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Separating finely mixed oil and water

July 1, 2014 11:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an emulsion, that is extremely hard to separate and can cause severe damage to ecosystems. A new membrane developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can separate even these highly mixed fine oil-spill residues.

Up in flames: Evidence confirms combustion theory

July 1, 2014 10:06 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Univ. of Hawaii have uncovered the first step in the process that transforms gas-phase molecules into solid particles like soot and other carbon-based compounds. The finding could help combustion chemists make more-efficient, less-polluting fuels and help materials scientists fine-tune their carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets for faster, smaller electronics.

Researchers create quantum dots with single-atom precision

June 30, 2014 7:59 am | News | Comments

An international team of physicists including researchers from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has used a scanning tunneling microscope to create quantum dots with identical, deterministic sizes. The perfect reproducibility of these dots opens the door to quantum dot architectures completely free of uncontrolled variations, an important goal for technologies from nanophotonics to quantum information processing.

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Scientists watch molecular soccer balls explode

June 27, 2014 12:15 pm | News | Comments

Using world’s most powerful x-ray laser at the Linac Coherent Light Source in California, scientists have been watching as buckyballs disintegrate completely in less than 100 femtoseconds under the force of the powerful free-electron laser flashes. The study told them something important, too: they can theoretically and reliable predict the way these miniature soccer balls will explode. This is important for simulation efforts.

Watching nanoscale fluids flow

June 27, 2014 7:48 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

At the nanoscale, where objects are measured in billionths of meters and events transpire in trillionths of seconds, things do not always behave as our experiences with the macro world might lead us to expect. Water, for example, seems to flow much faster within carbon nanotubes than classical physics says should be possible. Now imagine trying to capture movies of these almost imperceptibly small nanoscale movements.

Hundreds of sensors packed into a single optical fiber

June 26, 2014 2:37 pm | News | Comments

By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the Univ. of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 C. The new technology should be ideal for use in deep drilling operations, nuclear reactor cores and outer space.

Water-cleanup catalysts tackle biomass upgrading

June 26, 2014 12:33 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. chemical engineer Michael Wong has spent a decade amassing evidence that palladium-gold nanoparticles are excellent catalysts for cleaning polluted water, but even he was surprised at how well the particles converted biodiesel waste into valuable chemicals.

New math technique improves atomic property predictions to historic accuracy

June 26, 2014 8:02 am | News | Comments

By combining advanced mathematics with high-performance computing, scientists have developed a tool that allowed them to calculate a fundamental property of most atoms on the periodic table to historic accuracy, reducing error by a factor of a thousand in many cases. The technique also could be used to determine a host of other atomic properties important in fields like nuclear medicine and astrophysics.

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Fracking flowback could pollute groundwater with heavy metals

June 25, 2014 2:53 pm | by Melissa Osgood, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

The chemical makeup of wastewater generated by “hydrofracking” could cause the release of tiny particles in soils that often strongly bind heavy metals and pollutants, exacerbating the environmental risks during accidental spills, Cornell Univ. researchers have found.

Fast, portable device for “on-the-go” cocaine testing

June 25, 2014 8:39 am | News | Comments

Testing for cocaine and other drugs usually involves two steps: a quick on-site prescreen, and then a more accurate confirmatory test at a distant laboratory. This process can take days or weeks—but that’s too long in many cases where public safety is at risk. Now, researchers report development of a backpack-sized device that can perform highly accurate and sensitive tests anywhere within 15 min.

A new resource for advanced biofuels research

June 25, 2014 8:21 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have unveiled the first glycosyltransferase clone collection specifically targeted for the study of the biosynthesis of plant cell walls. The idea behind “the JBEI GT Collection” is to provide a functional genomic resource for researchers seeking to extract the sugars in plant biomass and synthesize them into clean, green and renewable transportation fuels.

One step to solar cell efficiency

June 19, 2014 12:42 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. scientists have created a one-step process for producing highly efficient materials that let the maximum amount of sunlight reach a solar cell. The Rice laboratory of chemist Andrew Barron found a simple way to etch nanoscale spikes into silicon that allows more than 99% of sunlight to reach the cells’ active elements, where it can be turned into electricity.

Nature’s chem lab: How microorganisms manufacture drugs

June 19, 2014 8:25 am | by Jim Erickson, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have obtained the first 3-D snapshots of the "assembly line" within microorganisms that naturally produces antibiotics and other drugs. Understanding the complete structure and movement within the molecular factory gives investigators a solid blueprint for redesigning the microbial assembly line to produce novel drugs of high medicinal value.

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New method to identify inks could help preserve historical documents

June 18, 2014 4:16 pm | News | Comments

The inks on historical documents can hold many secrets about the past. And knowing how the ink breaks down can help scientists preserve valuable treasures. In a recent study, researchers report how a analysis method called tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy has been developed to help identify many types of inks on various papers and other surfaces.

Nanoparticles from dietary supplement drinks are likely to reach environment

June 18, 2014 9:11 am | News | Comments

Nanoparticles are becoming ubiquitous in food packaging, personal care products and are even being added to food directly. But the health and environmental effects of these tiny additives have remained largely unknown. A new study now suggests that nanomaterials in food and drinks could interfere with digestive cells and lead to the release of the potentially harmful substances to the environment.

Analytic technique offers arson investigators faster, more accurate results

June 18, 2014 9:04 am | by James Burrus, NIST | News | Comments

A research group at NIST has demonstrated a new method for detecting ignitable liquids that could change the way arson fires are investigated. The new process for analyzing debris for traces of fire accelerants is faster and more accurate than conventional methods and produces less waste.

Human sweat can reduce bacteria defenses in hospitals, schools

June 18, 2014 8:35 am | News | Comments

Sweaty hands can reduce the effectiveness of bacteria-fighting brass objects in hospitals and schools after just an hour of coming into contact with them, according to scientists at the Univ. of Leicester. While copper found in everyday brass items has an antimicrobial effect on bacteria the team has discovered that peoples’ sweat can produce sufficient corrosion to adversely affect its use to kill a range of microorganisms.

Crowdsourcing the phase problem

June 17, 2014 4:26 pm | News | Comments

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2006 and since then has seen its definition broadened to a wide range of activities involving a network of people. A challenging problem that might benefit from crowdsourcing, according to recently published research, is the phase problem in x-ray crystallography. Retrieving the phase information has plagued many scientists for decades when trying to determine the crystal structure of a sample.

Algae able to switch quantum coherence on and off

June 17, 2014 3:54 pm | News | Comments

Researchers in Australia have discovered how algae that survive in very low levels of light are able to switch on and off a weird quantum phenomenon that occurs during photosynthesis. The function in the algae of this quantum effect, known as coherence, remains a mystery, but it is thought it could help them harvest energy from the sun much more efficiently.

Dynamic spectroscopy duo

June 17, 2014 1:34 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

From allowing our eyes to see, to enabling green plants to harvest energy from the sun, photochemical reactions are ubiquitous and critical to nature. Photochemical reactions also play essential roles in high technology. Using photochemical reactions to our best advantage requires a deep understanding of the interplay between the electrons and atomic nuclei within a molecular system after that system has been excited by light.

Researchers “cage” water to see it change form

June 17, 2014 12:14 pm | News | Comments

Scientists are using a pioneering method of “caging” and cooling water molecules to study the change in orientation of the magnetic nuclei at the center of each hydrogen atom in the molecule. This process transforms the molecule from one form of water to another. The results of this work may one day help to enhance the diagnostic power of magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Solar photons drive water off the moon

June 17, 2014 8:29 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Water is thought to be embedded in the moon’s rocks or, if cold enough, “stuck” on their surfaces. It’s predominantly found at the poles. But scientists probably won’t find it intact on the sunlit side. New research at indicates that ultraviolet photons emitted by the sun likely cause water molecules to either quickly desorb or break apart.

Scientists’ discoveries could help neutralize chemical weapons

June 16, 2014 2:32 pm | by Amy Blakely, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Tennessee (UT) are a step closer to creating a prophylactic drug that would neutralize the deadly effects of the chemical weapons used in Syria and elsewhere. Jeremy Smith, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair and an expert in computational biology, is part of the team that is trying to engineer enzymes—called bioscavengers—so they work more efficiently against chemical weapons.

Pittcon to sponsor International Year of Light

June 16, 2014 10:54 am | News | Comments

The Pittcon Organizing Committee, which holds the Pittcon Conference and Exposition each year, will participate in the International Year of Light initiative at the Associate Sponsor level. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. The sponsorship effort will include a variety of focused workshops and short courses in the coming year.

How cormorants emerge dry after deep dives

June 16, 2014 7:46 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Feathers have long been recognized as a classic example of efficient water-shedding—as in the well-known expression “like water off a duck’s back.” A combination of modeling and laboratory tests has now determined how both chemistry—the preening oil that birds use—and the microstructure of feathers, with their barbs and barbules, allow birds to stay dry even after emerging from amazingly deep dives.

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