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The Lead

Magnifying vibrations in bridges, buildings

April 23, 2015 9:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

To the naked eye, buildings and bridges appear fixed in place, unmoved by forces like wind and rain. But in fact, these large structures do experience imperceptibly small vibrations that, depending on their frequency, may indicate instability or structural damage. Researchers have now developed a technique to “see” vibrations that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, combining high-speed video with computer vision techniques.

Tau Ceti: The next Earth? Probably not

April 23, 2015 8:37 am | by Nikki Cassis, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

As the search continues for Earth-size planets orbiting at just the right distance from their...

Boiling down viscous flow

April 23, 2015 7:41 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Drizzling honey on toast can produce mesmerizing, meandering patterns, as the syrupy fluid...

“Holey” graphene for energy storage

April 22, 2015 8:32 am | by Liezel Labios, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Engineers at the Univ. of California, San Diego have discovered a method to increase the amount...

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Combing through terahertz waves

April 22, 2015 8:02 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Light can come in many frequencies, only a small fraction of which can be seen by humans. Between the invisible low-frequency radio waves used by cell phones and the high frequencies associated with infrared light lies a fairly wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum occupied by what are called terahertz, or sometimes submillimeter, waves.

3-D structure solved for vulnerable region of glaucoma-causing protein

April 22, 2015 7:53 am | by Brett Israel, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Scientists have determined the 3-D structure of a key part of a protein that is associated with glaucoma and identified regions of this domain that correlate with severe forms of the disease. The new crystal structure is of the olfactomedin (OLF) domain in myocilin, a protein implicated in glaucoma. Many proteins have OLF domains, but mutations in the OLF domain of myocilin are linked to early-onset glaucoma.

Engineered softwood could transform pulp, paper and biofuel industries

April 22, 2015 7:44 am | by Krista Eastman, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Scientists have demonstrated the potential for softwoods to process more easily into pulp and paper if engineered to incorporate a key feature of hardwoods. The finding could improve the economics of the pulp, paper and biofuels industries and reduce those industries' environmental impact.

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Invisible inks could help foil counterfeiters of all kinds

April 22, 2015 7:33 am | by Megan Fellman, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Real or counterfeit? Northwestern Univ. scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

Global warming more moderate than worst-case models

April 21, 2015 11:15 am | by Tim Lucas, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

A new study based on 1,000 years of temperature records suggests global warming is not progressing as fast as it would under the most severe emissions scenarios outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Duke-led study shows that natural variability in surface temperatures can account for observed changes in the recent rates of warming from decade to decade.

Chemists create modular system for placing proteins on membranes

April 21, 2015 8:12 am | by Susan Brown, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

With a tag, an anchor and a cage that can be unlocked with light, chemists have devised a simple, modular system that can locate proteins at the membrane of a cell. The chemists fused proteins to molecules called SNAP-tags, modified enzymes that recognize a particular chemical group called a benzylguanine.

Better battery imaging paves way for renewable energy future

April 21, 2015 8:04 am | by Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

In a move that could improve the energy storage of everything from portable electronics to electric microgrids, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison and Brookhaven National Laboratory researchers have developed a novel x-ray imaging technique to visualize and study the electrochemical reactions in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries containing a new type of material, iron fluoride.

Electronic device performance enhanced with new transistor encasing method

April 21, 2015 7:50 am | by Austin Keating, News Bureau Intern, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

A more effective method for closing gaps in atomically small wires has been developed by Univ. of Illinois researchers, further opening the doors to a new transistor technology. Silicon-based transistors have been the foundation of modern electronics for more than half a century. A new transistor technology, carbon nanotube wires, shows promise in replacing silicon because it can operate ten times as fast and is more flexible.

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New tabletop detector “sees” single electrons

April 21, 2015 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists have developed a new tabletop particle detector that is able to identify single electrons in a radioactive gas. As the gas decays and gives off electrons, the detector uses a magnet to trap them in a magnetic bottle. A radio antenna then picks up very weak signals emitted by the electrons, which can be used to map the electrons’ precise activity over several milliseconds.

Astronomers probe inner region of young star and its planets

April 20, 2015 7:36 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Astronomers have probed deeper than before into a planetary system 130 light-years from Earth. The observations mark the first results of a new exoplanet survey called LEECH (LBT Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt). The planetary system of HR8799, a young star only 30 million years old, was the first to be directly imaged, with three planets found in in 2008 and a fourth one in 2010.

New lab technique reveals structure, function of proteins critical in DNA repair

April 17, 2015 12:32 pm | by Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

By combining two highly innovative experimental techniques, scientists at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have for the first time simultaneously observed the structure and the correlated function of specific proteins critical in the repair of DNA, providing definitive answers to some highly debated questions, and opening up new avenues of inquiry and exciting new possibilities for biological engineering.

3D-printed blossoms a growing tool for ecology

April 17, 2015 10:36 am | by Michelle Ma, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

3D printing has been used to make everything from cars to medical implants. Now, Univ. of Washington ecologists are using the technology to make artificial flowers, which they say could revolutionize our understanding of plant-pollinator interactions.

DNA “spool” modification affects aging, longevity

April 17, 2015 10:01 am | by Krishan Ramujan, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Research on a modified protein around which DNA is wrapped sheds light on how gene regulation is linked to aging and longevity in nematodes, fruit flies and possibly humans. The research has implications for how gene expression is regulated, and could offer a new drug target for age-related diseases.

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Thumbnail track pad

April 17, 2015 7:36 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers are developing a new wearable device that turns the user’s thumbnail into a miniature wireless track pad. They envision that the technology could let users control wireless devices when their hands are full: answering the phone while cooking, for instance. It could also augment other interfaces, allowing someone texting on a cellphone, say, to toggle between symbol sets without interrupting his or her typing.

Patents forecast technological change

April 16, 2015 12:20 pm | by MIT News Office | News | Comments

How fast is online learning evolving? Are wind turbines a promising investment? And how long before a cheap hoverboard makes it to market? Attempting to answer such questions requires knowing something about the rate at which a technology is improving. Now engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a formula for estimating how fast a technology is advancing, based on information gleaned from relevant patents.

Inhibitor for abnormal protein points way to more selective cancer drugs

April 16, 2015 8:20 am | by Dave Zobel, Caltech | News | Comments

Nowhere is the adage "form follows function" more true than in the folded chain of amino acids that makes up a single protein macromolecule. But proteins are very sensitive to errors in their genetic blueprints. One single-letter DNA "misspelling" (called a point mutation) can alter a protein's structure or electric charge distribution enough to render it ineffective or even deleterious.

BPA exposure in pregnant mice affects fertility in three generations

April 16, 2015 8:03 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

When scientists exposed pregnant mice to levels of bisphenol A (BPA) equivalent to those considered safe in humans, three generations of female mouse offspring experienced significant reproductive problems, including declines in fertility, sexual maturity and pregnancy success, the scientists report in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.

Shape-shifting molecule tricks viruses into mutating themselves to death

April 15, 2015 9:36 am | by Steve Koppes, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

A newly developed spectroscopy method is helping to clarify the poorly understood molecular process by which an anti-HIV drug induces lethal mutations in the virus’ genetic material. The findings from the Univ. of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could bolster efforts to develop the next generation of anti-viral treatments.

Nano-coated mesh could clean oil spills

April 15, 2015 9:24 am | by Pam Frost Gorder, Ohio State Univ. | News | Comments

The mesh coating is among a suite of nature-inspired nanotechnologies under development at Ohio State and described in two papers in Nature Scientific Reports. Potential applications range from cleaning oil spills to tracking oil deposits underground.

Study shows novel pattern of electrical charge movement through DNA

April 15, 2015 8:03 am | by Richard Harth, Biodesign Institute | News | Comments

Electrical charges not only move through wires, they also travel along lengths of DNA, the molecule of life. The property is known as charge transport. In a new study appearing in Nature Chemistry, researchers explore the ways in which electrical charges move along DNA bases affixed to a pair of electrodes.

Mars liquid water: Curiosity confirms favorable conditions

April 14, 2015 11:37 am | by Fernanda Pires, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

NASA's Curiosity rover, which is exploring the Gale crater on Mars, confirms that conditions for liquid water on the Red Planet are favorable. And in a detail that surprised researchers, the measurements were made in the tropical region of the planet: one of the driest regions.

Recruiting the entire immune system to attack cancer

April 14, 2015 11:30 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The human immune system is poised to spring into action at the first sign of a foreign invader, but it often fails to eliminate tumors that arise from the body’s own cells. Cancer biologists hope to harness that untapped power using an approach known as cancer immunotherapy. Orchestrating a successful immune attack against tumors has proven difficult so far, until now.

Why skin is resistant to tearing

April 14, 2015 8:21 am | by Ioana Patringenaru, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Skin is remarkably resistant to tearing and a team of researchers from the Univ. of California, San Diego and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory now have shown why. Using powerful x-ray beams and electron microscopy, researchers made the first direct observations of the micro-scale mechanisms that allow skin to resist tearing.

Researchers find protein that may signal more aggressive prostate cancers

April 14, 2015 8:13 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Univ. of Michigan researchers have discovered a biomarker that may be a potentially important breakthrough in diagnosing and treating prostate cancer. Biomarkers in the body are analogous to the warning lights in cars that signal something might need repairing. In our bodies, they indicate if something's wrong or if we're about to get sick or if we're predisposed to certain illnesses.

Taking aircraft manufacturing out of the oven

April 14, 2015 8:03 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Composite materials used in aircraft wings and fuselages are typically manufactured in large, industrial-sized ovens: Multiple polymer layers are blasted with temperatures up to 750 F, and solidified to form a solid, resilient material. Using this approach, considerable energy is required first to heat the oven, then the gas around it, and finally the actual composite.

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