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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Bigger crashes promised: CERN’s Large Hadron Collider gears up for run 2

Bigger crashes promised: CERN’s Large Hadron Collider gears up for run 2 | Amazing Science |

Scientists will soon debut the blockbuster sequel to the so-called Big Bang Machine, which already found the elusive Higgs Boson. They're promising nearly twice the energy and far more violent particle crashes this time around. After a two-year shutdown and upgrade, the multi-billion dollar Large Hadron Collider is about to ramp up for its second three-year run. Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, say if nature cooperates, the more powerful beam crashes will give them a peek into the unseen dark universe.

Beams should start running through the giant machine later this month, with the first high energy crashes probably coming in May, accelerator director Frederick Bordry said in a Thursday news conference in Geneva. A test beam ran through the collider last weekend, he said.

Scientists hope to see all sorts of new physics, including a first ever glimpse of dark matter, one of the chief focuses of the experiment.

"I want to see the first light in the dark universe," CERN General Director Rolf Heuer said. "If I see that, then nature is kind to me."

Dark matter — and its cousin, dark energy — make up most of the universe, yet scientists haven't been able to see them yet, so researchers are looking for them in high-energy crashes, in orbit on a special experiment on the international space station, and in a deep underground mine.

"What we know about dark matter is that it exists and then very little after that," MIT professor Michael Williams said at a science conference in February. CERN spent about $150 million to upgrade during its down time, opening the massive machine every 20 meters (66 feet), checking magnets, improving connections. "It's nearly a new machine," Heuer said. "It has the power which can melt 500 kilos (1100 pounds) of copper. Each beam. Two beams together, one ton of copper."

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New material captures carbon at half the energy cost

New material captures carbon at half the energy cost | Amazing Science |
UC Berkeley chemists have made a major leap forward in carbon-capture technology with a material that can efficiently remove carbon from the ambient air of a submarine as readily as from the polluted emissions of a coal-fired power plant.

The material then releases the carbon dioxide at lower temperatures than current carbon-capture materials, potentially cutting by half or more the energy currently consumed in the process. The released CO2 can then be injected underground, a technique called sequestering, or, in the case of a submarine, expelled into the sea.

"Carbon dioxide is 15 percent of the gas coming off a power plant, so a carbon-capture unit is going to be big," said senior author Jeffrey Long, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "With these new materials, that unit could be much smaller, making the capital costs drop tremendously as well as the operating costs."

The material, a metal-organic framework (MOF) modified with nitrogen compounds called diamines, can be tuned to remove carbon dioxide from the room-temperature air of a submarine, for example, or the 100-degree (Fahrenheit) flue gases from a power plant.

"It would work great on something like the International Space Station," Long said.

Though power plants are not now required to capture carbon dioxide from their emissions, it will eventually be necessary in order to slow the pace of climate change caused by fossil-fuel burning. If the planet's CO2 levels rise much higher than they are today, it may even be necessary to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere to make the planet livable.

Long and his colleagues describe how the new materials -- diamine-appended MOFs -- work in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
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Current bird flu in China could become ‘pandemic’ threat to humans, researchers say

Current bird flu in China could become ‘pandemic’ threat to humans, researchers say | Amazing Science |

The virus causing a second wave of bird flu across China has mutated frequently and "should be considered as a major candidate to emerge as a pandemic strain in humans," researchers reported Wednesday.

While it is much too early to predict whether that might happen, one of the scientists said in an interview, there is cause for alarm because the H7N9 virus jumps to humans more quickly than its predecessors and previously has been found in mammals.

"This virus is more dangerous," said Yi Guan of the University of Hong Kong, one of the authors of a research letter published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

It's not clear why the outbreak, which began in late 2013, has re-emerged after fading. But by September 2014, it had infected 318 people and killed more than 100 of them, twice as many as the first wave, the scientists reported. Many people suffer severe pneumonia if infected by this flu, which also has spread to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Canada, according to the World Health Organization.

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Concrete Goes Green: Reinforced Concrete with Plastic Waste Instead of Steel

Concrete Goes Green: Reinforced Concrete with Plastic Waste Instead of Steel | Amazing Science |

In a first for Australia, James Cook University engineers have swapped steel reinforcing for plastic waste and look set to drastically reduce the environmental cost of concrete. JCU’s Dr Rabin Tuladhar found that short pieces of recycled plastic can be added as reinforcement in concrete, removing the need for steel mesh in concrete footpaths and precast elements such as drainage pits and concrete sleepers.

He said that the use of recycled plastic waste in concrete makes a huge difference towards making it more environmentally friendly.

“Using recycled plastic, we were able to get more than a 90 percent saving on CO2 emissions and fossil fuel usage compared to using the traditional steel mesh reinforcing. The recycled plastic also has obvious environmental advantages over using virgin plastic fibres.”

Dr Tuladhar’s team has conducted successful strength and durability tests on the precast concrete elements made with the recycled plastic fibres. Talks are now underway with concrete producers and local and federal governments on how to employ the new findings.

Dr Tuladhar’s work is focused making concrete production more sustainable. It includes other aspects such as replacement of natural sand with 100 percent crusher dust, a by-product of stone quarries, and the replacement of cement with up to 30 percent mining waste.

Concrete Facts:

  • Concrete is the second most-used material on earth, second only to water.

  • More than 25 million cubic meters of concrete are poured annually in Australia.

  • Production of cement, a key ingredient of concrete, produces 900kg of CO2 for every ton of cement and is responsible for 5% of total annual global CO2 production.

  • The total consumption of polypropylene – the kind of plastic used in Dr Tuladhar’s tests - was around 220,000t in 2013 in Australia, from which only 21% was recycled.

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Superconductivity Record Broken with highest critical temperature of superconductivity in cuprates: 133˚ K

Superconductivity Record Broken with highest critical temperature of superconductivity in cuprates: 133˚ K | Amazing Science |

For nearly 30 years, the search for a room-temperature superconductor has focused on exotic materials known as cuprates, which can carry currents without losing energy as heat at temperatures up to 164 Kelvin, or –109 ˚C. But scientists say that they have trumped that record using the common molecule hydrogen sulphide. When they subjected a tiny sample of that material to pressures close to those inside Earth’s core, the researchers say that it was superconductive at 190 K (–83 ˚C).

"If the result is reproduced, it will be quite shocking," says Robert Cava, a solid-state chemist at Princeton University in New Jersey. "It would be a historic discovery."

The highest critical temperature of superconductivity Tc has been achieved in cuprates: 133 K at ambient pressure and 164 K at high pressures. As the nature of superconductivity in these materials is still not disclosed, the prospects for a higher Tc are not clear. In contrast the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory gives a clear guide for achieving high Tc: it should be a favorable combination of high frequency phonons, strong coupling between electrons and phonons, and high density of states. These conditions can be fulfilled for metallic hydrogen and covalent hydrogen dominant compounds.

Numerous followed calculations supported this idea and predicted Tc=100-235 K for many hydrides but only moderate Tc~17 K has been observed experimentally. A group of scientists now found that sulfur hydride transforms at P~90 GPa to metal and superconductor with Tc increasing with pressure to 150 K at ~200 GPa. This is in general agreement with recent calculations of Tc~80 K for H2S. Moreover they found superconductivity with Tc~190 K in a H2S sample pressurized to P>150 GPa at T>220 K. This superconductivity likely associates with the dissociation of H2S, and formation of SHn (n>2) hydrides. They reported that they have proved occurrence of superconductivity by the drop of the resistivity at least 50 times lower than the copper resistivity, the decrease of Tc with magnetic field, and the strong isotope shift of Tc in D2S which evidences a major role of phonons in the superconductivity. H2S is a substance with a moderate content of hydrogen therefore high Tc can be expected in a wide range of hydrogen-contain materials. Hydrogen atoms seem to be essential to provide the high frequency modes in the phonon spectrum and the strong electron-phonon coupling.

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Biorobotics-inspired eye stabilizes robot’s flight, replaces inertial navigation system

Biorobotics-inspired eye stabilizes robot’s flight, replaces inertial navigation system | Amazing Science |

Biorobotics researchers have developed the first aerial robot able to fly over uneven terrain that is stabilized visually without an accelerometer.

Called BeeRotor, it adjusts its speed and avoids obstacles thanks to optic flow sensors inspired by insect vision. It can fly along a tunnel with uneven, moving walls without measuring either speed or altitude. The study was published on February 26 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Aircraft, ships, and spacecraft currently use a complex inertial navigation system based on accelerometers and gyroscopesto continuously calculate position, orientation, and velocity without the need for external references (known as dead reckoning).

Researchers Fabien Expert and Franck Ruffier at the Institut des Sciences du Mouvement – Etienne-Jules Marey(CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université) decided to create simpler system,  inspired by winged insects. They created BeeRotor, a tethered flying robot able for the first time to adjust its speed and follow terrain with no accelerometer and without measuring speed or altitude, avoiding vertical obstacles in a tunnel with moving walls.

To achieve this, the researchers mimicked the ability of insects to use the passing landscape as they fly. This is known as “optic flow,” the principle you can observe when driving along a road: the view in front is fairly stable, but looking out to either side, the landscape passes by faster and faster, reaching a maximum at an angle of 90 degrees to the path of the vehicle.

To measure optic flow, BeeRotor is equipped with 24 photodiodes (functioning as pixels) distributed at the top and the bottom of its “eye.” This enables it to detect contrasts in the environment as well as their motion. As in insects, the speed at which a feature in the scenery moves from one pixel to another provides the angular velocity of the flow. When the flow increases, this means that either the robot’s speed is increasing or that the distance relative to obstacles is decreasing.

By way of a brain, BeeRotor has three feedback loops: altitude (following the floor or roof), speed (adapting to the size of the tunnel) and stabilization of the eye in relation to the local slope. This enables the robot to always obtain the best possible field of view, independently of its degree of pitch. That allows BeeRotor to avoid very steeply sloping obstacles (see video) no accelerometer and no measures of speed or altitude.

BeeRotor suggests a biologically plausible hypothesis to explain how insects can fly without an accelerometer: using cues from optic flow to remain stable via feedback loops. Optic flow sensors also have industrial applications: such as replacing heavy accelerometers for small robots and as an ultra-light backup system in the event of failure on a space mission.

hadrien's curator insight, February 11, 2016 8:22 PM

Optic flow without expensive camera

Alternative to GPS

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Saturn's moon Enceladus has warm ocean at its southern pole with salinity and pH in perfect range

Saturn's moon Enceladus has warm ocean at its southern pole with salinity and pH in perfect range | Amazing Science |

Move over, Europa. It looks as though the most life-friendly habitat ever discovered outside of Earth is Enceladus—Saturn's sixth-largest moon.

Astrophysicists working with NASA's Saturn sweeping Cassini spacecraft have just announced that Enceladus has a warm ocean at its southern pole with ongoing hydrothermal activity—the first ever discovered outside of Earth. This new research, published in the journal Nature, builds upon last year's discovery of the moon's 6-mile-deep ocean, which is also believed to contain many of the chemicals commonly associated with life. Enceladus' heat is generated by gravitational friction from the pull of Saturn and its other moons.

"We now have very strong evidence that there is a hot hydrothermal environment at the base of Enceladus's ocean, perhaps like those where we believe life began on Earth," says Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University who works with the Cassini spacecraft but was not involved in the new research. "This is yet another discovery in a series of really remarkable findings that have come one by one, to tell us that this may be the place to go look for life in the outer solar system."

Sean Hsu, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder who helped to lead the team behind this new discovery, says the discovery happened in what was perhaps a counterintuitive way. He and his colleagues estimated the temperature, salinity, and approximate pH of Enceladus's ocean by studying the dust in Saturn's outermost ring. Really.

"We've known from quite early on that Enceladus was the source of the material in Saturn's [outermost] ring… based on the ring's composition" Hsu says, "although we didn't know the exact mechanism for the material transfer." But the 2005 discovery of 125-mile-high icy geysers shouted out to scientists how Enceladus flung material skyward.

Hsu and his team analyzed a class of dust nanoparticles in this outermost ring. Using Cassini's mass spectrometer tool, they showed that these dust particles were made mostly of silica, and that they were the skeletons of evaporated geyser-flung saltwater. These particles point toward warm waters on Enceladus.

How? It turns out that the exact size range and makeup of the silicate particles gives the researchers a stunningly accurate blueprint of the conditions that forged them. For example, if Enceladus's ocean were really salty (say, over 4 percent, which is a bit more than Earth's oceans) then the silicate particles would have chemically clumped together, former bigger lumps than were found.

Here's what these particles revealed about Enceladus's deep ocean: The water is less than 4 percent salinity, has a pH between 8.5 and 10.5 (Earth's ranged between 8.0 to 8.3 before the industrial revolution), and is at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit at hot springs at the bottom of the ocean where the particles are forged. Outside of hydrothermal activity, no other known process could make these uniformly small silica particles, the scientists say.

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Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses

Radical Vaccine Design Effective Against Herpes Viruses | Amazing Science |

Herpes simplex virus infections are an enormous global health problem and there is currently no viable vaccine. For nearly three decades, immunologists’ efforts to develop a herpes vaccine have centered on exploiting a single protein found on the virus’s outer surface that is known to elicit robust production of antibodies. Breaking from this approach, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have created a genetic mutant lacking that protein. The result is a powerfully effective vaccine against herpes viruses.

“We have a very promising new candidate for herpes,” says William Jacobs, an HHMI investigator at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “but this might also be a good candidate as a vaccine vector for other mucosal diseases, particularly HIV and tuberculosis.”

The new vaccine was found to be effective against the two most common forms of herpes that cause cold sores (HSV-1) and genital ulcers (HSV-2). Both are known to infect the body’s nerve cells, where the virus can lay dormant for years before symptoms reappear. The new vaccine is the first to prevent this type of latent infection. “With herpes sores you continually get them,” Jacobs says. “If our vaccine works in humans as it does in mice, administering it early in life could completely eliminate herpes latency.” Jacobs and his colleagues reported their findings on March 10, 2015, in the journal eLife.

HSV-2 is a lifelong, incurable infection that causes recurrent and painful genital sores and increases susceptibility to HIV. Also, babies born to mothers with active genital herpes have a more than 80 percent mortality rate. Current estimates suggest that 500 million people worldwide are infected with HSV-2, with approximately 20 million new cases occurring annually. While infection rates in the U.S. hover around 15 to 20 percent, HSV-2 is highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly three in four women have contracted the virus, contributing significantly to the region’s HIV epidemic.

The related virus, HSV-1 is primarily associated with oral lesions, but is a major cause of corneal blindness and infects around 60 percent of the world’s population. Notably, HSV-1 has been increasingly recognized as a cause of genital herpes in the United States and other developed countries.

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Researchers Create A Simulated Mouse Brain in a Virtual Mouse Body

Researchers Create A Simulated Mouse Brain in a Virtual Mouse Body | Amazing Science |

scientist Marc-Oliver Gewaltig and his team at the Human Brain Project (HBP) built a model mouse brain and a model mouse body, integrating them both into a single simulation and providing a simplified but comprehensive model of how the body and the brain interact with each other. "Replicating sensory input and motor output is one of the best ways to go towards a detailed brain model analogous to the real thing," explains Gewaltig.

As computing technology improves, their goal is to build the tools and the infrastructure that will allow researchers to perform virtual experiments on mice and other virtual organisms. This virtual neurorobotics platform is just one of the collaborative interfaces being developed by the HBP. A first version of the software will be released to collaborators in April. The HBP scientists used biological data about the mouse brain collected by the Allen Brain Institute in Seattle and the Biomedical Informatics Research Network in San Diego. These data contain detailed information about the positions of the mouse brain's 75 million neurons and the connections between different regions of the brain. They integrated this information with complementary data on the shapes, sizes and connectivity of specific types of neurons collected by the Blue Brain Project in Geneva.

A simplified version of the virtual mouse brain (just 200,000 neurons) was then mapped to different parts of the mouse body, including the mouse's spinal cord, whiskers, eyes and skin. For instance, touching the mouse's whiskers activated the corresponding parts of the mouse sensory cortex. And they expect the models to improve as more data comes in and gets incorporated. For Gewaltig, building a virtual organism is an exercise in data integration. By bringing together multiple sources of data of varying detail into a single virtual model and testing this against reality, data integration provides a way of evaluating – and fostering – our own understanding of the brain. In this way, he hopes to provide a big picture of the brain by bringing together separated data sets from around the world. Gewaltig compares the exercise to the 15th century European data integration projects in geography, when scientists had to patch together known smaller scale maps. These first attempts were not to scale and were incomplete, but the resulting globes helped guide further explorations and the development of better tools for mapping the Earth, until reaching today's precision.

Read more:
Human Brain Project:
NEST simulator software :
Largest neuronalnetwork simulation using NEST :

Open Source Data Sets:
Allen Institute for Brain Science:
Bioinformatics Research Network (BIRN):

The Behaim Globe : 
Germanisches National Museum,
Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, TU Wien,

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New nanodevice defeats drug resistance and releases cancer drugs

New nanodevice defeats drug resistance and releases cancer drugs | Amazing Science |

Chemotherapy often shrinks tumors at first, but as cancer cells become resistant to drug treatment, tumors can grow back. A new nanodevice developed by MIT researchers can help overcome that by first blocking the gene that confers drug resistance, then launching a new chemotherapy attack against the disarmed tumors. The device, which consists of gold nanoparticles embedded in a hydrogel that can be injected or implanted at a tumor site, could also be used more broadly to disrupt any gene involved in cancer.

“You can target any genetic marker and deliver a drug, including those that don’t necessarily involve drug-resistance pathways. It’s a universal platform for dual therapy,” says Natalie Artzi, a research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of a paper describing the device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 2, 2015.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the new approach, Artzi and colleagues tested it in mice implanted with a type of human breast tumor known as a triple negative tumor. Such tumors, which lack any of the three most common breast cancer markers — estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and Her2 — are usually very difficult to treat. Using the new device to block the gene for multidrug resistant protein 1 (MRP1) and then deliver the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil, the researchers were able to shrink tumors by 90 percent in two weeks.

MRP1 is one of many genes that can help tumor cells become resistant to chemotherapy. MRP1 codes for a protein that acts as a pump, eliminating cancer drugs from tumor cells and rendering them ineffective. This pump acts on several drugs other than 5-fluorouracil, including the commonly used cancer drug doxorubicin. “Drug resistance is a huge hurdle in cancer therapy and the reason why chemotherapy, in many cases, is not very effective”, says João Conde, an IMES postdoc and lead author of the PNAS paper. To overcome this, the researchers created gold nanoparticles coated with strands of DNA complementary to the sequence of MRP1 messenger RNA — the snippet of genetic material that carries DNA’s instructions to the rest of the cell.

These strands of DNA, which the researchers call “nanobeacons,” fold back on themselves to form a closed hairpin structure. However, when the DNA encounters the correct mRNA sequence inside a cancer cell, it unfolds and binds to the mRNA, preventing it from generating more molecules of the MRP1 protein. As the DNA unfolds, it also releases molecules of 5-fluorouracil that were embedded in the strand. This drug then attacks the tumor cell’s DNA, since MRP1 is no longer around to pump it out of the cell. “When we silence the gene, the cell is no longer resistant to that drug, so we can deliver the drug that now regains its efficacy,” Conde says.

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Scientists implant false memories into the brains of sleeping mice

Scientists implant false memories into the brains of sleeping mice | Amazing Science |

Manipulating memories by tinkering with brain cells is becoming routine in neuroscience labs. Last year, one team of researchers used a technique called optogenetics to label the cells encoding fearful memories in the mouse brain and to switch the memories on and off, and another used it to identify the cells encoding positive and negative emotional memories, so that they could convert positive memories into negative ones, and vice versa.

The new work, published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, shows for the first time that artificial memories can be implanted into the brains of sleeping animals. It also provides more details about how populations of nerve cells encode spatial memories, and about the important role that sleep plays in making such memories stronger.

Karim Benchenane of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris and his colleagues implanted electrodes into the brains of 40 mice, targeting the medial forebrain bundle (MFB), a component of the reward circuitry, and the CA1 region of the hippocampus, which contains at least three different cell types that encode the memories needed for spatial navigation.

They then left the mice to explore their surroundings, and monitored the responses of their hippocampal neurons to identify place cells, each of which fired when one of the animals was in a specific location, or ‘place field’, within its environment. In one experiment, performed on five awake animals, they timed electrical stimulation of the MFB to coincide with the firing of a given place cell.

This paired stimulation protocol created a false associative memory in the animals’ brains. The mice linked MFB stimulation with the place field encoded by the cell, and subsequently spent 4- to 5-times more time in that specific location than two control mice who received MFB stimulation that did not coincide with place cell firing.

Place cells are known to ‘replay’ their activity patterns during sleep, and this is believed to strengthen newly formed memories, possibly by promoting the formation of new synaptic connections. Nevertheless, we still don’t know what place cells are doing during replay, or exactly how replayed activity is related to their navigational functions.

To investigate further, the researchers repeated their experiments in five sleeping mice. Having previously identified place cells while they explored their surroundings, the researchers allowed the animals to doze off, and then paired the firing of a selected place cell in each one with stimulation of the MFB. Later on, these animals, too, showed a strong preference for that given place field, heading directly for it when they woke up and spending far more time there than in other locations.

Alanna Myers's curator insight, March 14, 2015 9:21 PM

But why? The article notes that the procedure is highly invasive, so is unlikely to ever be used in humans, except in very 'special' circumstances. It makes my skin crawl, there don't seem to be any good outcomes from this except to understand the role of sleep in embedding new memories. Even more creepily, the article says psychologists have already conducted experiments with humans that make the test subjects recall strong, vivid memories of crimes they never commit. Why?!

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Genome Editing Keeps HIV at Bay Long with Artificially Created CCR5-delta32 mutation

Genome Editing Keeps HIV at Bay Long with Artificially Created CCR5-delta32 mutation | Amazing Science |

Geneticists have been able to modify the immune system to confer resistance to HIV infection. The technique involves harvesting a patient's T-cells, using genome-editing techniques to disrupt the gene that controls the receptor used by HIV to infect those cells, and returning the modified cells to the patient, Fyodor Urnov, PhD, from Sangamo BioSciences in Richmond, California, explained here at the Future of Genomic Medicine VIII. The hope is that the edited cells will establish a permanent reservoir of HIV-resistant immune cells, he said.

In effect, the therapy mimics the natural mutation that confers HIV resistance in some people. The mutation came to light when a man named Timothy Brown, known as "the Berlin patient," wasapparently cured of HIV infection after a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had the mutation.

"You start with a naturally occurring variation, and then you aim to recapitulate it to create a disease-protective genotype and then a phenotype in a clinical setting," Dr Urnov said. He presented updated data from a phase 2 trial, the early results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine(2014;370:901-910). In the study, the researchers edited T-cells to modify the gene that encodes for CCR5, the coreceptor exploited by HIV to infect immune system cells.

With an established genome-editing technique, the team used DNA-snipping enzymes — called zinc-finger nucleases — to mimic the naturally occurring CCR5-delta32 mutation, which causes the expression of a truncated and nonfunctioning form of the CCR5 protein. The targeted section of DNA cleaved by the zinc-finger nucleases then undergoes a self-repair process, or nonhomologous end joining, leaving behind a T-cell with a nonfunctioning but otherwise healthy form of CCR5. The modified autologous cells are then reinfused into the patient.

"I'm thrilled to report that we have done this in more than 70 individuals, and the treatment has been well tolerated so far. I'm also delighted to report that the genome-edited cells persist over time," Dr Urnov said. "We have observed persistence of the cells in our subjects out to 4 years."

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Giant methane storms on Uranus

Giant methane storms on Uranus | Amazing Science |

In August 2014 a group led by Imke de Pater pointed the Keck telescope at Uranus and were a little bit surprised to see storms raging. It wasn't as though clouds haven't been seen before, but the clouds they spotted last year were very much brighter than any seen before. The fact that the storms are bright in the methane spectrum isn't a surprise – Uranus, and its neighbour Neptune, are pretty much just big balls of methane, water and ammonia.

The storms are described in a paper recently published in Icarus, with the pre-print available here. After the first observations, the group put out a call to amateur astronomers to see if they could also observed this unusual activity too. They did, and with this information the group built a case to point the Hubble Space telescope at Uranus, which happened in October. Again, they saw large storms, showing that what they had seen in August hadn't been a one off event - the weather report on Uranus is looking rather unsettled.

Uranus was the first planet to be discovered in the 'recent' era of science. All the planets up to Saturn were observed to be different 'wandering' stars by many ancient cultures – so we'll never know who first spotted them. But Uranus was first observed in 1690 by John Flamsteed. He plotted it six times – but didn't realise it was different from any other star (he catalogued it to be 64 Tauri). The French astronomer Pierre Lemonnier also observed Uranus, but didn't distinguish it from the other stars he was watching. It was William Herschel who realised, in 1781 after thinking it was a comet, that he'd seen a planet orbiting further from the sun than Saturn.

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The corrugated galaxy: Milky Way seems to be 50% larger than previously estimated

The corrugated galaxy: Milky Way seems to be 50% larger than previously estimated | Amazing Science |

The Milky Way galaxy is at least 50 percent larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples. The research, conducted by an international team led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Heidi Jo Newberg, revisits astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which, in 2002, established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way.

"In essence, what we found is that the disk of the Milky Way isn't just a disk of stars in a flat plane—it's corrugated," said Heidi Newberg, professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy in the Rensselaer School of Science. "As it radiates outward from the sun, we see at least four ripples in the disk of the Milky Way. While we can only look at part of the galaxy with this data, we assume that this pattern is going to be found throughout the disk."

Importantly, the findings show that the features previously identified as rings are actually part of the galactic disk, extending the known width of the Milky Way from 100,000 light years across to 150,000 light years, said Yan Xu, a scientist at the National Astronomical Observatories of China (which is part of the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing), former visiting scientist at Rensselaer, and lead author of the paper.

"Going into the research, astronomers had observed that the number of Milky Way stars diminishes rapidly about 50,000 light years from the center of the galaxy, and then a ring of stars appears at about 60,000 light years from the center," said Xu. "What we see now is that this apparent ring is actually a ripple in the disk. And it may well be that there are more ripples further out which we have not yet seen."

The research, funded in part by the National Science Foundation and titled "Rings and Radial Waves in the Disk of the Milky Way," was published today in the Astrophysical Journal. Newberg, Xu, and their collaborators used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to show an oscillating asymmetry in the main sequence star counts on either side of the galactic plane, starting from the sun and looking outward from the galactic center. In other words, when we look outward from the sun, the mid-plane of the disk is perturbed up, then down, then up, and then down again.

"Extending our knowledge of our galaxy's structure is fundamentally important," said Glen Langston, NSF program manager. "The NSF is proud to support their effort to map the shape of our galaxy beyond previously unknown limits."

The new research builds upon a 2002 finding in which Newberg established the existence of the "Monoceros Ring," an "over-density" of stars at the outer edges of the galaxy that bulges above the galactic plane. At the time, Newberg noticed evidence of another over-density of stars, between the Monoceros Ring and the sun, but was unable to investigate further. With more data available from the SDSS, researchers recently returned to the mystery.

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Brain in your pocket: Smartphone replaces thinking, study shows

Brain in your pocket: Smartphone replaces thinking, study shows | Amazing Science |

In the ancient world — circa, say, 2007 — terabytes of information were not available on sleekly designed devices that fit in our pockets. While we now can turn to iPhones and Samsung Galaxys to quickly access facts both essential and trivial — the fastest way to grandmother’s house, how many cups are in a gallon, the name of the actor who played Newman on “Seinfeld” — we once had to keep such tidbits in our heads or, perhaps, in encyclopedia sets.

With the arrival of the smartphone, such dusty tomes are unnecessary. But new research suggests our devices are more than a convenience — they may be changing the way we think. In “The brain in your pocket: Evidence that Smartphones are used to supplant thinking,” forthcoming from the journal Computers in Human Behavior, lead authors Nathaniel Barr and Gordon Pennycook of the psychology department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario said those who think more intuitively and less analytically are more likely to rely on technology.

“That people typically forego effortful analytic thinking in lieu of fast and easy intuition suggests that individuals may allow their Smartphones to do their thinking for them,” the authors wrote.

What’s the difference between intuitive and analytical thinking? In the paper, the authors cite this problem: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The brain-teaser evokes an intuitive response: The ball must cost 10 cents, right? This response, unfortunately, is obviously wrong — 10 cents plus $1.10 equals $1.20, not $1.10. Only through analytic thinking can one arrive at the correct response: The ball costs 5 cents. (Confused? Five cents plus $1.05 equals $1.10.)

It’s just this sort of analytical thinking that avid smartphone users seem to avoid. For the paper, researchers asked subjects how much they used their smartphones, then gave them tests to measure not just their intelligence, but how they processed information.

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'Last dinosaur' fossil adds weight to theory asteroid wiped out dinosaurs in cataclysmic event

'Last dinosaur' fossil adds weight to theory asteroid wiped out dinosaurs in cataclysmic event | Amazing Science |

The ancient remains of a horned beast uncovered by fossil hunters in Montana belong to the last known dinosaur to walk the Earth and give weight to the theory that the creatures were wiped out by an asteroid.

A brow horn of the creature was found in sedimentary rock deposited shortly before the mass extinction 65.5 million years ago. Other dinosaur fossils are either much older, or were unearthed after being washed from their original graves into much younger sediments, long after they died.

The discovery adds to growing evidence that the dinosaurs were wiped out when a comet or asteroid crashed into Earth at the end of the cretaceous.

The animal, most likely an adult triceratops, was not the last dinosaur standing, but the last survivor of their impressive reign to be identified by palaeontologists. Adult triceratops grew to around 9 metres long and weighed up to 12 tonnes.

Researchers spotted the 45cm horn while hunting for fossils in the Hell Creek Formation, a 100m-thick slab of mudstone in south eastern Montana. The region is one of the few in the world that preserves fossils before and after the period of the mass extinction.

"This is the youngest dinosaur that has been discovered in situ. Others can be found in younger deposits, but those have been put there by geological processes and are actually much older," said Tyler Lyson, a palaeontologist at Yale University.

The discovery undermines a theory that gained ground in the 1980s, which claims that land-dwelling dinosaurs died out long before an asteroid slammed into the planet to produce what is known as the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. One explanation claims the dinosaurs were killed off by climate change or a change in sea level.

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New ultrasound therapy targets brain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease

New ultrasound therapy targets brain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease | Amazing Science |

From imaging babies to blasting apart kidney stones, ultrasound has proved to be a versatile tool for physicians. Now, several research teams aim to unleash the technology on some of the most feared brain diseases.

The blood-brain barrier, a tightly packed layer of cells that lines the brain's blood vessels, protects it from infections, toxins, and other threats but makes the organ frustratingly hard to treat. A strategy that combines ultrasound with microscopic blood-borne bubbles can briefly open the barrier, in theory giving drugs or the immune system access to the brain. In the clinic and the lab, that promise is being evaluated.

This month, in one of the first clinical tests, Todd Mainprize, a neurosurgeon at the University of Toronto in Canada, hopes to use ultrasound to deliver a dose of chemotherapy to a malignant brain tumor. And in some of the most dramatic evidence of the technique's potential, a research team reports this week in Science Translational Medicine that they used it to rid mice of abnormal brain clumps similar to those in Alzheimer's disease, restoring lost memory and cognitive functions. If such findings can be translated from mice to humans, “it will revolutionize the way we treat brain disease,” says biophysicist Kullervo Hynynen of the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, who originated the ultrasound method.

Some scientists stress that rodent findings can be hard to translate to humans and caution that there are safety concerns about zapping the brain with even the low-intensity ultrasound used in the new study, which is similar to that used in diagnostic scans. Opening up the blood-brain barrier just enough to get a beneficial effect without scorching tissue, triggering an excessive immune reaction, or causing hemorrhage is the “crux,” says Brian Bacskai, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who studies Alzheimer's disease and used to work with Hynynen.

Safely and temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier is a long-sought goal in medicine. About a decade ago, Hynynen began exploring a strategy combining ultrasound and microbubbles. The premise is that ultrasound causes such bubbles to expand and contract, jostling the cells forming the blood-brain barrier and making it slightly leaky.

That could help cancer physicians such as Mainprize deliver chemotherapy drugs into the brain. Hynynen also hypothesized that the brief leakage would rev up the brain's inflammatory response against β amyloid—the toxic protein that clumps outside neurons in Alzheimer's and may be responsible for killing them. Disposing of such debris is normally the role of the microglia, a type of brain cell. But previous studies have shown that when β amyloid forms clumps in the brain, it “seems to overwhelm microglia,” Bacskai says. Exposing the cells to anti bodies that leak in when the blood-brain barrier is breached could spur them to “wake up and do their jobs,” he says. Some antibodies in blood may also bind directly to the β-amyloid protein and flag the clumps for destruction.

Hynynen and others have recently tested the ultrasound strategy in a mouse model of Alzheimer's. In December 2014, for example, he and colleagues reported in Radiology that the method reduces amyloid plaques in a strain of mice engineered to develop the deposits, leading to improvements in cognition and spatial learning. Microglia consumed more β amyloid after the treatment, suggesting the cells do play a role in the effect, says neuroscientist Isabelle Aubert, who collaborates with Hynynen at Sunnybrook.

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Neanderthals made jewellery from eagle talons in Europe 80,000 years before Homo sapiens arrived

Neanderthals made jewellery from eagle talons in Europe 80,000 years before Homo sapiens arrived | Amazing Science |
Neanderthals were making jewellery from the talons of the white-tailed eagle – one of the largest birds of prey in Europe – 80,000 years before the first members of our own species Homo sapiens arrived on the continent, scientists have discovered.

A study has revealed that eight claws from at least three different eagles had been made into a necklace or bracelet worn by Neanderthal people when they were the only humans in Europe 150,000 years ago. The scientists said that the discovery shows that Neanderthal man was not the brutish species he is frequently depicted, but someone who was capable of careful planning and an ability to recognise the symbolic beauty of body ornaments.

“Homo sapiens was not so unique in expressions of symbolism. A lot of evidence emerging in the last few years provides new information about the sophistication of Neanderthals, despite all the decades of prehistoric bias and discrimination against them,” said David Frayer, emeritus professor anthropology at the University of Kansas.

“Neanderthals are often thought of to be simple-minded mumbling, bumbling, stumbling fools. But the more we know about them, the more sophisticated they’ve become,” Professor Frayer said.

The eight talons and a foot bone were once attached to one another by a string or thread, the scientists believe. In addition to 21 individual cut marks, the talons have polished surfaces caused by one talon rubbing against another, said Professor Frayer, who was part of the team that identified the jewellery.

“These are the oldest [eagle talons] found and there are eight, all showing signs of wear, polish and/or manipulation, suggesting they were part of a jewellery composition, maybe a necklace, maybe a bracelet,” Professor Frayer said.

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Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian study finds

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian study finds | Amazing Science |
Report by top medical research body says ‘people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments’

Homeopathy is not effective for treating any health condition, Australia’s top body for medical research has concluded, after undertaking an extensive review of existing studies. Homeopaths believe that illness-causing substances can, in minute doses, treat people who are unwell.

By diluting these substances in water or alcohol, homeopaths claim the resulting mixture retains a “memory” of the original substance that triggers a healing response in the body. These claims have been widely disproven by multiple studies, but the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has for the first time thoroughly reviewed 225 research papers on homeopathy to come up with its position statement, released on Wednesday. “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective,” the report concluded.

“People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.” While some studies reported homeopathy was effective, the quality of those studies was poor and suffered serious flaws in their design, and did not have enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy worked any better than a sugar pill, the report found.

In making its findings the NHMRC also analysed 57 systematic reviews, a high-quality type of study that assesses all existing, quality research on a particular topic and synthesises it to make a number of strong, overall findings.

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How blood group O protects against malaria

How blood group O protects against malaria | Amazing Science |
Malaria is a serious disease that is estimated by the WHO to infect 200 million people a year, 600,000 of whom, primarily children under five, fatally. Malaria, which is most endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, is caused by different kinds of parasites from the plasmodium family, and effectively all cases of severe or fatal malaria come from the species known as Plasmodium falciparum. In severe cases of the disease, the infected red blood cells adhere excessively in the microvasculature and block the blood flow, causing oxygen deficiency and tissue damage that can lead to coma, brain damage and, eventually death. Scientists have therefore been keen to learn more about how this species of parasite makes the infected red blood cells so sticky.

It has long been known that people with blood type O are protected against severe malaria, while those with other types, such as A, often fall into a coma and die. Unpacking the mechanisms behind this has been one of the main goals of malaria research.

A team of scientists led from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have now identified a new and important piece of the puzzle by describing the key part played by the RIFIN protein. Using data from different kinds of experiment on cell cultures and animals, they show how the Plasmodium falciparum parasite secretes RIFIN, and how the protein makes its way to the surface of the blood cell, where it acts like glue. The team also demonstrates how it bonds strongly with the surface of type A blood cells, but only weakly to type O.

Principal investigator Mats Wahlgren, a Professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology, describes the finding as "conceptually simple". However, since RIFIN is found in many different variants, it has taken the research team a lot of time to isolate exactly which variant is responsible for this mechanism.

"Our study ties together previous findings", said Professor Wahlgren. "We can explain the mechanism behind the protection that blood group O provides against severe malaria, which can, in turn, explain why the blood type is so common in the areas where malaria is common. In Nigeria, for instance, more than half of the population belongs to blood group O, which protects against malaria."
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Wellcome Image Awards 2015 showcase breathtaking shots of life, death, and science up close

Wellcome Image Awards 2015 showcase breathtaking shots of life, death, and science up close | Amazing Science |
Most wouldn't go looking for magnified cat tongues, sheep stomachs, or parasitoid wasps in a search for gorgeous imagery. But as the finalists for the 2015 Wellcome Image Awards show, these things can be breathtakingly beautiful.

The award showcases the best in science images for the year. "The breath-taking riches of the imagery that science generates are so important in telling stories about research and helping us to understand often abstract concepts," British geneticist, author, and broadcaster Adam Rutherford, one of this year's judges, said in a statement.

"It's not just about imaging the very small either, it's about understanding life, death, sex and disease: the cornerstones of drama and art. Once again, the Wellcome Image Awards celebrate all of this and more with this year’s incredible range of winning images," Rutherford said.

The images are part of the Wellcome Images collections, which are free for non-commercial use and intended to help illustrate scientific concepts and findings.

The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on March 18. To see previous year's winners, check out Wellcome's Web site. The 20 finalists for 2015 will be showcased at 11 science centers around Britain. Fans of beauty and science in the United States are in luck, too: MIT's Koch Institute and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will also show off the winners sometime in March.

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This energy-generating cloth could replace batteries in wearable devices

This energy-generating cloth could replace batteries in wearable devices | Amazing Science |

Scientists at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea and University of Wollongong in Australia report in the journal ACS Nano the first durable, flexible cloth that can harness human motion to generate energy, allowing for self-powered smart clothes. The new technology avoids the need for batteries — a current limitation in wearable electronics.

The new textile can also charge batteries or supercapacitors without an external power source, making new applications possible, such as health care monitoring and batteryless personal electronics. The cloth is based on triboelectric nanogenerators (TNGs). TNGs use two materials with different “triboelectric” polarities.

In a manner analogous to static electricity, when the two materials are contacted or rubbed together, then separated, electrons are generated and can flow through a connected device. TNG devices are usually constructed on plastic materials; it’s been difficult to make them wearable. So the researchers developed a new method of incorporating TNGs into cloth that allows it to be chemically and physically durable, using  a silverized cloth material with nanorods and a silicon-based organic material embedded in four layers of cloth. They were able to generate a high output voltage (up to 120V) with an output current of 65 microamperes.

In tests, they found that the WTNGs (wearable TNGs) were able to power light-emitting diodes, a liquid crystal display, and a vehicle’s keyless entry remote, and worked for more than 12,000 cycles.

Nhan's curator insight, March 24, 2015 9:17 PM

The idea of wearable clothing to be able to produce power to charge different devices is amazing. Understanding the process of how it works is truly surprising.

Sultan Ashfaq's curator insight, March 27, 2015 8:27 AM

By the advent of nanotechnology, self-powered smart clothes are not science fictional anymore. Through this new technology, we will not be dependent on batteries.This make clothes to charge batteries without any external power source.

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First detailed microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria captured, believed to be as small as life can get

First detailed microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria captured, believed to be as small as life can get | Amazing Science |

The existence of ultra-small bacteria (aka “nanobacteria” or “nannobacteria”) has been debated for two decades, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive electron microscopy and DNA-based description of the microbes until now. They are about 200 nanometers (.2 micrometers) in width with a volume of only about 9 cubic nanometers. About 150 of these bacteria could fit inside an Escherichia coli bacteria cell.

The diverse bacteria were found in groundwater and are thought to be quite common. This is the smallest a cell can be and still accommodate enough material to sustain life, the researchers say. The bacterial cells have densely packed spirals that are probably DNA, a very small number of ribosomes, hair-like appendages, and a stripped-down metabolism that likely requires them to rely on other bacteria for many of life’s necessities.

“These newly described ultra-small bacteria are an example of a subset of the microbial life on earth that we know almost nothing about,” says Jill Banfield, a Senior Faculty Scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor in the departments of Earth and Planetary Science and Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

“They’re enigmatic. These bacteria are detected in many environments and they probably play important roles in microbial communities and ecosystems. But we don’t yet fully understand what these ultra-small bacteria do,” says Banfield. To concentrate these cells in a sample, they filtered groundwater collected at Rifle, Colorado through successively smaller filters, down to 0.2 microns, which is the size used to sterilize water.

The frozen samples were transported to Berkeley Lab, where Birgit Luef, a former postdoctoral researcher in Banfield’s group characterized the cells’ size and internal structure using 2D and 3D cryogenic transmission electron microscopy. The images revealed dividing cells, indicating the bacteria were healthy and not starved to an abnormally small size.

The bacteria’s genomes were sequenced at the Joint Genome Institute, a DOE Office of Science User Facility located in Walnut Creek, California. The genomes were about one million base pairs in length.

Among their findings: Some of the bacteria have thread-like appendages, called pili, which could serve as “life support” connections to other microbes, and the bacteria lack many basic functions, so they likely rely on a community of microbes for critical resources.

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The rise and fall of cognitive skills – different parts of the brain work best at different ages

The rise and fall of cognitive skills – different parts of the brain work best at different ages | Amazing Science |

Scientists have long known that our ability to think quickly and recall information, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline. However, more recent findings, including a new study from neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), suggest that the real picture is much more complex.

The study, which appears in the journal Psychological Science, finds that different components of fluid intelligence peak at different ages, some as late as age 40.

“At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some other things, and you’re at a plateau at some other things. There’s probably not one age at which you’re peak on most things, much less all of them,” says Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and one of the paper’s authors.

“It paints a different picture of the way we change over the lifespan than psychology and neuroscience have traditionally painted,” adds Laura Germine, a postdoc in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental genetics at MGH and the paper’s other author.

Through the websites and testmybrain.orgHartshorne and Germine were able to harness the power of the Internet to run a large-scale study with participants across a broad age range. They examined four different cognitive tasks, as well as a task that measured participants’ ability to perceive others’ emotional state.

Together, test data from nearly 50,000 subjects provided a very clear picture that showed each cognitive skill peaking at a different age. For example, the speed with which participants processed information appeared to peak early, around age 18 or 19, and then immediately started to decline. Short-term memory seemed to improve until around age 25, level off for several years, and then begin to drop around age 35. The ability to evaluate other people’s emotional states, on the other hand, peaked much later, when participants were in their 40s or 50s.

It’s not yet clear why these skills tend to peak at different ages, but previous research suggests that it may have to do with changes in gene expression or brain structure as we age.

The researchers also included a vocabulary test, which serves as a measure of what is known as crystallized intelligence — the accumulation of facts and knowledge. While the results confirmed that crystallized intelligence peaks later in life, the new data indicated that the peak occurred when participants were in their late 60s or early 70s, even later than previously thought.

The researchers believe this could be explained by today’s adults having higher levels of education, jobs that require a lot of reading, and more opportunities for intellectual stimulation in comparison to previous generations.

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Two quantum properties teleported together for first time

Two quantum properties teleported together for first time | Amazing Science |

The values of two inherent properties of one photon – its spin and its orbital angular momentum – have been transferred via quantum teleportation onto another photon for the first time by physicists in China. Previous experiments have managed to teleport a single property, but scaling that up to two properties proved to be a difficult task, which has only now been achieved. The team's work is a crucial step forward in improving our understanding of the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and the result could also play an important role in the development of quantum communications and quantum computers.

Quantum teleportation first appeared in the early 1990s after four researchers, including Charles Bennett of IBM in New York, developed a basic quantum teleportation protocol. To successfully teleport a quantum state, you must make a precise initial measurement of a system, transmit the measurement information to a receiving destination and then reconstruct a perfect copy of the original state. The "no-cloning" theorem of quantum mechanics dictates that it is impossible to make a perfect copy of a quantum particle. But researchers found a way around this via teleportation, which allows a flawless copy of a property of a particle to be made. This occurs thanks to what is ultimately a complete transfer (rather than an actual copy) of the property onto another particle such that the first particle loses all of the properties that are teleported.

Teleporting more than one state simultaneously is essential to fully describe a quantum particle and achieving this would be a tentative step towards teleporting something larger than a quantum particle, which could be very useful in the exchange of quantum information. Now, Chaoyang Lu and Jian-Wei Pan, along with colleagues at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, have taken the first step in simultaneously teleporting multiple properties of a single photon.

In the experiment, the team teleports the composite quantum states of a single photon encoded in both its spin and OAM. To transfer the two properties requires not only an extra entangled set of particles (the quantum channel), but a "hyper-entangled" set – where the two particles are simultaneously entangled in both their spin and their OAM. The researchers shine a strong ultraviolet pulsed laser on three nonlinear crystals to generate three entangled pairs of photons – one pair is hyper-entangled and is used as the "quantum channel", a second entangled pair is used to carry out an intermediate "non-destructive" measurement, while the third pair is used to prepare the two-property state of a single photon that will eventually be teleported.

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