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The Lead

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...

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...

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...

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

The sun also flips: 11-year solar cycle wimpy, but peaking

October 17, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

In a 3-m-dia hollow aluminum sphere, Cary Forest, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison physics prof., is stirring and heating plasmas to 500,000 F to experimentally mimic the magnetic field-inducing cosmic dynamos at the heart of planets, stars and other celestial bodies. Ninety-three million miles away, the sun's magnetic field is churning and undulating as the star experiences the height of the so-called solar maximum.

The chemistry of color

October 14, 2013 8:18 am | News | Comments

Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers working at the intersection of basic and applied science focus on key factors like cost, environmental impacts and sometimes, color. Take, for example, asst. chemistry prof. Trisha Andrew: Researchers in her laboratory are developing next-generation solar cells using chromophores or, in lay terms, dyes.

Observations reveal critical interplay of interstellar dust, hydrogen

September 26, 2013 9:13 am | News | Comments

For astrophysicists, the interplay of hydrogen and the clouds of dust that fill the voids of interstellar space has been an intractable puzzle of stellar evolution. The dust, astronomers believe, is a key phase in the lifecycle of stars, which are formed in dusty nurseries throughout the cosmos. But how the dust interacts with hydrogen and is oriented by the magnetic fields in deep space has proved a theoretical challenge. Until now.

Researchers capture speedy chemical reaction in mid-stride

September 16, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

Chemists' efforts to study the inner workings of dirhodium metal complex reactions have been hindered by their extreme efficiency and speed, reacting at about 300 times per second. Now, a team of scientists report an advance that freezes one step of the process, rhodium catalysis, long enough to offer researchers a glimpse into the finer mechanism.

Control of fruit fly genome has human implications

August 23, 2013 10:21 am | News | Comments

In an era of widespread genetic sequencing, the ability to edit and alter an organism's DNA is a powerful way to explore the information within and how it guides biological function. A paper from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison takes genome editing to a new level in fruit flies, demonstrating a remarkable level of fine control and, importantly, the transmission of those engineered genetic changes across generations.

Tuberculosis genomes portray secrets of pathogen’s success

August 22, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

By any measure, tuberculosis (TB) is a wildly successful pathogen. It infects as many as two billion people in every corner of the world, with a new infection of a human host estimated to occur every second. Now, thanks to a new analysis of dozens of tuberculosis genomes gathered from around the world, scientists are getting a more detailed picture of why TB is so prevalent and how it evolves to resist countermeasures. 

Diamond catalyst shows promise in breaching age-old barrier

July 1, 2013 7:52 am | News | Comments

There are a lot of small molecules people would like to convert to something useful. The current process for reducing nitrogen to ammonia is done under extreme conditions, and there is an enormous barrier to overcome to get a final product. Breaching that barrier more efficiently and reducing the huge amounts of energy used to convert nitrogen to ammonia has been a grail for the agricultural chemical industry, until now.

$18 million to study deadly secrets of viruses

June 7, 2013 4:01 pm | News | Comments

In an effort to sort out why some viruses such as influenza, Ebola and West Nile are so lethal, a team of U.S. researchers plans a comprehensive effort to model how humans respond to these viral pathogens. The study will be led by a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison professor. Teams from Washington Univ. in St. Louis and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, also will play key roles in the study.

Innovative solar cell structure stores, supplies energy simultaneously

June 7, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

The potential energy available via solar power might seem limitless on a sunny summer day, but all that energy has to be stored for it to be truly useful. If you see a solar panel on a rooftop, a bulky battery or supercapacitor is hidden just out of sight, receiving energy from the panel through power lines. However, that's a storage method that doesn't scale well for solar-powered devices with no space for a battery pack.

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