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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Stanford bioengineers redesign protein motors to create novel nanomachines

Stanford bioengineers redesign protein motors to create novel nanomachines | Amazing Science |

Stanford scientists genetically engineer versions of myosin proteins that transport biological materials in cells to illuminate design features that keep these protein motors on track. Inside our cells, proteins known as myosins can act as a delivery service for biological materials. To better understand how molecular motors move, Stanford bioengineers have built experimental versions of the proteins, changing the way these transporters get around. Led by Zev Bryant, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, a team of researchers has genetically engineered “mutant” myosins with new features such as gearshifts and improved traction. The group’s most recent findings are published in the January issue of Nature Nanotechnology, where they are highlighted alongside other studies of molecular motors.

“You look at biology, and you see motors that have diverse mechanical properties, and you want to understand how these arise,” Bryant said. “You test your understanding by trying to build something new.” Molecular motors are a class of proteins that make up the moving machinery of cells. Myosins are one family of molecular motors. Some of them can shuttle biomolecules from one region of the cell to another.

These myosins move along microscopic filaments made of the protein known as actin. These actin filaments are one component of the cytoskeleton, or internal support structure of the cell. Bryant wanted to test his understanding of how evolution has designed these myosin proteins to shuttle cellular freight. Funded by an NIH “New Innovator” Award, members of the group launched a series of experiments in 2008 that steered their myosin research in a new direction. They began engineering myosins with extra parts to give natural myosins new capabilities.

Natural myosins, for example, see actin filaments as one-way tracks. To better understand this one-directional motion, Bryant challenged his group to design mutant myosins that could move forward and backward on command. The researchers engineered myosin motors with extra components that behaved like a molecular gearshift. In a 2012 Nature Nanotechnology report, the researchers showed that they could shift their mutant myosin motion between forward and reverse. However, these two-way myosins had trouble hanging onto their actin tracks.

“When we engineer motors to have new capabilities, we often sacrifice some capabilities that they already had,” Bryant said. So the group focused on creating motors that excelled at hanging on.

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Computer science: The learning machines

Computer science: The learning machines | Amazing Science |

Using massive amounts of data to recognize photos and speech, deep-learning computers are taking a big step towards true artificial intelligence. Three years ago, researchers at the secretive Google X lab in Mountain View, California, extracted some 10 million still images from YouTube videos and fed them into Google Brain — a network of 1,000 computers programmed to soak up the world much as a human toddler does. After three days looking for recurring patterns, Google Brain decided, all on its own, that there were certain repeating categories it could identify: human faces, human bodies and … cats1.

Google Brain's discovery that the Internet is full of cat videos provoked a flurry of jokes from journalists. But it was also a landmark in the resurgence of deep learning: a three-decade-old technique in which massive amounts of data and processing power help computers to crack messy problems that humans solve almost intuitively, from recognizing faces to understanding language.

Deep learning itself is a revival of an even older idea for computing: neural networks. These systems, loosely inspired by the densely interconnected neurons of the brain, mimic human learning by changing the strength of simulated neural connections on the basis of experience. Google Brain, with about 1 million simulated neurons and 1 billion simulated connections, was ten times larger than any deep neural network before it. Project founder Andrew Ng, now director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University in California, has gone on to make deep-learning systems ten times larger again.

Such advances make for exciting times in artificial intelligence (AI) — the often-frustrating attempt to get computers to think like humans. In the past few years, companies such as Google, Apple and IBM have been aggressively snapping up start-up companies and researchers with deep-learning expertise. For everyday consumers, the results include software better able to sort through photos, understand spoken commands and translate text from foreign languages. For scientists and industry, deep-learning computers can search for potential drug candidates, map real neural networks in the brain or predict the functions of proteins.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
R Schumacher & Associates LLC's curator insight, January 15, 2014 1:43 PM

The monikers such as "deep learning" may be new, but Artificial Intelligence has always been the Holy Grail of computer science.  The applications are many, and the path is becoming less of an uphill climb.  

luiy's curator insight, February 26, 2014 6:19 AM

Deep learning itself is a revival of an even older idea for computing: neural networks. These systems, loosely inspired by the densely interconnected neurons of the brain, mimic human learning by changing the strength of simulated neural connections on the basis of experience. Google Brain, with about 1 million simulated neurons and 1 billion simulated connections, was ten times larger than any deep neural network before it. Project founder Andrew Ng, now director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University in California, has gone on to make deep-learning systems ten times larger again.


Such advances make for exciting times in artificial intelligence (AI) — the often-frustrating attempt to get computers to think like humans. In the past few years, companies such as Google, Apple and IBM have been aggressively snapping up start-up companies and researchers with deep-learning expertise. For everyday consumers, the results include software better able to sort through photos, understand spoken commands and translate text from foreign languages. For scientists and industry, deep-learning computers can search for potential drug candidates, map real neural networks in the brain or predict the functions of proteins.

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Theory Worked Out for Metamaterial That Acts as an Analog Computer

Theory Worked Out for Metamaterial That Acts as an Analog Computer | Amazing Science |

The field of metamaterials has produced structures with unprecedented abilities, including flat lenses, invisibility cloaks and even optical “metatronic” devices that can manipulate light in the way electronic circuitry manipulates the flow of electrons. 

Now, the birthplace of the digital computer, ENIAC, is using this technology in the rebirth of analog computing. A study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, The University of Texas at Austin and University of Sannio in Italy, shows that metamaterials can be designed to do “photonic calculus” as a light wave goes through them.

A light wave, when described in terms of space and time, has a profile in space that can be thought of as a curve on a Cartesian plane. The researchers’ theoretical material can perform a specific mathematical operation on that wave’s profile, such as finding its first or second derivative, as the light wave passes through the material. Essentially, shining a light wave on one side of such a material would result in that wave profile’s derivative exiting the other side.

Metamaterials capable of other calculus operations, such as integration and convolution, could also be produced. Viewing and manipulating this type of light wave “profile” is an everyday occurrence for applications like image processing, though it is typically done after the light wave has been converted to electronic signals in the form of digital information. The researchers’ proposed computational metamaterials could almost instantly perform such operations on the original wave, such as the light coming in through the lens of a camera, without conversion to electronic signals. 

The study was led by Nader Engheta, the H. Nedwill Ramsey professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Alexandre Silva, a postdoctoral researcher in Engheta’s research group. They collaborated with Francesco Monticone and Andrea Alù of The University of Texas at Austin and Giuseppe Castaldi and Vincenzo Galdi of the University of Sannio in Italy.

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Panoramic hi-res augmented-reality glasses: most radical CES intro so far?

Panoramic hi-res augmented-reality glasses: most radical CES intro so far? | Amazing Science |

Innovega Inc. is demonstrating at CES prototypes of what looks like the most radical augmented-reality eyewear yet. Innovega CEO Steve Willey Monday runs down the specs of their iOptik design: binocular 720 x 1280 pixels, 3D (depth) vision, and a humungous field of view of 90 degrees, as shown in the image above. That’s six times the number of pixels and 46 times the screen size of Google Glass using designs based on conventional optics, Willey claimed.

These specs are hard to believe. It would be almost like peering into an Oculus Rift VR display (except for Rift’s superior forthcoming 1080p res and 110 degrees FOV), with its huge optics system, but also seeing through to the real world. Or like looking at a 240-inch diagonal TV set from ten feet away, as Willey claimed.

But then he explained the trick: a bifocal contact lens in each eye to replace the huge optics, reducing the focal length down to about 1/2 inch. Microprojectors bounce images off sunglasses or clear glasses onto the contact lenses. More info here.

Great for 3D movies, gaming (with 360 degrees), and augmented reality, for starters. How about wearers of contact lenses? Willey shot back with with stats: 100 million 18 to 34-year-old consumers already wear contact lenses worldwide (due to high incidence of vision myopia, with high penetration of wearers in countries like Singapore, HK, Korea and growing at a high rate in China) — the same people interested in gaming, smartphones, and media-rich content and apps.

The glasses will probably be available within the next two to three years and will cost around $500 to start,” he said, explaining that they plan to license the technology to partner companies.

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3-D X-ray technology could pave the way for a new generation of defect-free, lightweight cars and planes

3-D X-ray technology could pave the way for a new generation of defect-free, lightweight cars and planes | Amazing Science |

Instead of reinventing the wheel, the goal of one UBC researcher is to make wheels, and other manufactured materials, lighter, stronger, and safer.

Once the domain of science fiction, the recently installed 3-D X-ray computed tomography (CT) microscope at UBC’s Okanagan campus is allowing experts to peer inside the internal structure of materials and explore a 3-D image, magnified 1,000 times. It’s the first step towards lighter and stronger resources that can be used in most industries including aerospace, energy, and manufacturing, says UBC School of Engineering Assist. Prof. André Phillion.

The leading-edge technology—this is B.C.’s first high-resolution CT scanner, and one of only five in Canada—provides highly-magnified, internal pictures that can be examined in great detail. For those in the manufacturing industry, this opens the window to determine how defects can form and how they can lead to failure. Phillion uses the basic aluminum alloy automobile wheel as an example.

“We know that stress causes fatigue and we know how metals respond to stress,” Phillion says. “What we’re asking is, ‘Can we predict a potential flaw in the wheel and then eliminate potential danger?’ ”

Phillion says UBC’s machine is different than the CT scanners found in most hospitals, since the magnification is much greater. He is not aware of anyone in Canada using this technique to study manufacturing. In UBC’s lab, investigators can take a sample about the size of a pinkie finger and magnify it more than 1,000 times its original size to reveal the internal structure of the material. Defects then become visible.

While André Phillion’s 3-D X-ray computed tomography (CT) microscope at UBC’s Okanagan campus is working to improve manufacturing materials of the future, it has caught the attention of health researchers.  Phillion is currently working with Vancouver’s Jim Hogg Research Centre to study Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). By placing small fragments, perhaps 10 mm in diameter, of a diseased lung into the 3-D X-ray machine, experts can examine highly magnified images of the tissue.

“We are able to look at the structure of lung tissue in 3-D,” says Phillion. “We hope to learn what’s happening to the lung at the very early stages of the disease to suggest treatment before it causes more damage.”

This is exciting news for Assoc. Prof. Neil Eves, co-director at the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health at UBC’s Okanagan campus. COPD is not just a smoker’s disease, Eves says, as it is caused by exposure to any noxious particles or gases, which can damage airways and lung tissue.

“COPD is a disease that is rapidly growing around the world, and there is considerable need for research to allow us to better understand how the disease first presents and then progresses,” Eves says. “Better understanding of the early processes and early detection are paramount to slowing the progression of this devastating disease and reducing its impact on society.”

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Pine Island glacier's retreat is now irreversible

Pine Island glacier's retreat is now irreversible | Amazing Science |
Pine Island Glacier, the largest single contributor to sea-level rise in Antarctica, has started shrinking, say scientists.

Nature Climate Change, shows the glacier's retreat may have begun an irreversible process that could see the amount of water it is adding to the ocean increase five-fold. 'At the Pine Island Glacier we have seen that not only is more ice flowing from the glacier into the ocean, but it's also flowing faster across the grounding line - the boundary between the grounded ice and the floating ice. We also can see this boundary is migrating further inland,' says Dr G. Hilmar Gudmundsson from NERC's British Antarctic Survey, a researcher on the project.

The team, which included scientists from the CSC-IT Center for Science in Finland, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, used three computer models as well as field observations to study how the glacier's ice flows and to simulate how this will change over the coming decades. All the models agreed that the Pine Island Glacier has become unstable, and will continue to retreat for tens of kilometres.

'The Pine Island Glacier shows the biggest changes in this area at the moment, but if it is unstable it may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet,' says Gudmundsson. 'Currently we see around two millimetres of sea level rise a year, and the Pine Island Glacier retreat could contribute an additional 3.5 - 5 millimeters in the next twenty years, so it would lead to a considerable increase from this area alone. But the potential is much larger.'
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Gravitational Lens Magnifies First Discovered SNIa

Gravitational Lens Magnifies First Discovered SNIa | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the Kavli IPMU, led by Robert Quimby, have discovered the first ever Type Ia supernova (SNIa), extraordinarily magnified by a gravitational lens. Scientists wrote in the Astrophysics Journal Letters they discovered the supernova, PS1-10afx, with the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System 1 (Pan-STARRS1). The supernova exploded over 9 billion years ago, making it a much further object than most studied by Pan-STARRS1.

The supernova stood out from other Pan-STARRS1 objects because it was very red and its brightness changed as fast as normal supernovae. No known physical model helped the team explain how supernova could simultaneously be so luminous, so red and so fast. They found PS1-10afx fits in line with other SNIa, but its observed brightness is far too high for such a distant supernova, leaving gravitational lensing as the only explanation.

Gravitational lensing helps to magnify a distant object in space. While light travels through space in “straight” lines, massive objects warp space and cause rays of light to “bend” around them, helping to magnify that brightness and enabling scientists to observe very distant objects. Thus, if there were a sufficiently massive object aligned between us and PS1-10afx, the supernova would appear brighter.

The object helping to provide the gravitational lensing effect may be detectable after the supernova has faded away, so future observations may be able to provide final confirmation of this scenario. The team’s observations are the first showing a strongly lensed Type Ia supernova. A few years ago, Masamune Oguri, one of the co-authors of the team, predicted Pan-STARRS1 would be capable of discovering strongly lensed SNIa. Now that the team has proven this to be true, next generation surveys with the Hyper Suprime-Cam on the Subaru Telescope and other telescopes can be tuned to discover even more strongly lensed SNIa.

Scientists have used gravitational lensing to help uncover many details about the history of the Universe. In March, scientists making observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope say they were able to use this method to see the universe making new stars at its very early stages. Two of the galaxies observed by this group of scientists are the most distant ever seen, one of which started emitting light when the Universe was just a billion years old.

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Scientists have found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA

Scientists have found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA | Amazing Science |

New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA. During the tests they learned that that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

Using olfactory molecular specificity, the researchers examined the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure, a phenomenon that has been frequently observed, but is not fully understood. The scientists subjected F0 mice to odor fear conditioning before conception and found that subsequently conceived F1 and F2 generations had an increased behavioral sensitivity to the F0-conditioned odor, but not to other odors. When an odor (acetophenone) that activates a known odorant receptor (Olfr151) was used to condition F0 mice, the behavioral sensitivity of the F1 and F2 generations to acetophenone was complemented by an enhanced neuroanatomical representation of the Olfr151 pathway.

Bisulfite sequencing of sperm DNA from conditioned F0 males and F1 naive offspring revealed CpG hypomethylation in the Olfr151 gene. In addition, in vitro fertilization, F2 inheritance and cross-fostering revealed that these transgenerational effects are inherited via parental gametes.

These findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory. He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

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Quantum mechanics explains efficiency of photosynthesis

Quantum mechanics explains efficiency of photosynthesis | Amazing Science |

Light-gathering macromolecules in plant cells transfer energy by taking advantage of molecular vibrations whose physical descriptions have no equivalents in classical physics, according to the first unambiguous theoretical evidence of quantum effects in photosynthesis published today in the journal Nature CommunicationsScientists have observed previously the quantum character of light transport through the molecular machines at work in natural photosynthesis.

The majority of light-gathering macromolecules are composed of chromophores (responsible for the colour of molecules) attached to proteins, which carry out the first step of photosynthesis, capturing sunlight and transferring the associated energy highly efficiently. Previous experiments suggest that energy is transferred in a wave-like manner, exploiting quantum phenomena, but crucially, a non-classical explanation could not be conclusively proved as the phenomena identified could equally be described using classical physics.

Often, to observe or exploit quantum mechanical phenomena systems need to be cooled to very low temperatures. This however does not seem to be the case in some biological systems, which display quantum properties even at ambient temperatures.

Now, a team at UCL have attempted to identify features in these biological systems which can only be predicted by quantum physics, and for which no classical analogues exist.

"Energy transfer in light-harvesting macromolecules is assisted by specific vibrational motions of the chromophores," said Alexandra Olaya-Castro (UCL Physics & Astronomy), supervisor and co-author of the research. "We found that the properties of some of the chromophore vibrations that assist energy transfer during photosynthesis can never be described with classical laws, and moreover, this non-classical behaviour enhances the efficiency of the energy transfer."

Molecular vibrations are periodic motions of the atoms in a molecule, like the motion of a mass attached to a spring. When the energy of a collective vibration of two chromphores matches the energy difference between the electronic transitions of these chromophores a resonance occurs and efficient energy exchange between electronic and vibrational degrees of freedom takes place.

Providing that the energy associated to the vibration is higher than the temperature scale, only a discrete unit or quantum of energy is exchanged. Consequently, as energy is transferred from one chromophore to the other, the collective vibration displays properties that have no classical counterpart.

The UCL team found the unambiguous signature of non-classicality is given by a negative joint probability of finding the chromophores with certain relative positions and momenta. In classical physics, probability distributions are always positive.

"The negative values in these probability distributions are a manifestation of a truly quantum feature, that is, the coherent exchange of a single quantum of energy," explained Edward O'Reilly (UCL Physics & Astronomy), first author of the study. "When this happens electronic and vibrational degrees of freedom are jointly and transiently in a superposition of quantum states, a feature that can never be predicted with classical physics."

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Scientists have revived Daphnia waterflees that have been buried at the bottom of a lake for a 700 years

Scientists have revived Daphnia waterflees that have been buried at the bottom of a lake for a 700 years | Amazing Science |

Scientists hve resurrected animals that are known scientifically as Daphnia and informally as water fleas. About as big as a grain of rice, these shrimp-like organisms live by the billions in lakes. Each fall, some species produce hard-shelled eggs which fall to the bottom of lakes, and the next spring many produce new water fleas. But some of these eggs get buried in sediment, unhatched.

In the mid-1990s, Lawrence J. Weider, an evolutionary ecologist then working in Germany, figured out how coax the eggs to hatch. His first success came with eggs buried for decades in a German lake. Some of the revived animals were in such good shape they could reproduce in his lab.

In 2009 Dr. Weider, now at the University of Oklahoma, and his colleagues set out to resurrect eggs from some lakes in Minnesota. The chemistry of those lakes has been carefully documented for decades, making it possible to see how changes in pollution levels affected the water fleas.

To gather the animals, Dr. Weider and his colleagues took a boat out on the lakes. “It’s a smaller version of a party barge, with a hole cut out of the deck,” he said. Through the hole, the scientists lowered a tube and pushed it about three feet into the sediment — deep enough, Dr. Weider thought, to gather water flea eggs a few decades old.

The scientists then went back to Oklahoma, sifted the cases from the mud, and started resurrecting the animals. They also extracted Daphnia DNA, giving them more data to analyze. Only then did Dr. Weider get an estimate for the age of the sediment in South Center Lake from another lab. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?'” said Dr. Weider. The lab concluded that the bottom of the lake’s sediment core was about 1,600 years old.

The oldest eggs that Dr. Weider and his colleagues had successfully hatched were about 700 years old. To estimate the age of the sediment, the lab measured levels of a radioactive isotope called lead-210. The researchers are now confirming the dates by measuring another isotope, carbon-14. While the dating remains provisional for now, Dr. Post said he was confident that the oldest of the water fleas lived before Europeans colonized the United States.

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Engineers make world’s fastest organic transistor, heralding new generation of see-through electronics

Engineers make world’s fastest organic transistor, heralding new generation of see-through electronics | Amazing Science |
Teams from Stanford and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln collaborate to make thin, transparent semiconductors that could become the foundation for cheap, high-performance displays. 

Research teams led by Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, and Jinsong Huang, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at UNL used their new process to make organic thin-film transistors with electronic characteristics comparable to those found in expensive, curved-screen television displays based on a form of silicon technology. 

They achieved their speed boost by altering the basic process for making thin-film organic transistors. Typically, researchers drop a special solution, containing carbon-rich molecules and a complementary plastic, onto a spinning platter – in this case, one made of glass. The spinning action deposits a thin coating of the materials over the platter.

First they spun the platter faster. Second they only coated a tiny portion of the spinning surface, equivalent to the size of a postage stamp. These innovations had the effect of depositing a denser concentration of the organic molecules into a more regular alignment. The result was a great improvement in carrier mobility, which measures how quickly electrical charges travel through the transistor.

The researchers called this improved method “off-center spin coating.” The process remains experimental, and the engineers cannot yet precisely control the alignment of organic materials in their transistors or achieve uniform carrier mobility.

Even at this stage, off-center spin coating produced transistors with a range of speeds much faster than those of previous organic semiconductors and comparable to the performance of the polysilicon materials used in today’s high-end electronics.

Further improvements to this experimental process could lead to the development of inexpensive, high-performance electronics built on transparent substrates such as glass and, eventually, clear and flexible plastics. Already, the researchers have shown that they can create high-performance organic electronics that are 90 percent transparent to the naked eye.

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Metastatic cancer cells implode on protein contact using E-selecting and TRAIL

Metastatic cancer cells implode on protein contact using E-selecting and TRAIL | Amazing Science |

By attaching a cancer-killer protein to white blood cells, Cornell biomedical engineers have demonstrated the annihilation of metastasizing cancer cells traveling throughout the bloodstream.

The study, “TRAIL-Coated Leukocytes that Kill Cancer Cells in the Circulation,” was published online the week of Jan. 6 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These circulating cancer cells are doomed,” said Michael King, Cornell professor of biomedical engineering and the study’s senior author. “About 90 percent of cancer deaths are related to metastases, but now we’ve found a way to dispatch an army of killer white blood cells that cause apoptosis – the cancer cell’s own death – obliterating them from the bloodstream. When surrounded by these guys, it becomes nearly impossible for the cancer cell to escape.”

King and his colleagues injected human blood samples, and later mice, with two proteins: E-selectin (an adhesive) and TRAIL (Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand). The TRAIL protein joined together with the E-selectin protein stick to leukocytes – white blood cells – ubiquitous in the bloodstream. When a cancer cell comes into contact with TRAIL, which becomes unavoidable in the chaotic blood flow, the cancer cell essentially kills itself.

“The mechanism is surprising and unexpected in that this repurposing of white blood cells in flowing blood is more effective than directly targeting the cancer cells with liposomes or soluble protein,” say the authors.

In the laboratory, King and his colleagues tested this concept’s efficacy. When treating cancer cells with the proteins in saline, they found a 60 percent success rate in killing the cancer cells. In normal laboratory conditions, the saline lacks white blood cells to serve as a carrier for the adhesive and killer proteins. Once the proteins were added to flowing blood, which models forces, mixing and other human-body conditions, however, the success rate in killing the cancer cells jumped to nearly 100 percent.

In addition to King, the paper’s researchers include first author Michael Mitchell, a Cornell doctoral candidate in the field of biomedical engineering; Elizabeth C. Wayne, a Cornell doctoral student in the field of biomedical engineering; Kuldeepsinh Rana, a Cornell Ph.D. ’11; and Chris Schaffer, associate professor in biomedical engineering. The National Cancer Institute (Physical Sciences-Oncology program) of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. funded the research through Cornell’s Center for the Microenvironment and Metastasis.

Metastasis is the spread of a cancer cells to other parts of the body. Surgery and radiation are effective at treating primary tumors, but difficulty in detecting metastatic cancer cells has made treatment of the spreading cancer problematic, say the scientists.

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Bluebrain: Attempt to engineer a full brain, one neuron at a time

Henry Markram is attempting to reverse engineer an entire human brain, one neuron at a time. This piece is an introduction to director Noah Hutton's 10-year film-in-the-making that will chronicle the development of The Blue Brain Project, a landmark endeavor in modern neuroscience.

Year 2:
Year 3:
Year 4:

Further info: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], and [7]

Szabolcs Kósa

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Contextual Computing: Our Sixth, Seventh And Eighth Senses

Contextual Computing: Our Sixth, Seventh And Eighth Senses | Amazing Science |

As mobile computing becomes increasingly pervasive, so do our expectations of the devices we use and interact with in our everyday lives. In looking at the advancements seen in computing technology in 2013, a few things are beginning to stand out, namely the idea of context based computing.

First and unsurprisingly, the desktop is no longer the center of the computing experience. Instead a variety of Internet connected peripheral devices are increasingly becoming central to our daily lives. These things can ranging from the wearable to the embedded, yet regardless of the form they take, they have begun to augment how we as humans interact with both our virtual and physical worlds around us. Thanks to recent advancements, in the near future, devices will able to see and perceive the world as humans do, providing a kind of contextual sixth sense. Yes, computers which are contextually aware.

Context awareness did not originate in computer science, the word “context” stems from a study of human “text”; and the idea of “situated cognition,” that context changes the interpretation of text, is an idea that goes back many thousand years. In terms of computing, contextual awareness was first described by Georgia Tech researchers Anind Dey and Gregory Abowd more than a decade ago. It is an idea that computers can both sense, and react based on their environment in much the same way our brain interpret various stimuli. Context aware devices are given information about the circumstances under which they are able to operate and based on rules, or an intelligent stimulus, react accordingly.

Although we’re in the earliest days, the future generation of connected things will become smarter, may anticipate our needs, and share our perception of the world so we can interact with them more naturally.  In a recent article published on fastcodesign, Pete Mortensen, a senior strategist at Jump Associates, described contextual computing as “our Sixth, Seventh And Eighth Senses.”

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Chemists construct first plastic cell with working organelles

Chemists construct first plastic cell with working organelles | Amazing Science |
For the first time, chemists have successfully produced an artificial cell containing organelles capable of carrying out the various steps of a chemical reaction.

This was done at the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) at Radboud University Nijmegen. The discovery was published in the first 2014 issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie, and was also highlighted by Nature Chemistry.

It is hard for chemists to match the chemistry in living cells in their laboratories. After all, in a cell all kinds of complex reactions are taking place simultaneously in an overfull, small container, in various compartments and incredibly efficiently. This is why chemists attempt to imitate the cell in various ways. In doing so, they also hope to learn more about the origin of life and the transition from chemistry to biology.

Jan van Hest and his PhD candidate Ruud Peters created their organelles by filling tiny spheres with chemicals and placing these inside a water droplet. They then cleverly covered the water droplet with a polymer layer -- the cell wall. Using fluorescence, they were able to show that the planned cascade of reactions did in fact take place. This means that they are the first chemists to create a polymer cell with working organelles. Just like in the cells in our bodies, the chemicals are able to enter the cell plasma following the reaction in the organelles, to be processed elsewhere in the cell.

Creating cell-like structures is currently very popular in the field of chemistry, with various methods being tried at the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM). Professor Wilhelm Huck, for example, is making cells from tiny droplets of solutions very similar to cytoplasm, and Van Hest's group is building cells using polymers.

Competing groups are working closer to biology; making cells from fatty acids, for example. We would like to do the same in the future. Another step would be to make cells that produce their own energy supply. We are also working on ways of controlling the movement of chemicals within the cell, towards organelles. By simulating these things, we are able to better understand living cells. One day we will even be able to make something that looks very much like the real thing...'

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Overfishing doesn’t just shrink fish populations—they often don’t recover afterwards

Overfishing doesn’t just shrink fish populations—they often don’t recover afterwards | Amazing Science |
Thanks to surging demand for seafood and woefully inaccurate catch reporting, overfishing is out of control. And new research now argues (paywall) that it's a problem that, in many ecosystems, might be permanent.

By removing one of its species, overfishing “flips” an ecosystem into an “alternative state,” explains the University of Maine’s Robert Steneck, one of the report’s authors. It sets off a complex reshuffling among remaining species. Often, this “locks” the ecosystem into a “alternative stable state”—meaning, the species of fish can’t come back.

This could have devastating implications for the world’s food supply. “Ecosystem flips and locks that convert the ocean to a bacterial soup that favors jellyfish rather than finfish will not sustain the protein we need to feed the 9 billion to 11 billion people expected to show up on Earth over the coming decades,” says Mary Power, of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the study. 

Sardines and anchovies had once kept jellyfish populations in check by gobbling up plankton, which jellyfish also eatWorse, jellyfish also fed on the eggs of the remaining sardine and anchovy population. That’s why, by 2006, the northern Benguela waters teemed with 12.2 million tons of jellyfish — and just 3.6 million tons of fishIn turn, populations of penguins and cap gannets, which ate primarily sardines and anchovies, plummeted by 77% and 94%, respectively.

Why does this keep happening? Steneck cites an increasingly industrial fishing industry—and blissfully unaware consumers. “What we have today are multinational fleets of ‘roving bandits’ that conduct serial depletions and move to more productive grounds,” he says. “People in the US are insulated from the reality of overfishing by seeing fish well stocked in their grocery stores.”

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IBM forms new Watson group for cloud-delivered cognitive innovations, with $1 billion investment

IBM forms new Watson group for cloud-delivered cognitive innovations, with $1 billion investment | Amazing Science |

IBM has announced it will establish the IBM Watson Group, a new business unit dedicated to the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations.

Headquartered in NYC’s “Silicon Alley,” the move signifies a strategic shift by IBM to accelerate into the marketplace a new class of software, services and apps that think, improve by learning, and discover answers and insights to complex questions from massive amounts of Big Data.

IBM will invest more than $1 billion into the Watson Group, focusing on development and research and bringing Watson-powered cloud-delivered cognitive applications and services to market.

About 2,000 professionals will design, develop, and accelerate the adoption of Watson cognitive technologies that transform industries and professions.

According to technology research firm Gartner, Inc., smart machines will be the most disruptive change ever brought about by information technology, and can make people more effective, empowering them to do “the impossible.” 

IBM is announcing three new services based on Watson’s cognitive intelligence:

  • IBM Watson Discovery Advisor aims to revolutionize how industries such as pharmaceutical and publishing conduct research. It will delve into the influx of data-driven content today’s researchers face, and uncover connections that can speed up and strengthen their work.
  • IBM Watson Analytics allows users to explore Big Data insights through visual representations, without the need for advanced analytics training. Guided by sophisticated analytics and a natural language interface, Watson Analytics automatically prepares the data, surfaces the most important relationships, and presents the results in an easy-to- interpret, interactive visual format.
  • IBM Watson Explorer provides users with a unified view displaying all of their data-driven information, as well as a framework for developing information-rich applications that deliver a comprehensive, contextually-relevant view of any topic for business users, data scientists, and a variety of targeted business functions.
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Dolphins Have "Names," Respond When Called

Dolphins Have "Names," Respond When Called | Amazing Science |
Dolphins respond to recordings of their own whistles—suggesting they use names to communicate in the wild, a new study says.

We already knew that bottlenose dolphins can follow "recipes" in preparing mollusks, help other species in distress, and possibly do math. So it may come as no surprise that the marine mammals also call each other by whistles that act as names.

Past studies have shown that individual dolphins have a unique whistle, called a "signature whistle," that they often use in big group settings, like when several pods of dolphins meet at sea.

The idea that dolphins have a name in the form of a whistle has been around since the 1960s, and studies of captive dolphins have shown that the animals are responsive to the whistles of dolphins they know.

But a new study takes the theory a step further by asserting that a dolphin will respond when it hears the sound of its own signature whistle, repeating that whistle back in a way that seems to say, "Yup, I'm here—did you call my name?" explained Whitney Friedman, a dolphin-behavior expert at the University of California, San Diego.

It's "compelling evidence" that the dolphin indeed uses the sound as a name, according to the study, published July 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research was performed by a group of scientists on a boat off eastern Scotland who joined up with a group of wild dolphins. When one of the dolphins announced itself with its signature whistle—the equivalent of "Joey!" for instance—the researchers recorded that sound.

Later, the team played that same "Joey!" call back to the dolphins, and a significant portion of the time, the dolphin they called Joey responded with the same call—as if Joey was saying, "Yup, I'm here."

The dolphins responded a little when the scientists played recordings of whistles of familiar dolphins from the same population, but did not respond at all to unfamiliar dolphins from a different population. (Watch video: "Dolphin Talk Decoded.")

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BBC: Timeline of the far future — What we can expect in a billion and more years...

BBC: Timeline of the far future — What we can expect in a billion and more years... | Amazing Science |
What do we expect will happen in one thousand years time? Or one million years? Or even one billion? As our amazing timeline shows, there may be trouble ahead.

The Earth's oceans will disappear in about one billion years due to increased temperatures from a maturing sun. However,  the Earth's problems may begin in half that time because of falling levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a Penn State researcher.

"The sun, like all main sequence stars, is getting brighter with time and that affects the Earth's climate," says Dr. James F. Kasting, professor of meteorology and geosciences. "Eventually temperatures will become high enough so that the oceans evaporate." At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, water becomes a major constituent of the atmosphere. Much of this water migrates to the stratosphere where it is lost to the vacuum. Eventually, the oceans will evaporate into space.

"Astronomers always knew that the oceans would evaporate, but they typically thought it would occur only when the sun left the main sequence," Kasting told attendees today (Feb. 20) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "That will be in 5 billion years."

Stars leave the main sequence when they stop burning hydrogen. The sun, a yellow, G-2 star, will then become a red giant encompassing the orbit of Mercury. Mercury will disappear and Venus will lose its atmosphere and become a burnt out planet. The Earth will suffer the same fate, even though it is outside the red giant’s immediate reach. "However, the oceans may evaporate much earlier," says Kasting, a faculty member with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. "My calculations are somewhat pessimistic and present a worst case scenario that does not include the effects of clouds, but they say a billion years."

This model was developed with Ken Caldeira, now at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Things may go bad long before the Earth is a waterless desert. As the climate becomes warmer, the cycle of silicate rock weathering speeds up. This cycle removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequesters it in the oceans as calcium carbonate.

"The silicate weathering cycle stabilizes the Earth’s climate for a time," says Kasting. "Eventually, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will become so low that it will not be able to do so, but before then, there will not be sufficient carbon dioxide to sustain most plants."

Plants use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to convert the sun's energy to sugars and other carbohydrates. Two main kinds of photosynthesis exist, C3 and C4. In a half billion years, the models predict that carbon dioxide will be at the compensation point for C3 plants which make up 95 percent of all plants. Below the compensation point, carbon dioxide is not concentrated enough for these plants to photosynthesize. C3 plants include trees and most crops.

C4 plants, which include corn, sugar cane and other tropical grasses, can still photosynthesize because they have an internal mechanism to concentrate carbon dioxide, but these plants cannot sustain the biosphere as we know it today.

"If carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to increase over the next few centuries, they could remain high for a very long time," says Kasting. "Then, after fossil fuels run out, it would take a million years or so for levels to return to present."

But even if there is a pulse of high carbon dioxide in the near future, by a half billion years, levels will be too low for productive plant life. "Obviously, a billion, even a half billion years, are a long way off in the future," says Kasting. "However, these models can help us refine our understanding of the time that a planet remains in an orbit where life can exist."

Only a narrow spherical shell of space exists at a distance from a star that is neither too cold nor too warm for life. As a sun matures and brightens, that spherical shell moves outward. A planet must remain in the livable shell for long enough for life to evolve, even while that band moves outward. If planets lose their water supply, a mandatory requirement for life, earlier than previously thought, then that creates a shorter window for livable planets.

"If we calculated correctly, Earth has been habitable for 4.5 billion years and only has a half billion years left," says Kasting.

odysseas spyroglou's curator insight, January 13, 2014 2:44 AM

Is it any easier today with all the tools that we have at hand to predict future ?

Anne Fleischman's curator insight, January 13, 2014 10:12 AM

Un exercice de prospective à très très très long terme. Dommage on ne sera plus là pour vérifier...

Jose Mejia R's curator insight, January 13, 2014 1:13 PM

 I find it interesting that these assumptions , almost certainly based on scientific speculations indicate that if it is not consumed by a swollen sun after 5.4 billion years , the Earth's orbit would eventually collapse and plunge into the sun.

The doctrine of evolutionary creation states that in a solar system like ours , a myriad of primeval virgin spirits originates or emanates ' from the Central Sun, " discriminates evolutionarily in such generating means and then is ejected to different orbits at different periods time to adjust itself in vibrant radiant globes. Finally, in different cosmic periods each balloon will evolve into a more complex steps and become a planet as it is now known to and through a process of evolutionary creation, first regress to sink into the matterl in successive continuing times and then slowly evolve from matter as omnipotent and omniscient individual spiritual self-aware entities, thus returning to " the mansions of the Father ," whose visible symbol is the Sun, with respect to our planetary system. JMR


Me parece interesante que estas suposiciones, casi con toda seguridad basadas en especulaciones científicas, indican que si no es consumida por un Sol hinchado luego de 5,4 mil millones de años, la órbita de la Tierra finalmente colapsaría y sería zambullida en el sol.




La doctrina de la creación evolutiva afirma que en un sistema solar como el nuestro, una miríada de espíritus virginales primigenia proviene o es emanada ' en el Sol Central ', se discrimina evolutivamente en tales medios generatrices y luego es expulsada a órbitas diferentes en diferentes períodos de tiempo para ajustarse a sí misma en vibrante globos radiantes. Finalmente, en diferentes períodos cósmicos cada globo va a evolucionar a otro etapas más complejas y se convertirá en un planeta como es conocido ahora con el fin de y por medio de un proceso de creación evolutiva, primeramente involucionar al sumirse en la materia en sucesivas y continuas épocas y luego evolucionar lentamente desde la materia como omnipotentes y omniscientes entidades individuales espirituales, conscientes de sí mismas, volviendo así a " las mansiones del Padre", cuyo símbolo visible es nuestro Sol , en lo que respecta a nuestro sistema planetario . JMR .


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Magnetic metamaterial superlens extends range of wireless power transfer

Magnetic metamaterial superlens extends range of wireless power transfer | Amazing Science |

Inventor Nikola Tesla imagined the technology to transmit energy through thin air almost a century ago, but experimental attempts at the feat have so far resulted in cumbersome devices that only work over very small distances. But now, Duke University researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of wireless power transfer using low-frequency magnetic fields over distances much larger than the size of the transmitter and receiver.

The advance comes from a team of researchers in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, who used metamaterials to create a "superlens" that focuses magnetic fields. The superlens translates the magnetic field emanating from one power coil onto its twin nearly a foot away, inducing an electric current in the receiving coil.

The experiment was the first time such a scheme has successfully sent power through the air with an efficiency many times greater than what could be achieved with the same setup minus the superlens. "For the first time we have demonstrated that the efficiency of magneto-inductive wireless power transfer can be enhanced over distances many times larger than the size of the receiver and transmitter," said Yaroslav Urzhumov, assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. "This is important because if this technology is to become a part of everyday life, it must conform to the dimensions of today's pocket-sized mobile electronics."

In the experiment, Yaroslav and the joint Duke-Toyota team created a square superlens, which looks like a few dozen giant Rubik's cubes stacked together. Both the exterior and interior walls of the hollow blocks are intricately etched with a spiraling copper wire reminiscent of a microchip. The geometry of the coils and their repetitive nature form a metamaterial that interacts with magnetic fields in such a way that the fields are transmitted and confined into a narrow cone in which the power intensity is much higher.

"If your electromagnet is one inch in diameter, you get almost no power just three inches away," said Urzhumov. "You only get about 0.1 percent of what's inside the coil." But with the superlens in place, he explained, the magnetic field is focused nearly a foot away with enough strength to induce noticeable electric current in an identically sized receiver coil.

Urzhumov noted that metamaterial-enhanced wireless power demonstrations have been made before at a research laboratory of Mitsubishi Electric, but with one important caveat: the distance the power was transmitted was roughly the same as the diameter of the power coils. In such a setup, the coils would have to be quite large to work over any appreciable distance.

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Protein Found Responsible For Some Genetic Deafness

Protein Found Responsible For Some Genetic Deafness | Amazing Science |

Some people lose their hearing because they simply age; some because of too much loud noise. For some, the ability to hear never developed.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., have discovered a protein that is responsible for one form of genetic deafness. The protein helps turn sound into electrical signals.

The research is of more than just biochemical interest; it may also open a new avenue for possibly giving the sense of hearing to some of those who are born without it. The team, led by Ulrich Mueller, a professor of cell biology, took newborn deaf mice and inserted the protein, called TMHS, into their sensory cells for sound perception, giving the mice some form of hearing. The potential now exists for genetic therapy to insert the genes for the protein into newborn humans and fix malfunctioning cells. The work is published in the Dec. 7, 2013 issue of the journal "Cell".

No one knows how many people suffer from genetic deafness but they surely number in the millions, Mueller said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, genetic causes are responsible for half the children born deaf in the U.S. Sixty genes have been identified so far, and there likely are many more to be found. Mueller said that the best guess now is that there are 400-500 genes and proteins responsible for genetic deafness.

Sound is channeled by our outer ear into the ear canal where it strikes the ear drum in the middle ear. The eardrum vibrates, and those vibrations move utilizing a set of delicate bones deeper inside the ear to the cochlea, a spiral structure filled with fluid. The vibration in the bones shakes the fluid in the cochlea. A complex of hair-like cells in the cochlea senses the vibrations in the fluid. "The hair cells have stereocilia, little filaments, projections that stick out from the hair cells," Mueller said. The stereocilia sense the motion. It is at that point, the TMHS protein gets involved. TMHS triggers electrical signals in nerve cells surrounding the hair cells. The signals then travel to the brain and are sensed as sound, Mueller said.

The TMHS protein opens holes in the hair cells called ion channels. "Anything that goes into a cell is controlled by proteins," Mueller said.  "The language of the brain is electricity. If you want to send an electric signal, you open the pores in the membrane and let the ion into the cell and that change leads to an electric current."

TMHS is a component of the hair cell’s mechano-transduction machinery and binds to the tip-link component PCDH15 and regulates the tip-link assembly. TMHS regulates transducer channel conductance and is required for adaptation. TMHS is structurally similar to other ion channel regulatory subunits such as TARPs (transmembrane alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptor regulatory proteins).

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Conductive ink for drawing circuits for flexible electronic books, displays and wearables

Conductive ink for drawing circuits for flexible electronic books, displays and wearables | Amazing Science |

A picture drawn with conductive ink lights up a green LED (credit: American Chemical Society) Chinese researchers have developed a novel conductive metal.

Chinese researchers have developed a novel conductive metal ink made of  copper nanosheets that can be used in a pen to draw a functioning, flexible electric circuit on regular printer paper. This development could be a step beyond the inkjet-printed circuits. The new process could pave the way for a wide range of new bendable gadgets, such as electronic books that look and feel more like traditional paperbacks, roll-up tablets, and wearables, according to the researchers.

They made copper nanosheets in the laboratory, coated with silver nanoparticles to help the copper nanosheets overlap and stack together in a laminar (multi-layer) structure to improve conductivity. They then incorporated this material into an ink pen, using it to draw patterns of lines, words and even flowers on regular printer paper.

To show that the ink could conduct electricity, the scientists added small LED chips (lights) to the drawing that lit up when the circuit was connected to a battery. To test the ink’s flexibility, they folded the papers 1,000 times, even crumpling them up, and showed that the ink maintained 80 to 90 percent of its conductivity.

Wenjun Dong, Ge Wang and colleagues note that current efforts to create flexible circuits are “complicated, time-consuming, and expensive processes.” The research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China, the National High-Tech R&D Program of China, the Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University, and the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University.


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Artefacts from 11,000-Year-Old Seafaring Indians Discovered on California Island

Artefacts from 11,000-Year-Old Seafaring Indians Discovered on California Island | Amazing Science |

Just offshore from the chock-a-block development of Southern California, archaeologists have discovered some of the oldest sites of human occupation on the Pacific Coast.

On Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands just 65 kilometers from Santa Barbara, nearly 20 sites have been found that reveal signs of prehistoric human activity, from massive middens of abalone shells to distinctive stone points and tool-making debris.

At least nine of the sites have what archaeologists say is “definitive evidence” of ancient Paleoindian occupation, about half of them having been dated to 11,000 to 12,000 years ago — making their inhabitants some of the earliest known settlers of North America’s West Coast.

“Finding these sites and the definitive evidence for early occupation is crucial and tells us that people were there, occupying the landscape at the end of the Pleistocene,” said Dr. Torben Rick of the Smithsonian Institution, who led the survey that uncovered the sites.

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Creating improved inkjet-printable materials for electronics and photonics

Creating improved inkjet-printable materials for electronics and photonics | Amazing Science |

Transition-metal dichalcogenides like molybdenum disulphide have attracted great interest as two-dimensional materials beyond graphene due to their unique electronic and optical properties. Solution-phase processes can be a viable method for producing printable single-layer chalcogenides. Molybdenum disulphide can be exfoliated into monolayer flakes using organolithium reduction chemistry; unfortunately, the method is hampered by low yield, submicron flake size and long lithiation time.

National University of Singapore (NUS) scientists have developed a new method for creating a chemical solution of molybdenum disulfide for use in printable optoelectronic devices such as thin film solar cells, flexible logic circuits, photodetectors, and sensors.

Molybdenum disulfide, combined with gold atoms, is being studied for development of ultrafast, ultrathin logic devices, as noted previously on KurzweilAI.

The process:

  1. Chemically exfoliate (peel off) molybdenum disulfide crystals into high-quality single-layer flakes (the new method achieves higher yield and larger flake size than current methods).
  2. Convert the flakes into an inkjet-printable solution (the good dispersion and high viscosity of the flakes make them highly suitable for inkjet printing).
  3. Print wafer-size films. Current processes of producing printable single-layer chalcogenides (such as molybdenum disulfide) take a long time and the yield is poor. The flakes produced are of submicron sizes, which make it challenging to isolate a single sheet for making electronic devices.


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Environment 360: Faced With Sea Ice Loss, Emperor Penguins Alter Their Breeding Tactics

Environment 360: Faced With Sea Ice Loss, Emperor Penguins Alter Their Breeding Tactics | Amazing Science |

Confronted with the loss of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica, four colonies of emperor penguins have come up with an innovative breeding strategy to adapt to their changing environment. Using satellite images, an international team of scientists tracked the four colonies from 2008 to 2012. In the first three years, the emperor penguins hatched and incubated eggs in their customary fashion — atop the sea ice that freezes during the Antarctic winter and spring. But in 2011 and 2012, sea ice did not form until a month after the breeding season began. As a result, the emperor penguins — the largest penguin species on earth — did something never before witnessed by scientists: They climbed up the nearly sheer walls of large, floating ice shelves — huge structures, often hundreds of square miles in extent, that flow from land-based glaciers into the sea. In the region of the four colonies, the ice shelf walls reach as high as 100 feet, researchers say. The scientists say the altered breeding behavior could demonstrate how ice-dependent emperor penguins may adapt to life in a warming world.

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