 3-D printable wearable parts will be thin, stretchable, and flexible to ensure that the smart fabric is not bulky or heavy. The material will also be washable, stretchable, bendable and lightweight. “We also hope to make it look attractive and fashionable to wear,” said Wang.

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Burning Ship Fractal Deep Zoom Animation Magnifies Starting Image by a factor of 1e100

The deepest and first ever HD deep-zoom animation into the Burning Ship fractal. This is one of the creepiest and yet stunningly gorgeous fractals ever.  A slight change in the formula that generates the famous Mandelbrot set gives this fractal incredible Gothic tower shapes. What the Mandelbrot set does with curlicues and spirals, this fractal does with lines, boxes, and angles. This gargantuan 12,000 frame, 6 minute 40 second, high-definition video magnifies the starting image by a factor of 1.3e100, a hugely deep zoom. It may not be 3D, but nothing like this has ever been seen before!

The fidelity to the structure of a fractal is the most important consideration here. This is not art that happens to have a fractal in it; this is an art dedicated to showing as accurately as possible how the fractals truly look. These images are high-precision because they zoom in way beyond the standard precision of most computers, to magnifications of 1030, 1050, or even to 10120! That's so big that a if a subatomic particle were magnified that much, it would be larger than the universe! Doing this requires special software to handle that extra math, and that is a technical challenge every bit as demanding as the artistic challenges of finding great images.

These animations are also "high-precision" in a different sense -- the images and videos are very high-quality, carefully crafted and beautifully colorized fractal images rendered with precise fidelity to the original underlying fractal structures. Fractals have exquisite detail at all levels of magnification, infinitely great detail, in fact, so there is always something more to see, no matter how much has been explored before. The structures in the Mandelbrot set and other fractals at these extreme levels of magnification can be truly spectacular, unlike anything ever seen before.

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Magnetic Waves From Distant Black Hole Shake Like Whip Being Held by Giant Hand

Magnetic Waves From Distant Black Hole Shake Like Whip Being Held by Giant Hand | Amazing Science |

NASA scientists say fast-moving waves coming from a distant supermassive black hole undulate like a whip whose handle is being held by a giant hand. NASA released a series of slinky-like images that illustrate the undulating waves. The observation was made by scientists studying data from National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Long Baseline Array. The galaxy/black hole system is called BL Lacertae (BL Lac).

This is the first time Alfven waves have been identified in a black hole system. The waves are generated when magnetic field lines interact with charged particles or ions. They then become twisted or coiled. The ions from BL Lac are in the form of particle jets flung from opposite sides of the black hole at speeds about 98 percent the speed of light. The jet is a flow of charged particles, called a plasma. It has a helical magnetic field that permeates the plasma. 

David Meier, a retired astrophysicist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, says in a statement, "The waves are excited by a shaking motion of the jet at its base. By analyzing these waves, we are able to determine the internal properties of the jet, and this will help us ultimately understand how jets are produced by black holes." 

Marshall Cohen, an astronomer at Caltech and first author of the study, says, "Imagine running a water hose through a slinky that has been stretched taut. A sideways disturbance at one end of the slinky will create a wave that travels to the other end, and if the slinky sways to and fro, the hose running through its center has no choice but to move with it." 

The researchers say it is common for black hole particle jets to bend but it typically takes place of thousands of millions of years. Cohen says what is happening with the BL Lacertae system takes place in a matter of weeks. 

He says, "We're taking pictures once a month, and the position of the waves is different each month." 

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New Horizons Spacecraft Displays Pluto’s Big Heart

New Horizons Spacecraft Displays Pluto’s Big Heart | Amazing Science |

Three billion miles away, Pluto has sent a “love note” back to Earth, via NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.  At about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13 - about 16 hours before closest approach -  New Horizons captured this stunning image of one of Pluto's most dazzling and dominant features. The “heart,” estimated to be 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across at its widest point rests just above the equator. (The angle of view displays mostly the northern hemisphere.) The heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago, in America’s heartland.  

“Wow!” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, as the image was unveiled before the New Horizons science team at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “My prediction was that we would find something wonderful, and we did. This is proof that good things really do come in small packages.”

The newest image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shows an almost perfectly shaped left half of a bright, heart-shaped feature centered just above Pluto’s equator, while the right side of the heart appears to be less defined. 

The image shows for the first time that some surfaces on Pluto are peppered with impact craters and are therefore relatively ancient, perhaps several billion years old.  Other regions, such as the interior of the heart, show no obvious craters and thus are probably younger, indicating that Pluto has experienced a long and complex geological history. Some craters appear partially destroyed, perhaps by erosion. There are also hints that parts of Pluto’s crust have been fractured, as indicated by the series of linear features to the left of the heart.

Below the heart are dark terrains along Pluto’s equator, including, on the left, the large dark feature informally known as the “whale.” Craters pockmark part of the whale’s head; areas that appear smooth and featureless may be a result of image compression.

New Horizons traveled nearly a decade to receive its summer valentine, launching on January 19, 2006. This is just the latest in a series of the New Horizons Pluto "picture show."  On Wednesday July 15, more images of surface close-ups will make the more than four-hour journey to Earth at the speed of light to give Pluto fans details as small as New York’s Central Park.

“Our data tomorrow (Wednesday, July 15) will have ten times the resolution of what we see today and it will knock your socks off,” said Stern. Curt Niebur, New Horizons program scientist with NASA Headquarters in Washington notes, “The science is amazing, but the team’s excitement reminds me of why we really do this.”

At 7:49 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 14 New Horizons sped past Pluto at 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour), with a suite of seven science instruments. As planned, New Horizons went incommunicado as it hurtled through the Pluto-Charon system busily gathering data. The New Horizons team will breathe a sigh of relief when New Horizons “phones home” at approximately 9:02 p.m. EDT on July 14. The mission to the icy dwarf planet completes the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.

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A guide to the Internet of Things

A guide to the Internet of Things | Amazing Science |

You wake up in the morning and the fitness tracker on your wrist has recorded how well you slept, uploading the results to your Twitter account. Your coffee machine reads your Twitter feed and knowing you're awake, begins brewing your first coffee of the day.

Your bedroom lights, following your fitness tracker, turn on low and begin their slow brightening over the next few minutes as the bathroom starts warming your towel. Lights automatically turn on and off as you walk down the hall to the kitchen where your coffee is now waiting. As you leave for work, the robotic vacuum cleaner begins and updates its cleaning progress map to your phone.

Welcome to the world increasingly being envisioned by tech giants that's powered by the 'Internet of Things' (IoT) and promising to change the way we live. But what actually is this 'Internet of Things'? Basically, it's the combination of low-cost, low-power processors with 'real-world' electronic sensors and wireless network connectivity increasingly being added to a wide range of electrical devices. These sensors can measure everything from temperature and humidity to pressure, proximity, sound, light, gravity, movement, feedback and through on-board software, devices can record and action those measurements over the internet.

IoT was front-and-centre at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, starting what will inevitably be a year we see tech ventures, large and small, announce a vast array of gadgets that connect to the internet. Vacuum cleaner king Dyson will launch its 360 Eye robotic vacuum cleaner this year. With built-in Wi-Fi and Dyson's patented Cyclone cleaning tech, it'll update your phone showing you its cleaning map and progress.

Like the idea of a coffee machine you control from an app? Denmark's Scanomat has developed the stylish TopBrewer that lets you choose your coffee type from your Android or iOS phone or tablet. And if you're ever in Copenhagen, head to the TopBrewer Café, where there are no queues, just your coffee ordered, brewed and paid for by your phone.

Key to this IoT boom has been the continuing fall in the cost of the technology involved. We've seen this over the last couple of years with everything from 3D printing to smartwatches. The cost of adding Bluetooth wireless connectivity to a device has also crashed through the floor. Photodetector sensors in new heart-rate fitness trackers sell for as little as 50 cents each in commercial quantities; their green LEDs for as little as one cent. But it's the ever-falling cost of processing power that's putting computer chips into almost any gadget.

Unlike previous technology revolutions, the low cost of components has torn down the traditional 'barrier to entry' this time. Today, you just need an understanding of how IoT tech works – the sensors, the wireless technology, the processors, the cloud computing that increasingly forms the backbone – and a great idea. An idea alone won't make you millions, but thanks to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and indiegogo, IoT innovation can be driven as much by the tech community as it can by the big end of town (think LIFX). And those big corporates know it.

In late 2013, chip giant Intel joined the burgeoning DIY 'maker' market by releasing its first small computer development board called Galileo. Part of the 'Intel Maker' campaign, Galileo is powered by a 32-bit 400MHz single-core Pentium-class processor called the Quark X1000 and designed specifically to promote development of IoT projects.

To push it along, Intel planned on donating 50,000 boards to 1,000 selected universities worldwide, such as the University of Melbourne, during 2014. Since then, the Galileo 2 and super-tiny Edison boards have also been released.

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The LHC Has Discovered a New Sub-Atomic Particle Called a Pentaquark

The LHC Has Discovered a New Sub-Atomic Particle Called a Pentaquark | Amazing Science |

After restarting to run at higher power than ever, the Large Hadron Collider has made its first proper discovery. Today, a team of scientists announced that they have found a new class of sub-atomic particles known as pentaquarks.

Quarks are a series of charged sub-atomic particles that come together to form larger particles—such as protons and neutrons, which are each made of three of the things (a class of particle referred to as baryons). First proposed in 1964 by American physicist Murray Gell-Mann, their existence changed the way people thought about particle physicists.

But quarks can come together to form other entities, too. For a long time, people have speculated that another class of quark ensemble, called the pentaquark, could in theory exist. The pentaquark is, perhaps unsurprisingly, supposed to be made up of five smaller entities—four quarks and an anti-quark. Now, for the first time, researchers working on the LHCb experiment at the Collider have found evidence for their existence.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said Guy Wilkinson from the LHCb in a press release. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”

The team has identified the existence of the pentaquark by watching for the decay of a baryon known as Lambda b. As it split up into three well-known particles: a J-psi, a proton and a charged kaon—the scientists observed a transition state in which two previously unobserved particles could be identified.

“Benefiting from the large data set provided by the LHC, and the excellent precision of our detector, we have examined all possibilities for these signals, and conclude that they can only be explained by pentaquark states”, says LHCb physicist Tomasz Skwarnicki in a press release. “More precisely the states must be formed of two up quarks, one down quark, one charm quark and one anti-charm quark.”

Now, the scientists will study study the finer structure of the pentaquarks, to understand exactly how they’re bound together. It’s not the dark matter that CERN researchers are eventually hoping to find with the newly high-powered Collider, but it’s still another milestone in particle physics.

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Vanishing skeletonization in Cambrian comb jellies

Vanishing skeletonization in Cambrian comb jellies | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers with members from several institutions in China and one in the U.S. has found evidence that shows that ancient comb jellies had skeleton parts. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team describes comb jelly ancestor fossils that were found in rock formations in China, the skeleton parts they found and theories regarding possible reasons for those parts.

Contrary to popular belief, though they may look a lot like them, comb jellies are not jellyfish, instead they belong to the phylum Ctenophora. Scientists have found over a hundred species of the creature in its modern form and not one of them has any sort of skeleton. That is why the find in China is so surprising, an early relative that lived approximately 520 million years ago (during the Cambrian Period), did have some bony parts.

The fossils were found at the famous Chengjiang site, embedded in rock—in all, six species were found among over three dozen specimens, each with some amount of hard skeleton material. The bone-like material was shaped like spokes, struts or plates. The plates appeared to cover the bodies, serving apparently, as a barrier against predators, or perhaps some other harmful environmental factor. The researchers cannot say for sure what the bone-like material was made of but suspect it was likely chitin or something similar, or even a carbonate rich mineral material.

Also, because of the arrangement of the spokes or struts, the team suggests that the bones could have served a dual purpose, structural support and as a defense mechanism. In a bit of a twist, if the skeletal parts were indeed meant as a protection mechanisms, it does not appear to have worked out—the fossil species found in the rocks never made it to the modern age, they all died out.

The finding also appears to contradict theories (based on DNA models) that have suggested ancient comb jellies had tentacles—none of the fossils had any sign of them. On the other hand, finding they had skeletons suggests they faced unknown threats, which should present a new avenue for study.

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