Fragments of Science
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Are human-caused and natural global warming different? Study says yes.

Are human-caused and natural global warming different? Study says yes. | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
A study suggests that human-caused and natural global warming episodes affect rainfall rates differently. The finding could help scientists better forecast what's ahead.
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Fragments of Science
The history, present and future and nature of science and their relationship
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AlphaZero #AI beats champion #chess program after teaching itself in four hours

AlphaZero #AI beats champion #chess program after teaching itself in four hours | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Google’s artificial intelligence sibling DeepMind repurposes Go-playing AI to conquer chess and shogi without aid of human knowledge
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Scientists modify CRISPR to epigenetically treat diabetes, kidney disease, muscular dystrophy

Scientists modify CRISPR to epigenetically treat diabetes, kidney disease, muscular dystrophy | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Salk scientists have created a new version of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology that allows them to activate genes without creating breaks in the DNA, potentially circumventing a major hurdle to using gene editing technologies to treat human diseases.

Most CRISPR/Cas9 systems work by creating "double-strand breaks" (DSBs) in regions of the genome targeted for editing or for deletion, but many researchers are opposed to creating such breaks in the DNA of living humans. As a proof of concept, the Salk group used their new approach to treat several diseases, including diabetes, acute kidney disease, and muscular dystrophy, in mouse models.

"Although many studies have demonstrated that CRISPR/Cas9 can be applied as a powerful tool for gene therapy, there are growing concerns regarding unwanted mutations generated by the double-strand breaks through this technology," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the new paper, published in Cell on December 7, 2017. "We were able to get around that concern."

In the original CRISPR/Cas9 system, the enzyme Cas9 is coupled with guide RNAs that target it to the right spot in the genome to create DSBs. Recently, some researchers have started using a "dead" form of Cas9 (dCas9), which can still target specific places in the genome, but no longer cuts DNA. Instead, dCas9 has been coupled with transcriptional activation domains—molecular switches—that turn on targeted genes. But the resulting protein—dCas9 attached to the activator switches—is too large and bulky to fit into the vehicle typically used to deliver these kinds of therapies to cells in living organisms, namely adeno-associated viruses (AAVs). The lack of an efficient delivery system makes it very difficult to use this tool in clinical applications.
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Researchers discover the unexpected atomic structure of cold and menthol sensor TRPM8

Researchers discover the unexpected atomic structure of cold and menthol sensor TRPM8 | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
A team of researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Duke University has made the first determination of the atomic structure of Transient Receptor Potential Melastatin 8 (TRPM8), a molecular sensor in nerve ends that detects cold temperatures as well as menthol and other chemicals that induce cold sensations.

This finding should boost ongoing efforts by scientists to target TRPM8 therapeutically. Drug compounds that interact with the cold sensor—as menthol-containing salves already do—may be able to treat some forms of chronic pain and inflammation, migraines and even cancers.

"Knowing the atomic structure of TRPM8 and how it reacts to cold, menthol and other stimuli should help in the design of potent and selective new drugs targeting this sensor," said study leader Gabriel C. Lander, Ph.D., associate professor at TSRI, who co-led the study with Dr. Seok-Yong Lee at Duke University School of Medicine.

The discovery, published on Dec. 7, 2017 in the journal Science, is also a significant technical feat. Ever since the cold-sensing protein was first identified in 2002, teams around the world have tried but failed to determine the atomic structure of TRPM8 using X-ray crystallography, traditionally the go-to method for solving large-protein structures. Obtaining a high resolution structure of TRPM8 has posed a major challenge for structural biologists in part because of the instability of the channel when isolated from its native environment in the cellular membrane. Without membrane support, TRPM8 has a tendency to lose its structural integrity, making the target very difficult to study. The TRPM8 sensor structure is also relatively complex, being composed of four identical copies of the protein encoded by the TRPM8 gene.
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CLOCK gene may hold answers to human brain evolution

CLOCK gene may hold answers to human brain evolution | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have long sought to unravel the molecular mysteries that make the human brain special: What processes drove its evolution through the millennia? Which genes are critical to cognitive development?

A new study provides insight on the matter by demonstrating that a gene controlling our biological clocks also plays a vital role in regulating human-specific genes important to brain evolution. The findings from the O'Donnell Brain Institute open new paths of research into how CLOCK proteins produced by the CLOCK gene affect brain function and the processes by which neurons find their proper place in the brain.

"People have been searching for genes that are important for brain evolution, within the context of our larger, folded brains," said Dr. Genevieve Konopka, a neuroscientist with UT Southwestern's Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. "We now have evidence that CLOCK regulates many genes outside of circadian rhythms, so we can place it as a key point in the hierarchy of important molecular pathways for human brain development and evolution."
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Experiment demonstrates quantum mechanical effects from biological systems

Experiment demonstrates quantum mechanical effects from biological systems | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Nearly 75 years ago, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger wondered if the mysterious world of quantum mechanics played a role in biology. A recent finding by Northwestern University's Prem Kumar adds further evidence that the answer might be yes.

Kumar and his team have, for the first time, created quantum entanglement from a biological system. This finding could advance scientists' fundamental understanding of biology and potentially open doors to exploit biological tools to enable new functions by harnessing quantum mechanics.

"Can we apply quantum tools to learn about biology?" said Kumar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "People have asked this question for many, many years—dating back to the dawn of quantum mechanics. The reason we are interested in these new quantum states is because they allow applications that are otherwise impossible."

Partially supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research was published Dec. 5 in Nature Communications.
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After 20 years, researcher presents the most complete Australopithecus fossil ever found

After 20 years, researcher presents the most complete Australopithecus fossil ever found | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
South Africa's status as a major cradle in the African nursery of humankind has been reinforced with today's unveiling of "Little Foot", the country's oldest, virtually complete fossil human ancestor.

Little Foot is the only known virtually complete Australopithecus fossil discovered to date. It is by far the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor older than 1.5 million years ever found. It is also the oldest fossil hominid in southern Africa, dating back 3.67 million years. The unveiling will be the first time that the completely cleaned and reconstructed skeleton can be viewed by the national and international media.

Discovered by Professor Ron Clarke from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the fossil was given the nickname of "Little Foot" by Prof. Phillip Tobias, based on Clarke's initial discovery of four small foot bones. Its discovery is expected to add a wealth of knowledge about the appearance, full skeletal anatomy, limb lengths and locomotor abilities of one of the species of our early ancestral relatives.

"This is one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research and it is a privilege to unveil a finding of this importance today," says Clarke.
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Research reveals how cells rebuild after mitosis

Research reveals how cells rebuild after mitosis | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
University of Bristol research has revealed how cells rebuild their nucleus and organise their genome when they divide -- a discovery which could have major implications for understanding cancer and degeneration.
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Earliest example of large hydraulic enterprise excavated in China

Earliest example of large hydraulic enterprise excavated in China | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
A team of researchers from several institutions in China has uncovered one of the largest water management projects in the ancient world in what is now a part of the eastern coast of modern China. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes their finding and compares it to other ancient water management systems.

Over 5000 years ago, people living in the Yangtze River Delta apparently grew weary of the flooding that periodically destroyed their crops. They embarked on what became one of the largest water management projects in the ancient world, moving earth and piling it in desired ways to change over 10,000 hectares of landscape to suit their needs. The researchers at the site have been working for four years uncovering the large hydraulic system that was built to support Liangzhu Ancient City.

The researchers report that laborers spent years digging up dirt to make canals, piled it to make dams, and even installed a system of gates to control movement of the water. The result was a system able to prevent normal flooding and to irrigate crops during dry times with rainwater saved in large reservoirs. They also dug canals to allow small boats to carry people and materials around the area. The researchers estimate that it took approximately 3000 people working for eight years just to build one of the larger dams, and in the process, they moved approximately 10 million cubic feet of earth.
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Researchers squeeze low-cost electricity from sustainable biomaterial

Researchers squeeze low-cost electricity from sustainable biomaterial | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Mobile phone speakers and motion detectors in cars and video games may soon be powered by electricity generated from low cost and sustainable biomaterials, according to research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

Scientists at UL's Bernal Institute have discovered that the biomolecule glycine, when tapped or squeezed, can generate enough electricity to power electrical devices in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way. The research was published on December 4, 2017 in leading international journal Nature Materials.

Glycine is the simplest amino acid. It occurs in practically all agro and forestry residues. It can be produced at less than one per cent of the cost of currently used piezoelectric materials.

Piezoelectric materials generate electricity in response to pressure, and vice versa. They are widely used in cars, phones, and remote controls for games consoles. Unlike glycine, these materials are normally synthetic and often contain toxic elements such as lead or lithium.
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Grasshopper problem yields insight into quantum theory

Grasshopper problem yields insight into quantum theory | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Like many mathematical puzzles, the grasshopper problem is simple to state but difficult to solve: A grasshopper lands at a random point on a lawn of area 1, then jumps once, a fixed distance, in a random direction. What shape should the lawn be in order to maximize the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after jumping?

A first impression may be that the lawn should be in the shape of a circle, at least when the distance the grasshopper jumps is small. However, Olga Goulko and Adrian Kent, the two physicists who introduced the grasshopper problem in a new paper, have mathematically proved that a disc-shaped lawn is not optimal for any distance.
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How To Fool A Neural Network

How To Fool A Neural Network | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
An autonomous train is barreling down the tracks, its cameras constantly scanning for signs that indicate things like how fast it should be going. It sees one that appears to require it to increase its speed–and so it does. A few heartbeats later, the train narrowly avoids a derailment. Later, when a human investigator inspects the sign in question, they see something different–a warning to slow down, not speed up.

It’s an extreme rhetorical, but it illustrates one of the biggest challenges facing machine learning today. Neural networks are only as good as the information they’re trained on, which had led to high-profile examples of how susceptible they are to bad data riddled with bias. But these technologies are also vulnerable to another kind of weakness known as “adversarial examples.” An adversarial example occurs when a neural net identifies an image as one thing–while any person looking at it sees something else.

The phenomenon was discovered in 2013, when a group of researchers from Google and OpenAI realized they could slightly shift the pixels in an image so that it would appear the same to the human eye, but a machine learning algorithm would classify it as something else entirely. For instance, an image might look like a cat to you, but when a computer vision program looks at it, it sees a dog.
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Beautiful Chemical Reactions

Eight types of beautiful chemical reactions are presented in this short video. For more information, please visit: http://BeautifulChemistry.net Video & Editing…
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New early signals to quantify the magnitude of strong earthquakes

New early signals to quantify the magnitude of strong earthquakes | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
After an earthquake, there is an instantaneous gravitational disturbance that could be recorded before the seismic waves that seismologists can detect. In a study published in Science on December 1, 2017, a team comprising researchers from CNRS, IPGP, the Université Paris Diderot and Caltech has managed to observe these weak signals related to gravity and to understand where they come from. Because they are sensitive to the magnitude of earthquakes, these signals may play an important role in the early identification of the occurrence of a major earthquake.

This work came out of the interaction between seismologists who wanted to better understand earthquakes and physicists who were developing fine gravity measurements with a view to detecting gravitational waves. Earthquakes brutally change the equilibrium of forces on Earth and emit seismic waves whose consequences can be devastating. But these same waves also disturb the Earth's field of gravity, which produces a different signal. This is particularly interesting with a view to fast quantification of tremors, because it moves at the speed of light, unlike tremor waves, which propagate at speeds between three and 10 km/s. So seismometers at a station located 1000 km from the epicenter may potentially detect this signal more than two minutes before the seismic waves arrive.

The work presented here follows on a 2016 (J.-P. Montagner et al., Nat. Commun. 7, 13349 (2016)) study that demonstrated this signal for the first time. First, the scientists observed these signals on the data from about 10 seismometers located between 500 and 3000 km from the epicenter of the 2011 Japanese earthquake (magnitude 9.1). From their observations, the researchers then demonstrated that these signals were due to two effects. The first is the gravity change that occurs at the location of the seismometer, which changes the equilibrium position of the instrument's mass. The second effect, which is indirect, is due to the gravity change everywhere on Earth, which disturbs the equilibrium of the forces and produces new seismic waves that will reach the seismometer.
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When AI is made by AI, results are impressive

When AI is made by AI, results are impressive | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Researchers exploring AI systems are making news and familiarizing the public with terms like reinforcement learning and machine learning. Recent headlines are still making some heads turn in surprise. AI software is "learning" how to replicate itself and to build its own AI child.
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Algae could feed and fuel planet with aid of new high-tech tool

Algae could feed and fuel planet with aid of new high-tech tool | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Vast quantities of medicines and renewable fuels could be produced by algae using a new gene-editing technique, a study suggests.

Scientists have devised a method that could lead to cheap, environmentally friendly ways of making products for use in the cosmetics, plastics and food industries.

Algae are highly prized for their ability to make useful products, but a lack of engineering tools has hindered basic research and growth of the industry for decades, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh sought to improve the efficiency of gene-editing to increase yields of products currently made using algae, including some food supplements. The advance could also enable algae to make new products, such as medicines.

The technique uses molecules that act like scissors to cut DNA - called CRISPR molecules - which allow researchers to add new genes or modify existing ones. Until now, scientists have struggled to develop a technique that works efficiently in algae.

To overcome this, the team added CRISPR molecular scissors and short pieces of DNA directly to algae cells to make precise modifications to the genetic code.

Their new method is more specific and increases efficiency 500-fold compared to previous techniques. The discovery could unleash the potential of the global algae industry, projected to be worth $1.1billion by 2024.

The team developed its technique to work in a widely used species of algae - called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The method could potentially also be used to engineer crops to increase yields, improve disease resistance or enable plants to thrive in harsh climates.
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First DNA sequence from a single mitochondria

First DNA sequence from a single mitochondria | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
DNA sequences between mitochondria within a single cell are vastly different, found researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. This knowledge will help to better illuminate the underlying mechanisms of many disorders that start with accumulated mutations in individual mitochondria and provide clues about how patients might respond to specific therapies.
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Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone

Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
A vast international experiment designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of energy is halfway toward completion, the organization behind the project said Wednesday.

Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, in southern France has been dogged by delays and a surge in costs to about 20 billion euros ($23.7 billion).

ITER's director-general, Bernard Bigot, said the project is on track to begin superheating hydrogen atoms in 2025, a milestone known as "first plasma."

"We have no contingency plan," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Paris.

Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of nuclear fusion that occurs inside the sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity. Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there's no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with fusion and it doesn't produce long-lived radioactive waste.

A joint project to explore the technology was first proposed at a summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with the aim of "utilizing controlled thermonuclear fusion for peaceful purposes ... for the benefit for all mankind."

It took more than two decades for work to begin at the site in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Marseille. The project's members—China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States—settled on a design that uses a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak to trap hydrogen that's been heated to 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million Fahrenheit) for long enough to allow atoms to fuse together.

The process results in the release of large amounts of heat. While ITER won't generate electricity, scientists hope it will demonstrate that such a fusion reactor can produce more energy than it consumes.

There are other fusion experiments, but ITER's design is widely considered the most advanced and practical. Scientists won't know until 2035, following a decade of testing and upgrades, whether the device actually works as intended.

Still, fusion experts said Wednesday's milestone was noteworthy.
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From a spaghetti-like jumble of microfibers and water comes a promising new material

From a spaghetti-like jumble of microfibers and water comes a promising new material | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Princeton researchers have discovered that when water flows around long plastic fibers, the flexible fiber strands tangle like a plate of spaghetti. Instead of a muddled mess, however, this product is in fact a highly useful material known as a hydrogel.

Investigated for half a century, hydrogels are increasingly finding uses in areas including artificial tissue engineering, sustained drug delivery, surgical adhesives and 3-D bioprinting—at least in part because of their similarities to living tissue, being squishy, porous and mostly made of water.

Normally, generating hydrogels requires chemical reactions and interactions among a set of precursor materials. The new Princeton hydrogel, though, forms just through the shearing effect of the fibers sliding against each other when forced through a syringe. This chemical-free method points toward a new class of injectable hydrogels that perform tasks such as plugging and treating wounds.

"Studying the flow of matter in suspensions containing such highly flexible fibers had never really been attempted before," said Antonio Perazzo, co-lead author of a September paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reporting the idea and describing the results. "Pursuing novel research has given us this unprecedented result of flow-induced gelation with flexible fibers."
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New stellar stream discovered by astronomers

New stellar stream discovered by astronomers | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
An international team of astronomers has detected a new thin stellar stream in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy. The newly discovered feature, named "jet stream," could help researchers answer fundamental questions about the mass distribution of the Milky Way's dark matter halo. The finding was presented November 24 in a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server.

Stellar streams are remnants of dwarf galaxies or globular clusters that once orbited a galaxy but have been disrupted and stretched out along their orbits by tidal forces of their hosts. So far, nearly 20 stellar streams have been identified in the Milky Way, just a few in the Andromeda galaxy, and about 10 outside the Local Group.

Astronomers are interested in finding new stellar streams in the Milky Way, as they hope that such features could answer some crucial questions about the the galaxy. For instance, stellar streams could help us understand the large-scale mass distribution of the galactic dark matter halo. Moreover, they could confirm whether or not our galaxy contains low-mass dark matter subhalos.
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Breaking electron waves provide new clues to high-temperature superconductivity

Breaking electron waves provide new clues to high-temperature superconductivity | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Superconductors carry electricity with perfect efficiency, unlike the inevitable waste inherent in traditional conductors like copper. But that perfection comes at the price of extreme cold—even so-called high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) only emerges well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Discovering the ever-elusive mechanism behind HTS could revolutionize everything from regional power grids to wind turbines.

Now, a collaboration led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory has discovered a surprising breakdown in the electron interactions that may underpin HTS. The scientists found that as superconductivity vanishes at higher temperatures, powerful waves of electrons begin to curiously uncouple and behave independently—like ocean waves splitting and rippling in different directions.

"For the first time, we pinpointed these key electron interactions happening after superconductivity subsides," said first author and Brookhaven Lab research associate Hu Miao. "The portrait is both stranger and more exciting than we expected, and it offers new ways to understand and potentially exploit these remarkable materials."
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New robots can see into their future

New robots can see into their future | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have developed a robotic learning technology that enables robots to imagine the future of their actions so they can figure out how to manipulate objects they have never encountere
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Collisions after moon formation remodeled early Earth

Collisions after moon formation remodeled early Earth | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Southwest Research Institute scientists recently modeled the protracted period of bombardment following the Moon's formation, when leftover planetesimals pounded the Earth. Based on these simulations, scientists theorize that moon-sized objects delivered more mass to the Earth than previously thought.

Early in its evolution, Earth sustained an impact with another large object, and the Moon formed from the resulting debris ejected into an Earth-orbiting disk. A long period of bombardment followed, the so-called "late accretion," when large bodies impacted the Earth delivering materials that were accreted or integrated into the young planet.

"We modeled the massive collisions and how metals and silicates were integrated into Earth during this 'late accretion stage,' which lasted for hundreds of millions of years after the Moon formed," said SwRI's Dr. Simone Marchi, lead author of a Nature Geoscience paper outlining these results. "Based on our simulations, the late accretion mass delivered to Earth may be significantly greater than previously thought, with important consequences for the earliest evolution of our planet."
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MACHOs are dead. WIMPs are a no-show. Say hello to SIMPs: New candidate for dark matter

MACHOs are dead. WIMPs are a no-show. Say hello to SIMPs: New candidate for dark matter | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
The intensive, worldwide search for dark matter, the missing mass in the universe, has so far failed to find an abundance of dark, massive stars or scads of strange new weakly interacting particles, but a new candidate is slowly gaining followers and observational support.

Called SIMPs - strongly interacting massive particles - they were proposed three years ago by University of California, Berkeley theoretical physicist Hitoshi Murayama, a professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) in Japan, and former UC Berkeley postdoc Yonit Hochberg, now at Hebrew University in Israel.

Murayama says that recent observations of a nearby galactic pile-up could be evidence for the existence of SIMPs, and he anticipates that future particle physics experiments will discover one of them.

Murayama discussed his latest theoretical ideas about SIMPs and how the colliding galaxies support the theory in an invited talk Dec. 4 at the 29th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Why do we see similarities across languages? Human brain may be responsible

Why do we see similarities across languages? Human brain may be responsible | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
An estimated 7,099 languages are spoken throughout the world today. Almost a third of them are endangered—spoken by dwindling numbers—while just 23 languages represent more than half of the global population.

For years, researchers have been interested in the similarities seen across human languages. A new study led by University of Arizona researcher Masha Fedzechkina suggests that some of those similarities may be based on the human brain's preference for efficient information processing.

"If we look at languages of the world, they are very different on the surface, but they also share a lot of underlying commonalities, often called linguistic universals or cross-linguistic generalizations," said Fedzechkina, an assistant professor in the UA Department of Linguistics and lead author of the study, published in the journal Psychological Science.
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Uranium to replace plastic? Chemistry breakthrough could pave the way for new materials

Uranium to replace plastic? Chemistry breakthrough could pave the way for new materials | Fragments of Science | Scoop.it
Uranium can perform reactions that previously no one thought possible, which could transform the way industry makes bulk chemicals, polymers, and the precursors to new drugs and plastics, according to new findings from The University of Manchester.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the chemists have discovered that uranium can perform reactions that used to be the preserve of transition metals such as rhodium and palladium. And because uranium sits between different types of reactivity of lanthanides and transition metals it might be able to combine the best of both to give new ways of producing materials and chemicals.

This discovery is also profiled in a new video (see below) which is part of a series produced by the School of Chemistry. Other videos show how chemists at Manchester have developed the world's smallest fuel powered motor and identified that Parkinson's sufferers can have a unique smell identifying the disease - before any medical professional can see symptoms.
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