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Biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event

July 25, 2014 6:54 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | Comments

Stanford Univ. biology Prof. Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues are warning that "defaunation" could have harmful downstream effects on human health. The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But, Dirzo says, this may be reaching a tipping point.

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New approach helps form non-equilibrium structures

July 25, 2014 6:49 am | Comments

Scientists at Northwestern Univ. have developed a new technique for creating non-equilibrium systems, which experience constant changes in energy and phases, such as temperature fluctuations, freezing and melting, or movement. The method, which involves injecting energy through oscillations to force particles to self-assemble under non-equilibrium conditions, should help us understand the fundamentals of this mysterious topic.

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Study shows how to power California with wind, water and sun

July 25, 2014 6:49 am | by Rob Jordan, Stanford Univ. | Comments

New Stanford Univ. research outlines the path to a possible future for California in which renewable energy creates a healthier environment, generates jobs and stabilizes energy prices. Among other metrics, the plan calculates the number of new devices and jobs created, land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for infrastructure changes.

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Study reveals atomic structure of key muscle component

July 25, 2014 6:47 am | Comments

Actin is the most abundant protein in the body, and is the basis of most movement in the body. Adding to the growing fundamental understanding of the machinery of muscle cells, a group of biophysicists in Pennsylvania have published work that describes in minute detail how actin filaments are stabilized at one of their ends to form a basic muscle structure called the sarcomere.

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Highest-precision measurement made of water on an exoplanet

July 24, 2014 10:02 am | Comments

The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.

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Report: 2011 extramural R&D funding by U.S.-located businesses nears $30 billion

July 24, 2014 9:56 am | Comments

According to a new report available from NSF's National Center of Science and Engineering Statistics U.S.-located companies spent $29.6 billion for extramural (purchased and collaborative) research and development performed by domestic and overseas organizations. This represents more than 10% of total company-funded, company-performed R&D.

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Junk DNA not as worthless as once thought

July 24, 2014 9:50 am | Comments

Around 75% of the supposed functionless DNA in the human genome is transcribed into so-called non-coding RNAs, and little is known about their function. Now, researchers have demonstrated that the production of non-coding RNAs is precisely regulated. They suspect that non-coding RNAs might play a role in regulating cellular processes or in the modified immune response following exposure to environmental toxicants.

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Urban heat’s effect on the environment

July 24, 2014 9:36 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | Comments

New research from North Carolina State Univ. shows that urban “heat islands” are slowly killing red maples in the southeastern U.S. One factor is that researchers have found warmer temperatures increase the number of young produced by the gloomy scale insect—a significant tree pest—by 300%, which in turn leads to 200 times more adult gloomy scales on urban trees.

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Discovery is key to metal wear in sliding parts

July 24, 2014 9:24 am | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | Comments

Researchers have discovered a previously unknown mechanism for wear in metals: a swirling, fluid-like microscopic behavior in a solid piece of metal sliding over another. The findings could be used to improve the durability of metal parts in numerous applications.

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Audit: NASA doesn't have the money for big rockets

July 24, 2014 8:14 am | Comments

The Government Accountability Office issued a report Wednesday saying NASA's Space Launch System is at "high risk of missing" its planned December 2017 initial test flight. The agency doesn't have enough money to get its new, $12 billion rocket system, the largest ever built, off the ground.

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Diseases of another kind

July 24, 2014 8:10 am | by Julie Cohen, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara | Comments

The drought that has the entire country in its grip is affecting more than the color of people’s lawns. It may also be responsible for the proliferation of a heat-loving amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater bodies, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, which the drought has made warmer than usual this year.

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“Comb-on-a-chip” powers new atomic clock design

July 24, 2014 7:52 am | Comments

Researchers from NIST and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a new design for an atomic clock that is based on a chip-scale frequency comb, or a microcomb. The microcomb clock, featured in Optica, is the first demonstration of all-optical control of the microcomb, and its accurate conversion of optical frequencies to lower microwave frequencies.

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Study: Forward osmosis desalination not energy efficient

July 24, 2014 7:37 am | by Alissa Mallinson | MIT Dept. of Mechanical Engineering | Comments

In a recent study published in the Journal of Membrane Science, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team reported that, contrary to popular support, forward osmosis desalination of seawater is significantly less energy efficient, compared to reverse osmosis. In forward osmosis, water is drawn from the seawater into a concentrated salt solution, known as a draw solution.

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Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

July 23, 2014 4:16 pm | by Iqbal Pittalwala, Univ. of California, Riverside | Comments

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It’s the most common inherited cause of mental impairment and the most common cause of autism. Now biomedical scientists at the Univ. of California, Riverside have published a study that sheds light on the cause of autistic behaviors in FXS.

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Spinach could lead to alternative energy more powerful than Popeye

July 23, 2014 4:07 pm | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | Comments

Spinach gave Popeye super strength, but it also holds the promise of a different power for a group of scientists: the ability to convert sunlight into a clean, efficient alternative fuel. Purdue Univ. physicists are part of an international group using spinach to study the proteins involved in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert the sun’s energy into carbohydrates used to power cellular processes.

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