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Ancient whodunit may be solved: The microbes did it!

April 1, 2014 8:41 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

Fossil remains show that sometime around 252 million years ago, about 90% of all species on Earth were suddenly wiped out in what was the largest of this planet’s five known mass extinctions. But pinpointing the culprit has been difficult, and controversial. Now, a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers may have found enough evidence to convict the guilty parties, but you’ll need a microscope to see the killers.

Robotic arm probes chemistry of 3-D objects by mass spectrometry

March 27, 2014 11:49 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

When life on Earth was first getting started, simple molecules bonded together into the precursors of modern genetic material. A catalyst would’ve been needed, but enzymes had not yet evolved. One theory is that the catalytic minerals on a meteorite’s surface could have jump-started life’s first chemical reactions. But scientists need a way to directly analyze these rough, irregularly shaped surfaces.

Engineered bacteria produce biofuel alternative for high-energy rocket fuel

March 27, 2014 8:17 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Researchers have engineered a bacterium to synthesize pinene, a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications. With improvements in process efficiency, the biofuel could supplement limited supplies of petroleum-based JP-10, and might also facilitate development of a new generation of more powerful engines.

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Researchers engineer resistance to ionic liquids in biofuel microbes

March 26, 2014 2:24 pm | News | Comments

Joint BioEnergy Institute scientists have identified the genetic origins of a microbial resistance to ionic liquids and successfully introduced this resistance into a strain of E. coli bacteria for the production of advanced biofuels. The ionic liquid resistance is based on a pair of genes discovered in a bacterium native to a tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico.

Real-life CSI: What can investigators really tell from gunshot residue?

March 26, 2014 1:02 pm | News | Comments

The popular TV series “CSI” is fiction, but everyday, real-life investigators and forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence to determine what happened at crime scenes. In a recent study, scientists say they have developed a more rapid and accurate method based on infrared spectroscopy that could allow crime scene investigators to tell what kind of ammunition was shot from a gun based on the residue it left behind.

New battery technology employs sticky composites

March 26, 2014 9:20 am | by Diane Kukich, Univ. of Delaware | News | Comments

Lithium-ion batteries power a vast array of modern devices, from cell phones, laptops, and laser pointers to thermometers, hearing aids, and pacemakers. The electrodes in these batteries typically comprise three components: active materials, conductive additives, and binders. Now, a team of researchers at the Univ. of Delaware has discovered a “sticky” conductive material that may eliminate the need for binders.

Nanotube coating helps shrink mass spectrometers

March 25, 2014 11:52 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Nanotechnology is advancing tools likened to Star Trek's "tricorder" that perform on-the-spot chemical analysis for a range of applications including medical testing, explosives detection and food safety. Researchers found that when paper used to collect a sample was coated with carbon nanotubes, the voltage required was 1,000 times reduced, the signal was sharpened and the equipment was able to capture far more delicate molecules.

Scientists discover material that can be solar cell by day, light panel by night

March 25, 2014 7:49 am | News | Comments

In what was almost a chance discovery, researchers in Singapore have developed a solar cell material which can emit light in addition to converting light to electricity. This solar cell is developed from perovskite, a promising material that could hold the key to creating high-efficiency, inexpensive solar cells. The new cells not only glow when electricity passes through them, they can also be customized to emit different colours.

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NSF creates industry electrochemical research center at Ohio Univ.

March 24, 2014 1:57 pm | News | Comments

The Center for Electrochemical Engineering at Ohio Univ. has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award to establish a new industry university cooperative research center in Athens, Ohio, with partner site Washington Univ.-St. Louis. The new center will focus on electrochemical alternatives to conventional chemical and biological processes, with the goal of enhancing advanced production capabilities.

Recovering valuable substances from wastewater

March 24, 2014 9:54 am | News | Comments

Phosphorus can be found in fertilizers, drinks and detergents, and it accumulates in waterways, polluting them. For this reason, researchers in Germany have developed a new platform for recovering this valuable but harmful element from water. They have attached bonding sites for phosphorus to particles so that they fish the phosphate anions out of the water and carry them “piggyback”. The particles can be applied using a magnet.

Researcher: Study on element could change ballgame on radioactive waste

March 24, 2014 9:48 am | News | Comments

Groundbreaking work by a team of chemists on a fringe element of the periodic table could change how the world stores radioactive waste and recycles fuel. In carefully choreographed experiments, researchers in Florida have found that californium (Cf) had amazing abilities to bond and separate other materials. They also found it was extremely resistant to radiation damage.

Researchers grow carbon nanofibers using ambient air, without toxic ammonia

March 24, 2014 9:39 am | News | Comments

Vertically aligned carbon nanofibers (VACNFs) are a commonly manufactured material, but conventional techniques for creating them have relied on the use of ammonia gas, which is toxic. Though it not costly, it is also not free, either. Researchers in North Carolina have demonstrated that VACNFs can be manufactured using ambient air, making the manufacturing process safer and less expensive.

Toilet tech fair tackles global sanitation woes

March 24, 2014 9:10 am | by Katy Daigle, AP Environment Writer | News | Comments

Scientists who accepted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's challenge to reinvent the toilet showcased their inventions in New Delhi on Saturday. The primary goal: to sanitize waste, use minimal water or electricity and produce a usable product at low cost. The World Bank estimates the annual global cost of poor sanitation at $260 billion and India is by far the worst culprit.

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A layered nanostructure held together by DNA

March 20, 2014 12:40 pm | by David Lindley, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new strategy for building nanoscale constructs uses the binding properties of complementary strands of DNA to attach nanoparticles to each other. A series of controlled steps builds up a layered thin-film nanostructure. Small-angle x-ray scattering analysis has revealed the precise form that the structures adopted, and points to ways of exercising still greater control over the final arrangement.

Flexible carbon nanotube circuits are more reliable, power efficient

March 18, 2014 9:57 am | News | Comments

Engineers would love to create flexible electronic devices, such as e-readers that could be folded to fit into a pocket. One approach they are trying involves designing circuits based on electronic fibers, known as carbon nanotubes, instead of rigid silicon chips. But reliability is essential.

Discovery could yield more efficient plants for biofuels

March 18, 2014 8:16 am | by Natalie van Hoose, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Genetically modifying a key protein complex in plants could lead to improved crops for the production of cellulosic biofuels, a Purdue Univ. study says. The researchers generated a mutant Arabidopsis plant whose cell walls can be converted easily into fermentable sugars, but doesn't display the stunted growth patterns of similar mutants.

Brighter inks, without pigment

March 17, 2014 7:57 am | by Manny Morone '14, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at the Harvard Univ. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are giving man-made materials structural color. Producing structural color is not easy, though; it often requires a material’s molecules to be in a very specific crystalline pattern, like the natural structure of an opal, which reflects a wide array of colors.

Heat-based technique offers new way to count microscopic particles

March 13, 2014 9:09 am | News | Comments

Particle counters are used in a wide variety of industries. Researchers in North Carolina have developed a new thermal technique that counts and measures the size of particles, but is less expensive than light-based techniques. It can also be used on a wider array of materials than electricity-based techniques.

Team discovers unexpected effect of heavy hydrogen in organic solar cells

March 11, 2014 8:47 am | News | Comments

Photovoltaic spray paint could coat the windows and walls of the future if scientists are successful in developing low-cost, flexible solar cells based on organic polymers. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered an unanticipated factor in the performance of polymer-based solar devices that gives new insight on how these materials form and function.

Sweet smell of sustainability

March 11, 2014 8:34 am | by Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service | News | Comments

Fresh banana, a waft of flowers, blueberry: the scents in Shota Atsumi's laboratory in the Univ. of California, Davis Dept. of Chemistry are a little sweeter than most. That's because Atsumi and his team are engineering bacteria to make esters, molecules widely used as scents and flavorings, and also as basic feedstock for chemical processes from paints to fuels.

Driving down fuel usage

March 10, 2014 10:57 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Despite their potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption, electric and hybrid cars and trucks struggled for years to find a solid customer base. Much of the reason came down to cost and convenience: Electric car batteries are expensive, and charging them requires plug-in infrastructure that’s still sparse in the U.S.

Revamping R&D: The New Laboratory In Your Pocket?

March 10, 2014 9:06 am | by Paul Denny-Gouldson, Vice President, Solution Strategy, IDBS | Articles | Comments

The nature of science shares striking similarities across many industry verticals. Whether it’s biologics, chemicals or new product formulations, they are all performed with a high degree of similarity from company to company. This is exemplified by the fact that R&D informatics platforms such as LIMS, ELNs and SDMS are used, and provide real benefits in all science-related sectors.

Biomolecular tweezers facilitate study of mechanical force effects on cells

March 10, 2014 8:07 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

A new type of biomolecular tweezers could help researchers study how mechanical forces affect the biochemical activity of cells and proteins. The devices use opposing magnetic and electrophoretic forces to precisely stretch the cells and molecules, holding them in position so that the activity of receptors and other biochemical activity can be studied.

Microbial detection array detects plague in ancient human remains

March 6, 2014 10:40 am | by Stephen P Wampler, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists who study past pandemics, such as the 14th-century Black Death that devastated much of Europe, might soon be turning to an innovative biological detection technology for some extra help. The apparent first use of this technology, known as a microarray, for studying pathogens from ancient DNA, was reported by a team of scientists in Scientific Reports.

Researchers identify key intermediate steps in artificial photosynthesis reaction

March 6, 2014 9:11 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Artificial photosynthesis, in which we emulate the process used by nature to capture energy from the sun and convert it into electrochemical energy, is expected to be a major asset in any sustainable energy portfolio for the future. Artificial photosynthesis offers the promise of producing liquid fuels that are renewable and can be used without exacerbating global climate change.

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