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The Lead

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

April 16, 2014 11:08 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station—that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms could help avoid such consequences in the future.

Fish from acidic ocean waters less able to smell predators

April 16, 2014 8:05 am | by Brett Israel, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Fish living on coral reefs where carbon dioxide seeps from the ocean floor were less able to...

Excitons observed in action

April 16, 2014 7:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A quasiparticle called an exciton has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton...

Potent, puzzling and (now less) toxic: Team discovers how antifungal drug works

April 15, 2014 5:18 pm | by Diana Yates, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

Scientists have solved a decades-old medical...

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Astronomers: ‘Tilt-a-worlds’ could harbor life

April 15, 2014 3:17 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A fluctuating tilt in a planet’s orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by a team of astronomers. In fact, sometimes it helps because such “tilt-a-worlds,” as astronomers sometimes call them, are less likely than fixed-spin planets to freeze over, as heat from their host star is more evenly distributed.

Moth study suggests hidden climate change impacts

April 15, 2014 11:23 am | by Jim Erickson, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

A 32-year study of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland suggests that scientists may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals and plants because much of the harm is hidden from view. The study analyzed populations of 80 moth species and found that 90% of them were either stable or increasing throughout the study period, from 1978 to 2009.

An Arctic ozone hole? Not quite

April 15, 2014 11:06 am | by Audrey Resutek, MIT | News | Comments

Since the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, scientists, policymakers and the public have wondered whether we might someday see a similarly extreme depletion of ozone over the Arctic. But a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study finds some cause for optimism: Ozone levels in the Arctic haven’t yet sunk to the extreme lows seen in Antarctica, because international efforts to limit ozone-depleting chemicals have been successful.

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Engineers develop new materials for hydrogen storage

April 15, 2014 9:43 am | News | Comments

Researchers in California have created, for the first time, compounds made from mixtures of calcium hexaboride, strontium and barium hexaboride. They also demonstrated that these ceramic materials could be manufactured using a simple, low-cost manufacturing method known as combustion synthesis.

A few “problem wells” source of greenhouse gas

April 15, 2014 7:48 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a study jointly led by Purdue and Cornell universities. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production.

Targeting cancer with a triple threat

April 15, 2014 7:38 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Delivering chemotherapy drugs in nanoparticle form could help reduce side effects by targeting the drugs directly to the tumors. In recent years, scientists have developed nanoparticles that deliver one or two chemotherapy drugs, but it has been difficult to design particles that can carry any more than that in a precise ratio. Now Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have devised a new way to build such nanoparticles.

A molecular approach to solar power

April 14, 2014 7:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine. Now a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Univ. has come up with an ingenious workaround: a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand.

Greenland ice cores show industrial record of acid rain

April 11, 2014 11:29 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

The rise and fall of acid rain is a global experiment whose results are preserved in the geologic record. By analyzing samples from the Greenland ice sheet, Univ. of Washington atmospheric scientists found clear evidence of the U.S. Clean Air Act. They also discovered a link between air acidity and how nitrogen is preserved in layers of snow.

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Mechanical forces affect T-cell recognition, signaling

April 11, 2014 8:04 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

T-cells use a complex process to recognize foreign pathogens and diseased cells. In a paper published in Cell, researchers add a new level of understanding to that process by describing how the T-cell receptors use mechanical contact—the forces involved in their binding to the antigens—to make decisions about whether or not the cells they encounter are threats.

Study to measure gravity’s effects on plant cells in space

April 11, 2014 7:53 am | by Natalie van Hoose, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

A Purdue Univ. experiment that will test how plant cells sense and respond to different levels of gravity is scheduled to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Monday (April 14). Understanding how gravity impacts plants is key for determining the conditions necessary to grow plants in space.

How the brain pays attention

April 11, 2014 7:43 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Picking out a face in the crowd is a complicated task: Your brain has to retrieve the memory of the face you’re seeking, then hold it in place while scanning the crowd, paying special attention to finding a match. A new study reveals how the brain achieves this type of focused attention on faces or other objects.

Sunlight generates hydrogen in new porous silicon

April 10, 2014 11:20 am | by A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

Porous silicon manufactured in a bottom up procedure using solar energy can be used to generate hydrogen from water, according to a team of Penn State Univ. mechanical engineers, who also see applications for batteries, biosensors and optical electronics as outlets for this new material.

Tiny particles may pose big risk

April 10, 2014 11:05 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Thousands of consumer products contain nanoparticles added by manufacturers to improve texture, kill microbes or enhance shelf life, among other purposes. However, several studies have shown that some of these engineered nanoparticles can be toxic to cells. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that certain nanoparticles can also harm DNA.

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Scientists discover way to make ethanol without corn, other plants

April 10, 2014 9:00 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. scientists have found a new, highly efficient way to produce liquid ethanol from carbon monoxide gas. This promising discovery could provide an eco-friendly alternative to conventional ethanol production from corn and other crops, say the scientists. Their results are published online in Nature.

Scientists firm up origin of cold-adapted yeasts that make cold beer

April 10, 2014 8:35 am | by Terry Devitt, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

As one of the most widely consumed and commercially important beverages on the planet, one would expect the experts to know everything there is to know about lager beer. But it was just a few years ago that scientists identified the South American yeast that somehow hitched a ride to Bavaria and combined with the domesticated Old World yeast used for millennia to make ale and bread to form the hybrid that makes lager or cold stored beer.

Emerging research suggests a new paradigm for “unconventional superconductors”

April 10, 2014 8:25 am | News | Comments

An international team of scientists has reported the first experimental observation of the quantum critical point (QCP) in the extensively studied “unconventional superconductor” TiSe2, finding that it does not reside as predicted within the superconducting dome of the phase diagram, but rather at a full GPa higher in pressure.

The motion of the medium matters for self-assembling particles

April 10, 2014 8:16 am | by Evan Lerner, Univ. of Pennsylvania | News | Comments

By attaching short sequences of single-stranded DNA to nanoscale building blocks, researchers can design structures that can effectively build themselves. The building blocks that are meant to connect have complementary DNA sequences on their surfaces, ensuring only the correct pieces bind together as they jostle into one another while suspended in a test tube.

New “switch” could power quantum computing

April 10, 2014 7:54 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Using a laser to place individual rubidium atoms near the surface of a lattice of light, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Univ. have developed a new method for connecting particles—one that could help in the development of powerful quantum computing systems.

Expanding particles to engineer defects

April 8, 2014 10:41 am | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Materials scientists have long known that introducing defects into 3-D materials can improve their mechanical and electronic properties. Now a new Northwestern Univ. study finds how defects affect 2-D crystalline structures, and the results hold information for designing new materials.

Engineers design video game controller that can sense players’ emotions

April 8, 2014 8:25 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service | Videos | Comments

Sometimes, a dozen ravenous zombies just aren't exciting enough to hold a video gamer's interest. The next step in interactive gaming, however, could come in the form of a handheld game controller that gauges the player's brain activity and throws more zombies on the screen when it senses the player is bored.

Personal touch signature makes mobile devices more secure

April 8, 2014 8:05 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Passwords, gestures and fingerprint scans are all helpful ways to keep a thief from unlocking and using a cell phone or tablet. Cybersecurity researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have gone a step further. They’ve developed a new security system that continuously monitors how a user taps and swipes a mobile device.

How coughs and sneezes float farther than you think

April 8, 2014 7:42 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The next time you feel a sneeze coming on, raise your elbow to cover up that multiphase turbulent buoyant cloud you’re about to expel. That’s right: A novel study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers shows that coughs and sneezes have associated gas clouds that keep their potentially infectious droplets aloft over much greater distances than previously realized.

Landscape “transition zones” may influence where tornadoes strike

April 7, 2014 5:53 pm | News | Comments

An examination of more than 60 years of Indiana tornado climatology data from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center has shown that a majority of tornado touchdowns occurred near areas where dramatically different landscapes meet, such as where a city fades into farmland or a forest meets a plain. According to researchers, forecasters may need to pay closer attention to these "transition zones" to understand tornado risks.

Gravity measurements confirm subsurface ocean on Enceladus

April 7, 2014 9:18 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In 2005, NASA's Cassini spacecraft sent pictures back to Earth depicting an icy Saturnian moon spewing water vapor and ice from fractures, known as "tiger stripes," in its frozen surface. It was big news that tiny Enceladus was such an active place. Since then, scientists have hypothesized that a large reservoir of water lies beneath that icy surface, possibly fueling the plumes.

Optical device could enhance optical information processing, computers

April 7, 2014 7:45 am | by Jo Seltzer, Washington Univ., St. Louis | News | Comments

At St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a section of the dome called the Whispering Gallery makes a whisper audible from the other side of the dome as a result of the way sound waves travel around the curved surface. Researchers at Washington Univ. in St. Louis have used the same phenomenon to build an optical device that may lead to new and more powerful computers that run faster and cooler.

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