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The Lead

A mollusk of a different stripe

February 26, 2015 10:59 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

The blue-rayed limpet is a tiny mollusk that lives in kelp beds along the coasts of Norway, Iceland, the U.K., Portugal and the Canary Islands. These diminutive organisms might escape notice entirely, if not for a very conspicuous feature: bright blue dotted lines that run in parallel along the length of their translucent shells. Depending on the angle at which light hits, a limpet’s shell can flash brilliantly even in murky water.

Carbon dioxide’s increasing greenhouse effect at Earth’s surface

February 26, 2015 8:12 am | by Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | Videos | Comments

Scientists have observed an increase in carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect at the Earth’s...

A simple way to make and reconfigure complex emulsions

February 26, 2015 8:00 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have devised a new way to make complex liquid...

Physicists offer solution to puzzle of the origin of matter in the universe

February 25, 2015 10:11 am | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | News | Comments

Most of the laws of nature treat particles and antiparticles equally, but stars and planets are...

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New “knobs” can dial in control of materials

February 25, 2015 9:52 am | by Anne Ju, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Designing or exploring new materials is all about controlling their properties. In a new study, Cornell Univ. scientists offer insight on how different “knobs” can change material properties in ways that were previously unexplored or misunderstood.

Geysers have loops in their plumbing

February 25, 2015 8:25 am | by Robert Sanders, Media Relations, UC Berkeley | Videos | Comments

Geysers like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park erupt periodically because of loops or side-chambers in their underground plumbing, according to recent studies by volcanologists at the Univ. of California, Berkeley. The key to geysers is an underground bend or loop that traps steam and then bubbles it out slowly to heat the water column above until it is just short of boiling.

How eyelash length keeps eyes healthy

February 25, 2015 7:53 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

It started with a trip to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History in New York to inspect preserved animal hides. Later, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers built a wind tunnel about 2 ft tall, complete with a makeshift eye. By putting both steps together, the team discovered that 22 species of mammals are the same: their eyelash length is one-third the width of their eye.

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Sea level spiked for two years along northeastern North America

February 24, 2015 11:32 am | by Mari N. Jensen, Univ. of Arizona | News | Comments

Sea levels from New York to Newfoundland jumped up about four inches in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, a Univ. of Arizona-led team reports in Nature Communications. The team was the first to document that the extreme increase in sea level lasted two years, not just a few months.

Ultra-thin nanowires can trap electron “twisters”

February 24, 2015 11:11 am | by Phil Sneiderman, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

Superconductor materials are prized for their ability to carry an electric current without resistance, but this valuable trait can be crippled or lost when electrons swirl into tiny tornado-like formations called vortices. These disruptive mini-twisters often form in the presence of magnetic fields, such as those produced by electric motors.

Long-term nitrogen fertilizer use disrupts plant-microbe mutualisms

February 24, 2015 7:56 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

When exposed to nitrogen fertilizer over a period of years, nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia evolve to become less beneficial to legumes, researchers report in a new study. These findings, reported in Evolution, may be of little interest to farmers, who generally grow only one type of plant and can always add more fertilizer to boost plant growth.

Quick test for Ebola

February 24, 2015 7:36 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

When diagnosing a case of Ebola, time is of the essence. However, existing diagnostic tests take at least a day or two to yield results, preventing health care workers from quickly determining whether a patient needs immediate treatment and isolation. A new test could change that: The device, a simple paper strip similar to a pregnancy test, can rapidly diagnose Ebola, as well as other viral hemorrhagic fevers.

How brain waves guide memory formation

February 23, 2015 12:11 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Our brains generate a constant hum of activity: As neurons fire, they produce brain waves that oscillate at different frequencies. Long thought to be merely a byproduct of neuron activity, recent studies suggest that these waves may play a critical role in communication between different parts of the brain. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists adds to that evidence.

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La Nina-like conditions associated with 2,500-year-long shutdown of coral reef growth

February 23, 2015 11:18 am | by Brett Israel, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

A new study has found that La Niña-like conditions in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Panamá were closely associated with an abrupt shutdown in coral reef growth that lasted 2,500 years. The study suggests that future changes in climate similar to those in the study could cause coral reefs to collapse in the future.

Researchers identify keys to improved polymer solar cells

February 23, 2015 8:38 am | by Bill Kisliuk, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | News | Comments

Paving the way for lighter and more flexible solar devices, Univ. of California, Los Angeles researchers have identified the key principles for developing high-efficiency polymer solar cells. Today’s commercially produced solar panels use silicon cells to efficiently convert sunlight to energy. But silicon panels are too heavy to be used for energy-producing coatings for buildings and cars, or flexible and portable power supplies.

Scientists discover protein’s role in several types of cancers

February 23, 2015 8:20 am | by Amy Adams, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

A protein found in pancreatic tumors may lead to a new chemotherapy that is effective against many different kinds of cancers, but turning the discovery into a new drug has required a bit of chemistry know-how.

Radio chip for the Internet of things

February 23, 2015 7:46 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the big theme was the “Internet of things”: the idea that everything in the human environment could be equipped with sensors and processors that can exchange data, helping with maintenance and the coordination of tasks. Realizing that vision, however, requires transmitters that are powerful enough to broadcast to devices dozens of yards away but energy-efficient enough to last for months.

Spacecraft catch a solar shockwave in the act

February 20, 2015 1:19 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

On Oct. 8, 2013, an explosion on the sun’s surface sent a supersonic blast wave of solar wind out into space. This shockwave tore past Mercury and Venus, blitzing by the moon before streaming toward Earth. The shockwave struck a massive blow to the Earth’s magnetic field, setting off a magnetized sound pulse around the planet.

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Evolving a bigger brain with human DNA

February 20, 2015 10:54 am | by Karl Bates, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

The size of the human brain expanded dramatically during the course of evolution, imparting us with unique capabilities to use abstract language and do complex math. But how did the human brain get larger than that of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, if almost all of our genes are the same?

Fibers made by transforming materials

February 20, 2015 8:26 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists have known how to draw thin fibers from bulk materials for decades. But a new approach to that old method, developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could lead to a whole new way of making high-quality fiber-based electronic devices. The idea grew out of a long-term research effort to develop multifunctional fibers that incorporate different materials into a single long functional strand.

New technique developed for making graphene competitor, molybdenum disulphide

February 20, 2015 7:59 am | by Evan Lerner, Univ. of Pennsylvania | News | Comments

Graphene is often touted as a replacement for silicon in electronic devices due to its extremely high conductivity and unbeatable thinness. But graphene isn’t the only 2-D material that could play such a role. Univ. of Pennsylvania researchers have made an advance in manufacturing one such material, molybdenum disulphide.

Epigenomics of Alzheimer’s disease progression

February 18, 2015 9:50 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Our susceptibility to disease depends both on the genes that we inherit from our parents and on our lifetime experiences. These two components—nature and nurture—seem to affect very different processes in the context of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in Nature.

New insights into 3-D genome organization, genetic variability

February 18, 2015 8:03 am | by Heather Buschman, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

While genomics is the study of all of the genes in a cell or organism, epigenomics is the study of all the genomic add-ons and changes that influence gene expression but aren’t encoded in the DNA sequence. A variety of new epigenomic information is now available in a collection of studies published in Nature by the National Institutes of Health Roadmap Epigenomics Program.

Novel crumpling method takes flat graphene from 2-D to 3-D

February 18, 2015 7:54 am | by Rick Kubetz, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a unique single-step process to achieve 3-D texturing of graphene and graphite. Using a commercially available thermally activated shape-memory polymer substrate, this 3-D texturing, or "crumpling," allows for increased surface area and opens the doors to expanded capabilities for electronics and biomaterials.

Study details impact of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on beach microbial communities

February 18, 2015 7:46 am | by John Toon, Georgia Tech | News | Comments

When oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill first began washing ashore on Pensacola Municipal Beach in June 2010, populations of sensitive microorganisms, including those that capture sunlight or fix nitrogen from the air, began to decline. At the same time, organisms able to digest light components of the oil began to multiply, starting the process of converting the pollutant to carbon dioxide and biomass.

Smarter multicore chips

February 18, 2015 7:33 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Computer chips’ clocks have stopped getting faster. To keep delivering performance improvements, chipmakers are instead giving chips more processing units, or cores, which can execute computations in parallel. But the ways in which a chip carves up computations can make a big difference to performance.

Building a more versatile frequency comb

February 17, 2015 7:25 pm | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Frequency combs are the rulers of light. By counting a wavelength's many oscillations, they measure distance and time with extraordinary precision and speed. Since the discovery of optical frequency combs in the 1990s, many applications in metrology, spectroscopy and frequency synthesis have emerged.

Fiber-optic monitoring tools could help industry unlock geothermal energy

February 17, 2015 12:43 pm | by Scott Gordon, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison geoscientists and engineers are working with industry partners and the U.S. Dept. of Energy to develop a highly detailed monitoring system for geothermal wells. Man-made geothermal systems that emulate natural ones could, by some conservative estimates, produce a total of 100 gigawatts of cost-competitive electricity over the next 50 years.

Ancient rocks show life on Earth 3.2 billion years ago

February 17, 2015 9:13 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A spark from a lightning bolt, interstellar dust or a subsea volcano could have triggered the very first life on Earth. But what happened next? Life can exist without oxygen; but without plentiful nitrogen to build genes, life on the early Earth would have been scarce. The ability to use atmospheric nitrogen to support more widespread life was thought to have appeared roughly 2 billion years ago.

How iron feels the heat

February 13, 2015 1:34 pm | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

As you heat up a piece of iron, the arrangement of the iron atoms changes several times before melting. This unusual behavior is one reason why steel, in which iron plays a starring role, is so sturdy and ubiquitous in everything from teapots to skyscrapers. But the details of just how and why iron takes on so many different forms have remained a mystery.

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