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Midair levitation of objects using sound waves

The essence of levitation technology is the countervailing of gravity. It is known that an ultrasound standing wave is capable of suspending small particles at its sound pressure nodes and, so far, this method has been used to levitate lightweight particles, small creatures, and water droplets.
The acoustic axis of the ultrasound beam in these previous studies was parallel to the gravitational force, and the levitated objects were manipulated along the fixed axis (i.e. one-dimensionally) by controlling the phases or frequencies of bolted Langevin-type transducers. In the present study, we considered extended acoustic manipulation whereby millimetre-sized particles were levitated and moved three-dimensionally by localised ultrasonic standing waves, which were generated by ultrasonic phased arrays. Our manipulation system has two original features. One is the direction of the ultrasound beam, which is arbitrary because the force acting toward its centre is also utilised. The other is the manipulation principle by which a localised standing wave is generated at an arbitrary position and moved three-dimensionally by opposed and ultrasonic phased arrays. We experimentally confirmed that various materials could be manipulated by our proposed method.

Yoichi Ochiai, Takayuki Hoshi, Jun Rekimoto: Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays arXiv:1312.4006

Yoichi Ochiai (The University of Tokyo)
Takayuki Hoshi (Nagoya Institute of Technology)
Jun Rekimoto (The University of Tokyo / Sony CSL) 

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The ESA Gaia mission contains more than 1.3 billion sources with precisely measured proper motions

The ESA Gaia mission contains more than 1.3 billion sources with precisely measured proper motions | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers from the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory, Bologna Observatory and the University of Stockholm has identified a stream of stars that was torn off the globular cluster ω Centauri. Searching through the 1.7 billion stars observed by the ESA Gaia mission, they have identified 309 stars that suggest that this globular cluster may actually be the remnant of a dwarf galaxy that is being torn apart by the gravitational forces of our Galaxy.


In 1677, Edmond Halley gave the name “omega Centauri” (ω Cen) to what he thought was a star in the Centaurus constellation. Later in 1830 John Herschel realized that it was in fact a globular cluster that could be resolved into individual stars. We now know that ω Centauri is the most massive globular cluster in the Milky Way: it is about 18,000 light years from us and contains several million stars that are about 12 billion years old.


The nature of this object has been the subject of much debate: is it really a globular cluster, or could it be the heart of a dwarf galaxy whose periphery has been dispersed by the Milky Way? This last hypothesis is based on the fact that ω Cen contains several stellar populations, with a large range of metallicities (i.e. heavy element content) that betray a formation over an extended period of time.


An additional argument in favor of this hypothesis would be to find debris from the cluster scattered along its orbit in the Milky Way. Indeed, when a dwarf galaxy interacts with a massive galaxy like our own, stars are torn off by gravitational tidal forces, and these stars remain visible for a time as stellar streams, before becoming dispersed in the vast volumes of interstellar space surrounding the massive galaxy.


Gaia has measured the motions of the stars on the celestial sphere with such a high precision, that researchers identified several star streams. This identification was performed with the use of an algorithm called STREAMFINDER. One of them, named “Fimbulthul” (after one of the rivers in Norse mythology that existed at the beginning of the world), contains 309 stars stretching over 18° in the sky. By modeling the trajectories of the stars, the team showed that the Fimbulthul structure is a stellar tidal stream torn off ω Cen, extending up to 28° from the cluster.


Spectroscopic observations of five stars of this stream with the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope show that their velocities are very similar, and that they have metallicities comparable to the stars of ω Cen itself, which reinforces the idea that the tidal stream is linked to ω Cen. The researchers were then able to show that the stream is also present in the very crowded area of sky in the immediate vicinity of the cluster.


Further modeling of the tidal stream will constrain the dynamical history of the dwarf galaxy that was the progenitor of ω Cen, and could help to find even more stars lost by this system into the halo of the Milky Way.


This story was based on the paper "Identification of the Long Stellar Stream of the Prototypical Massive Globular Cluster omega Centauri" appearing today in Nature Astronomy. The work in this paper is also based upon the following article: "The Streams of the Gaping Abyss: A Population of Entangled Stellar Streams Surrounding the Inner Galaxy".

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A Generic Version of Opioid Overdose Antidote Naloxone Just Landed FDA Approval

A Generic Version of Opioid Overdose Antidote Naloxone Just Landed FDA Approval | Amazing Science |

One of the most important tools for managing the opioid crisis may soon be a lot more available. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration announced it had granted approval for a generic version of the naloxone nasal spray, a drug used to rapidly reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses.


The new generic is by Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based company that specializes in generic drugs. The spray will be approved for use by anyone to help with an overdose, regardless of their medical training.


“In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible,” Douglas Throckmorton, deputy center director for regulatory programs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone.”


Though naloxone has been off-patent since the 1980s, various companies have patented and gotten FDA approval for different versions of drug delivery. Teva’s product is the first naloxone nasal spray generic approved for community use with no medical training, for example, but the brand-name version (Adapt Pharma’s Narcan) is already approved for that same use, as is a branded auto-injectable version (Kaleo’s Enzio).

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The oldest type of molecule has finally been spotted in space for the first time

The oldest type of molecule has finally been spotted in space for the first time | Amazing Science |
The chemistry of the universe began with helium hydride. Scientists have just seen it in outer space for the first time.


Helium hydride ions, thought to be the first type of molecule to form in the universe, have finally been spotted in space.

These charged molecules, each made of a neutral helium atom and a positively charged hydrogen atom, first emerged within about 100,000 years after the Big Bang. Back then, the universe was composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and helium hydride was the only molecule that these two elements could create when they collided.


Although researchers have seen helium hydride ions in the lab, these molecules have never been definitively detected in space. The discovery of helium hydride in a nearby planetary nebula ends a decades-long search for these seminal molecules and helps confirm our understanding of chemistry in the infant universe, researchers report online April 17, 2019 in Nature.


During three flights in May 2016, the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy observed a planetary nebula about 3,000 light-years away called NGC 7027. This shell of stellar material was blown off a sunlike star when its core collapsed into a white dwarf about 600 years ago. In the light emitted by the hot, dense cloud of gas, researchers detected helium hydride’s signature wavelength of infrared radiation.


The helium hydride ions seen in NGC 7027 were created in the planetary nebula, rather than being leftover from the early universe. But their existence confirms that helium hydride ions can exist outside the lab, which means that theoretical simulations of the primordial cosmos aren’t in serious need of revision.

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A new breakthrough in boiling

A new breakthrough in boiling | Amazing Science |
High-fidelity simulations by MIT nuclear researchers point the way to optimizing heat transfer in current and next-generation reactors.


Engineers must manage a maelstrom in the core of operating nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactions deposit an extraordinary amount of heat in the fuel rods, setting off a frenzy of boiling, bubbling, and evaporation in surrounding fluid. From this churning flow, operators harness the removal of heat.


In search of greater efficiencies in nuclear systems, scientists have long sought to characterize and predict the physics underlying these processes of heat transfer, with only modest success.

But now a research team led by Emilio Baglietto, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, has made a significant breakthrough in detailing these physical phenomena.


Their approach utilizes a modeling technology called computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Baglietto has developed new CFD tools that capture the fundamental physics of boiling, making it possible to track rapidly evolving heat transfer phenomena at the microscale in a range of different reactors, and for different operating conditions.


“Our research opens up the prospect of advancing the efficiency of current nuclear power systems and designing better fuel for future reactor systems,” says Baglietto. The group, which includes Etienne Demarly, a doctoral candidate in nuclear science and engineering, and Ravikishore Kommajosyula, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering and computation, describes its work in the March 11 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

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Light-based computer hardware that can compete with silicon-based material

Light-based computer hardware that can compete with silicon-based material | Amazing Science |
A team of researchers at NTT Corporation has developed a way to use light-based computer hardware that allows it to to compete with silicon. In their paper published in the journal Nature Photonics, the group describes their research, the devices they created and how well they worked.


Computer scientists have known for some time that the era of increasing computer speed by modifying silicon-based computer parts is coming to an end. To that end, many have turned to quantum computing as the way to speed up computers—but to date, such efforts have not led to useful machines and there is no guarantee they ever will. Because of that, others in the computer business are looking for other options, such as using light to move data around inside of computers instead of electrons. Currently, light is generally only used to carry data long distances. In this new effort, the researchers report that they have developed computing devices based partially on light that performed as well as electron-based hardware.


The idea of using only light as a data medium in computer hardware is still a long way off—instead, engineers are focusing on using light in areas where it seems feasible and electrons everywhere else. Because of that computer devices must be able to convert between the two mediums, a problem that until now has prevented such devices from being built. Prior efforts have required too much power to be feasible and the conversion process has been too slow.


To get around both problems, the researchers developed a new kind of photonic crystal that was able to diffuse light in a way that allowed it to follow a designated path on demand and to also be absorbed when needed to be used for generating current. The crystal was also able to work in reverse.


The researchers report that they were able to create electrical-to-optical devices as well was optical-to-electrical devices. They then used the devices they built to make an electro-optical modulator that ran at 40 Gbps and used just 42 attoJoules per bit. They also built a photoreceiver that ran at 10 Gbps, which they note, did not require an amplifier. The team then combined the two devices to be able to create a transistor.

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Is DNA Left on Envelopes Fair Game for Ancestry Testing?

Is DNA Left on Envelopes Fair Game for Ancestry Testing? | Amazing Science |
The genealogist’s dream of testing old, spit-laced artifacts is coming true—but raising questions about who controls dead people’s DNA.


Last fall, Gilad Japhet, the founder of a DNA-testing company, got up at an industry conference to talk about his grandmother Rosa’s love letters. Japhet’s company, MyHeritage, sells cheek swabs to people interested in their family history. It now has 2.5 million people in its DNA database, making it the third largest behind 23andMe and AncestryDNA. But Japhet wasn’t satisfied with only testing the living; he wanted to test the dead. Which brings us to the love letters—or really, the envelopes they came in.

The envelopes were sealed by his grandmother, and the stamps on them presumably licked by her. “Maybe our ancestors did not realize it,” Japhet said, a smile growing on his face, “when they were licking those stamps and the envelope flaps, they were sealing their precious DNA for you forever.” Then he made the big announcement: MyHeritage would soon begin offering DNA testing on old stamps and envelopes.
He didn’t stop there. If you can test the letters of your grandmother, why not those of historical figures? Japhet is a prodigious collector of autographs, and he revealed that he possessed handwritten letters from Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. In an intriguing if provocative PR move, he promised that “their DNA is coming to MyHeritage very, very soon.”
In the past year, genealogists have been abuzz about the possibility of getting DNA out of old stamps and envelopes. In addition to MyHeritage, a British company called Living DNA began informally offering the service for $400 to $600 last year, and a small Australian start-up called Totheletter DNA, which specializes in DNA from envelopes and stamps, launched a similarly priced service in July. MyHeritage says its own service should debut later this year. (A spokesperson declined to comment on when Einstein and Churchill’s DNA profiles will be uploaded to the company’s site.)
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Phantom ponds and deep lakes found on Saturn's Moon Titan

Phantom ponds and deep lakes found on Saturn's Moon Titan | Amazing Science |

Before NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s depths, it performed a final 2017 flyby of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. This remote world is the only place in the solar system other than Earth that hosts large bodies of standing liquid. Titan’s liquid is methane and ethane instead of water. But these lakes and seas make the moon one of the most interesting places in our solar system. And researchers are just starting to learn how these bodies of liquid change with Saturn’s seasons.


Seasonal changes

Cassini’s last tour of Saturn’s moon revealed that some of its northern lakes are 300 feet deep, but small in surface area and perched atop high hills. The shape and location of the lakes hints strongly that the lakes are similar to karstic lakes on Earth, where liquid eats away at and eventually collapses the bedrock around it. On Earth, this happens with water and limestone, but on Titan, it would be liquid methane and the icy organic materials that make up Titan’s surface layers. Researchers published their finding April 15 in Nature Astronomy.


In a second study, also published in Nature Astronomy, a different group of researchers discovered what they call “phantom lakes” on Titan’s surface in the northern hemisphere. These lakes appear in earlier Cassini data and disappear later on. Scientists take this to mean the lakes are shallow, and dry out and disappear as seasons change on Titan. A full seasonal year on Titan is roughly one Saturnian orbit, or 30 Earth years. And since Cassini spent 13 years studying the Saturn system, it had an excellent vantage point to watch the northern hemisphere grow warmer with the onset of summer, while the southern hemisphere descended into winter.

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Rega air rescue drone can autonomously search for missing persons

Rega air rescue drone can autonomously search for missing persons | Amazing Science |

We've seen autonomous aircraft doing everything from spraying crops to surveying wildlife, and now the Swiss air rescue organization Rega has announced a drone that's capable of searching for and finding missing people all on its own.


Thanks to an array of on-board sensors, including a daylight camera, a thermal camera, an infrared camera, and a phone-tracking tool, the Rega drone is able to scan large areas of terrain for anyone who has got themselves into trouble in the mountains.


Custom-made algorithms crunch the data coming through from the various cameras on the Rega drone and identify potential sightings of people – any promising leads are then relayed to operators back at base. It can work in poor visibility too, conditions which can sometimes ground the standard air rescue helicopters.


Where the new aircraft has the edge over most commercially available drones is the way in which it can operate for several hours at a distance of several kilometers, without being directly controlled by a human operator.


The drone comprises three rotor blades with a diameter of just over 2 meters (6.5 ft). Designed to fly at an altitude of 80-100 meters (262-328 ft), it uses satellite navigation techniques to methodically cover a predefined area autonomously. It comes with anti-collision systems for avoiding power lines and other aircraft too.

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Bacterial factories could manufacture high-performance proteins for space missions

Bacterial factories could manufacture high-performance proteins for space missions | Amazing Science |

Nature has evolved protein-based substances with mechanical properties that rival even the best synthetic materials. For example, pound for pound, spider silk is stronger and tougher than steel. But unlike steel, the natural fiber cannot be mass-produced. Today, scientists report a new method that takes advantage of engineered bacteria to produce spider silk and other difficult-to-make proteins that could be useful during future space missions.

The researchers will present their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition.


"In nature, there are a lot of protein-based materials that have amazing mechanical properties, but the supply of these materials is very often limited," says Fuzhong Zhang, Ph.D., the project's principal investigator. "My lab is interested in engineering microbes so that we can not only produce these materials, but make them even better."


If produced in sufficient quantities, spider silk could be used for a variety of applications, ranging from bullet-proof fabric to surgical sutures. But spider silk isn't easy to farm -- spiders produce tiny quantities, and some species turn cannibalistic when kept in groups. Therefore, scientists have tried engineering bacteria, yeast, plants and even goats to produce spider silk, but they haven't yet been able to fully replicate the natural fiber's mechanical properties.


Part of the problem is that spider silk proteins are encoded by very long, highly repetitive sequences of DNA. Spiders have evolved ways to keep these sequences in their genome. But when scientists put this type of DNA into other organisms, the genes are very unstable, often getting snipped or otherwise altered by the host's cellular machinery. Zhang and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis wondered if they could break the long, repetitive sequences into shorter blocks that bacteria could handle and make into proteins. Then, the researchers could assemble the shorter proteins into the longer spider silk fiber.


The team introduced genes to bacteria that encoded two pieces of the spider silk protein, each flanked by a sequence called a split intein. Split inteins are naturally occurring protein sequences with enzymatic activity: Two split inteins on different protein fragments can join and then cut themselves out to yield an intact protein. After introducing the genes, the researchers broke open the bacteria and purified the short pieces of spider silk protein. Mixing the fragments caused them to join together through the "glue" of the split intein sequence, which then cut itself out to yield the full-length protein. When spun into fibers, the microbially produced spider silk had all of the properties of natural spider silk, including exceptional strength, toughness and stretchability. The researchers obtained more silk with this method than they could from spiders (as much as two grams of silk per liter of bacterial culture), and they are currently trying to increase the yield even more.


The researchers can make various repetitive proteins simply by swapping out the spider silk DNA and putting other sequences into bacteria. For example, the researchers used the technique to make a protein from mussels that adheres strongly to surfaces. The protein could someday be applied as an underwater adhesive. Now, the researchers are working on streamlining the process so that the protein-joining reaction can occur inside bacterial cells. This would improve the efficiency and potential automation of the system because researchers wouldn't have to purify the two pieces of the protein and then incubate them together.

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A Second Planet May Orbit Earth's Nearest Neighboring Star Proxima Centauri

A Second Planet May Orbit Earth's Nearest Neighboring Star Proxima Centauri | Amazing Science |

Astronomers say they may have detected a second planet around Proxima Centauri, our solar system’s nearest neighboring star.

Announced at Breakthrough Discuss, an annual invitation-only interdisciplinary meeting held by the Breakthrough Initiatives, the planet’s existence remains unconfirmed—for now. Dubbed Proxima c, it would be a so-called super-Earth, with a minimum mass roughly six times that of our planet’s. Its nearly 1900-day orbit would likely make it a frigid, inhospitable place, orbiting some 1.5 times the Earth-sun distance from Proxima Centauri—which is a red dwarf star some four light-years away that is much smaller and dimmer than our familiar yellow sun. If confirmed, the newfound world would join Proxima b, a roughly Earth-mass planet discovered in 2016 in a more clement orbit around Proxima Centauri.

According to the scientists making the presentation (Mario Damasso of Turin Observatory and Fabio Del Sordo of the University of Crete), the tentative detection is based upon the same expansive multi-year dataset that first revealed Proxima b—with the addition of more than 60 further measurements of the star taken in 2017. The measurements, primarily gathered through the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) HARPS instrument, look for planets by the telltale wobbling they induce upon their host stars. The strength of such wobbles provides an estimate of the world’s mass; the wobble’s period yields the planet’s orbit.


Among other incidental evidence, the wobble of Proxima c—a subtle swerve in the position of Proxima Centauri by slightly more than a meter per second—appeared in earlier observations to be of borderline significance, but was pushed into firmer territory by the last few years of additional measurements. The search for Proxima Centauri's planets has been spearheaded by the international Pale Red Dot planet-hunting team. The results are summarized in a paper that has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

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Water that never freezes

Water that never freezes | Amazing Science |

Can water reach minus 263 degrees Celsius without turning into ice? Yes it can, say researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, if it is confined in nanometre-scale lipid channels.


Making ice cubes is a simple process: you take a plastic ice-cube tray like you'd find in most households, fill it with water and put it in the freezer. Before long, the water crystallizes and turns to ice.

If you were to analyze the structure of ice crystals, you'd see that the water molecules are arranged in regular 3-dimensional lattice structures. In water, by contrast, the molecules are unorganized, which is the reason that water flows.


Glassy water

Led by Professors Raffaele Mezzenga and Ehud Landau, a group of physicists and chemists from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have now identified an unusual way to prevent water from forming ice crystals, so even at extreme sub-zero temperatures it retains the amorphous characteristics of a liquid.


In a first step, the researchers designed and synthesized a new class of lipids (fat molecules) to create a new form of "soft" biological matter known as a lipidic mesophase. In this material, the lipids spontaneously self-assemble and aggregate to form membranes, behaving in a similar way as natural fat molecules. These membranes then adopt a uniform arrangement to form a network of connected channels that measure less than one nanometer in diameter. Temperature and water content, as well as the novel structure of the designed lipid molecules determine the structure that the lipidic mesophase takes.


No space for water crystals

What's so special about this structure is that -- unlike in an ice-cube tray -- there is no room in the narrow channels for water to form ice crystals, so it remains disordered even at extreme sub-zero temperatures. The lipids don't freeze either.


Using liquid helium, the researchers were able to cool a lipidic mesophase consisting of a chemically modified monoacylglycerol to a temperature as low as minus 263 degrees Celsius, which is a mere 10 degrees above the absolute zero temperature, and still no ice crystals formed. At this temperature, the water became "glassy," as the researchers were able to demonstrate and confirm in a simulation. Their study of this unusual behaviour of water when confined within a lipidic mesophase was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.


"The key factor is the ratio of lipids to water," explains Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from the Laboratory of Food & Soft Materials at ETH Zurich. Accordingly, it is the water content in the mixture that determines the temperatures at which the geometry of the mesophase changes. If, for example, the mixture contains 12 percent water by volume, the structure of the mesophase will transition at about minus 15 degrees Celsius from a cubic labyrinth to a lamellar structure.


Natural antifreeze for bacteria

"What makes developing these lipids so tricky is their synthesis and purification," says Ehud Landau, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Zurich. He explains that this is because lipid molecules have two parts; one that is hydrophobic (repels water) and one that is hydrophilic (attracts water). "This makes them extremely difficult to work with," he says.


The soft biomaterial formed from the lipid membranes and water has a complex structure that minimizes the water's contact with the hydrophobic parts and maximizes its interface with the hydrophilic parts. The researchers modeled the new class of lipids on membranes of certain bacteria. These bacteria also produce a special class of self-assembling lipids that can naturally confine water in their interior, enabling the microorganisms to survive in very cold environments. "The novelty of our lipids is the introduction of highly strained three-membered rings into specific positions within the hydrophobic parts of the molecules," says Landau. "These enable the necessary curvature to produce such tiny water channels and prevent lipids to crystallize."

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Study: Nearest exoplanets like Proxima-B could host life

Study: Nearest exoplanets like Proxima-B could host life | Amazing Science |

Cornell astronomers say that life already has survived the kind of fierce radiation found on such faraway planets as Proxima-B, 4.24 light years from Earth, and they have proof: you.


Rocky, Earth-like planets orbiting our closest stars could host life, according to a new study that raises the excitement about exoplanets. When rocky, Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of some of our closest stars, excitement skyrocketed -- until hopes for life were dashed by the high levels of radiation bombarding those worlds.


Proxima-b, only 4.24 light years away, receives 250 times more X-ray radiation than Earth and could experience deadly levels of ultraviolet radiation on its surface. How could life survive such a bombardment? Cornell University astronomers say that life already has survived this kind of fierce radiation, and they have proof: you.

Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack O'Malley-James make their case in a new paper, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Kaltenegger is associate professor of astronomy and director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, at which O'Malley-James is a research associate.


All of life on Earth today evolved from creatures that thrived during an even greater UV radiation assault than Proxima-b, and other nearby exoplanets, currently endure. The Earth of 4 billion years ago was a chaotic, irradiated, hot mess. Yet in spite of this, life somehow gained a toehold and then expanded. The same thing could be happening at this very moment on some of the nearest exoplanets, according to Kaltenegger and O'Malley-James. The researchers modeled the surface UV environments of the four exoplanets closest to Earth that are potentially habitable: Proxima-b, TRAPPIST-1e, Ross-128b and LHS-1140b.


These planets orbit small red dwarf stars which, unlike our sun, flare frequently, bathing their planets in high-energy UV radiation. While it is unknown exactly what conditions prevail upon the surface of the planets orbiting these flaring stars, it is known that such flares are biologically damaging and can cause erosion in planetary atmospheres. High levels of radiation cause biological molecules like nucleic acids to mutate or even shut down.


O'Malley-James and Kaltenegger modeled various atmospheric compositions, from ones similar to present-day Earth to "eroded" and "anoxic" atmospheres -- those with very thin atmospheres that don't block UV radiation well and those without the protection of ozone, respectively. The models show that as atmospheres thin and ozone levels decrease, more high-energy UV radiation reaches the ground. The researchers compared the models to Earth's history, from nearly 4 billion years ago to today.


Although the modeled planets receive higher UV radiation than that emitted by our own sun today, this is significantly lower than what Earth received 3.9 billion years ago. "Given that the early Earth was inhabited," the researchers wrote, "we show that UV radiation should not be a limiting factor for the habitability of planets orbiting M stars. Our closest neighboring worlds remain intriguing targets for the search for life beyond our solar system."

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Genetic ‘weapon’ picks off pathogens — but spares beneficial microbes

Genetic ‘weapon’ picks off pathogens — but spares beneficial microbes | Amazing Science |

A bioengineered molecular ‘grenade’ unleashes a poison when ingested by specific bacteria, offering scientists a potential method for killing pathogens without harming beneficial microbes.


Bacterial cells often contain plasmids, ring-shaped structures made of DNA. Didier Mazel at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleagues created plasmids that carry the genetic blueprint for an anti-bacterial toxin. The plasmids also carry genes that serve as switches. These switches allow toxin to be produced only after the plasmids are nestled inside antibiotic-resistant Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera. The researchers then loaded these plasmid ‘weapons’ into donor bacteria, which transferred them to V. cholerae cells.


The plasmids killed 100% of antibiotic-resistant cholera bacteria in a lab sample. They also killed cholera bacteria that had infected brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) and zebrafish (Danio rerio) — but left the harmless bacteria in the animals’ microbiomes unscathed. The plasmids’ genetic switches can be customized to direct the poisonous grenades to detonate inside a wide range of pathogens, the authors write.

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Experimental gene therapy frees ‘bubble-boy’ babies from a life of isolation

Experimental gene therapy frees ‘bubble-boy’ babies from a life of isolation | Amazing Science |

An experimental gene therapy has restored functioning immune systems to seven young children with a severe disorder that would have sentenced them to a life of isolation to avoid potentially deadly infections. They are now with family at home, and an eighth child is slated to be released from hospital at the end of this week.


The children have mutations in a gene that is crucial for immune-system development, causing a disorder called X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID-X1). The gene-therapy treatment replaces the mutated gene, called IL2RG, with a corrected copy. SCID-X1 and related disorders are sometimes called ‘bubble-boy’ diseases because of the plastic enclosures that were once used to protect affected children from possible infection. For them, even a common cold can be fatal.


But seven of the babies in the study1, which was published on 17 April in The New England Journal of Medicine, now have immune systems that can protect them against common childhood ailments. “They are all toddlers now, exploring life and attending day cares,” says Ewelina Mamcarz, a physician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and a lead author on the study.

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Mercury has a massive solid inner core

Mercury has a massive solid inner core | Amazing Science |

The smallest planet in our solar system has a massive solid inner core. In its final trip around Mercury before crash-landing in 2015, NASA’s MESSENGER mission zoomed in close to the planet, enabling scientists to make detailed measurements of its gravity, spin and internal structure. Those data, researchers report April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, suggest Mercury has a solid inner core about 2,000 kilometers in diameter, making up about half of Mercury’s entire core.


Scientists already knew that Mercury’s core was huge, taking up about 85 percent of the planet. In 2007, radar observations made from Earth detected small oscillations in Mercury’s spin rate that suggested the core was at least partially liquid. Then MESSENGER data revealed that the planet has a weak magnetic field generated by circulation of molten metal in that liquid core. But it wasn’t clear if Mercury, like Earth, also has a solid inner core.


To study the planet’s interior structure, MESSENGER measured Mercury’s distribution of mass by tracking tiny shifts in the spacecraft’s orbiting speed caused by subtle variations in gravitational pull. Using those data, scientists were able to estimate what sort of interior composition would best explain how Mercury spins.

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A Brief History of Solar Panels

A Brief History of Solar Panels | Amazing Science |

Inventors have been advancing solar technology for more than a century and a half, and improvements in efficiency and aesthetics keep on coming.


Long before the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, generating awareness about the environment and support for environmental protection, scientists were making the first discoveries in solar energy. It all began with Edmond Becquerel, a young physicist working in France, who in 1839 observed and discovered the photovoltaic effect— a process that produces a voltage or electric current when exposed to light or radiant energy.


A few decades later, French mathematician Augustin Mouchot was inspired by the physicist’s work. He began registering patents for solar-powered engines in the 1860s. From France to the U.S., inventors were inspired by the patents of the mathematician and filed for patents on solar-powered devices as early as 1888.

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SIRT6 longevity gene responsible for more efficient DNA repair

SIRT6 longevity gene responsible for more efficient DNA repair | Amazing Science |
Explorers have dreamt for centuries of a Fountain of Youth, with healing waters that rejuvenate the old and extend life indefinitely.


SIRT6 is often called the "longevity gene" because of its important role in organizing proteins and recruiting enzymes that repair broken DNA; additionally, mice without the gene age prematurely, while mice with extra copies live longer. Researchers have long hypothesized that if more efficient DNA repair is required for a longer lifespan, organisms with longer lifespans may have evolved more efficient DNA repair regulators. Is SIRT6 activity therefore enhanced in longer-lived species?


To test this theory, the researchers analyzed DNA repair in 18 rodent species with lifespans ranging from 3 years (mice) to 32 years (naked mole rats and beavers). Scientists found that the rodents with longer lifespans also experience more efficient DNA repair because the products of their SIRT6 genes—the SIRT6 proteins—are more potent. That is, SIRT6 is not the same in every species. Instead, the gene has co-evolved with longevity, becoming more efficient so that species with a stronger SIRT6 live longer.


"The SIRT6 protein seems to be the dominant determinant of lifespan," Bohmann, one of the scientists, says. "We show that at the cell level, the DNA repair works better, and at the organism level, there is an extended lifespan."


The researchers then analyzed the molecular differences between the weaker SIRT6 protein found in mice versus the stronger SIRT6 found in beavers. They identified five amino acids responsible for making the stronger SIRT6 protein "more active in repairing DNA and better at enzyme functions," one member of the study says.


When the researchers inserted beaver and mouse SIRT6 into human cells, the beaver SIRT6 better reduced stress-induced DNA damage compared to when researchers inserted the mouse SIRT6. The beaver SIRT6 also better increased the lifespan of fruit flies versus fruit flies with mouse SIRT6.


Species with even more robust SIRT6?

Although it appears that human SIRT6 is already optimized to function, "we have other species that are even longer lived than humans," another study member says. Next steps in the research involve analyzing whether species that have longer lifespans than humans—like the bowhead whale, which can live more than 200 years—have evolved even more robust SIRT6 genes.

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Newly Spotted Quasar Is 600 Trillion Times Brighter Than the Sun

Newly Spotted Quasar Is 600 Trillion Times Brighter Than the Sun | Amazing Science |

Astronomers have discovered the brightest gravitationally lensed object ever seen at a time when the universe was less than one billion years old. With the help of multiple, world-class telescopes in Hawaii – Gemini ObservatoryJames Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope  (UKIRT), and W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii Island, as well as the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS1) operated by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy on Haleakala, Maui – the researchers discovered that the brilliant beacon is a quasar, the core of a galaxy with a black hole ravenously eating material surrounding it. 


The results are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and were announced this afternoon during a press conference at the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.  Though the quasar is very far away – 12.8 billion light-years – astronomers can detect it because a galaxy closer to Earth acts as a lens and makes the quasar look extra bright. The gravitational field of the closer galaxy warps space itself, bending and amplifying the distant quasar’s light. This effect is called gravitational lensing.


Though researchers have searched for these very remote quasars for over 20 years, a rare and fortuitous celestial alignment made this one visible to them. “We don’t expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe,” said lead investigator Xiaohui Fan, Regents’ Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.


The super-bright quasar, cataloged as J043947.08+163415.7, could hold the record of being the brightest lensed quasar in the early universe for some time, making it a unique object for follow-up studies.

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Scientists Gene-Edited Bacteria to Make Cannabinoids

Scientists Gene-Edited Bacteria to Make Cannabinoids | Amazing Science |

A German pharmaceutical company called Farmako just registered a patent for a process in which genetically modified tequila bacterium produce a range of biosynthetic cannabinoids — the stuff that you usually get by growing marijuana plants — by feeding on sugar. The process that could make producing cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, a thousand times cheaper, according to the company.

Yeast Vs. Bacteria

Last month, Futurism reported on a team of researchers at UC Berkeley who figured out a way to manufacture THC and cannabidiol (CBD) from specially bioengineered brewer’s yeast. Farmako claims its new technique represents the first production of cannabinoids through biosynthesis without the use of yeast.


Farmako argues that using bacteria instead of yeast could make the process of extracting cannabinoids much easier on an industrial scale, as the cannabinoids and the yeast cells have to be broken up after synthesis. The bacteria, on the other hand, “releases the produced cannabinoids directly into the surrounding medium,” said Patrick Schmitt, co-founder of Farmako, in a press release. “This allows continuous production without interruption.”


The newly named bacterium Zymomonas cannabinoidis — a gene-edited version of Zymomonas mobilis, which is used to produce tequila — can not only produce cannabinoids by eating sugar, but it can also produce a massive range of “more than 180 known cannabinoids,” according to the press release.


To stop the bacterium from producing alcohol, the team removed genes from the bacterial genome. To switch between cannabinoids, “only a single gene has to be exchanged,” said Schmitt, co-founder of Farmako.

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Scientists Plan To Start Human Trials Testing CRISPR-Cas Soon

Scientists Plan To Start Human Trials Testing CRISPR-Cas Soon | Amazing Science |

The powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas has been in the news a lot. And not all the news has been good: A Chinese scientist stunned the world last year when he announced he had used CRISPR to create genetically modified babies.


But scientists have long hoped CRISPR-Cas — a technology that allows scientists to make very precise modifications to DNA — could eventually help cure many diseases. And now scientists are taking tangible first steps to make that dream a reality.


For example, NPR has learned that a U.S. CRISPR-Cas study that had been approved for cancer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has finally started. A university spokesman on Monday confirmed for the first time that two patients had been treated using CRISPR.


One patient had multiple myeloma, and one had sarcoma. Both had relapsed after undergoing standard treatment. The revelation comes as several other human trials of CRISPR are starting or are set to start in the U.S., Canada and Europe to test CRISPR's efficacy in treating various diseases.


"2019 is the year when the training wheels come off and the world gets to see what CRISPR can really do for the world in the most positive sense," says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing scientist at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle and the University of California, Berkeley.

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Scientists unveil world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue

Scientists unveil world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue | Amazing Science |

Scientists in Israel unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels on Monday, calling it a first and a “major medical breakthrough” that advances possibilities for transplants. While it remains a far way off, scientists hope one day to be able to produce hearts suitable for transplant into humans as well as patches to regenerate defective hearts.

The heart produced by researchers at Tel Aviv University is about the size of a rabbit heart. It marked “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Tal Dvir, who led the project. “People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels,” he said.
But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts would be available for transplant into patients. Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry, immersed in liquid, at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science.
Researchers must now teach the printed hearts “to behave” like real ones. The cells are currently able to contract, but do not yet have the ability to pump.
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Melting Glaciers Causing Sea Levels to Rise at Ever Greater Rates

Melting Glaciers Causing Sea Levels to Rise at Ever Greater Rates | Amazing Science |

Melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic as well as ice melt from glaciers all over the world are causing sea levels to rise. Glaciers alone lost more than 9,000 billion tons of ice since 1961, raising water levels by 27 millimeters, an international research team under the lead of the University of Zürich has now found.


Glaciers have lost more than 9,000 billion tons (that is 9,625,000,000,000 tons) of ice between 1961 and 2016, which has resulted in global sea levels increasing by 27 millimeters in this period. The largest contributors were glaciers in Alaska, followed by the melting ice fields in Patagonia and glaciers in the Arctic regions. Glaciers in the European Alps, the Caucasus and New Zealand were also subject to significant ice loss; however, due to their relatively small glacierized areas they played only a minor role when it comes to the rising global sea levels.


Combination of field observations and satellite measurements

For the new study, the international research team combined glaciological field observations with geodetic satellite measurements. The latter digitally measure the surface of the Earth, providing data on ice thickness changes at different points in time. The researchers were thus able to reconstruct changes in the ice thickness of more than 19,000 glaciers worldwide. This was also possible thanks to the comprehensive database compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service from its worldwide network of observers, to which the researchers added their own satellite analyses. "By combining these two measurement methods and having the new comprehensive dataset, we can estimate how much ice has been lost each year in all mountain regions since the 1960s," explains Michael Zemp, who led the study. "The glaciological measurements made in the field provide the annual fluctuations, while the satellite data allows us to determine overall ice loss over several years or decades."


335 billion tons of ice lost each year

The global mass loss of glacier ice has increased significantly in the last 30 years and currently amounts to 335 billion tons of lost ice each year. This corresponds to an increase in sea levels of almost 1 millimeter per year. "Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps -- every single year!" says glaciologist Zemp. The melted ice of glaciers therefore accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the current increase in global sea levels. This ice loss of all glaciers roughly corresponds to the mass loss of Greenland's Ice Sheet, and clearly exceeds that of the Antarctic.

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New extinct human relative found in Philippines

New extinct human relative found in Philippines | Amazing Science |

There's a new addition to the family tree: an extinct species of human that's been found in the Philippines. It's known as Homo luzonensis, after the site of its discovery on the country's largest island Luzon. Its physical features are a mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people. That could mean primitive human relatives left Africa and made it all the way to South-East Asia, something not previously thought possible.


The find shows that human evolution in the region may have been a highly complicated affair, with three or more human species in the region at around the time our ancestors arrive. One of these species was the diminutive "Hobbit" - Homo floresiensis - which survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 50,000 years ago.


Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, commented: "After the remarkable finds of the diminutive Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, I said that the experiment in human evolution conducted on Flores could have been repeated on many of the other islands in the region. "That speculation has seemingly been confirmed on the island of Luzon... nearly 3,000km away."

Via Neelima Sinha
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Robots created with 3D printers could be caring for those in golden years: New design method to create soft robots

Robots created with 3D printers could be caring for those in golden years: New design method to create soft robots | Amazing Science |
Researchers have developed a new design method to create soft robots that may help in caregiving for elderly family members.


The world's elderly population is booming. The number of older people -- those age 60 years or older -- is expected to more than double by 2050 and is growing faster than all younger age groups across the globe. This trend comes with an increasing demand for caregivers capable of providing 24-hour care, not only at hospitals or nursing homes, but also at private homes and apartments. Already, caregiving robots are programmed to ask questions a nurse would ask and can monitor patients for falls. These robotic assistants are expected to become increasingly marketable and reach 450,000 by 2045 because of the expected caregiver shortage in the United States.


"Unfortunately, the external hard structure of current caregiving robots prevents them from a safe human-robot interaction, limiting their assistance to mere social interaction and not physical interaction," said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue's College of Engineering. "After all, would you leave babies or physically or cognitively impaired old people in the hands of a robot?"


Recent advances in material science have enabled the fabrication of robots with deformable bodies or the ability to reshape when touched, but the complex design, fabrication, and control of soft robots currently hinders the commercialization of this technology and its use for at-home applications.


Martinez and other Purdue University researchers have developed a new design method that shows promise in enabling the efficient design and fabrication of soft robots using a 3D printer. The technology is published in the April 8 edition of Advanced Functional Materials. A video showing the technology is available at


The design process involves three steps. First, a user makes a computer-aided design file with the shape of the robot. The user then paints the CAD file to show which directions the different joints of the soft robot will move. A fast computer algorithm takes a few seconds to convert the CAD model into a 3D architected soft machine (ASM) that can be printed using any conventional 3D printer. The architected soft machines move like humans, except instead of muscles they rely on miniaturized motors that pull from nylon lines tied to the ends of their limbs. They can be squeezed and stretched to more than 900 percent of their original length. A video is available at

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First Images of A Black Hole! - Explained

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration observed the supermassive black holes at the center of M87 and our Milky Way galaxy (SgrA*) finding the dark central shadow in accordance with General Relativity, further demonstrating the power of this 100 year-old theory.

To understand more about why the shadows look the way they do, check out:


Event Horizon Telescope collaboration:

Animations and simulations with English text:
L. R. Weih & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Video of observation of M87 courtesy of:
C. M. Fromm, Y. Mizuno & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Video of observation of SgrA* courtesy of
C. M. Fromm, Y. Mizuno & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
Z. Younsi (University College London)

Video of telescopes in the array 2017:
C. M. Fromm & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Animations and simulations (no text):
L. R. Weih & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)

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