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Crystallography turns 100

Crystallography turns 100 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A special issue of Nature celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first X-ray diffraction experiments, which marked the birth of modern crystallography. A multimedia feature reviews the impact of crystallography on everything from chemistry to structural biology, and a feature article previews how free-electron lasers will change the field, while two experts compare the lasers to traditional synchrotrons. We also cover the role of women in crystallography, the prospects for structural biologists' careers, and much more.


Since modern crystallography dawned with X-ray diffraction experiments on crystals by Max von Laue in 1912 and William and Lawrence Bragg (a father-and-son team) in 1913, and was recognized by Nobel prizes in physics for von Laue in 1914 and the Braggs in 1915, the discipline has informed almost every branch of the natural sciences.

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities

20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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Viruses can steal our genetic code to create new human-virus genes

Viruses can steal our genetic code to create new human-virus genes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Like a scene out of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," a virus infects a host and converts it into a factory for making more copies of itself. Now researchers have shown that a large group of viruses, including the influenza viruses and other serious pathogens, steal genetic signals from their hosts to expand their own genomes.

 

This finding is presented in a study published June 25th, 2020 in Cell. The cross-disciplinary collaborative study was led by researchers at the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in the UK.

 

The cross-disciplinary team of virologists looked at a large group of viruses known as segmented negative-strand RNA viruses (sNSVs), which include widespread and serious pathogens of humans, domesticated animals and plants, including the influenza viruses and Lassa virus (the cause of Lassa fever). They showed that, by stealing genetic signals from their hosts, viruses can produce a wealth of previously undetected proteins. The researchers labeled them as UFO (Upstream Frankenstein Open reading frame) proteins, as they are encoded by stitching together the host and viral sequences. There was no knowledge of the existence of these kinds of proteins prior to this study.

These UFO proteins can alter the course of viral infection and could be exploited for vaccine purposes.

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Humans perk up their ears, too, when they hear interesting sounds

Humans perk up their ears, too, when they hear interesting sounds | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Many animals, including dogs, cats and various species of monkeys, will move their ears to better focus their attention on a novel sound. That humans also have this capability was not known until now. A research team based in Saarland, Germany, has demonstrated for the first time that we make minute, unconscious movements of our ears that are directed towards the sound want to focus our attention on. The team discovered this ability by measuring electrical signals in the muscles of the vestigial motor system in the human ear. The results have now been published in the journal eLife.

 

Asking children to 'perk up their ears' means asking them to listen intently. Nobody seriously thinks that kids literally move their ears the way that cats, dogs or horses do. But the fact is, they do, as researchers at the Systems Neuroscience & Neurotechnology Unit (SNNU) have now shown. The research team, led by Professor Danial Strauss, has shown that the muscles around the ear become active as soon as novel, unusual or goal-relevant sounds are perceived.

 

'The electrical activity of the ear muscles indicates the direction in which the subject is focusing their auditory attention,' says neuroscientist and computer scientist Strauss. 'It is very likely that humans still possess a rudimentary orientation system that tries to control the movement of the pinna (the visible outer part of the ear). Despite becoming vestigial about 25 million years ago, this system still exists as a "neural fossil" within our brains,' explains Professor Strauss.

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Scientists tap deep learning AI to pinpoint metabolites, which are critical to life.

Scientists tap deep learning AI to pinpoint metabolites, which are critical to life. | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists estimate that less than 1 percent of small molecules are known. A typical commercially available metabolomics library has maybe 5,000 compounds, but scientists know there are billions more. How do they “identify” something about which they know so little? It’s like asking Galileo to identify stars in deep space that were impossible to detect when he used one of the first telescopes more than 400 years ago.

 

Enter DarkChem, a research project funded by PNNL’s Deep Learning for Scientific Discovery Agile Investment. A team led by Ryan Renslow is bringing artificial intelligence to the table to tackle the vast, unknown landscape of metabolites that bedevil researchers like Tom Metz, who leads PNNL’s metabolomics effort.

 

 “Right now, we’re just skimming what is potentially knowable and saying goodbye to very interesting data because we can’t identify the vast majority of metabolites that our technology detects,” said Metz. “Deep learning is providing a new way to solve the puzzle.”

 

Renslow and colleagues Sean Colby and Jamie Nunez have adopted deep learning principles commonly used in applications like language translation and applied them to this dark matter of the molecular world.

 

Early results are noteworthy: The team’s DarkChem network can calculate a key feature of a molecule in milliseconds and with 13 percent fewer errors, compared to 40 hours on a supercomputer running PNNL’s flagship quantum chemistry software, NWChem. “We were shocked at how well DarkChem did,” said Renslow.

 

The network isn’t simply crunching through data to compile results. Rather, the network draws upon artificial intelligence. DarkChem was developed so that it can discover new things that are still unknown to humans.

 

Renslow and his team trained DarkChem to calculate CCS for chemical structures, then turned it loose to make the calculation for more than 50 million compounds – a portion of the library of PubChem. The program solved that task in a snap.

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Solution to century-old math problem could predict transmission of infectious diseases

Solution to century-old math problem could predict transmission of infectious diseases | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A Bristol academic has achieved a milestone in statistical/mathematical physics by solving a 100-year-old physics problem—the discrete diffusion equation in finite space.

 

The long-sought-after solution could be used to accurately predict encounter and transmission probability between individuals in a closed environment, without the need for time-consuming computer simulations.

 

In a recent paper, published in Physical Review X, Dr. Luca Giuggioli from the Department of Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol describes how to analytically calculate the probability of occupation (in discrete time and discrete space) of a diffusing particle or entity in a confined space—something that until now was only possible computationally.

 

Dr. Giuggioli said: "The diffusion equation models random movement and is one of the fundamental equations of physics. The analytic solution of the diffusion equation in finite domains, when time and space is continuous, has been known for a long time.

 

"However, to compare model predictions with empirical observations, one needs to study the diffusion equation in finite space. Despite the work of illustrious scientists such as Smoluchowski, Pólya, and other investigators of yore, this has remained an outstanding problem for over a century—until now.

"Excitingly, the discovery of this exact analytic solution allows us to tackle problems that were almost impossible in the past because of the prohibitive computational costs."

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Alien Civilization Could Use a Black Hole to Generate Energy - 50-Year-Old Theory Experimentally Verified

Alien Civilization Could Use a Black Hole to Generate Energy - 50-Year-Old Theory Experimentally Verified | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A 50-year-old theory that began as speculation about how an alien civilization could use a black hole to generate energy has been experimentally verified for the first time in a Glasgow research lab.

In 1969, British physicist Roger Penrose suggested that energy could be generated by lowering an object into the black hole’s ergosphere – the outer layer of the black hole’s event horizon, where an object would have to move faster than the speed of light in order to remain still.

 

Penrose predicted that the object would acquire a negative energy in this unusual area of space. By dropping the object and splitting it in two so that one half falls into the black hole while the other is recovered, the recoil action would measure a loss of negative energy – effectively, the recovered half would gain energy extracted from the black hole’s rotation.

 

The scale of the engineering challenge the process would require is so great, however, that Penrose suggested only a very advanced, perhaps earthbound experiment. He proposed that ’twisted’ light waves, hitting the surface of a rotating metal cylinder turning at just the right speed, would end up being reflected with additional energy extracted from the cylinder’s rotation thanks to a quirk of the rotational Doppler effect.

 

But Zel’dovich’s idea has remained solely in the realm of theory since 1971 because, for the experiment to work, his proposed metal cylinder would need to rotate at least a billion times a second – another insurmountable challenge for the current limits of human engineering. 

 

Now, researchers from the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy have finally found a way to experimentally demonstrate the effect that Penrose and Zel’dovich proposed by twisting sound instead of light – a much lower frequency source, and thus much more practical to demonstrate in the lab.

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Artist uses AI to create stunning portraits of historical figures

Artist uses AI to create stunning portraits of historical figures | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Bas Uterwijk, an Amsterdam-based artist, is using AI to create extremely lifelike photographs of historical figures and monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, artist Vincent van Gogh, George Washington and Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Using a program called Artbreeder, which is described as “deep learning software,” Uterwijk builds his photographs based on a compilation of portraits, reports the Daily Mail. The program pinpoints common facial features and photograph qualities to produce an image.

 

“I try to guide the software to a credible outcome. I think of my work more as artistic interpretations than scientifically or historically accurate,” the artist tells the outlet. On Instagram, he details the many variations that go into creating his work. So far, he’s created more than 50 of these images.

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Complexity of human tooth enamel revealed at atomic level in NIH-funded study

Complexity of human tooth enamel revealed at atomic level in NIH-funded study | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Unprecedented details of enamel structure may point to new ways to prevent or halt cavities.

 

Scientists used a combination of advanced microscopy and chemical detection techniques to uncover the structural makeup of human tooth enamel at unprecedented atomic resolution, revealing lattice patterns and unexpected irregularities. The findings could lead to a better understanding of how tooth decay develops and might be prevented. The research was supported in part by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health. The findings appear in Nature.

 

“This work provides much more detailed information about the atomic makeup of enamel than we previously knew,” said Jason Wan, Ph.D., a program officer at NIDCR. “These findings can broaden our thinking and approach to strengthening teeth against mechanical forces, as well as repairing damage due to erosion and decay.”

 

Your teeth are remarkably resilient, despite enduring the stress and strain of biting, chewing, and eating for a lifetime. Enamel — the hardest substance in the human body — is largely responsible for this endurance. Its high mineral content gives it strength. Enamel forms the outer covering of teeth and helps prevent tooth decay, or caries.

 

Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases, affecting up to 90% of children and the vast majority of adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to painful abscesses, bone infection, and bone loss.

 

Tooth decay starts when excess acid in the mouth erodes the enamel covering. Scientists have long sought a more complete picture of enamel’s chemical and mechanical properties at the atomic level to better understand—and potentially prevent or reverse—enamel loss. To survey enamel at the tiniest scales, researchers use microscopy methods such as scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), which directs a beam of electrons through a material to map its atomic makeup.

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Inside the Coronavirus - What Scientists Currently Know About SARS-CoV-2 Causing the COVID-19 Disease

Inside the Coronavirus - What Scientists Currently Know About SARS-CoV-2 Causing the COVID-19 Disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

For all the mysteries that remain about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 disease it causes, scientists have generated an incredible amount of fine-grained knowledge in a surprisingly short time. Scientific American presents detailed explanations, current as of mid-June, into how SARS-CoV-2 sneaks inside human cells, makes copies of itself and bursts out to infiltrate many more cells, widening infection. This review shows how the immune system would normally attempt to neutralize virus particles and how CoV-2 can block that effort. This review explains some of the virus' surprising abilities, such as its capacity to proofread new virus copies as they are being made to prevent mutations that could destroy them. This review also shows how drugs and vaccines might still be able to overcome the intruders. As virologists learn more, this review will be updated on the Scientific American Web site (www.scientificamerican.com).

 

Commercial and university labs are investigating well over 100 drugs to fight COVID-19, the disease the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes. Most drugs would not destroy the virus directly but would interfere with it enough to allow the body's immune system to clear the infection. Antiviral drugs generally stop a virus from attaching to a lung cell, prevent a virus from reproducing if it does invade a cell, or dampen an overreaction by the immune system, which can cause severe symptoms in infected people. Vaccines prepare the immune system to quickly and effectively fight a future infection.

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Humans and monkeys show similar thinking patterns

Humans and monkeys show similar thinking patterns | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Primates’ neural computations shed new light on the evolution of language. Humans and monkeys may not speak the same lingo, but our ways of thinking are a lot more similar than previously thought, according to new research from UC Berkeley, Harvard University and Carnegie Mellon University.

 

In experiments on 100 study participants across age groups, cultures and species, researchers found that indigenous Tsimane’ people in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest, American adults and preschoolers and macaque monkeys all show, to varying degrees, a knack for “recursion,” a cognitive process of arranging words, phrases or symbols in a way that helps convey complex commands, sentiments and ideas.

 

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, shed new light on our understanding of the evolution of language, researchers said. “For the first time, we have strong empirical evidence about patterns of thinking that come naturally to probably all humans and, to a lesser extent, non-human primates,” said study co-author Steven Piantadosi, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology.

 

Indeed, the monkeys were found to perform far better in the tests than the researchers had predicted. “Our data suggest that, with sufficient training, monkeys can learn to represent a recursive process, meaning that this ability may not be as unique to humans as is commonly thought,” said Sam Cheyette, a Ph.D. student in Piantadosi’s lab and co-author of the study.

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First Fluorescent Frog Found

First Fluorescent Frog Found | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The first fluorescent frog, a rare find among land animals reveals a new way to glow. Under normal light, the South American polka dot tree frog (Hypsiboas punctatus) sports a muted palette of greens, yellows and reds. But dim the lights and switch on ultraviolet illumination, and this little amphibian gives off a bright blue and green glow.

 

The ability to absorb light at short wavelengths and re-emit it at longer wavelengths is called fluorescence, and is rare in terrestrial animals. Until now, it was unheard of in amphibians. Researchers also report that the polka dot tree frog uses fluorescent molecules totally unlike those found in other animals. The team published the find on March 13, 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

 

Because fluorescence requires the absorption of light, it doesn’t happen in total darkness. That makes it distinct from bioluminescence, in which organisms give off their own light generated through chemical reactions. Many ocean creatures fluoresce, including coralsfish, sharks and one species of sea turtle (the hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata). On land, fluorescence was previously known in only parrots and some scorpions. It is unclear why animals have this ability, although explanations include communication, camouflage and mate attraction.

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Infographic: The History of Pandemics, by Death Toll

Infographic: The History of Pandemics, by Death Toll | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Over time, infectious diseases have been humanity's constant companion. This infographic visualizes the history of pandemics throughout times, from the Antonine Plague to COVID-19.

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Fuzzy Green 'Glacier Mice' Move In Groups And Puzzle Scientists

Fuzzy Green 'Glacier Mice' Move In Groups And Puzzle Scientists | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Moss balls seem to roll around glaciers in a coordinated way, and researchers can't explain why the whole group moves at about the same speed and in the same direction.

 

PDF paper is here

In 2006, while hiking around the Root Glacier in Alaska to set up scientific instruments, researcher Tim Bartholomaus encountered something unexpected. "What the heck is this?" Bartholomaus recalls thinking. He's a glaciologist at the University of Idaho.

Scattered across the glacier were balls of moss. "They're not attached to anything and they're just resting there on ice," he says. "They're bright green in a world of white."

 

Intrigued, he and two colleagues set out to study these strange moss balls. In the journal Polar Biology, they report that the balls can persist for years and move around in a coordinated, herdlike fashion that the researchers can not yet explain.

 

"The whole colony of moss balls, this whole grouping, moves at about the same speeds and in the same directions," Bartholomaus says. "Those speeds and directions can change over the course of weeks." In the 1950s, an Icelandic researcher described them in the Journal of Glaciology, noting that "rolling stones can gather moss." He called them "jökla-mýs" or "glacier mice."

 

This new work adds to a very small body of research on these fuzz balls, even though glaciologists have long known about them and tend to be fond of them.

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How does Earth sustain its magnetic field?

How does Earth sustain its magnetic field? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Life as we know it could not exist without Earth's magnetic field and its ability to deflect dangerous ionizing particles from the solar wind and more far-flung cosmic rays. It is continuously generated by the motion of liquid iron in Earth's outer core, a phenomenon called the geodynamo.

 

Despite its fundamental importance, many questions remain unanswered about the geodynamo's origin and the energy sources that have sustained it over the millennia.

 

New work from an international team of researchers, including current and former Carnegie scientists Alexander Goncharov, Nicholas Holtgrewe, Sergey Lobanov, and Irina Chuvashova examines how the presence of lighter elements in the predominately iron core could affect the geodynamo's genesis and sustainability. Their findings are published by Nature Communications.

 

Our planet accreted from the disk of dust and gas that surrounded our Sun in its youth. Eventually, the densest material sank inward in the forming planet, creating the layers that exist today -- core, mantle, and crust. Although, the core is predominately iron, seismic data indicates that some lighter elements like oxygen, silicon, sulfur, carbon, and hydrogen, were dissolved into it during the differentiation process.

 

Over time, the inner core crystallized and has been continuously cooling since then. On its own, could heat flowing out of the core and into the mantle drive the geodynamo? Or does this thermal convection need an extra boost from the buoyancy of light elements, not just heat, moving out of a condensing inner core?

Understanding the specifics of the core's chemical composition can help answer this question.

 

Silicates are predominant in the mantle, and after oxygen and iron, silicon is the third-most-abundant element in the Earth, so it is a likely option for one of the main lighter elements that could be alloyed with iron in the core. Led by Wen-Pin Hsieh of Academia Sinica and National Taiwan University, the researchers used lab-based mimicry of deep Earth conditions to simulate how the presence of silicon would affect the transmission of heat from the planet's iron core out into the mantle.

 

"The less thermally conductive the core material is, the lower the threshold needed to generate the geodynamo," Goncharov explained. "With a low enough threshold, the heat flux out of the core could be driven entirely by the thermal convection, with no need for the additional movement of material to make it work."

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Centenarian study suggests living environment may be key to longevity

Centenarian study suggests living environment may be key to longevity | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The WSU team’s findings suggest that Washingtonians who live in highly walkable, mixed‑age communities may be more likely to live to their 100th birthday.

 

When it comes to living to the ripe old age of 100, good genes help but don’t tell the full story. Where you live has a significant impact on the likelihood that you will reach centenarian age, suggests a new study conducted by scientists at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

 

Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and based on Washington State mortality data, the research team’s findings suggest that Washingtonians who live in highly walkable, mixed-age communities may be more likely to live to their 100th birthday. They also found socioeconomic status to be correlated, and an additional analysis showed that geographic clusters where the probability of reaching centenarian age is high are located in urban areas and smaller towns with higher socioeconomic status, including the Seattle area and the region around Pullman, Washington.

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Medical nanotechnology for COVID-19

Medical nanotechnology for COVID-19 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The current global health threat by the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) requires an urgent deployment of advanced therapeutic options being widely available. The role of nanotechnology is highly relevant to counter this viral nano enemy. Nano intervention is discussed in terms of designing effective nanocarriers to counter the conventional limitations of antiviral and biological therapeutics. This strategy directs the safe and effective delivery of available therapeutic options using engineered nanocarriers, blocking the initial interactions of viral spike glycoprotein with host cell surface receptors, and disruption of virion construction. Controlling and eliminating the spread and reoccurrence of this pandemic demands a safe and effective vaccine strategy. Nanocarriers have potential to design risk-free and effective immunization strategies for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 vaccine candidates such as protein constructs and nucleic acids. Ongoing nanotechnology-based therapeutic and prophylactic strategies to fight against this pandemic, outlining key areas, are being discussed.

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Custom nanoparticles regress tumors when exposed to light

Custom nanoparticles regress tumors when exposed to light | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A unique nanoparticle to deliver a localized cancer treatment inhibits tumor growth in mice, according to a team of Penn State researchers.

 

The nanoparticles, developed by Daniel Hayes, associate professor of biomedical engineering, have a specific chemistry that allows a microRNA (miRNA) to attach to it. A miRNA is a molecule that when paired to a messenger RNA (mRNA) prevents it from operating. In this case, it prohibits the mRNA in a cancer cell from creating proteins, which are essential for that cancer cell to survive.

 

In their study, the researchers delivered nanoparticles to the cancer cells of mice through an IV. Once the nanoparticles built up in the cancerous area, they used a specific wavelength of light to separate the miRNA from the nanoparticles. The miRNA then pairs with a mRNA in the cancer cell, causing the mRNA to stop making proteins. Eventually, the cancer cell dies.

 

Their paper is published on June 22, 2020 in the journal Biomaterials. "This delivery method gives you temporal and spatial specificity," said Adam Glick, professor of molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis. "Instead of having systemic delivery of a miRNA and the associated side effects, you are able to deliver the miRNA to a specific area of tissue at a specific time by exposing it to light."

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Axions? Seeking Dark Matter, Another Mystery Was Detected

Axions? Seeking Dark Matter, Another Mystery Was Detected | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Do signals from beneath an Italian mountain herald a revolution in physics?

 

It could be a key to the secret of the universe. Or just annoying background noise, another item to be calibrated in future experiments. A team of scientists hunting dark matter has recorded suspicious pings coming from a vat of liquid xenon underneath a mountain in Italy. They are not claiming to have discovered dark matter — or anything, for that matter — yet. But these pings, they say, could be tapping out a new view of the universe.

 

If the signal is real and persists, the scientists say, it may be evidence of a species of subatomic particles called axions — long theorized to play a crucial role in keeping nature symmetrical but never seen — streaming from the sun. “It’s not dark matter but discovering a new particle would be phenomenal,” said Elena Aprile of Columbia University, who leads the Xenon Collaboration, the project that made the detection.

 
 

In a statement, the collaboration said that detecting the axions would have “a large impact on our understanding of fundamental physics, but also on astrophysical phenomena.” But there are other explanations for the finding. Instead of axions, the scientists may have detected a new, unexpected property of the slippery ghostly particles called neutrinos. Yet another equally likely explanation is that their detector has been contaminated by vanishingly tiny amounts of tritium, a rare radioactive form of hydrogen.

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Towards sub-petawatt Ti:Sa laser pulses powerful enough to investigate a new kind of physics

Towards sub-petawatt Ti:Sa laser pulses powerful enough to investigate a new kind of physics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In a paper that made the cover of the journal Applied Physics Letters ("Thin plate compression of a sub-petawatt Ti:Sa laser pulses"), an international team of researchers has demonstrated an innovative technique for increasing the intensity of lasers. This approach, based on the compression of light pulses, would make it possible to reach a threshold intensity for a new type of physics that has never been explored before: quantum electrodynamics phenomena.

 

Researchers Jean-Claude Kieffer of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), E. A. Khazanov of the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences and in France Gérard Mourou, Professor Emeritus of the Ecole Polytechnique, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018, have chosen another direction to achieve a power of around 1023 Watts (W). Rather than increasing the energy of the laser, they decrease the pulse duration to only a few femtoseconds. This would keep the system within a reasonable size and keep operating costs down.

 

To generate the shortest possible pulse, the researchers are exploiting the effects of non-linear optics. “A laser beam is sent through an extremely thin and perfectly homogeneous glass plate. The particular behaviour of the wave inside this solid medium broadens the spectrum and allows for a shorter pulse when it is recompressed at the exit of the plate,” explains Jean-Claude Kieffer, co-author of the study.

 

Installed in the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) facility at INRS, the researchers limited themselves to an energy of 3 joules for a 10-femtosecond pulse, or 300 terawatts (1012W). They plan to repeat the experiment with an energy of 13 joules over 5 femtoseconds, or an intensity of 3 petawatts (1015 W). “We would be among the first in the world to achieve this level of power with a laser that has such short pulses,” says Professor Kieffer.

 

“If we achieve very short pulses, we enter relativistic problem classes. This is an extremely interesting direction that has the potential to take the scientific community to new horizons,” says Professor Kieffer. “It was a very nice piece of work solidifying the paramount potential of this technique,” concludes Gérard Mourou".

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Unlocking PNA’s superpowers with γ-modified peptide nucleic acid (γPNA), a synthetic mimic of DNA

Unlocking PNA’s superpowers with γ-modified peptide nucleic acid (γPNA), a synthetic mimic of DNA | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a method for self-assembling nanostructures with gamma-modified peptide nucleic acid (γPNA), a synthetic mimic of DNA. The process has the potential to impact nanomanufacturing, as well as future biomedical technologies like targeted diagnostics and drug delivery. 

 

Published in Nature Communications, the work introduces a science of γPNA nanotechnology that enables self-assembly in organic solvent solutions, the harsh environments used in peptide and polymer synthesis. This holds promise for nanofabrication and nanosensing.

 

The research team, led by Rebecca Taylor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, reported that γPNA can form nanofibers in organic solvent solutions that can grow up to 11 microns in length (more than 1,000 times longer than their width). These represent the first complex, all-PNA nanostructures to be formed in organic solvents.

 

Taylor, who heads the heads the Microsystems and MechanoBiology Lab at Carnegie Mellon, wants to leverage PNA’s “superpowers.” In addition to its higher thermal stability, γPNA retains the ability to bind to other nucleic acids in organic solvent mixtures that would typically destabilize structural DNA nanotechnology. This means that they can form nanostructures in solvent environments that prevent formation of DNA-based nanostructures.  

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COVID-19 Research in Brief: December 2019 to June 2020

COVID-19 Research in Brief: December 2019 to June 2020 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

RT-PCR tests for viral detection were the first available clinical tests, though scaling up their production and availability has been a persistent challenge in many countries. Important testing advances have included the development of saliva-based protocols and loop-mediated isothermal amplification protocols for SARS-CoV-2 detection. Serological testing for SARS-CoV-2 received an early boost by the development and sharing of reagents by the Krammer lab at Mount Sinai, New York.

Drug repurposing

The rapid spread of COVID-19, which by March had led to nationwide lockdowns in Italy and Spain, spurred attempts at drug repurposing. On 22 March, the WHO launched SOLIDARITY, a global trial of four therapies: the RNA polymerase inhibitor remdesivir, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (this arm has now been stopped), the HIV protease inhibitor combination lopinavir and ritonavir (results so far are not encouraging), and lopinavir-ritonavir plus interferon beta (which has shown reduced viral shedding and alleviated symptoms in one open-label trial). At time of writing, two drugs have been shown to be effective in clinical trials, remdesivir and the corticosteroid dexamethasone. In randomized control trials, remdesivir shortened the length of hospitalisation, but did not have a significant impact on mortality; dexamethasone significantly reduced mortality in patients requiring supplemental oxygen.

Candidate vaccines

By April, human trials were underway for several vaccine candidates, including established approaches like inactivated SARS-CoV-2 preparations as well as more recent strategies such as RNA- and adenoviral-derived products. Early results on safety and immunogenicity are already available for some of these, with Moderna announcing that its RNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine induced a specific antibody response in phase I trials, and CanSino also showing specific antibody induction by its adenovirus-based vaccine. Passive immunization is also being pursued by various means, including convalescent plasma, hyperimmune serum preparations and the development of SARS-CoV-2-specific monoclonal antibodies.

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What is pool testing and how does it work?

What is pool testing and how does it work? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
It’s an approach officials are considering for ramping up coronavirus testing.

 

Also known as batch testing, pool testing combines samples from several people and tests them for the coronavirus all at once, cutting down on the time and supplies required. The protocol was first invented to test for syphilis during World War II and has been used in the past for outbreaks of other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

 

“If everyone is negative, then you’re done,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained. If the test detected the presence of the virus, then each person would have to be tested and the results individually analyzed to determine whose sample produced the positive result.

 

“You can rapidly increase the capacity of testing,” said Benjamin Pinsky, director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. “The trade-off is that there’s reduced sensitivity. It’s kind of a balance.” Samples with low viral loads are more likely to go undetected in a pool, he said.

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The Navy is Testing Beaming Solar Power in Space

The Navy is Testing Beaming Solar Power in Space | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Solar power has become a focal point of the battle to mitigate climate change.  The potential of solar power is massive – Earth receives as much solar energy in an hour as all of humanity uses in a year.  Even with that much energy hitting the Earth, it is only a tiny fraction of the sun’s overall output.  Some of that other solar energy hits other planets, but most is just lost to the void of deep space.

 

There are a number of groups that are leveraging various technologies to capture some of that lost energy.  One of the most common technologies being pursued is the idea of the power satellite.  Recently, one of those groups at America’s Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) hit a milestone in the development of power satellite technology by launching their Photovoltaic RF Antenna Module (PRAM) test satellite.

 

The idea underlying power satellites is called “power beaming”.  Power beaming systems use one of three different frequencies of light to transmit significant amounts of power over a distance wirelessly.  Last year NRL had a successful demonstration of a land-based power beaming system using an infrared laser.

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Scientists produce first open source all-atom models of COVID-19 'spike' protein

Scientists produce first open source all-atom models of COVID-19 'spike' protein | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The virus SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the known cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The "spike" or S protein facilitates viral entry into host cells.

 

Now a group of researchers from Seoul National University in South Korea, University of Cambridge in UK, and Lehigh University in USA, have worked together to produce the first open-source all-atom models of a full-length S protein. The researchers say this is of particular importance because the S protein plays a central role in viral entry into cells, making it a main target for vaccine and antiviral drug development.

 

The details can be found in a paper , "Developing a Fully-glycosylated Full-length SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Model in a Viral Membrane" just published online in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

 

This video demo illustrates how to build this membrane system from their SARS-CoV-2 S protein models. The model-building program is open access and can be found from the home page of CHARMM-GUI by clicking on the COVID-19 Archive link , or by clicking the archive link in the header, then the COVID-19 Proteins link in the left sidebar.

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Ancient Antarctic Mosasaur may have laid a football-size egg

Ancient Antarctic Mosasaur may have laid a football-size egg | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The second largest egg on record may belong to a sea monster known as a mosasaur that lived during the dinosaur age.

 

A 68 million-year-old egg the size of a football — the largest soft-shelled egg on record and the second largest egg ever discovered — might belong to a mosasaur, a reptilian sea monster that lived during the age of dinosaurs in what is now Antarctica, a new study finds.

 

If true, this would be the only mosasaur egg on record, according to the study, published online yesterday (June 17) in the journal Nature

 

"There's no known egg like this," study senior researcher Julia Clarke, a professor of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), told Live Science. "This egg is exceptional in both its size and its structure."

 

Chilean researchers found the eggs-traordinary fossil in a seasonal stream in 2011, about 660 feet (200 meters) away from the remains of 33-foot-long (10 m) Kaikaifilu hervei, a large mosasaur unearthed on Seymour Island, Antarctica, said study co-researcher David Rubilar-Rogers, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Santiago, Chile. Despite the egg's proximity to the mosasaur, however, "the identity of the animal that laid the egg is unknown," the researchers wrote in the study.

 

"Although we weren't clear on what it was, the strangeness of its shape was enough to collect it and take it to camp," Rubilar-Rogers told Live Science in an email translated from Spanish. The fossil was so bizarre, the team called it "The Thing," after the 1982 sci-fi movie based in Antarctica, which the paleontologists bravely watched when they were stuck in their tents due to bad weather, study co-researcher Rodrigo Otero, a paleontologist at the University of Chile in Santiago, told Live Science. 


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Greater Than 99% Speed of Light – Black Hole Jet Pushing The Cosmic Speed Limit

Greater Than 99% Speed of Light – Black Hole Jet Pushing The Cosmic Speed Limit | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have seen that the famous giant black hole in Messier 87 is propelling particles at speeds greater than 99% of the speed of light.

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the first image of a black hole with observations of the massive, dark object at the center of galaxy Messier 87, or M87, last April. This black hole has a mass of about 6.5 billion times that of the sun and is located about 55 million light years from Earth. The black hole has been called M87* by astronomers and has recently been given the Hawaiian name of “Powehi.”

For years, astronomers have observed radiation from a jet of high energy particles – powered by the black hole – blasting out of the center of M87. They have studied the jet in radio, optical, and X-ray light, including with Chandra. And now by using Chandra observations, researchers have seen that sections of the jet are moving at nearly the speed of light.

“This is the first time such extreme speeds by a black hole’s jet have been recorded using X-ray data,” said Ralph Kraft of the Center of Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who presented the study at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. “We needed the sharp X-ray vision of Chandra to make these measurements.” 

When matter gets close enough to a black hole, it enters into a swirling pattern called an accretion disk. Some material from the inner part of the accretion disk falls onto the black hole and some of it is redirected away from the black hole in the form of narrow beams, or jets, of material along magnetic field lines. Because this infall process is irregular, the jets are made of clumps or knots that can sometimes be identified with Chandra and other telescopes.

The researchers used Chandra observations from 2012 and 2017 to track the motion of two X-ray knots located within the jet about 900 and 2,500 light years away from the black hole. The X-ray data show motion with apparent speeds of 6.3 times the speed of light for the X-ray knot closer to the black hole and 2.4 times the speed of light for the other.

“One of the unbreakable laws of physics is that nothing can move faster than the speed of light,” said co-author Brad Snios, also of the CfA. “We haven’t broken physics, but we have found an example of an amazing phenomenon called superluminal motion.” 
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