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The Lead

Tasting light

January 30, 2015 4:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Human taste receptors are specialized to distinguish several distinct compounds: sugars taste sweet, salts taste salty, and acidic compounds taste sour. Now a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that the worm Caenorhabditis elegans has taken its powers of detection a step further: The worm can taste hydrogen peroxide, triggering it to stop eating the potentially dangerous substance.

Method allows for greater variation in band gap tenability

January 30, 2015 4:10 pm | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

If you can’t find the ideal material, then design a new one. Northwestern Univ.’s James...

Why do zebras have stripes?

January 30, 2015 8:53 am | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | Videos | Comments

One of nature’s fascinating questions is how zebras got their stripes. A team of life scientists...

Building trustworthy big data algorithms

January 30, 2015 8:41 am | by Emily Ayshford, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Much of our reams of data sit in large databases of unstructured text. Finding...

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Parallelizing common algorithms

January 30, 2015 8:28 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Every undergraduate computer science major takes a course on data structures, which describes different ways of organizing data in a computer’s memory. Every data structure has its own advantages: Some are good for fast retrieval, some for efficient search, some for quick insertions and deletions and so on. Today, hardware manufacturers are making computer chips faster by giving them more cores, or processing units.

Genetically engineered antibodies show enhanced HIV-fighting abilities

January 29, 2015 4:06 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Capitalizing on a new insight into HIV's strategy for evading antibodies, Caltech researchers have developed antibody-based molecules that are more than 100 times better than our bodies' own defenses at binding to and neutralizing HIV, when tested in vitro. The work suggests a novel approach that could be used to engineer more effective HIV-fighting drugs.

Qubits with staying power

January 29, 2015 3:41 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Quantum computers are experimental devices that promise exponential speedups on some computational problems. Where a bit in a classical computer can represent either a 0 or a 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, can represent 0 and 1 simultaneously, letting quantum computers explore multiple problem solutions in parallel. But such “superpositions” of quantum states are, in practice, difficult to maintain.

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Extreme oxygen loss in oceans accompanied past global climate change

January 29, 2015 11:58 am | by Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News Service | News | Comments

Seafloor sediment cores reveal abrupt, extensive loss of oxygen in the ocean when ice sheets melted roughly 10,000 to 17,000 years ago, according to a study. The findings provide insight into similar changes observed in the ocean today. In the study, researchers analyzed marine sediment cores from different world regions to document the extent to which low oxygen zones in the ocean have expanded in the past, due to climate change.

Quantum computer as detector shows space isn’t squeezed

January 29, 2015 10:42 am | by Robert Sanders, Univ. of California, Berkeley Media Relations | News | Comments

Ever since Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, physics and cosmology have been based on the assumption that space looks the same in all directions: that it’s not squeezed in one direction relative to another. A new experiment by Univ. of California, Berkeley physicists used partially entangled atoms to demonstrate more precisely than ever before that this is true, to one part in a billion billion.

Why upper motor neurons degenerate in ALS

January 29, 2015 8:44 am | by Marla Paul, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

For the first time, scientists have revealed a mechanism underlying the cellular degeneration of upper motor neurons, a small group of neurons in the brain recently shown to play a major role in ALS pathology. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a fatal neuromuscular disorder marked by the degeneration of motor neurons, which causes muscle weakness and impaired speaking, swallowing and breathing that leads to paralysis and death.

Spiky “hedgehog particles” for safer paints, fewer VOC emissions

January 29, 2015 8:28 am | by Gabe Cherry, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations. Made by a team of Univ. of Michigan engineers, the "hedgehog particles" are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope.

Researchers design tailored tissue adhesives

January 29, 2015 8:17 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

After undergoing surgery to remove diseased sections of the colon, up to 30% of patients experience leakage from their sutures, which can cause life-threatening complications. Many efforts are under way to create new tissue glues that can help seal surgical incisions and prevent such complications; now, a new study reveals that the effectiveness of such glues hinges on the state of the tissue in which they are being used.

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Using ocean waves to monitor offshore oil and gas fields

January 29, 2015 7:54 am | by Ker Than, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

A technology developed by Stanford Univ. scientists for passively probing the seafloor using weak seismic waves generated by the ocean could revolutionize offshore oil and natural gas extraction by providing real-time monitoring of the subsurface while lessening the impact on marine life.

Some potentially habitable planets began as gaseous, Neptune-like worlds

January 29, 2015 7:45 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Two phenomena known to inhibit the potential habitability of planets might instead help chances for life on certain planets orbiting low-mass stars, Univ. of Washington astronomers have found. The astronomers say tidal forces and vigorous stellar activity could combine to transform uninhabitable “mini-Neptunes” into closer-in, gas-free, potentially habitable worlds.

New mechanism unlocked for evolution of green fluorescent protein

January 28, 2015 10:51 am | by Jenny Green, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

A primary challenge in the biosciences is to understand the way major evolutionary changes in nature are accomplished. Sometimes the route turns out to be very simple. A group of scientists showed, for the first time, that a hinge migration mechanism, driven solely by long-range dynamic motions, can be the key for evolution of a green-to-red photoconvertible phenotype in a green fluorescent protein.

Ribose-seq identifies, locates ribonucleotides in genomic DNA

January 28, 2015 10:10 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Ribonucleotides, units of RNA, can become embedded in genomic DNA during processes such as DNA replication and repair, affecting the stability of the genome by contributing to DNA fragility and mutability. Scientists have known about the presence of ribonucleotides in DNA, but until now had not been able to determine exactly what they are and where they are located in the DNA sequences.

“Bulletproof” battery

January 28, 2015 9:55 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

New battery technology from the Univ. of Michigan should be able to prevent the kind of fires that grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners in 2013. The innovation is an advanced barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery. Made with nanofibers extracted from Kevlar, the tough material in bulletproof vests, the barrier stifles the growth of metal tendrils that can become unwanted pathways for electrical current.

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Drug combo suppresses growth of late-stage prostate cancer tumors

January 28, 2015 8:31 am | by Natalie van Hoose, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Low doses of metformin, a widely used diabetes medication and a gene inhibitor known as BI2536 can successfully halt the growth of late-stage prostate cancer tumors, a Purdue Univ. study finds. Prostate cancer causes the second-highest number of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S., and methods of treating advanced prostate cancer are limited.

Climate models disagree on why temperature “wiggles” occur

January 26, 2015 11:06 am | by Duke Univ. | News | Comments

A new study finds that most climate models likely underestimate the degree of decade-to-decade variability occurring in mean surface temperatures as Earth's atmosphere warms. The models also provide inconsistent explanations of why this variability occurs in the first place. These discrepancies may undermine the models' reliability for projecting the short-term pace as well as the extent of future warming, the study's authors warn.

Engineering discovery brings invisibility closer to reality

January 26, 2015 8:01 am | by Pete Brown, UA College of Engineering | News | Comments

Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature. Now, a discovery has been made with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses.

Infrared imaging technique operates at high temperatures

January 23, 2015 4:19 pm | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

From aerial surveillance to cancer detection, mid-wavelength infrared (MWIR) radiation has a wide range of applications. And as the uses for high-sensitivity, high-resolution imaging continue to expand, MWIR sources are becoming more attractive. Currently, commercial technologies for MWIR detection can only operate at cryogenic temperatures in order to reduce thermal and electrical noise.

Calculating the future of solar-fuel refineries

January 23, 2015 2:01 pm | by Scott Gordon, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

A team of Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has developed a new tool to help plot the future of solar fuels. In a paper recently published in Energy & Environmental Science, a team outlined a tool to help engineers better gauge the overall yield, efficiency and costs associated with scaling solar-fuel production processes up into large-scale refineries.

Silver nanowires demonstrate unexpected self-healing mechanism

January 23, 2015 1:56 pm | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

With its high electrical conductivity and optical transparency, indium tin oxide is one of the most widely used materials for touchscreens, plasma displays and flexible electronics. But its rapidly escalating price has forced the electronics industry to search for other alternatives. One potential and more cost-effective alternative is a film made with silver nanowires embedded in flexible polymers.

Nanotechnology changes behavior of materials

January 23, 2015 9:52 am | by Julie Hail Flory, Washington Univ., St. Louis | News | Comments

One of the reasons solar cells are not used more widely is cost: The materials used to make them most efficient are expensive. Engineers are exploring ways to print solar cells from inks, but the devices don’t work as well. A team of engineers has developed a technique to increase the performance and electrical conductivity of thin films that make up these materials using nanotechnology.

Trust your gut

January 23, 2015 9:01 am | by Laura Bailey, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

E. coli usually brings to mind food poisoning and beach closures, but researchers recently discovered a protein in E. coli that inhibits the accumulation of potentially toxic amyloids, a hallmark of diseases such as Parkinson's. Amyloids are formed by proteins that misfold and group together, and when amyloids assemble at the wrong place or time, they can damage brain tissue and cause cell death.

Rare neurological disease shines light on health of essential nerve cells

January 23, 2015 8:35 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Ian Duncan is a Scotsman with the iron discipline and stamina of a competitive marathoner, triathlete and cross-country skier. As a neuroscientist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, he’s applied his tenacity to a rare genetic disorder. Known as Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease or PMD, it’s a devastating neurological condition that, in its most severe form, kills infants weeks after birth.

Pictured together for the first time: A chemokine and its receptor

January 23, 2015 8:12 am | by Heather Buschman, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Researchers report the first crystal structure of the cellular receptor CXCR4 bound to an immune signaling protein called a chemokine. The structure, published in Science, answers longstanding questions about a molecular interaction that plays an important role in human development, immune responses, cancer metastasis and HIV infections.

Scientists set quantum speed limit

January 23, 2015 8:01 am | by Robert Sanders, Univ. of California, Berkeley Media Relations | News | Comments

Scientists have proved a fundamental relationship between energy and time that sets a “quantum speed limit” on processes ranging from quantum computing and tunneling to optical switching. The energy-time uncertainty relationship is the flip side of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which sets limits on how precisely you can measure position and speed, and has been the bedrock of quantum mechanics for nearly 100 years.

Perovskites provide big boost in silicon solar cells

January 22, 2015 1:04 pm | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stacking perovskites, a crystalline material, onto a conventional silicon solar cell dramatically improves the overall efficiency of the cell, according to a new study led by Stanford Univ. scientists. The researchers describe their novel perovskite-silicon solar cell in Energy & Environmental Science.

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