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Micro-robots will become soft and move like biological organisms, experts predict

Micro-robots will become soft and move like biological organisms, experts predict | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Increasingly small robots can carry out their functions even inside the human body. No, this isn’t a sci-fi dream. The technology is almost ready. However there is still one condition they must meet to be effective: these devices need to have the same "softness" and flexibility as biological tissues.


This is the opinion of scientists like Antonio De Simone, from SISSA (the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste) and Marino Arroyo from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, who have just published a paper in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids. Taking inspiration from unicellular water micro-organisms, they studied the locomotion mechanisms of "soft robots."

 

Forget cogwheels, pistons and levers: miniaturized robots of the future will be 'soft.' "If I think of the robots of tomorrow, what comes to mind are the tentacles of an octopus or the trunk of an elephant rather than the mechanical arm of a crane or the inner workings of a watch. And if I think of micro-robots then I think of unicellular organisms moving in water. The robots of the future will be increasingly like biological organisms" explains Antonio De Simone.


De Simone and his team at SISSA have been studying the movement of euglenids, unicellular aquatic animals, for several years. One of the aims of De Simone's research -- which has recently been awarded a European Research Council Advanced Grant of 1,300,000 euro -- is to transfer the knowledge acquired in euglenids to micro-robotics, a field that represents a promising challenge for the future. Micro-robots may in fact carry out a number of important functions, for example for human health, by delivering drugs directly to where they are needed, re-opening occluded blood vessels, or helping to close wounds, to name just a few.


To do this, these tiny robots will have to be able to move around efficiently. "Imagine trying to miniaturize a device made up of levers and cogwheels: you can't go below a certain minimal size. Instead, by mimicking biological systems we can go all the way down to cell size, and this is exactly the direction research is taking. We, in particular, are working on movement and studying how certain unicellular organisms with highly efficient locomotion move."

 

In their study, De Simone and Arroyo simulated euglenid species with different shapes and locomotion methods, based chiefly on cell body deformation and swelling, to describe in detail the mechanics and characteristics of the movement obtained.

 

"Our work not only helps to understand the movement mechanism of these unicellular organisms, but it provides a knowledge base to plan the locomotion system of future micro-robots."


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Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization

Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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Researchers find a giant unicellular slime mold with no nervous system that remembers food locations

Researchers find a giant unicellular slime mold with no nervous system that remembers food locations | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Having a memory of past events enables us to take smarter decisions about the future. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) and Technical University of Munich (TUM) identify the basis for forming memories in the slime mold Physarum polycephalum – despite its lack of a nervous system.

 

Simple organisms manage to thrive in complex environments. Having memory about the environment is key in taking informed decisions. Physarum polycephalum excels as a giant unicellular eukaryote, being even able to solve optimization problems despite the lack of a nervous system. Scientists now follow experimentally the organism’s response to a nutrient source and find that memory about nutrient location is encoded in the morphology of the network-shaped organism. Their theoretical predictions in line with their experimental observations unveil the mechanism behind memory encoding and demonstrate the P. polycephalum’s ability to read out previously stored information.

 

The concept of memory is traditionally associated with organisms possessing a nervous system. However, even very simple organisms store information about past experiences to thrive in a complex environment—successfully exploiting nutrient sources, avoiding danger, and warding off predators. How can simple organisms encode information about their environment? The giant unicellular slime mold Physarum polycephalum responding to a nutrient source can tell. Researchers find that the network-like body plan of the organism itself serves to encode the location of a nutrient source. The organism entirely consists of interlaced tubes of varying diameters. In experiments they observe that these tubes grow and shrink in diameter in response to a nutrient source, thereby imprinting the nutrient’s location in the tube diameter hierarchy.

 

Combining theoretical model and experimental data, the scientists reveal how memory is encoded: a nutrient source locally releases a softening agent that gets transported by the cytoplasmic flows within the tubular network. Tubes receiving a lot of softening agent grow in diameter at the expense of other tubes shrinking. Thereby, the tubes’ capacities for flow-based transport get permanently upgraded toward the nutrient location, redirecting future decisions and migration. This demonstrates that nutrient location is stored in and retrieved from the networks’ tube diameter hierarchy.

 

These findings explain how network-forming organisms like slime molds and fungi thrive in complex environments. This seems to be a flow networks’ version of associative memory—very likely of relevance for the plethora of living flow networks as well as for bioinspired design.


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Where Does All the Plastic Go After it Enters the Ocean?

Where Does All the Plastic Go After it Enters the Ocean? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Of the hundreds of millions of tons of plastic waste we produce each year, it’s estimated that around ten million tons enters the ocean. Roughly half of the plastics produced are less dense than water, and so they float. But scientists estimate that there are only about 0.3 million tons of plastic floating at the ocean surface, so where is the rest of it going?

 

Consider the journey of a plastic fiber that’s shed from your fleece. A heavy rain washes it into a storm drain or a nearby river. Does the tiny fiber settle there? Or does the river carry it out to the coast where it lingers on the seabed? Or does it continue to float further out – finally ending up in the vast open ocean?

 

The dizzying variety of forms plastic waste can take means that a fiber's fate is just one mystery among countless others. Finding out where all the missing plastic ends up can help us figure out which parts of the ocean are most affected by this type of pollution – and where to focus clean-up efforts. But to do that, we need to be able to predict the pathways of different kinds of plastic, which requires large teams of physicists, biologists and mathematicians working together.

 

We already know that large pieces of plastic, like bottles, can float on the sea surface for years, if not centuries, taking a long time to break down. Currents, winds and waves can, after a journey of several years, bring them to the centre of ocean basins, where they accumulate in 1,000km-wide circulating systems known as gyres. The vast “garbage patches” that result resemble more of a soup of plastic than an island of trash.

 

But the fate of plastic fibers – perhaps the smallest plastic fragments to reach the ocean – is much more complex. Large fibers can break up over days and weeks into even smaller pieces, due to turbulence from breaking waves and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. These are called microplastics, and they range in size from five millimeters to specks smaller than bacteria.

 

Microplastics can be eaten by fish. It’s estimated that one in three fish eaten by humans contains a variety of microplastics. Tinier particles can also be consumed by zooplankton – microscopic animals that float at the surface – which are then eaten by even larger animals, including whales. Microorganisms can grow on the surface of microplastics too, a process known as “biofouling” that causes them to sink. Muddy rivers, like the Mississippi or the Amazon, contain clays that settle rapidly when they come into contact with salty ocean water. Microplastics can be carried down by the settling clay, but how much this happens exactly is unknown.


Via Grant W. Graves
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Hubble uncovers assembly of small black holes in globular cluster

Hubble uncovers assembly of small black holes in globular cluster | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Globular clusters are extremely dense stellar systems, in which stars are packed closely together. They are also typically very old—the globular cluster that is the focus of this study, NGC 6397, is almost as old as the Universe itself. It resides 7800 light-years away, making it one of the closest globular clusters to Earth. Because of its very dense nucleus, it is known as a core-collapsed cluster.

 

When Eduardo Vitral and Gary A. Mamon of the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris set out to study the core of NGC 6397, they expected to find evidence for an 'intermediate-mass' black hole (IMBH). These are smaller than the supermassive black holes that lie at the cores of large galaxies, but larger than stellar-mass black holes formed by the collapse of massive stars. IMBH are the long-sought missing link in black hole evolution and their mere existence is hotly debated, although a few candidates have been found.

 

To look for the IMBH, Vitral and Mamon analyzed the positions and velocities of the cluster's stars. They did this using previous estimates of the stars' proper motions from Hubble images of the cluster spanning several years, in addition to proper motions provided by ESA's Gaia space observatory, which precisely measures the positions, distances and motions of stars. Knowing the distance to the cluster allowed the astronomers to translate the proper motions of these stars into velocities. "Our analysis indicated that the orbits of the stars are close to random throughout the globular cluster, rather than systematically circular or very elongated," explained Mamon.

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Light used to detect quantum information stored in 100,000 nuclear quantum bits

Light used to detect quantum information stored in 100,000 nuclear quantum bits | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have found a way to use light and a single electron to communicate with a cloud of quantum bits and sense their behavior, making it possible to detect a single quantum bit in a dense cloud.

 

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, were able to inject a 'needle' of highly fragile quantum information in a 'haystack' of 100,000 nuclei. Using lasers to control an electron, the researchers could then use that electron to control the behavior of the haystack, making it easier to find the needle. They were able to detect the 'needle' with a precision of 1.9 parts per million: high enough to detect a single quantum bit in this large ensemble.

 

The technique makes it possible to send highly fragile quantum information optically to a nuclear system for storage, and to verify its imprint with minimal disturbance, an important step in the development of a quantum internet based on quantum light sources. The results are reported in the journal Nature Physics.

The first quantum computers—which will harness the strange behavior of subatomic particles to far outperform even the most powerful supercomputers—are on the horizon.

 

However, leveraging their full potential will require a way to network them: a quantum internet. Channels of light that transmit quantum information are promising candidates for a quantum internet, and currently there is no better quantum light source than the semiconductor quantum dot: tiny crystals that are essentially artificial atoms.

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NASA's Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Reports to Home Base

NASA's Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Reports to Home Base | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

  

Latest NASA Perseverance News is HERE

 

Ingenuity has phoned home from where it is attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have received the first status report from the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which landed Feb. 18, 2021, at Jezero Crater attached to the belly of the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The downlink, which arrived at 3:30 p.m. PST (6:30 p.m. EST) via a connection through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, indicates that both the helicopter, which will remain attached to the rover for 30 to 60 days, and its base station (an electrical box on the rover that stores and routes communications between the rotorcraft and Earth) are operating as expected.

 

“There are two big-ticket items we are looking for in the data: the state of charge of Ingenuity’s batteries as well as confirmation the base station is operating as designed, commanding heaters to turn off and on to keep the helicopter’s electronics within an expected range,” said Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter operations lead at JPL. “Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries.”

 

Ensuring that Ingenuity has plenty of stored energy aboard to maintain heating and other vital functions while also maintaining optimal battery health is essential to the success of the Mars Helicopter. The one-hour power-up will boost the rotorcraft’s batteries to about 30% of its total capacity. A few days after that, they’ll be charged again to reach 35%, with future charging sessions planned weekly while the helicopter is attached to the rover. The data downlinked during tomorrow’s charge sessions will be compared to battery-charging sessions done during cruise to Mars to help the team plan future charging sessions.

 

Like much of the 4-pound (2-kilogram) rotorcraft, the six lithium-ion batteries are off-the-shelf. They currently receive recharges from the rover’s power supply. Once Ingenuity is deployed to Mars’ surface, the helicopter’s batteries will be charged solely by its own solar panel. After Perseverance deploys Ingenuity to the surface, the helicopter will then have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window. If Ingenuity survives its first bone-chilling Martian nights – where temperatures dip as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) – the team will proceed with the first flight of an aircraft on another world.

 

If Ingenuity succeeds in taking off and hovering during its first flight, over 90% of the project’s goals will have been achieved. If the rotorcraft lands successfully and remains operable, up to four more flights could be attempted, each one building on the success of the last. “We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next. We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work.”

 

Next-generation rotorcraft, the descendants of Ingenuity, could add an aerial dimension to future exploration of the Red Planet. These advanced robotic flying vehicles would offer a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground, providing high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans, and enable access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach.

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Mammoth Genomes Shatter Record for Oldest Isolated DNA Sequences

Mammoth Genomes Shatter Record for Oldest Isolated DNA Sequences | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have recovered DNA from mammoth fossils found in Siberian permafrost that are more than a million years old. This DNA—the oldest genomic evidence recovered to date—illuminates the evolutionary history of woolly mammoths and Columbian mammoths. It also raises the prospect of recovering DNA from other organisms this ancient—including extinct members of the human family.

 

Ever since the recovery of two short DNA sequences from a recently extinct zebra subspecies known as the quagga in 1984, researchers have been working to get ever larger amounts of DNA from ever older remains. Advances in ancient DNA extraction and sequencing methods eventually brought to light genomes of creatures from deeper time, including cave bears and Neandertals.

 

In 2013, investigators announced that they had retrieved DNA from a 700,000-year-old horse fossil—by far the oldest genomic data ever obtained. But as astonishingly old as that genetic material was, some experts predicted that sequenceable DNA should survive more than a million years in fossils preserved in frozen environments.

 

The new findings, published today in Nature, bear that prediction out. Tom van der Valk and Love Dalén of the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm and their colleagues obtained DNA from molar teeth belonging to three mammoths from different time periods. Mammoth species can be distinguished on the basis of dental characteristics. One tooth, discovered in deposits thought to be around 700,000 years old, looked like that of an early woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius. The other two teeth—one dated to around one million years ago and the other to 1.2 million years ago or more—resembled molars of the steppe mammoth, Mammuthus trogontherii.

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A wealth of discovery built on the Human Genome Project — by the numbers

A wealth of discovery built on the Human Genome Project — by the numbers | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new analysis traces the story of the draft genome’s impact on genomics since 2001, linking its effects on publications, drug approvals and understanding of disease.

 

The 20th anniversary of the publication of the first draft of the human genome1,2 offers an opportunity to track how the project has empowered research into the genetic roots of human disease, changed drug discovery and helped to revise the idea of the gene itself.

 

A recent Nature article distills these impacts and trends. The authors combined several data sets to quantify the different types of genetic element that have been discovered and that generated publications, and how the pattern of discovery and publishing has changed over the years. Their analysis linked together data including 38,546 RNA transcripts; around 1 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs); 1,660 human diseases with documented genetic roots; 7,712 approved and experimental pharmaceuticals; and 704,515 scientific publications between 1900 and 2017.

 

The results highlight how the Human Genome Project (HGP), with its comprehensive list of protein-coding genes, spurred a new era of elucidating the function of the non-coding portion of the genome and paved the way for therapeutic developments. Crucially, the results track the emergence of a systems-level view of biology alongside the conventional single-gene perspective, as researchers mapped the interactions between cellular building blocks (see ‘No jump for big teams’).

 

There are certain limitations to this type of analysis. For example, there is no consensus on where a gene starts and ends or, surprisingly, even what sequence exactly encodes some genes3. Multiple naming conventions are in use for some genomic elements, so sometimes our methodology did not connect them. And other links between publications and elements might not have been added to databases by the authors. Finally, the presented graphs end in 2017, because there can be a time lag between an article’s publication and entry into the databases we used.

 

Read the full article at: www.nature.com


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An Elusive New Species of Manta Ray Draws Closer to the Light

An Elusive New Species of Manta Ray Draws Closer to the Light | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A new study offers the most robust proof yet that a new species of manta ray is lurking in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Scientists believed there was only one species of manta ray until 2009, when Andrea Marshall, then a graduate student at the University of Queensland in Australia, showed that there were actually two distinct species: the coastal-living reef manta ray and the open-ocean oceanic manta ray. Marshall suspected there was even a third irregularly colored manta species. But the rays were hard to glimpse and even harder to capture. The specter of this missing manta has lingered over manta biologists ever since.

Now, a new study offers the most robust genetic evidence yet of the new species, which scientists have dubbed the Caribbean manta ray. “It is nice to see that the majority of the manta research community is united behind the idea that there is indeed a third species of manta ray,” says Marshall, who was not involved with the research.

 

“The fact that we are still identifying new species of megafauna is amazing,” says Josh Stewart, an associate director of the nonprofit the Manta Trust and an author on the study. “These aren’t tiny gobies that can go around undetected.” It’s incredibly tricky to identify a Caribbean ray unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, as the species have highly variable appearances, says Stewart. Take the mouth, for example. Some Caribbean rays have white mouths, others have black mouths, and some have mouths that fall somewhere, vaguely, in between. “They always kind of look like a bizarre mix of things,” Stewart says.


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COVID-19 Has Cut Life Expectancy By a Year. For Black Americans and Latinos, It’s Worse

COVID-19 Has Cut Life Expectancy By a Year. For Black Americans and Latinos, It’s Worse | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Communities of color have suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, and these latest federal data further illustrate the magnitude of those disparities.  In the first six months of 2020, life expectancy in the United States dropped by a full year, according to new federal data. Released Thursday, these latest figures offer a staggering glimpse at the cost of the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Elizabeth Arias, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics who served as the report’s lead author. Even the loss or gain of two months of life expectancy in a single year is enough to get the attention of health statisticians who study how Americans live and die.

 

“This one-year decline in the total population is quite large,” Arias said.  Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made the finding by analyzing 99 percent of all U.S. deaths, as well as provisional birth records, between January and June 2020, the time period available by late October.

 

Demographers had to dig through decades of data to find the last time the U.S. life expectancy dropped by a year or more. Amid the devastation caused by the coronavirus, Black men are experiencing a drop in life expectancy comparable to the years 1942 and 1943, when World War II was worsening. Back then, the average American’s lifespan dropped by 2.9 years, Arias said (CDC did not start tracking racial disparities in life expectancy until 2006). During the 1918 influenza pandemic, U.S. life expectancy sank by 11 years, she added. In the last decade, demographers and health statisticians were concerned when they saw a spike in fatal drug overdoses linked to opioid use. Those deaths typically claimed much younger people and eroded life expectancy multiple times between 2015 and 2017, alarming researchers at the time.

 

The most recent numbers are just the beginning of what could be a more dramatic trend. Data for the nation’s second and third virus surges, which infected and killed far more Americans than the first, are still being collected and analyzed. Arias said her agency plans to release preliminary data later in the spring that accounts more fully for how the pandemic altered U.S. life expectancy.

 

Evidence suggests that not all U.S. COVID-19 deaths in 2020 were correctly tied to their cause, said Samuel Preston, a demographer and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Health experts have said for months that the pandemic’s official death toll is an undercount. And a substantial portion of deaths in 2020 may also have been linked to people delaying medical treatment or forgoing care for non-coronavirus illness because they were afraid of becoming infected with the virus, he said.

 

“The epidemic is having a lot of impacts over and above” the deaths that are being counted as COVID-related, he said. These latest CDC data support projections published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using provisional CDC data on COVID-19 deaths and projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations, that study estimated that U.S. life expectancy had dropped by 1.1 years.

 

Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research and co-author on that paper, said she is “fairly convinced” the estimates put forth by both reports “are too low.”

Worsening disparities

Communities of color have suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, and these latest numbers further illustrate the magnitude of those disparities. Reflecting the many ways racial inequality in the U.S. has been highlighted over the past year, the life expectancy gap between Black and white people has also widened. As one example, while the life expectancy of a white man dipped by eight-tenths of a year during the first six months of 2020, three years were shaved off the life of a Black man. For decades, Black people had been gaining in life expectancy, edging closer to that of white people, thanks in part to long-running trends in increased access to health care, improved social mobility and greater economic stability, Arias said. It takes a long time for progress in health equity to prolong people’s lives, she said. In 1900, less than a half-century after the end of slavery, Black Americans were dying an average of 14 years sooner than white Americans. By 2019, that gap shrank to 4.1 years. That gap has expanded again — to six years — six months into the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Significantly higher rates of COVID-19 mortality within the Black community are driving the decrease for that demographic, Arias said.  Such a stark contrast is no blip in the data and exposes long-standing issues in the U.S., Goldman said. People of color are more likely to be essential workers and are, often in industries that experienced deep job cuts or those that could not be performed remotely during the pandemic, Goldman said. They are also more likely to lack access to health care than white people, she said. Goldman added that communities of color have been diagnosed at higher rates than white people with chronic health conditions that are tied to worse outcomes among those infected with COVID-19, such as asthma and diabetes.

 

“This kind of excess mortality is representing structural inequalities that have existed for a long time that increase both the risk of exposure to virus and the risk of dying from the virus,” Goldman said. As the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Carlos Del Rio, a professor at Emory University, said it is critical that the U.S. focus on building health equity. These latest data underscore that the pandemic has been “bad for the United States, bad for the population and bad for the economy,” he said. For the country to recover, Del Rio said the Biden administration must continue to build its COVID-19 response upon a foundation of improving equitable access to health care and expanding distribution of coronavirus testing, treatment, facilities and vaccines, particularly to communities of color that have been disproportionately cratered by the pandemic.

 

Improving these numbers “is not just a matter of giving out a vaccine and be done,” he said. “What we’re seeing here is we have to focus more than ever on health equity,” Del Rio said. “These disparities are unacceptable.”

 

PNAS. (Feb. 2, 2021):

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014746118

 

See also findings in Nature Scientific Reports (Feb. 18, 2021):

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-83040-3


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Researchers identify nanoparticles that could deliver therapeutic mRNA before birth

Researchers identify nanoparticles that could deliver therapeutic mRNA before birth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania have identified ionizable lipid nanoparticles that could be used to deliver mRNA as part of fetal therapy. The proof-of-concept study, published today in Science Advances, engineered and screened a number of lipid nanoparticle formulations for targeting mouse fetal organs and has laid the groundwork for testing potential therapies to treat genetic diseases before birth.

 

"This is an important first step in identifying nonviral mediated approaches for delivering cutting-edge therapies before birth," said co-senior author William H. Peranteau, MD, an attending surgeon in the Division of General, Thoracic and Fetal Surgery and the Adzick-McCausland Distinguished Chair in Fetal and Pediatric Surgery at CHOP. "These lipid nanoparticles may provide a platform for in utero mRNA delivery, which would be used in therapies like fetal protein replacement and gene editing."

 

Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology and prenatal diagnostics have made it possible to diagnose many genetic diseases before birth. Some of these diseases are treated by protein or enzyme replacement therapies after birth, but by then, some of the damaging effects of the disease have taken hold. Thus, applying therapies while the patient is still in the womb has the potential to be more effective for some conditions. The small fetal size allows for maximal therapeutic dosing, and the immature fetal immune system may be more tolerant of replacement therapy.

 

Of the potential vehicles for introducing therapeutic protein replacement, mRNA is distinct from other nucleic acids, such as DNA, because it does not need to enter the nucleus and can use the body's own machinery to produce the desired proteins. Currently, the common methods of nucleic acid delivery include viral vectors and nonviral approaches. Although viral vectors may be well-suited to gene therapy, they come with the potential risk of unwanted integration of the transgene or parts of the viral vector in the recipient genome. Thus, there is an important need to develop safe and effective nonviral nucleic acid delivery technologies to treat prenatal diseases.

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Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine Reduces Viral Load, Study Finds

Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine Reduces Viral Load, Study Finds | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Preliminary results from an Israel-based study suggest that one dose of the vaccine reduces infectiousness—a key factor in slowing virus spread. People who became infected with SARS-CoV-2 after receiving one dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine harbored about four times less virus than did unvaccinated people who caught the virus, according to preliminary results posted to the preprint server medRxiv on February 8. Several COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer’s version, are about 95 percent effective in preventing disease. But there’s less known about whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others.  In the study, which has not yet undergone peer review, researchers in Israel measured the viral loads in 2,897 unvaccinated people and in 2,897 age- and sex-matched people who had received their first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The authors conclude in their report that “viral load is reduced 4-fold for infections occurring 12–28 days after the first dose of vaccine. These reduced viral loads hint to lower infectiousness, further contributing to vaccine impact on virus spread.”  Viral abundance could drop further after the vaccine’s second dose, Cyrille Cohen, a vaccine expert at Bar-Ilan University who advises Israel’s health ministry on COVID-19 vaccines and wasn’t involved with the study, tells The Times of Israel“This is a game-changer to some extent,” he says. “After all, transmissibility after the vaccine has been one of the most important questions we are asking ourselves.”

 

Israel’s rollout of the Pfizer vaccine is among the most effective COVID-19 vaccination programs in the world, according to Reuters. The country started its vaccine drive, which initially targeted older and at-risk groups, on December 19. Since then, more than half of its eligible population—about 3.5 million people—have received one or both doses.  Already, some results from Israel’s vaccination efforts have emerged, Reuters reports. In people aged over 60—the group prioritized for vaccinations—there was a 53 percent drop in new cases between January 16 and February 6. Hospitalization and severe cases have also declined by more than 30 percent in this age group. In those aged younger than 60—who became eligible for the vaccine later—there was a 20 percent reduction in new cases during the same period, but hospitalizations and severe cases rose by 15 and 29 percent, respectively. Reuters did not provide an explanation for opposing trends in the younger group. Pfizer’s vaccine appears to retain its 90–95 percent effectiveness against the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the UK and is rapidly spreading around the world, Hezi Levi, the director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry, tells Reuters. “It’s too early to say anything about the South African variant.”

 

See preprint available in medRxiv (Feb. 8, 2020):

https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.06.21251283


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Solar activity reconstructed over a millennium using radioactive carbon in tree rings

Solar activity reconstructed over a millennium using radioactive carbon in tree rings | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An international team of researchers led by ETH Zurich has reconstructed solar activity back to the year 969 using measurements of radioactive carbon in tree rings. Those results help scientists to better understand the dynamics of the sun and allow more precise dating of organic materials using the C14 method.

 

What goes on in the sun can only be observed indirectly. Sunspots, for instance, reveal the degree of solar activity—the more sunspots are visible on the surface of the sun, the more active is our central star deep inside. Even though sunspots have been known since antiquity, they have only been documented in detail since the invention of the telescope around 400 years ago. Thanks to that, we now know that the number of spots varies in regular eleven-year cycles and that, moreover, there are long-lasting periods of strong and weak solar activity, which is also reflected in the climate on Earth.

 

However, how solar activity developed before the start of systematic records has so far been difficult to reconstruct. An international research team led by Hans-Arno Synal and Lukas Wacker of the Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics at ETH, which included the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen and Lund University in Sweden, has now traced back the sun's eleven-year cycle all the way to the year 969 using measurements of the concentration of radioactive carbon in tree rings. At the same time, the researchers have thus created an important database for more precise age determination using the C14 method. Their results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.


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New Quantum Algorithms Finally Crack Nonlinear Equations

New Quantum Algorithms Finally Crack Nonlinear Equations | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

 Sometimes, it’s easy for a computer to predict the future. Simple phenomena, such as how sap flows down a tree trunk, are straightforward and can be captured in a few lines of code using what mathematicians call linear differential equations. But in nonlinear systems, interactions can affect themselves: When air streams past a jet’s wings, the air flow alters molecular interactions, which alter the air flow, and so on. This feedback loop breeds chaos, where small changes in initial conditions lead to wildly different behavior later, making predictions nearly impossible — no matter how powerful the computer.


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Researchers identify bacterium that protects rice plants against diseases

Researchers identify bacterium that protects rice plants against diseases | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Rice is the staple food of about half the world's population. The cultivation of the rice plant is very water-intensive and, according to the German aid organization Welthungerhilfe, around 15 percent of rice is grown in areas with a high risk of drought. Global warming is therefore becoming increasingly problematic for rice cultivation, leading more and more often to small harvests and hunger crises. Crop failures caused by plant pathogens further aggravate the situation. Here, conventional agriculture is trying to counteract this with pesticides, which are mostly used as a precautionary measure in rice cultivation. The breeding of resistant plants is the only alternative to these environmentally harmful agents—and currently only moderately successful. If the plants are resistant to one pathogen thanks to their breeding, they are usually more susceptible to other pathogens or are less robust under adverse environmental conditions.

 

Bacterium confers pathogen resistance

For this reason, an international research group which includes the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology at Graz University of Technology has been studying the microbiome of rice plant seeds for some time now in order to establish correlations between plant health and the occurrence of certain microorganisms. The group has now achieved a major breakthrough. They identified a bacterium inside the seed that can lead to complete resistance to a particular pathogen and is naturally transmitted from one plant generation to another. The findings published in the scientific journal Nature Plants provide a completely new basis for designing biological plant protection products and additionally reducing harmful biotoxins produced by plant pathogens.


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Tom Cruise, Obama, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and more: Deepfake videos raise alarm worldwide

Tom Cruise, Obama, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and more: Deepfake videos raise alarm worldwide | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Fans of Hollywood actor Tom Cruise were going gaga over his TikTok videos until they realised the videos were all fake. Such is a technology-driven world we live in, that it is nearly impossible to recognise which images and videos are real and which ones are deepfakes.  Deepfake is the new age photoshop that gives a person the power to make anyone do anything on camera. These videos look and sound too real to be fake.

 

A video that recently started doing rounds on the internet was a clip of President Obama talking in a crass language about former President Trump, it was yet another deepfake. Such clips prove that we live in dangerous times and we are not even referring to the pandemic.

 

The matter has once again come to light after a new TikTok video, supposedly, of Tom Cruise started doing rounds on social media platforms, especially Twitter. Tom Cruise can be seen performing magic tricks in that video. In another video, we can see the same Tom Cruise playing golf in a field. A third video shows him trying to balance himself while walking.

 

However, all these videos may seem too real but are all fake featuring a man who does not look like Tom Cruise. This is the world of deepfakes. These days, apps allow you to find and swap faces. Basically, you can make anyone do anything on camera. All you need to do is spend some time morphing a video. This is the new age of photoshop. It may look fun, but it is also dangerous.

 

There are many more examples. Another one in which the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg can be seen saying "Imagine this for a second: one man with total control of billions of people's stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures". However, that video was also proved to be a deepfake. Similarly, Jon Snow never apologized for the ending of the popular series Game of Thrones, as was shown in a video.

 

In December 2020, the Queen of England was seen dancing on a table. While that video was very obviously fake, other videos are usually crafted so well that it is nearly impossible to tell if it is real or fake. Today, one video can make or break you. Remember, how Tesla stocks crashed when CEO Elon Musk was seen smoking marijuana on a live show? A similar video may be crafted on some other known personality which could lead to his/her rise or fall.

 

Clearly, it is time for video sharing platforms to have deepfake-detectors before things get any worse.

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New strategy for efficient OLED active matrix displays developed

New strategy for efficient OLED active matrix displays developed | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In a new publication in the scientific journal Nature Materials, researchers of the Institute for Applied Physics at TU Dresden introduce a novel device concept towards high-efficient and low-voltage vertical organic lighting-emitting transistors. With the new device architecture and fabrication technology, the team paves the way for a broad application of efficient OLED active matrix displays.

 

In the group of Prof. Karl Leo, physicists, material scientists and engineers are working jointly on the development of novel organic materials and devices for high performance, flexible and possibly even biocompatible electronics and optoelectronics of the future. Increasing the performance of organic devices is one of the key challenges in their research. It was only last year, when the team headed by Dr. Hans Kleemann announced an important breakthrough with the development of efficient, printable vertical organic transistors.

 

Now Dr. Zhongbin Wu, Dr. Yuan Liu, and Ph.D. student Erjuan Guo present the first electronic device that combines a vertical organic permeable base transistor (OPBT) and an OLED. With this novel device concept of an organic permeable base light-emitting transistor (OPB-LET), the researchers succeeded in combining the function of a highly efficient switching transistor and an organic light-emitting diode as commonly employed in active matrix displays.

 

Active matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCD) usually contain a matrix of thin-film transistors to drive LCD pixels. Each individual pixel has a circuit with active components (mostly transistors). In this context, organic light-emitting transistors, three-terminal devices combining a thin-film transistor with a light-emitting diode, have generated increasing interest.

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Bottling the world's coldest plasma

Bottling the world's coldest plasma | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Rice University physicists have discovered a way to trap the world's coldest plasma in a magnetic bottle, a technological achievement that could advance research into clean energy, space weather and astrophysics.

 

"To understand how the solar wind interacts with the Earth, or to generate clean energy from nuclear fusion, one has to understand how plasma—a soup of electrons and ions—behaves in a magnetic field," said Rice Dean of Natural Sciences Tom Killian, the corresponding author of a published study about the work in Physical Review Letters.

 

Using laser-cooled strontium, Killian and graduate students Grant Gorman and MacKenzie Warrens made a plasma about 1 degree above absolute zero, or approximately -272 ˚C, and trapped it briefly with forces from surrounding magnets. It is the first time an ultracold plasma has been magnetically confined, and Killian, who's studied ultracold plasmas for more than two decades, said it opens the door for studying plasmas in many settings.

 

"This provides a clean and controllable testbed for studying neutral plasmas in far more complex locations, like the sun's atmosphere or white dwarf stars," said Killian, a professor of physics and astronomy. "It's really helpful to have the plasma so cold and to have these very clean laboratory systems. Starting off with a simple, small, well-controlled, well-understood system allows you to strip away some of the clutter and really isolate the phenomenon you want to see." That's important for study co-author Stephen Bradshaw, a Rice astrophysicist who specializes in studying plasma phenomena on the sun.

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Precision Genome Editing Enters the Modern Era: Can We Cure Genetic Diseases by Rewriting DNA?

Precision Genome Editing Enters the Modern Era: Can We Cure Genetic Diseases by Rewriting DNA? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
CRISPR has sparked a renaissance in genome editing. Now, next-generation CRISPR technologies let scientists modify the genome more efficiently and precisely than before. Such tools could one day serve as therapeutics, but many challenges remain.

 

Most drugs are small molecules that can be packaged into a pill. Genome editors are large, complicated molecules – so scientists can’t just stuff them into a pill for people to swallow, or inject them into people’s bodies. They have to find other ways to get the molecules into patients’ cells. One method relies on viruses, says Guangping Gao, a gene therapy researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and president of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. Scientists could potentially package genome editors into small viruses like adeno-associated viruses, for example. These viruses, which have already seen clinical use in several FDA-approved drugs, could then infect patients’ cells and dump their payloads.

 

It could be that scientists will need to develop entirely different delivery systems. Researchers are currently experimenting with lipid nanoparticles and using electric fields to coax genome editors into cells that can then be transplanted into patients. Delivery remains a major hurdle, Gao says, but he’s still excited about genome editors’ potential. “Gene therapy is now in its golden age,” he says. And genome editors “open even more avenues for treating disease.”

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Glioblastoma Nanomedicine Breaks through Blood-Brain Barrier in Mice

Glioblastoma Nanomedicine Breaks through Blood-Brain Barrier in Mice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Researchers develop first intravenous medication that can cross the blood-brain barrier in mice and treat malignant brain tumors.

 

Researchers from the University of Michigan report they have developed a new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of passing through the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier (BBB) in mice that could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors. Their findings, “Systemic brain tumor delivery of synthetic protein nanoparticles for glioblastoma therapy,” is published in the journal Nature Communications and led by Joerg Lahann, PhD, the Wolfgang Pauli collegiate professor of chemical engineering, and Maria Castro, PhD, the R.C. Schneider collegiate professor of neurosurgery.

 

“Inspired by the capacity of natural proteins and viral particulates to cross the BBB, we engineered a synthetic protein nanoparticle (SPNP) based on polymerized human serum albumin (HSA) equipped with the cell-penetrating peptide iRGD,” the researchers wrote.

 

The BBB comprises a layer of endothelial cells that line the blood vessels in the brain, which allows only select types of molecules to pass from the bloodstream into the fluid surrounding the neurons and other cells of the brain. The BBB prevents the transfer of most small-molecule drugs and macromolecules, such as peptides, proteins, and gene-based drugs, which has limited the treatment of CNS diseases, such as neurodegenerative disorders, brain tumors, brain infections, and stroke. Although the blood-brain barrier is considered “leaky” in the core part of glioblastomas (GBMs), the efficient passage of cancer therapeutics, including small molecules and antibodies are still prevented.

 

Glioblastoma is one of the most common, deadly, and difficult-to-treat adult brain tumors. Surgical removal of the tumor, followed by radiotherapy, and temozolomide (TMZ) administration, is the current treatment modality, but this regimen only improves overall patient survival. The current median survival (MS) for patients with glioblastoma is around 18 months; the average five-year survival rate is below 5%.

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Complexity Explained

Complexity Explained | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

"It is suggested that a system of chemical substances, called morphogens, reacting together and diffusing through a tissue, is adequate to account for the main phenomena of morphogenesis."

– Alan Turing

 

Interactions between components of a complex system may produce a global pattern or behavior. This is often described as self-organization, as there is no central or external controller. Rather, the “control” of a self-organizing system is distributed across components and integrated through their interactions. Self-organization may produce physical/functional structures like crystalline patterns of materials and morphologies of living organisms, or dynamic/informational behaviors like shoaling behaviors of fish and electrical pulses propagating in animal muscles. As the system becomes more organized by this process, new interaction patterns may emerge over time, potentially leading to the production of greater complexity. In some cases, complex systems may self-organize into a “critical” state that could only exist in a subtle balance between randomness and regularity.

 

Patterns that arise in such self-organized critical states often show various peculiar properties, such as self-similarity and heavy-tailed distributions of pattern properties.

 

Examples: single egg cell dividing and eventually self-organizing into complex shape of an organism; cities growing as they attract more people and money; a large population of starlings showing complex flocking patterns.

 

Concepts: self-organization, collective behavior, swarms , patterns, space and time, order from disorder , criticality, self-similarity, burst, self-organized criticality, power laws, heavy-tailed distributions, morphogenesis, decentralized/distributed control, guided self-organization.

 

A Forest Fire Model: This model is an example of self-organized criticality. The interplay of local tree growth and spontaneous, random forrest fires caused by lightning yield complex spatio-temporal patterns in which the size of individual fires follows a power-law and is scale-free. designed by D. Brockmann adapted from Complexity Explorables.


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More Than 50 Long-term Effects of COVID-19: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

More Than 50 Long-term Effects of COVID-19: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, can involve sequelae and other medical complications that last weeks to months after initial recovery, which has come to be called Long-COVID or COVID long-haulers. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to identify studies assessing long-term effects of COVID-19 and estimates the prevalence of each symptom, sign, or laboratory parameter of patients at a post-COVID-19 stage. LitCOVID (PubMed and Medline) and Embase were searched by two independent researchers. All articles with original data for detecting long-term COVID-19 published before 1st of January 2021 and with a minimum of 100 patients were included. For effects reported in two or more studies, meta-analyses using a random-effects model were performed using the MetaXL software to estimate the pooled prevalence with 95% CI. Heterogeneity was assessed using I2 statistics. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviewers and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) reporting guideline was followed.

 

A total of 18,251 publications were identified, of which 15 met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of 55 long-term effects was estimated, 21 meta-analyses were performed, and 47,910 patients were included. The follow-up time ranged from 15 to 110 days post-viral infection. The age of the study participants ranged between 17 and 87 years. It was estimated that 80% (95% CI 65-92) of the patients that were infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed one or more long-term symptoms. The five most common symptoms were fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention disorder (27%), hair loss (25%), and dyspnea (24%). All meta-analyses showed medium (n=2) to high heterogeneity (n=13). In order to have a better understanding, future studies need to stratify by sex, age, previous comorbidities, severity of COVID-19 (ranging from asymptomatic to severe), and duration of each symptom. From the clinical perspective, multi-disciplinary teams are crucial to developing preventive measures, rehabilitation techniques, and clinical management strategies with whole-patient perspectives designed to address long COVID-19 care.

 

Preprint available in medRxiv (Jan. 30, 2021):

https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.27.21250617 


Via Juan Lama
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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Lost Alien Civilizations? Vaporized Crusts of Earth-like Planets Found in Dying Stars

Lost Alien Civilizations? Vaporized Crusts of Earth-like Planets Found in Dying Stars | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Remnants of planets with Earth-like crusts have been discovered in the atmospheres of four nearby white dwarf stars by University of Warwick astronomers, offering a glimpse of the planets that may have once orbited them up to billions of years ago.

 

These crusts are from the outer layers of rocky planets similar to Earth and Mars and could give astronomers greater insights into the chemistry of the planets that these dying stars once hosted.

The discovery is reported today in the journal Nature Astronomy and includes one of the oldest planetary systems seen by astronomers so far.

 

The University of Warwick-led team were analyzing data from the European Space Agency's Gaia telescope of over 1,000 nearby white dwarf stars when they came across an unusual signal from one particular white dwarf. The researchers at the University of Warwick received funding from the European Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

 

They used spectroscopy to analyze the light from the star at different wavelengths, which allows them to detect when elements in the star's atmosphere are absorbing light at different colors and determine what elements those are and how much is present. They also inspected the 30,000 white dwarf spectra from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey published over the last 20 years.

 

The signal matched the wavelength of lithium and the astronomers soon discovered three more white dwarfs with the same signal, one of which was also observed with potassium in its atmosphere. By comparing the amount of lithium and potassium with the other elements they detected—sodium and calcium—they found that the ratio of elements matched the chemical composition of the crust of rocky planets like Earth and Mars, if those crusts and been vaporized and mixed within the gaseous outer layers of the star for 2 million years.

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Just 0.04% of Israelis Caught COVID-19 After Two Shots of Pfizer Vaccine 

Just 0.04% of Israelis Caught COVID-19 After Two Shots of Pfizer Vaccine  | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Maccabi health fund releases preliminary results of a study comparing vaccinated and not vaccinated members’ likability to contract the disease and said vaccine 92% effective.  A total of 371 out of 715,425 Israelis who passed at least a week after receiving two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine have contracted the virus – 0.04%, with 16 being sent to the hospital – according to a Health Ministry report released on Thursday. Immunity to COVID-19 is supposed to kick in a week after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. According to the studies conducted by Pfizer, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 95%, which is considered very high. The Israeli data appear to confirm the inoculation’s effectiveness, showing an even more promising result. Later in the day, Maccabi Healthcare Services – one of the country’s four health maintenance organizations – released the first results of the vaccination campaign of its members, with the organization also comparing the data to a control group that did not get inoculated.

 
Some 248,000 Maccabi members were already a week after the second shot as of Thursday. Of those, just 66 got infected with the virus, the majority of them over the age of 55 and about half of them with preexisting conditions. All those infected experienced only a mild form of the disease, and none were hospitalized. Over the same period of time, some 8,250 new cases of COVID-19 emerged in the control group of some 900,000 people having a diverse health profile. Those who were not inoculated were therefore 11 times more likely to get the disease than those who were immunized, showing 92% effectiveness. “The fact that seven to 18 days after receiving the second dose the vaccine shows a 92% efficacy is very encouraging data,” according to Dr. Anat Aka Zohar, head of Maccabi’s Information and Digital Health Division. “We will continue to monitor the situation to see if the number increases and reaches the 95% demonstrated during the Pfizer study.” Israel has established itself as a vaccination powerhouse. So far, more three million people have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine – including 82% of people over 60 – and 1.5 million have been given both shots. Beginning Thursday, Israel started vaccinating people as young as 35 at a pace of 200,000 shots per day.

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Primordial black holes and the search for dark matter from the multiverse

Primordial black holes and the search for dark matter from the multiverse | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) is home to many interdisciplinary projects which benefit from the synergy of a wide range of expertise available at the institute. One such project is the study of black holes that could have formed in the early universe, before stars and galaxies were born.

 

Such primordial black holes (PBHs) could account for all or part of dark matter, be responsible for some of the observed gravitational waves signals, and seed supermassive black holes found in the center of our Galaxy and other galaxies. They could also play a role in the synthesis of heavy elements when they collide with neutron stars and destroy them, releasing neutron-rich material. In particular, there is an exciting possibility that the mysterious dark matter, which accounts for most of the matter in the universe, is composed of primordial black holes. The 2020 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a theorist, Roger Penrose, and two astronomers, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, for their discoveries that confirmed the existence of black holes. Since black holes are known to exist in nature, they make a very appealing candidate for dark matter.

 

The recent progress in fundamental theory, astrophysics, and astronomical observations in search of PBHs has been made by an international team of particle physicists, cosmologists and astronomers, including Kavli IPMU members Alexander Kusenko, Misao Sasaki, Sunao Sugiyama, Masahiro Takada and Volodymyr Takhistov. To learn more about primordial black holes, the research team looked at the early universe for clues. The early universe was so dense that any positive density fluctuation of more than 50 percent would create a black hole. However, cosmological perturbations that seeded galaxies are known to be much smaller. Nevertheless, a number of processes in the early universe could have created the right conditions for the black holes to form.  

 

One exciting possibility is that primordial black holes could form from the “baby universes” created during inflation, a period of rapid expansion that is believed to be responsible for seeding the structures we observe today, such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies. During inflation, baby universes can branch off of our universe. A small baby (or “daughter”) universe would eventually collapse, but the large amount of energy released in the small volume causes a black hole to form.

 

An even more peculiar fate awaits a bigger baby universe. If it is bigger than some critical size, Einstein's theory of gravity allows the baby universe to exist in a state that appears different to an observer on the inside and the outside. An internal observer sees it as an expanding universe, while an outside observer (such as us) sees it as a black hole. In either case, the big and the small baby universes are seen by us as primordial black holes, which conceal the underlying structure of multiple universes behind their “event horizons.” The event horizon is a boundary below which everything, even light, is trapped and cannot escape the black hole. 

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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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‘Galaxy-sized’ observatory sees potential hints of gravitational waves

‘Galaxy-sized’ observatory sees potential hints of gravitational waves | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have used a “galaxy-sized” space observatory to find possible hints of a unique signal from gravitational waves, or the powerful ripples that course through the universe and warp the fabric of space and time itself.  The new findings, which appeared recently in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, hail from a U.S. and Canadian project called the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav). 

 

For over 13 years, NANOGrav researchers have pored over the light streaming from dozens of pulsars spread throughout the Milky Way Galaxy to try to detect a “gravitational wave background.” That’s what scientists call the steady flux of gravitational radiation that, according to theory, washes over Earth on a constant basis. The team hasn’t yet pinpointed that target, but it’s getting closer than ever before, said Joseph Simon, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author of the new paper.  “We’ve found a strong signal in our dataset,” said Simon, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences. “But we can’t say yet that this is the gravitational wave background.”

 

In 2017, scientists on an experiment called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves. Those waves were created when two black holes slammed into each other roughly 130 million lightyears from Earth, generating a cosmic shock that spread to our own solar system. That event was the equivalent of a cymbal crash—a violent and short-lived blast. The gravitational waves that Simon and his colleagues are looking for, in contrast, are more like the steady hum of conversation at a crowded cocktail party.

 

Detecting that background noise would be a major scientific achievement, opening a new window to the workings of the universe, he added. These waves, for example, could give scientists new tools for studying how the supermassive black holes at the centers of many galaxies merge over time.

 

“These enticing first hints of a gravitational wave background suggest that supermassive black holes likely do merge and that we are bobbing in a sea of gravitational waves rippling from supermassive black hole mergers in galaxies across the universe,” said Julie Comerford, an associate professor of astrophysical and planetary science at CU Boulder and NANOGrav team member. 

 

Simon will present his team’s results at a virtual press conference on Monday at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society

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