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The Lead

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 surface for the first time. The researchers, led by scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, measured atmospheric carbon dioxide’s increasing capacity to absorb thermal radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface over an eleven-year period at two locations in North America.

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...

Complex environments push “brain” evolution

February 2, 2015 7:31 am | by Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Little animations trying to master a computer game are teaching neuroscience researchers how the...

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...

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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.

Humanity has exceeded four of nine “planetary boundaries”

January 16, 2015 7:53 am | by Adam Hinterthuer, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | Videos | Comments

An international team of researchers says climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biogeochemical cycles like phosphorus and nitrogen runoff have all passed beyond levels that put humanity in a “safe operating space.” Civilization has crossed four of nine so-called planetary boundaries as the result of human activity, according to a report published in Science by the 18-member research team.

Chemical dial controls attraction between water-repelling molecules

January 14, 2015 4:12 pm | by Chris Barncard, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Fear of water may seem like an irrational hindrance to humans, but on a molecular level, it lends order to the world. Some substances, in particular greasy, oily ones, are hydrophobic. They have no attraction to water, and essentially appear repelled by the stuff. Combine hydrophobic pieces in a molecule with parts that are instead attracted to water, and sides are taken. Structure appears, as in the membranes that encircle living cells.

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Carbon nanotube finding could lead to flexible electronics with longer battery life

January 14, 2015 4:04 pm | by Adam Malecek, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers have made a significant leap toward creating higher-performance electronics with improved battery life and the ability to flex and stretch. The team has reported the highest-performing carbon nanotube transistors ever demonstrated. In addition to paving the way for improved consumer electronics, this technology could also have specific uses in industrial and military applications.

Computer equal to or better than humans at cataloging science

December 1, 2014 2:46 pm | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess wizard Garry Kasparov. This year, a computer system developed at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison equaled or bested scientists at the complex task of extracting data from scientific publications and placing it in a database that catalogs the results of tens of thousands of individual studies.

Fool’s gold as a solar material?

November 19, 2014 7:47 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

As the installation of photovoltaic solar cells continues to accelerate, scientists are looking for inexpensive materials beyond the traditional silicon that can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Theoretically, iron pyrite could do the job, but when it works at all, the conversion efficiency remains frustratingly low. Now, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison research team explains why that is.

Process transforms wood, crop waste into valuable chemicals

November 3, 2014 10:13 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Scientists disclosed a new method to convert lignin, a biomass waste product, into simple chemicals. The innovation is an important step toward replacing petroleum-based fuels and chemicals with biorenewable materials. Lignin is the substance that makes trees and cornstalks sturdy, and it accounts for nearly 30% of the organic carbon in the biosphere.

They know the drill: UW leads the league in boring through ice sheets

October 31, 2014 10:10 am | by David Tenenbaum, Univ. of Wisconsin | News | Comments

Wisconsin is famous for its ice fishers. Less well known are the state’s big-league ice drillers. Hollow coring drills designed and managed by the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison have been instrumental to new research published this week documenting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 23,000 and 9,000 years ago, based on data from an 11,000-foot hole in Antarctica.

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See-through sensors open new window into the brain

October 22, 2014 11:22 am | by Renee Meiller, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Developing invisible implantable medical sensor arrays, a team of Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has overcome a major technological hurdle in researchers’ efforts to understand the brain. The team described its technology, which has applications in fields ranging from neuroscience to cardiac care and even contact lenses, in Nature Communications.

Researchers study vital on/off switches of deadly bacteria

September 19, 2014 7:50 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

No matter how many times it’s demonstrated, it’s still hard to envision bacteria as social, communicating creatures. But by using a signaling system called “quorum sensing,” these single-celled organisms radically alter their behavior to suit their population. In short, some bacteria “know” how many of them are present, and act accordingly.

No one-size-fits-all approach in a changing climate, land

August 19, 2014 7:31 am | by Kelly April Tyrrell, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

As climate change alters habitats for birds and bees and everything in between, so too does the way humans decide to use land. Researchers have, for the first time, found a way to determine the potential combined impacts of both climate and land-use change on plants, animals and ecosystems across the country.

Water’s reaction with metal oxides opens doors for researchers

August 11, 2014 8:00 am | by Scott Gordon, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

A multi-institutional team has resolved a long-unanswered question about how two of the world’s most common substances interact. In a paper published recently in Nature Communications, an international team reported fundamental discoveries about how water reacts with metal oxides. The paper opens doors for greater understanding and control of chemical reactions in fields ranging from catalysis to geochemistry and atmospheric chemistry.

Researchers boost insect aggression by altering brain metabolism

August 6, 2014 7:37 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Videos | Comments

Scientists report they can crank up insect aggression simply by interfering with a basic metabolic pathway in the insect brain. Their study, of fruit flies and honey bees, shows a direct, causal link between brain metabolism and aggression. The new research follows up on previous work from the laboratory of Univ. of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who also led the new analysis.

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Disposable timer could be a nurse’s best friend

May 5, 2014 10:33 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

In medicine, time isn't just money: it can mean the difference between life and death. Clot-busters must be given in the first hour of arrival in a hectic emergency room. Intravenous medications can spoil, and catheters that overstay their welcome invite infection.

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.

Dramatic new portrait helps define Milky Way’s shape, contents

March 21, 2014 8:22 am | by Terry Devitt, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Using more than two million images collected by NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of Wisconsin scientists has stitched together a dramatic 360-degree portrait of the Milky Way, providing new details of our galaxy’s structure and contents.

In the laboratory, scientists coax E. coli to resist radiation damage

March 17, 2014 7:45 am | News | Comments

Capitalizing on the ability of an organism to evolve in response to punishment from a hostile environment, scientists have coaxed the model bacterium Escherichia coli to dramatically resist ionizing radiation and, in the process, reveal the genetic mechanisms that make the feat possible. The study provides evidence that just a handful of genetic mutations give E. coli the capacity to withstand doses of radiation.

Recent advances mean wider use of flexible metallic glass is coming

March 4, 2014 10:35 am | News | Comments

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are working toward even stronger and more elastic glass types which would fail in a ductile fashion instead of shattering. Researchers there are looking at the initiation of shear-banding events in order to better understand how to control the mechanical properties of these materials.

New, inexpensive production materials boost promise of hydrogen fuel

February 24, 2014 8:36 am | by Chris Barncard, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Generating electricity is not the only way to turn sunlight into energy we can use on demand. The sun can also drive reactions to create chemical fuels, such as hydrogen, that can in turn power cars and trains. The trouble with solar fuel production is the cost of producing the sun-capturing semiconductors and the catalysts to generate fuel.

Vibration energy the secret to self-powered electronics

February 21, 2014 7:24 am | News | Comments

A multi-university team of engineers has developed what could be a promising solution for charging smartphone batteries on the go, without the need for an electrical cord. Incorporated directly into a cell phone housing, the team's nanogenerator could harvest and convert vibration energy from a surface, such as the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, into power for the phone.

Renewable chemical ready for biofuels scale-up

January 17, 2014 8:43 am | by Margaret Broeren, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | Videos | Comments

Using a plant-derived chemical, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a process for creating a concentrated stream of sugars that’s ripe with possibility for biofuels. The research team has published its findings in Science, explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels.

A shift in stem cell research

January 13, 2014 7:58 am | News | Comments

A team of engineers at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison has created a process to improve the creation of synthetic neural stem cells for use in central nervous system research. The process, outlined in a paper published in Stem Cells, will improve the state of the art in the creation of synthetic neural stem cells for use in central nervous system research.

Even or odd: No easy feat for the mind

December 23, 2013 11:15 am | by Chris Barncard, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Even scientists are fond of thinking of the human brain as a computer, following sets of rules. But if the brain is like a computer, why do brains make mistakes that computers don't? Recent research shows that our brains stumble on even the simplest rule-based calculations, because humans get caught up in contextual information, even when the rules are as clear-cut as separating even numbers from odd.

Connection found between nitrogen levels in water, toxic algae production

November 20, 2013 10:15 am | News | Comments

Scientists have long known that phosphorus fuels growth of algae in lakes and streams. Wisconsin Sea Grant researchers have found that nitrogen levels are a factor in whether or not these algae—specifically, blue-green algae—produce toxins. The findings, published in PLOS ONE have parts of the scientific community buzzing.

Model virus structure shows why there’s no cure for common cold

October 29, 2013 8:40 am | News | Comments

In a pair of studies that exploit the genetic sequencing of the “missing link” cold virus, rhinovirus C, scientists at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison have constructed a 3-D model of the pathogen that shows why there is no cure yet for the common cold. The new cold virus model was built in silico, drawing on advanced bioinformatics and the genetic sequences of 500 rhinovirus C genomes, which provided 3-D coordinates of the viral capsid.

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