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Study: Solar energy-driven process quickly reclaims tailings ponds

September 24, 2014 8:52 am | Comments

Cleaning up oil sands tailings has just gotten a lot greener thanks to a novel technique developed by Univ. of Alberta civil engineering professors that uses solar energy to accelerate tailings pond reclamation efforts by industry. Instead of using ultraviolet lamps as a light source to treat the water affected by oil sands processes, sunlight alone treats just as efficiently but at a much lower cost.

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Antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish prevent both freezing and melting

September 24, 2014 8:48 am | Comments

Antarctic fish that manufacture their own "antifreeze" proteins to survive in the icy Southern Ocean also suffer an unfortunate side effect: The protein-bound ice crystals that accumulate inside their bodies resist melting even when temperatures warm. Ice that doesn't melt at its normal melting point is referred to as "superheated”, and the phenomenon was an unexpected discovery by scientists in Oregon and Illinois.

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Nuclear spins control electrical currents

September 23, 2014 2:47 pm | by Katherine Kornei | Comments

An international team of physicists has shown that information stored in the nuclear spins of hydrogen isotopes in an organic light-emitting diode (LED) or organic LED can be read out by measuring the electrical current through the device. Unlike previous schemes that only work at ultracold temperatures, this is the first to operate at room temperature, and could be used to create extremely dense and highly energy-efficient memory devices.

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Robotic fabric could bring “active clothing”, wearable robots

September 23, 2014 2:20 pm | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | Comments

Researchers are developing a robotic fabric that moves and contracts and is embedded with sensors, an approach that could lead to "active clothing" or a new class of "soft" robots. The robotic fabric, developed at Purdue Univ.,  is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move.

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New properties found in promising oxide ceramics for reactor fuels

September 23, 2014 2:14 pm | Comments

Nanocomposite oxide ceramics have potential uses as ferroelectrics, fast ion conductors, and nuclear fuels and for storing nuclear waste, generating a great deal of scientific interest on the structure, properties, and applications of these blended materials. Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have made the first observations of the relationship between the chemistry and dislocation structures of the nanoscale interfaces.

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New formulation leads to improved liquid battery

September 23, 2014 2:07 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT | Comments

Donald Sadoway and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already started a company to produce electrical-grid-scale liquid batteries, whose layers of molten material automatically separate due to their differing densities. But a newly developed formula substitutes different metals for the molten layers. The new formula allows the battery to work at a much lower temperature.

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Plant-based building materials may boost energy savings

September 23, 2014 2:04 pm | by Leslie Minton, Univ. of North Texas | Comments

Over a three-year period, Univ. of North Texas researchers developed and tested structured insulated panel building materials made from kenaf, a plant in the hibiscus family that is similar to bamboo. Kenaf fibers are an attractive prospect because they offer the same strength to weight ratio as glass fibers. The researchers found that the kenaf materials, including composite panels, provide up to 20% energy savings.

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Graphene flaws key to creating hypersensitive “electronic nose”

September 23, 2014 9:45 am | by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Univ. of Illinois Chicago | Comments

Researchers have discovered a way to create a highly sensitive chemical sensor based on the crystalline flaws in graphene sheets. The imperfections have unique electronic properties that the researchers were able to exploit to increase sensitivity to absorbed gas molecules by 300 times.

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Engineers show light can play seesaw at the nanoscale

September 23, 2014 9:41 am | Comments

Univ. of Minnesota electrical engineering researchers have developed a unique nanoscale device that for the first time demonstrates mechanical transportation of light. The tiny device is just .7 micrometers by 50 micrometers and works almost like a seesaw. On each side of the “seesaw benches,” researchers etched an array of holes, called photonic crystal cavities. These cavities capture photons that streamed from a nearby source.

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Termites evolved complex bioreactors 30 million years ago

September 23, 2014 9:36 am | Comments

Achieving complete breakdown of plant biomass for energy conversion in industrialized bioreactors remains a complex challenge, but new research shows that termite fungus farmers solved this problem more than 30 million years ago. The new insight reveals that the great success of termite farmers as plant decomposers is due to division of labor.

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Sandia magnetized fusion technique produces significant results

September 23, 2014 9:34 am | Comments

Inertial confinement fusion creates nanosecond bursts of neutrons, ideal for creating data to plug into supercomputer codes that test the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Down the road, it could be useful as a source of energy. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories’ Z machine have produced a significant output of fusion neutrons, using a method fully functioning for only little more than a year.

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A molecule in an optical whispering gallery

September 23, 2014 9:19 am | Comments

Using an optical microstructure and gold nanoparticles, scientists have amplified the interaction of light with DNA to the extent that they can now track interactions between individual DNA molecule segments. In doing so, they have approached the limits of what is physically possible. This optical biosensor for single unlabelled molecules could also be a breakthrough in the development of biochips:

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Battling superbugs

September 23, 2014 9:13 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT | Comments

Each year, new strains of bacteria emerge that resist even the most powerful antibiotics, but scientists have discovered very few new classes of antibiotics in the past decade. Engineers have now turned a powerful new weapon on these superbugs. Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.

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Bioengineers develop a toolkit for designing better synthetic molecules

September 23, 2014 9:10 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | Comments

Synthetic molecules hold great potential for revealing key processes that occur in cells, but the trial-and-error approach to their design has limited their effectiveness. Christina Smolke at Stanford Univ. has introduced a new computer model that could provide better blueprints for building synthetic genetic tools.

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Engineered proteins stick like glue, even in water

September 22, 2014 1:46 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT | Comments

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers has designed new materials that could be used to repair ships or help heal wounds and surgical incisions.

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