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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers Combine Ideas of 3D Printing With Molecular Self-assembly – Is Molecular Manufacturing Next?

Researchers Combine Ideas of 3D Printing With Molecular Self-assembly – Is Molecular Manufacturing Next? | Amazing Science |

What’s the ultimate extension of 3D printing technology? Where could 3D printing take us in the future? Eventually, we will have nano-factories, 3D printing at the molecular level. We will be able to turn our garbage into just about anything we want, via a sophisticated computer system, along with hardware capable of breaking any mass down to its molecular level, before using those molecules to construct a brand new object.

The two men have now combined the ideas of 3D printing with that of molecular self assembly to create a process which they call ‘genetic 3D printing’. For those who are not biologists, molecular self assembly is simply the process in which molecules arrange themselves in a particular order without guidance from an outside source. Molecular self assembly is a bottom-up approach like that of 3D printing. The discovery, which was accidental, allowed the researchers to create proteins which have the ability to self assemble into fibers. The discovery was made while they were simply trying to produce gluten adhesives, by cutting out a section of the gluten protein. What happened next surprised them. When the section of the protein was removed, fibers self assembled themselves in the beaker.

The quality of the fibers were on par with those produced by silk spiders, something which researchers have been trying to produce for years. Spider silk has a strength-to-weight ratio which is five times that of steel, making it an ideal material for all sorts of applications. The researchers went back and realized that they can manipulate the protein structures of the fibers to change their colors, but this wasn’t all. By combining the gluten protein with other proteins, they are able to molecularly print fibers with varying electrical properties, strengths and colors. In ordinary 3D printing, individuals use a software to translate a computer code and raw material into a physical object. In this case the researchers found that they were able to use a genetic blueprint as their computer code and back-calculate the DNA, which was inserted into a host bacterium, in this case e-coli. From there, the protein (raw material) grew, left the cell, and interacted with one another to build the fibers which the researchers had predetermined.

If this seems amazing, both Barone and Senger believe that they could eventually utilize this method as a way to molecularly manufacture all sorts of objects. Because the protein fibers are natural building blocks, once a method is figured out in which they are able to get the fibers to organize into larger structures, anything could be possible. From a coffee pot, to human bone, or even muscle, the researchers believe that one day this method of 3D printing fibers could manufacture it all. The researchers are currently working to further their discovery, and produce the silk-like fibers in large quantity for a variety of uses.  Additionally they are looking for ways to increase the size of each fiber, eventually enabling the manufacturing of larger objects.

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Was a 3D-black hole from the surface of a 4D-universe the creator of our universe?

Was a 3D-black hole from the surface of a 4D-universe the creator of our universe? | Amazing Science |
Our universe may have emerged from a black hole in a higher-dimensional universe, propose a trio of Perimeter Institute researchers.

The big bang poses a big question: if it was indeed the cataclysm that blasted our universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago, what sparked it?

Three Perimeter Institute researchers have a new idea about what might have come before the big bang. It's a bit perplexing, but it is grounded in sound mathematics, testable, and enticing enough to earn the cover story in Scientific American, called "The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time." What we perceive as the big bang, they argue, could be the three-dimensional "mirage" of a collapsing star in a universe profoundly different than our own.

"Cosmology's greatest challenge is understanding the big bang itself," write Perimeter Institute Associate Faculty member Niayesh Afshordi, Affiliate Faculty member and University of Waterloo professor Robert Mann, and PhD student Razieh Pourhasan. Conventional understanding holds that the big bang began with a singularity – an unfathomably hot and dense phenomenon of spacetime where the standard laws of physics break down. Singularities are bizarre, and our understanding of them is limited. "For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity," Afshordi says in an interview with Nature.

In our three-dimensional universe, black holes have two-dimensional event horizons – that is, they are surrounded by a two-dimensional boundary that marks the "point of no return." In the case of a four-dimensional universe, a black hole would have a three-dimensional event horizon. In their proposed scenario, our universe was never inside the singularity; rather, it came into being outside an event horizon, protected from the singularity. It originated as – and remains – just one feature in the imploded wreck of a four-dimensional star.

The researchers emphasize that this idea, though it may sound "absurd," is grounded firmly in the best modern mathematics describing space and time. Specifically, they've used the tools of holography to "turn the big bang into a cosmic mirage." Along the way, their model appears to address long-standing cosmological puzzles and – crucially – produce testable predictions. Of course, our intuition tends to recoil at the idea that everything and everyone we know emerged from the event horizon of a single four-dimensional black hole. We have no concept of what a four-dimensional universe might look like. We don't know how a four-dimensional "parent" universe itself came to be.

But our fallible human intuitions, the researchers argue, evolved in a three-dimensional world that may only reveal shadows of reality. They draw a parallel to Plato's allegory of the cave, in which prisoners spend their lives seeing only the flickering shadows cast by a fire on a cavern wall.

"Their shackles have prevented them from perceiving the true world, a realm with one additional dimension," they write. "Plato's prisoners didn't understand the powers behind the sun, just as we don't understand the four-dimensional bulk universe. But at least they knew where to look for answers."

Vloasis's curator insight, August 12, 2014 2:00 AM

Maybe an alien experiment from another dimension went horribly awry and created our universe. Like, they were trying to find a new way to bomb the shit out of each other, and instead created a new existence. Or perhaps it was all too successful and rent open their world to create ours.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, August 12, 2014 3:30 AM

This is a fairly long scoop that would appeal to theologist from various faiths. It provides a scientific explanation for the "original mover" of Abrahamic faiths. The higher realms of existence would appeal to followers of Hinduism and Buddhism.


Other scoops related to cosmology can be read here:

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Using Bayesian statistics to rank Wikipedia entries

Using Bayesian statistics to rank Wikipedia entries | Amazing Science |

Computer scientists in China have devised a software algorithm based on Bayesian statistics that can automatically check a Wikipedia entry and rank it by its quality. Bayesian analysis is commonly used to assess the content of emails and determine the probability that the content is spam or junk mail, and if so, filter it from the user’s inbox if the probability is high.

Writing in the International Journal of Information Quality, Jingyu Han and Kejia Chen of Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications say they have used a dynamic Bayesian network (DBN) to analyze the content of Wikipedia entries in a similar manner.

They also apply multivariate Gaussian distribution modeling to the DBN analysis, which gives them a distribution of the quality of each article so that entries can be ranked. Very-low-ranking entries could be flagged for editorial attention to raise the quality. By contrast, high-ranking entries could be marked as the definitive entry in some way, so that such an entry is not subsequently overwritten with lower quality information.

Outperforming human users:

The team has tested its algorithm on sets of several hundred articles, comparing their automated quality assessment with assessment by a human user. Their algorithm outperforms a human user by up to 23 percent in correctly classifying the quality rank of a given article in the set, the researchers report.

The use of a computerized system to provide a quality standard for Wikipedia entries would avoid the subjective need to have people classify each entry. That could improve the standard and provide a basis for an improved reputation for the online encyclopedia.

* The term “Bayesian” refers to the 18th century mathematician and theologian Thomas Bayes, who provided the first mathematical treatment of a non-trivial problem of Bayesian inference.

— Wikipedia (hopefully, this entry is ranked as quality.)

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Super efficient LEDs could be made from ‘wonder material’ perovskite

Super efficient LEDs could be made from ‘wonder material’ perovskite | Amazing Science |

A hybrid form of perovskite - the same type of material which has recently been found to make highly efficient solar cells that could one day replace silicon - has been used to make low-cost, easily manufactured LEDs, potentially opening up a wide range of commercial applications in future, such as flexible color displays.

This particular class of semiconducting perovskites have generated excitement in the solar cell field over the past several years, after Professor Henry Snaith’s group at Oxford University found them to be remarkably efficient at converting light to electricity. In just two short years, perovskite-based solar cells have reached efficiencies of nearly 20%, a level which took conventional silicon-based solar cells 20 years.

Now, researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich have demonstrated a new application for perovskite materials, using them to make high-brightness LEDs. The results are published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Perovskite is a general term used to describe a group of materials that have a distinctive crystal structure of cuboid and diamond shapes. They have long been of interest for their superconducting and ferroelectric properties. But in the past several years, their efficiency at converting light into electrical energy has opened up a wide range of potential applications.

The perovskites that were used to make the LEDs are known as organometal halide perovskites, and contain a mixture of lead, carbon-based ions and halogen ions known as halides. These materials dissolve well in common solvents, and assemble to form perovskite crystals when dried, making them cheap and simple to make.

“These organometal halide perovskites are remarkable semiconductors,” said Zhi-Kuang Tan, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and the paper’s lead author. “We have designed the diode structure to confine electrical charges into a very thin layer of the perovskite, which sets up conditions for the electron-hole capture process to produce light emission.”

The perovskite LEDs are made using a simple and scalable process in which a perovskite solution is prepared and spin-coated onto the substrate. This process does not require high temperature heating steps or a high vacuum, and is therefore cheap to manufacture in a large scale. In contrast, conventional methods for manufacturing LEDs make the cost prohibitive for many large-area display applications.

“The big surprise to the semiconductor community is to find that such simple process methods still produce very clean semiconductor properties, without the need for the complex purification procedures required for traditional semiconductors such as silicon,” said Professor Sir Richard Friend of the Cavendish Laboratory, who has led this programme in Cambridge.

“It’s remarkable that this material can be easily tuned to emit light in a variety of colours, which makes it extremely useful for colour displays, lighting and optical communication applications,” said Tan. “This technology could provide a lot of value to the ever growing flat-panel display industry.”

The team is now looking to increase the efficiency of the LEDs and to use them for diode lasers, which are used in a range of scientific, medical and industrial applications, such as materials processing and medical equipment. The first commercially-available LED based on perovskite could be available within five years.

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How to synthesize structurally pure carbon nanotubes using molecular seeds

How to synthesize structurally pure carbon nanotubes using molecular seeds | Amazing Science |

By smoothing nanotube irregularities, a new process could lead to smaller, faster-switching next-generation electronic and electro-optical components. Researchers at Empa and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research have succeeded in “growing” single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) with a single predefined structure, with identical electronic properties.

The CNTs self-assembled out of tailor-made organic precursor molecules on a platinum surface, as reported by the researchers in the journal Nature.

With a diameter of roughly one nanometer, SWCNTs should be considered as quantum structures; the slightest structural changes, such as differences in diameter or in the alignment of the atomic lattice, may result in dramatic changes in electronic properties.

One SWCNT may be metallic, while another one with a slightly different structure is a semiconductor. So there is a great deal of interest in reliable methods of making SWCNTs as structurally uniform as possible. Such CNTs could help create next-generation electronic and electro-optical components that are smaller than ever before, allowing for faster switching times.

Here’s how the researchers did it:

  1. Transform the flat (2D) starting molecule into a three-dimensional object, the “germling.” This takes place on a hot platinum surface using a catalytic reaction in which hydrogen atoms are split off and new carbon-carbon bonds are formed at very specific locations. The “germ” — a small, dome-like entity with an open edge that sits on the platinum surface — is “folded” out of the flat molecule. This “end cap” forms the “lid” of the growing SWCNT.
  2. Attach more carbon atoms, which originate from the catalytic decomposition of ethylene (C2H4) on the platinum surface. They position themselves on the open edge between the platinum surface and the end cap, and raise the cap higher and higher, causing the nanotube to grow slowly upwards.

Only the germ defines the nanotube’s atomic structure, as the researchers were able to demonstrate through the analysis of the vibration modes of the SWCNTs and scanning tunnel microscope (STM) measurements. Further investigations using the new scanning helium ion microscope (SHIM) at Empa show that the resulting SWCNTs reach lengths greater than 300 nanometers.

The SWCNTs synthesized in this study are mirror-image symmetrical entities. However, depending on the manner in which the honeycombed atomic lattice is derived from the starting molecule (“straight” or “oblique” in relation to the CNT axis), it would also possible be possible to produce helically wound nanotubes, i.e., nanotubes twisting to the right or left, which are not mirror-image symmetrical.

This structure also determines the electronic, thermoelectric, and optical properties of the material. So in principle, the researchers could produce materials with different properties in a targeted manner by selecting the starting molecule.

The project was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (FNSNF).

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Clam fossils offer 10,000 year history of El Nino Southern Oscillation

Clam fossils offer 10,000 year history of El Nino Southern Oscillation | Amazing Science |

A research team working in Peru, with members from France, Peru and the U.S. has found a way to track the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) going back as far as ten thousand years. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team reports that their study of clam fossils has revealed clear patterns of the ENSO and report that it has not been increasing in intensity over the course of the Holocene as some have suggested.

People have been living on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Peru for a long time, and as they've done so, they've eaten clams, tossing the shells onto waste areas that grew to become huge mounds over thousands of years. In this new effort, the researchers dug down into several such mounds and extracted clam fossils they found, along with dirt and charcoal—remnants of ancient fires used to cook the clam meat. By taking measurements of oxygen isotopes in the clam shells, the researchers were able to calculate ocean surface temperatures at two to four week intervals throughout the lives of the individual clams, while radiocarbon dating of the dirt and charcoal revealed when the clams made their way into the mound. Examining multiple clams at different depths in the mounds allowed for creating a historical record of sea surface temperatures, and that allowed for charting the cycle of the ENSO going back ten thousand years.

The charts created by the research team suggest that the ENSO cycle does not have a predictable cycle and also that it has not been increasing in strength over the course of the Holocene as others have suggested. They did find some patterns, however. During a period approximately 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, for example, the ENSO was relatively weak, and during another period, from 6,700 to 7,500 years ago, ocean temperatures along the coast of Peru appeared to have been skewed by the location of warm water from an El Niño when trade winds push warm water into the Eastern Pacific.

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Nanoparticles open a new window into the brain

Nanoparticles open a new window into the brain | Amazing Science |

New imaging technique could help treat strokes, cancer and dementia.

Researchers at Stanford University in the US have developed the first non-invasive imaging technique that can detect micron-sized structures within blood vessels in the brains of mice. The method involves detecting near-infrared fluorescent light from single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) that are injected into the mice. The ability to monitor the structure of blood vessels – and the blood flow within them – is extremely important for treating conditions such as strokes, dementia and brain tumors.

Today, brain imaging mainly relies on techniques such as X-ray computed tomography and magnetic resonance angiography. However, these methods cannot image structures several microns in size. In addition, with these approaches it can take several minutes to acquire an image, which means that it is not possible to use them to monitor blood flow in real time.

Fluorescence-based brain imaging in the visible and near-infrared (NIR) regions of the electromagnetic spectrum (400–900 nm) is a good alternative but at the moment it requires skull-thinning or, worse still, craniotomy – where sections of the skull are removed and replaced with a transparent "window" – to work properly. This is because light at these wavelengths can only travel about 1 mm through the skull.

Now, a team led by Hongjie Dai and Calvin Kuo at Stanford has developed a new through-scalp and through-skull fluorescence imaging technique that goes a long way in overcoming these problems. The method makes use of the intrinsic fluorescence of SWCNTs in the 1.3–1.4 µm range. "We define this wavelength as the NIR-IIa window, and it represents just about the longest wavelengths for fluorescence imaging reported thus far," explains Dai.

"Photons at these wavelengths are much less scattered than those in the 400–900 nm window when traversing biological tissues and are not absorbed significantly by water either," says Dai. "All in all, this allows us to see deeper into the brain through intact scalp skin and bone than is possible with traditional fluorescence imaging, which is mostly done with <800 nm wavelength photons."

"Compared with all other techniques for in vivo brain imaging (including MRI and CT), our technique affords higher spatial resolution", he says. "It allows us to image single capillary blood vessels that are just microns across and as deep as 3 mm inside the brain."

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IBM Develops a New Chip That Functions Like a Brain

IBM Develops a New Chip That Functions Like a Brain | Amazing Science |

The processor, named TrueNorth, may eventually excel at calculations that stump today’s supercomputers.  The chip, or processor, is named TrueNorth and was developed by researchers at IBM and detailed in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science. It tries to mimic the way brains recognize patterns, relying on densely interconnected webs of transistors similar to the brain’s neural networks.

The chip’s electronic “neurons” are able to signal others when a type of data — light, for example — passes a certain threshold. Working in parallel, the neurons begin to organize the data into patterns suggesting the light is growing brighter, or changing color or shape. The processor may thus be able to recognize that a woman in a video is picking up a purse, or control a robot that is reaching into a pocket and pulling out a quarter. Humans are able to recognize these acts without conscious thought, yet today’s computers and robots struggle to interpret them.

Inspired by the brain’s structure, we have developed an efficient, scalable, and flexible non–von Neumann architecture that leverages contemporary silicon technology. To demonstrate, we built a 5.4-billion-transistor chip with 4096 neurosynaptic cores interconnected via an intrachip network that integrates 1 million programmable spiking neurons and 256 million configurable synapses. Chips can be tiled in two dimensions via an interchip communication interface, seamlessly scaling the architecture to a cortexlike sheet of arbitrary size. The architecture is well suited to many applications that use complex neural networks in real time, for example, multiobject detection and classification. With 400-pixel-by-240-pixel video input at 30 frames per second, the chip consumes 63 milliwatts.

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NASA's 'Flying Saucer' Air Brakes Ace Flight Test

NASA's 'Flying Saucer' Air Brakes Ace Flight Test | Amazing Science |

A prototype inflatable braking system to land heavy payloads on Mars aced a debut test flight in June, but its supersonic parachute will need to be reshaped to better accommodate the turbulent airflow of rapid descent, NASA engineers said Friday. NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) rocketed to an altitude of 190,000 feet after being carried into the stratosphere by a massive helium balloon.

The thin air and low pressure at that altitude is as close as engineers can come to simulating flight in Mars’ atmosphere. The idea of the experiment was to accelerate the braking system to four times the speed of sound, which is roughly the speed that a spacecraft from Earth would hit the Martian atmosphere.

“Our main objective was to show that we can get this vehicle to altitude, that we can get it to conditions that the technologies will see when they actually fly at Mars,” LDSD project manager Mark Adler, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told reporters at a press conference Friday.

Once in position, the vehicle inflated a doughnut-shaped air brake to increase its surface area and thus the amount of energy that could be dissipated by frictional heating during the fall through the atmosphere.

That part of the test went better than expected, lead researcher Ian Clark, also with JPL, told reporters. The structure inflated quickly and uniformly and managed to maintain its 20-foot diameter shape with only about 0.8 inches of deflection, which for an inflated structure is “pretty remarkable,” Clark said. Problems began with the deployment of a supersonic parachute, which was quickly torn apart as it attempted to inflate while moving at  2,500 mph.

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Still hot inside the Moon: Tidal heating in the deepest part of the lunar mantle

Still hot inside the Moon: Tidal heating in the deepest part of the lunar mantle | Amazing Science |

An international research team, led by Dr. Yuji Harada from Planetary Science Institute, China University of Geosciences, has found that there is an extremely soft layer deep inside the Moon and that heat is effectively generated in the layer by the gravity of the Earth. These results were derived by comparing the deformation of the Moon as precisely measured by Kaguya (SELENE, Selenological and Engineering Explorer) and other probes with theoretically calculated estimates. These findings suggest that the interior of the Moon has not yet cooled and hardened, and also that it is still being warmed by the effect of the Earth on the Moon. This research provides a chance to reconsider how both the Earth and the Moon have been evolving since their births through mutual influence until now.

When it comes to clarifying how a celestial body like a planet or a natural satellite is born and grows, it is necessary to know as precisely as possible its internal structure and thermal state. How can we know the internal structure of a celestial body far away from us? We can get clues about its internal structure and state by thoroughly investigating how its shape changes due to external forces. The shape of a celestial body being changed by the gravitational force of another body is called tide. For example, the ocean tide on the Earth is one tidal phenomenon caused by the gravitational force between the Moon and the Sun, and the Earth. Sea water is so deformable that its displacement can be easily observed. How much a celestial body can be deformed by tidal force, in this way, depends on its internal structure, and especially on the hardness of its interior. Conversely, it means that observing the degree of deformation enables us to learn about the interior, which is normally not directly visible to the naked eye. The Moon is no exception; we can learn about the interior of our natural satellite from its deformation caused by the tidal force of the Earth. The deformation has already been well known through several geodetic observations. However, models of the internal structure of the Moon as derived from past research could not account for the deformation precisely observed by the above lunar exploration programs.

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2.6 million light years long hydrogen gas bridge found, 15 billion times the mass of the sun

2.6 million light years long hydrogen gas bridge found, 15 billion times the mass of the sun | Amazing Science |

Astronomers and students have found a bridge of atomic hydrogen gas 2.6 million light years long between galaxies 500 million light years away. They detected the gas using the William E. Gordon Telescope at the Arecibo Observatory, a radio astronomy facility of the US National Science Foundation sited in Puerto Rico. The team publish their results today in a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The stream of atomic hydrogen gas is the largest known, a million light years longer than a gas tail found in the Virgo Cluster by another Arecibo project a few years ago. Dr Rhys Taylor, a researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences and lead author of the paper, said "This was totally unexpected. We frequently see gas streams in galaxy clusters, where there are lots of galaxies close together, but to find something this long and not in a cluster is unprecedented."

It is not just the length of the stream that is surprising but also the amount of gas found in it. Roberto Rodriguez, a 2014 graduate from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao who worked on the project as an undergraduate, explained "We normally find gas inside galaxies, but here half of the gas – 15 billion times the mass of the Sun – is in the bridge.

That's far more than in the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies combined!" The team is still investigating the origin of the stream. One notion surmises that the large galaxy at one end of the stream passed close to the group of smaller galaxies at the other end in the past, and that the gas bridge was drawn out as they moved apart. A second notion suggests that the large galaxy plowed straight through the middle of the group, pushing gas out of it. The team plan to use computer simulations to find out which of these ideas can best match the shape of the bridge that is seen with the Arecibo Telescope.

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Transform chemistry: The race is on to build a machine that can synthesize any organic compound possible

Transform chemistry: The race is on to build a machine that can synthesize any organic compound possible | Amazing Science |

A lab in 2014 boasts a battery of fume cupboards and analytical instruments — and no one is smoking a pipe. But the essence of what researchers are doing is the same. Organic chemists typically plan their work on paper, sketching hexagons and carbon chains on page after page as they think through the sequence of reactions they will need to make a given molecule. Then they try to follow that sequence by hand — painstakingly mixing, filtering and distilling, stitching together molecules as if they were embroidering quilts. But a growing band of chemists is now trying to free the field from its artisanal roots by creating a device with the ability to fabricate any organic molecule automatically. “I would consider it entirely feasible to build a synthesis machine which could make any one of a billion defined small molecules on demand,” declares Richard Whitby, a chemist at the University of Southampton, UK.

True, even a menu of one billion compounds would encompass just an infinitesimal fraction of the estimated 1060 moderately sized carbon-based molecules that could possibly exist. But it would still be at least ten times the number of organic molecules that have ever been synthesized by humans. Such a device could thus offer an astonishing diversity of compounds for investigation by researchers developing drugs, agrochemicals or materials.

“A synthesis machine would be transformational,” says Tim Jamison, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “I can see challenges in every single area,” he adds, “but I don't think it's impossible”.

A British project called Dial-a-Molecule is laying the groundwork. Led by Whitby, the £700,000 (US$1.2-million) project began in 2010 and currently runs until May 2015. So far, it has mostly focused on working out what components the machine would need, and building a collaboration of more than 450 researchers and 60 companies to help work on the idea. The hope, says Whitby, is that this launchpad will help team members to attract the long-term support they need to achieve the vision.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, August 8, 2014 10:13 PM

From high throughput sequencing and screening, we are moving to high throughput organic synthesis. In the near future, personalized medication may be viable after all. 


Read more scoops on novel therapies here:

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NASA's Hubble Finds Supernova Star System Linked to Potential 'Zombie Star'

NASA's Hubble Finds Supernova Star System Linked to Potential 'Zombie Star' | Amazing Science |

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for the first time have spotted a star system that later produced an unusual supernova explosion of a white dwarf, the stripped-down core of an ordinary star at the end of its life.

Examining archived Hubble images taken before the supernova, astronomers say they have detected the blue companion star of the white dwarf. The white dwarf slowly siphoned fuel from its companion, eventually igniting a runaway nuclear reaction in the dead star, and producing a weak supernova blast.

This particular supernova is classified as a Type Iax, a recently identified class of stellar explosion. These exploding stars are less energetic and fainter than Type Ia supernovae, which also originate from exploding white dwarfs in binary systems. Astronomers originally thought these weaker stellar blasts were unique Type Ia supernovae. So far, they have identified more than 30 of these mini-explosions, which occur at one-fifth the rate of Type Ia supernovae.

"Astronomers have been searching for decades for the progenitors of Type Ia's," said Saurabh Jha of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. "Type Ia's are important because they're used to measure vast cosmic distances and the expansion of the universe. But we have very few constraints on how any white dwarf explodes. The similarities between Type Iax's and normal Type Ia's make understanding Type Iax progenitors important, especially because no Type Ia progenitor has been conclusively identified. This discovery shows us one way that you can get a white dwarf explosion." The team's results is published in the journal Nature.

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Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial

Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial | Amazing Science |

Treatment with CD34+ hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells has been shown before to improve functional recovery in nonhuman models of ischemic stroke via promotion of angiogenesis and neurogenesis. A pilot study undertaken by researchers from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London has now shown promise in rapid treatment of serious strokes. The study, the first of its kind published in the UK, treated patients using stem cells from bone marrow.

According to the Stroke Association, about 152,000 people suffer a stroke in the UK alone each year. However, the five patients treated in the recent Imperial College pilot study all showed improvements. According to doctors, four of those had suffered the most severe kind of stroke, which leaves only four percent of people alive or able to live independently six months after the event. All four of the patients were alive after six months.

A particular set of CD34+ stem cells was used, as they help with the production of blood cells and blood vessels’ lining cells. These same cells have been found to improve the effects of stroke in animals, and they assist in brain tissue and blood growth in the affected areas of the brain. The CD34+ cells were isolated from samples taken from patients’ bone marrow and then infused into the affected area via an artery that leads to the brain, using keyhole surgery.

The innovative stem cell treatment differs from others in one important way: patients are treated within seven days of their stroke, rather than six months hence. The stroke sufferers all recorded improvements in terms of clinical measures of disability, despite four of the five having suffered the most severe kind of stroke.

Autologous CD34+ selected stem/progenitor cell therapy delivered intra-arterially into the infarct territory can be achieved safely in patients with acute ischemic stroke. Future studies that address eligibility criteria, dosage, delivery site, and timing and that use surrogate imaging markers of outcome are desirable before larger scale clinical trials.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, August 12, 2014 10:54 PM

A groundbreaking therapy in regenerative medicine. A stroke can cause permanent neurological damage or death and is in some ways it is more debilitating than a heart attack.


Any therapy which can repair some of the neurological damage is significant. The major challenge in preventing neurological damage is early detection, which can be difficult because there is often little discomfort and suffers may not know they are experiencing a stroke.


Recently, researchers have also mapped the functions of different regions of the brain. This forms part of the evidence against the "10% myth". Read more here:

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Optical projection tomography microscopy (OPTM) could detect early signs of cancer inside cells

Optical projection tomography microscopy (OPTM) could detect early signs of cancer inside cells | Amazing Science |

An optical technique able to spot the tell-tale changes in DNA content of cell nuclei during the earliest stages of cancer could offer valuable screening and surveillance in the fight against some forms of the disease.

Optical projection tomographic microscopy (OPTM), developed by a team at the University of Washingtonand commercialized as Cell-CT by VisionGate, employs computerized tomographic reconstruction methods analogous to those used in an X-ray CT scan. But its data comes from an optical examination, rather than an X-ray.

A paper published in SPIE's Journal of Medical Imaging assessed how well the technique could detect aneuploidy, the presence of an incorrect amount of DNA material in a cell nucleus that can be an early indication of cancer. The results show that OPTM was fully capable of providing results on a par with the gold-standard flow cytometry and image cytometry methods used by pathologists.

"OPTM stemmed originally from our wish to take microscopic images by simulating an X-ray," said Eric Seibel of the university's Human Photonics Laboratory (HPL). "One way to do that is to use an optical system with a high numerical aperture and high magnification lens, and scan that very thin focal plane through a very small object, such as the nucleus of a single cell."

In the Cell-CT platform, a widefield optical microscope is adapted with a customized rotation stage. Cells, their nuclear material already stained by standard techniques, are carried by an optical gel along a 50 micron channel in a microcapillary tube, which rotates around its long axis. A fast mirror scans the objective focal plane axially through the sample. The result is a large data set of "pseudo-projections," generated as the sample tube rotates. Algorithms adapted from those used in an analogous fashion for conventional CT images then turn the slices of visual data into a 3D image of the stained nuclear material of the specimen, with a resolution of 0.35 microns.

"This was essentially a calibration exercise," commented Seibel. "We wanted to make quantitative measurements on different standard cultured cancer cell lines, and see if OPTM could match results from flow cytometry; and we found that it could. We also wanted to see how to automate the process as much as possible, since 3D analysis is more difficult for humans to perform than 2D analysis, and computational power is needed."

Earliest signs of cancer: The implications for both cancer detection in certain specific scenarios and the wider development of new pathology techniques could be significant. Crucially, the technique could help to spot aneuploidy in small numbers of sample cells, potentially revealing the presence of cancer before other clinical signs materialize. Flow cytometry works on large numbers of cells and assesses whole populations, making it less able to spot the rare abnormality in a limited group of cells; but OPTM could be ideal.

In particular, VisionGate has positioned Cell-CT as means to spot the earliest signs of lung cancer, by using it to assess sputum samples from high-risk individuals, such as ex-smokers. Further developments in the platform are under way to automate the image analysis operation further, and also to boost the speed of the overall process, with the goal of imaging one cell in full 3D every second.

"There is a very good chance that 3D image analysis is the only way we can go for really early detection of cancer, early enough to allow implementation of therapeutic drugs to tamp down its progression," commented Seibel. "These types of techniques could become prominent for testing of sputum, urine, or in other instances where a sample can be taken with a needle and analyzed. Potentially this could all be done without a pathologist present."

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New microhairs bend in magnetic field, directing water against gravity

New microhairs bend in magnetic field, directing water against gravity | Amazing Science |

MIT engineers have fabricated a new elastic material coated with microscopic, hairlike structures that tilt in response to a magnetic field.

Depending on the field’s orientation, the microhairs can tilt to form a path through which fluid can flow; the material can even direct water upward, against gravity.

Potential uses include waterproofing, anti-glare "smart windows” for buildings and cars, and rain-resistant clothing.

In experiments, the magnetically activated material directed not just the flow of fluid, but also light — much as window blinds tilt to filter the sun. Researchers say the work could lead to waterproofing and anti-glare applications, such as “smart windows” for buildings and cars.

“You could coat this on your car windshield to manipulate rain or sunlight,” says Yangying Zhu, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “So you could filter how much solar radiation you want coming in, and also shed raindrops. This is an opportunity for the future.”

In the near term, the material could also be embedded in lab-on-a-chip devices to magnetically direct the flow of cells and other biological material through a diagnostic chip’s microchannels.

Zhu reports the details of the material this month in the journal Advanced Materials.

The inspiration for the microhair array comes partly from nature, Zhu says. For example, human nasal passages are lined with cilia — small hairs that sway back and forth to remove dust and other foreign particles. Zhu sought to engineer a dynamic, responsive material that mimics the motion of cilia.

In principle, more complex magnetic fields could be designed to create intricate tilting patterns throughout an array, say the researchers. Such patterns may be useful in directing cells through a microchip’s channels, or wicking moisture from a windshield. Since the material is flexible, it may even be woven into fabric to create rain-resistant clothing.


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Escape from Telomere-Driven Crisis Is DNA Ligase III Dependent

Escape from Telomere-Driven Crisis Is DNA Ligase III Dependent | Amazing Science |

Short dysfunctional telomeres are capable of fusion, generating dicentric chromosomes and initiating breakage-fusion-bridge cycles. Cells that escape the ensuing cellular crisis exhibit large-scale genomic rearrangements that drive clonal evolution and malignant progression. We demonstrate that there is an absolute requirement for fully functional DNA ligase III (LIG3), but not DNA ligase IV (LIG4), to facilitate the escape from a telomere-driven crisis. LIG3- and LIG4-dependent alternative (A) and classical (C) nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) pathways were capable of mediating the fusion of short dysfunctional telomeres, both displaying characteristic patterns of microhomology and deletion. Cells that failed to escape crisis exhibited increased proportions of C-NHEJ-mediated interchromosomal fusions, whereas those that escaped displayed increased proportions of intrachromosomal fusions. We propose that the balance between inter- and intra-chromosomal telomere fusions dictates the ability of human cells to escape crisis and is influenced by the relative activities of A- and C-NHEJ at short dysfunctional telomeres.

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New geoglyphs found in Nazca desert after sandstorm

New geoglyphs found in Nazca desert after sandstorm | Amazing Science |

While flying over the famous Nazca desert recently, pilot Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre spotted some geoglyphs that had not been seen before. He believes the geoglyphs or Nazca Lines, as others call them, were exposed after recent sand-storms carried away soil that was covering them.

The Nazca Lines have become world famous, showing up in paintings, movies, books and news articles. They exist on the floor of the Nazca desert in a southwestern part of Peru, near the ocean. Scientists believe the figures (approximately 700 in all) were created by the ancient Nazca people over a time period of a thousand years—500BC to 500AD.

The geoglyphs vary in size and have been categorized into two distinct categories: natural objects and geometric figures. The natural objects include animals such as birds, camelids, or snakes. It is believed the lines were created by removing iron-oxide coated pellets to a depth of four to six inches—that left the lighter sand below in stark contrast to the surrounding area. The images vary dramatically in size, with the largest approximately 935 feet long. It is a myth that the figures on the desert floor can only be seen by aircraft (they were first "discovered" by a pilot flying over the desert in 1939). In fact, they can be seen quite easily when standing on nearby mountains or hills.

The newly revealed figures discovered by de la Torre are of a snake (approximately 196 feet in length), a bird, a camelid (perhaps a llama) and some zig-zag lines. They are actually on some hills in the El Ingenio Valley and Pampas de Jumana near the desert floor. Archeologists have been alerted to authenticate the find.

The reason for the creation of the geoglyphs is still uncertain, though a host of possible explanations have been offered, many centered around religion and or water. Interestingly, all of the figures are believed to have been created using a single line that never crosses itself. Similar to how a picture might be drawn with a pencil, never lifting it from the paper. It has also been noted that many of the images depicted by geoglyphs also appear on pottery made by people over the same time period, and, archeologists have found evidence of wooden stakes used to help create the images, suggesting they were made using very simple techniques.

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Attosecond Timing Tools: Catching Chemistry in Motion

Attosecond Timing Tools: Catching Chemistry in Motion | Amazing Science |
SLAC researchers have developed a laser-timing system that could lead to X-ray snapshots fast enough to reveal the triggers of chemical and material reactions.

"Previously, we could see a chemical bond before it's broken and after it's broken," said Ryan Coffee, an LCLS scientist whose team developed this system. "With this tool, we can watch the bond while it is breaking and 'freeze-frame' it."

The success of most LCLS experiments relies on precise timing of the X-ray laser with another laser, a technique known as "pump-probe." Typically, light from an optical laser "pumps" or triggers a specific effect in a sample, and researchers vary the arrival of the X-ray laser pulses, which serve as the "probe" to capture images and other data that allow them to study the effects at different points in time.

Timing tools now in place at most LCLS experimental stations can measure the arrival time of the optical and X-ray laser pulses to an accuracy within 10 femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second. The new pulse-measuring system, which is highlighted in the July 27 edition of Nature Photonics, builds upon the existing tools and pushes timing to attoseconds, which are quintillionths (billion-billionths) of a second.

Nick Hartmann, an LCLS research associate and doctoral student at the University of Bern in Switzerland who is the lead author of the study detailing the system, said, "An X-ray laser with attosecond timing resolution would open up a new class of experiments on the natural time scale of electron motion."

The new system uses a high-resolution spectrograph, a type of camera that records the timing and wavelength of the probe laser pulses. The colorful patterns it displays represent the different wavelengths of light that passed, at slightly different times, through a thin sample of silicon nitride.

This material experiences a cascading reaction in its electrons when it is struck by an X-ray pulse. This effect leaves a brief imprint in the way light passes through the sample, sort of like a temporary interruption of vision following a camera's flash.

This X-ray-caused effect shows up in the way the light from the other laser pulse passes through the silicon nitride – it is seen as a brief dip in the amount of light recorded by the spectrograph, like the after-image of a camera flash. An image-analysis algorithm then precisely calculates, based on the recorded patterns, the relative arrival time of the X-ray pulses.

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Origami Inspires the Rise of Self-Folding Robot

Origami Inspires the Rise of Self-Folding Robot | Amazing Science |
A creation made of composite paper can fold and assemble itself and start working without intervention. Such robots could be deployed cheaply and quickly.

An intricately cut sheet lies flat and motionless on a table. Then Samuel Felton, a graduate student at Harvard, connects the batteries, sending electricity coursing through, heating it. The sheet lurches to life, the pieces bending and folding into place. The transformation completes in four minutes, and the sheet, now a four-limbed robot, scurries away at more than two inches a second. The creation, reported Thursday in the journal Science, is the first robot that can fold itself and start working without any intervention from the operator. “We’re trying to make robots as quickly and cheaply as possible,” Mr. Felton said.

Inspired by origami, the Japanese paper-folding art, such robots could be deployed, for example, on future space missions, Mr. Felton said. Or perhaps the technology could one day be applied to Ikea-like furniture, folding from a flat-packed board to, say, a table without anyone fumbling with Allen wrenches or deciphering instructions seemingly rendered in hieroglyphics.

Mr. Felton’s sheet is not simple paper, but a composite made of layers of paper, a flexible circuit board and Shrinky Dinks — plastic sheets, sold as a toy, that shrink when heated above 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers attached to the sheet two motors, two batteries and a microcontroller that served as the brain for the robot. Those components accounted for $80 of the $100 of materials needed for the robot. While the robot could fold itself, the sheet took a couple of hours for Mr. Felton to construct. Still, it was simpler and cheaper than the manufacturing process for most machines today — robots, iPhones, cars — which are made of many separate pieces that are then glued, bolted and snapped together.

Mr. Felton’s adviser, Robert J. Wood, a professor of engineering and applied sciences, was initially interested in building insect-size robots. But for machines that small, “there really are no manufacturing processes that are applicable,” Dr. Wood said.

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DCC-Netrin1: Mystery of brain cell growth unraveled by scientists

DCC-Netrin1: Mystery of brain cell growth unraveled by scientists | Amazing Science |
Scientists have discovered how a single protein can exert both a push and a pull force to nudge a neuron in the desired direction, helping neurons navigate to their assigned places in the developing brain.

Jia-huai Wang, PhD, who led the work at Dana-Farber and Peking University in Beijing, is a corresponding author of a report published in the August 7 online edition of Neuron that explains how one guidance protein, netrin-1, can either attract or repel a brain cell to steer it along its course. Wang and co-authors at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Hamburg, Germany, used X-ray crystallography to reveal the three-dimensional atomic structure of netrin-1 as it bound to a docking molecule, called DCC (Deleted in Colorectal Carcinoma), on the axon of a neuron. The axon is the long, thin extension of a neuron that connects to other neurons or to muscle cells.

DCC in a receptor for netrin-1 and is currently believed by some to be a conditional tumour suppressor gene, meaning that it normally prevents cell growth when in the absence of netrin-1. DCC elimination is not believed to be a key genetic change in tumour formation, but one of many alterations that can promote existing tumour growth. DCC's possible role in migration of cancerous cells is in the process of being characterized. While recent results make it fairly likely that DCC is involved in the biology of several cancers, the extent of its involvement and the details of how it works are still being studied.

As connections between neurons are established -- in the developing brain and throughout life -- axons grow out from a neuron and extend through the brain until they reach the neuron they are connecting to. To choose its path, a growing axon senses and reacts to different molecules it encounters along the way. One of these molecules, netrin-1, posed an interesting puzzle: an axon can be both attracted to and repelled from this cue. The axon's behavior is determined by two types of receptors on its tip: DCC drives attraction, while UNC5 in combination with DCC drives repulsion.

"How netrin works at the molecular level has long been a puzzle in neuroscience field," said Wang, "We now provide structure evidences that reveal a novel mechanism of this important guidance cue molecule." The structure showed that netrin-1 binds not to one, but to two DCC molecules. And most surprisingly, it binds those two molecules in different ways.

"Normally a receptor and a signal are like lock-and-key, they have evolved to bind each other and are highly specific -- and that's what we see in one netrin site," said Meijers. "But the second binding site is a very unusual one, which is not specific for DCC."

Not all of the second binding site connects directly to a receptor. Instead, in a large portion of the binding interface, it requires small molecules that act as middle-men. These intermediary molecules seem to have a preference for UNC5, so if the axon has both UNC5 and DCC receptors, netrin-1 will bind to one copy of UNC5 via those molecules and the other copy of DCC at the DCC-specific site. This triggers a cascade of events inside the cell that ultimately drives the axon away from the source of netrin-1, author Yan Zhang's lab at Peking University found. The researchers surmised that, if an axon has only DCC receptors, each netrin-1 molecule binds two DCC molecules, which results in the axon being attracted to netrin-1. "By controlling whether or not UNC5 is present on its tip, an axon can switch from moving toward netrin to moving away from it, weaving through the brain to establish the right connection," said Zhang.

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New ovarian cancer biomarker discovered

New ovarian cancer biomarker discovered | Amazing Science |
New clues to early detection and personalized treatment of ovarian cancer have been made by researchers. Ovarian cancer is currently one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose early due to the lack of symptoms that are unique to the illness. Successful treatment is difficult at this late stage, resulting in high mortality rates.

There are three predominant cancers that affect women -- breast, ovarian and womb cancer. Of the three, ovarian cancer is of the greatest concern as it is usually diagnosed only at an advanced stage due to the absence of clear early warning symptoms. Successful treatment is difficult at this late stage, resulting in high mortality rates. Ovarian cancer has increased in prevalence in Singapore as well as other developed countries recently. It is now the fifth most common cancer in Singapore amongst women, with about 280 cases diagnosed annually and 90 deaths per year.

Scientists have now successfully identified a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, which may allow for earlier detection of ovarian cancer and thus allow treatment at an early stage of the illness.

The team has identified a molecule, known as Lgr5, on a subset of cells in the ovarian surface epithelium. Lgr5 has been previously used to identify stem cells in other tissues including the intestine and stomach, but this is the first time that scientists have successfully located this important biomarker in the ovary. In doing so, they have unearthed a new population of epithelial stem cells in the ovary which produce Lgr5 and control the development of the ovary. Using Lgr5 as a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, ovarian cancer can potentially be detected earlier, allowing for more effective treatment at an early stage of the illness (see Annex A). These findings were published online in Nature Cell Biology in July 2014.

Of the different types of ovarian cancers detected, high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HG-SOC) is the most prevalent of epithelial ovarian cancers. It has also proven to be one of the most lethal ovarian cancers, with only 30 per cent of such patients surviving more than five years after diagnosis. HG-SOC remains poorly understood, with a lack of biomarkers identified for clinical use, from diagnosis to prognosis of patient survival rates.

By applying bioinformatics analysis on big cancer genomics data, BII scientists were able to identify genes whose mutation status could be used for prognosis and development of personalized treatment for HG-SOC. The gene, Checkpoint Kinase 2 (CHEK2), has been identified as an effective prognostic marker of patient survival. HG-SOC patients with mutations in this gene succumbed to the disease within five years of diagnosis, possibly because CHEK2 mutations were associated with poor response to existing cancer therapies (see Annex B). These findings were published in Cell Cycle in July 2014.

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Multi-Year Observations Prove That Cosmic Dust, Building Block Of Planets, Are Remnants From Supernovas

Multi-Year Observations Prove That Cosmic Dust, Building Block Of Planets, Are Remnants From Supernovas | Amazing Science |

A team of astronomers led by Christina Gall, an astrophysicist at Aarhus university, have made significant progress in answering a fundamental question regarding the development of the modern universe; the origins of cosmic dust.  Contrary to previous observations of supernovas, new data tracking the supernova over a much longer period of weeks to years, the researchers were able to detect a phase during which large particulate matter on the order of microns were being ejected from the remnant of the star.

Cosmic dust is a pervasive, quintessential component of the universe; it provides the raw ingredients for new stars, planets and ultimately, life itself. Until recently, scientists could not account for its abundance; it was unclear where or how the volume required for the contemporary universe could have formed in such quantities among frenetic star production in young galaxies. One posited idea was that cosmic dust was formed and ejected into space during violent supernova – but previous observations suggested such events produced far too little material to account for the abundance in the early universe.

Gall’s team observed the spectral changes of the nearby supernova remnant SN2010jl using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal, Chile, to discern its constituents. They monitored developmental changes from just several weeks post supernova over a period of years. In doing so, Gall’s team identified distinct phases of dust production. Between days 40 and 240, large volumes of cosmic dust were shown to be present, however, models suggested this particulate matter, if ejected during the supernova itself, would not have had sufficient time to cool and condense. Instead, Gall suggests the dust must have had to have been ejected prior to the supernova, as instability tore through the dying star.  After the star went supernova, the shockwave passing through the ejecta compressed the dust into a “shell”, providing a more conducive environment for gravity to take over and the particulate matter to begin coalescing.

In the earlier phase of the study, the VLT showed large dust grains present – from 1 to 4 micrometers across – their size providing the capacity to “make them resistant to shocks associated with the supernova slamming into the interstellar medium”.  Observations also showed that while slow at first, dust production began to speed up as the supernova remnant aged, lending further credence to the hypothesis that the supernova shockwave itself acted as a catalyst for grain formation. Longer term observations – between days 500 to 868 showed that as higher elements began to cool, cosmic dust production accelerated, rising ten-fold. By day 868, the mass of cosmic dust produced was equivalent to 0.0025 solar masses – or – 830 Earths.

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Driverless cars to hit UK roads next year

Driverless cars to hit UK roads next year | Amazing Science |

Driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future, with great potential to improve road safety. It seems the UK has caught on to this, announcing a £10 million (US$17 million) scheme to test driverless cars on public roads from January 2015.

The UK Government is calling on all major cities to join together with businesses and research organizations to put forward a proposal for the country to become a test location for autonomous cars. Trials are expected to last between 18 and 36 months, and the £10 million funding pot will serve as a competition prize for up to three UK cities, with London being confirmed as a hopeful bid.

Currently, self-driving cars are only allowed on private roads in the UK, but the new scheme will allow for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as cars with self-driving features.

"Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2," said the UK’s Transport Minister, Claire Perry.

Driverless cars have been coming for some time, with manufacturers including AudiBMWMercedesToyotaFord and Volvo all working on the technology. Jaguar also recently previewed its self-learning smart car which can mimic a driver's behavior.

Nissan recently carried out the first public road test of a driverless car on a Japanese highway, and has said it plans to be manufacturing driverless cars by 2020. Meanwhile, several states in the US have already passed legislation which will allow driverless cars, including California, Nevada and Florida.

Much of the limelight has centered on Google thus far; its driverless car has completed 804,000 km (500,000 miles) of road tests. The technology giant has set 2017 as the date its cars will hit the roads.

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology. It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer," said Science Minister Greg Clark.

Marco Bertolini's curator insight, August 7, 2014 2:09 PM

Des voitures sans chauffeur au Royaume Uni dès l'an prochain !

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, August 8, 2014 10:01 PM

Google isn't the only one working on a driverless car. However, they would be the most ambitious and perhaps the only company which could imagine digitizing all the surface streets of the United States as a key part of the solution of self-driving cars. Read more about it here:

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After traveling 3.97 billion miles for over 10 years, the Rosetta spacecraft has reached its destination and the View is Astounding

After traveling 3.97 billion miles for over 10 years, the Rosetta spacecraft has reached its destination and the View is Astounding | Amazing Science |

After traveling 3.97 billion miles over 10 years, five months and four days, the Rosetta spacecraft finally reached its destination today—and made history.

It took five loops around the Sun, three gravity-assist fly-bys of Earth and one of Mars, and a journey of 3.97 billion miles lasting 10 years, five months and four days. After all that, the Rosetta spacecraft finally reached it destination today — and made history.

Rosetta is the first spacecraft ever to rendezvous with a comet. It is now in quasi-orbit (more about that in a minute) around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For more than a year, it will take pictures and gather data, and it will also send a lander down to the surface, all in a quest to help us understand the origin and evolution of the solar system. In so doing, it will tell us something of our own origins.

The Rosetta animation records the final leg of that long and lonesome journey. It consists of 101 images taken by the probe’s navigation camera as it approached the comet, the first from Aug. 1 and the last a few days later.

Now that Rosetta, a project of the European Space Agency, or ESA, has settled in close to the comet, it will be making roughly triangular loops around it, using its thrusters to maintain the proper trajectory. Technically speaking, this isn’t quite an “orbit.” But once scientists have a better handle on the comet’s gravity, the plan is for Rosetta to attempt a close, near-circular orbit at 30 kilometers, or 18.6 miles, from the surface — and maybe even a bit closer.

But even on its current trajectory around the comet, Rosetta is already sending back some spectacular closeup images, including the one above. It shows the comet’s ‘head’ at the left of the frame. This bulbous part of the comet is casting a shadow onto the bright ‘neck’ and ‘body’ to the right. The image resolution is 2.2 meters per pixel, or a little more than 7 feet. That means features equivalent in size to a large boulder are visible.

The cometscape is mind boggling — pits, cliffs, crags, and smoother areas, perhaps icy?

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