NASA's Curiosity rover has uncovered signs of an ancient freshwater lake on Mars that may have teemed with tiny organisms for tens of millions of years, far longer than scientists had imagined, new research suggests. The watering hole near the Martian equator existed about 3.5 billion years ago. Scientists say it was neither salty nor acidic, and contained nutrients—a perfect spot to support microbes.
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A connected vehicle network, with vehicles exchanging information with the highway infrastructure and other vehicles using wireless communications, could improve traffic safety, mobility and environmental impacts. Southwest Research Institute, which has considerable expertise in intelligent vehicle development, is now serving as an official Connected Vehicle Affiliated Test Bed for this technology.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known,” said astronomer Carl Sagan, who succinctly captured the essence of what it means to be a researcher. That wide-eyed sense that anything is possible through research and development, that’s the essence of a researcher’s calling.
Growth in global research and development funding slowed in 2013 from the pace of growth seen in 2011-2012. The 2013 slowdown was due primarily to unsettled European and U.S. economies that, in turn, affected global performance. R&D investments often are closely linked to GDP and economic outlook.
In the United States, R&D spending is likely to increase in 2014, turning the corner from near-zero growth in 2013. Federal funding is difficult to forecast because of the breakdown of orderly budget processes, but there are indications of bipartisan political support for increases or reallocations that favor R&D.
Federal R&D policy and implications of budget sequestration are the largest factors in funding for U.S. academic research, which has dropped from a recent high of 6% annual funding increases in 2011 to a forecast of 2% in 2014. Long recognized as an essential scientific foundation of U.S. innovation, academic research programs have been under pressure as a result.
For the past six years, the top ten countries funding R&D have remained mostly the same. There has been dramatic change, however, in the extent of globalization involved in research, as well as shifts in the way funds are spent. Driven in part by China’s aggressive programs, Southeast Asia has become the world’s largest region for research investments.
China has increased its R&D investments by 12% to 20% annually for each of the past 20 years; while at the same time, U.S. R&D spending increased at less than half those rates. As a result, China’s investment is now about 61% that of the U.S., and continuing to close.
With the large number of European Union member states, Europe’s research community is diverse in its economic composition and national interests, while central funding and administrative mechanisms allow coordinated operation of public research at a scale that is comparable to that of the United States.
As a group, the “Rest of the World” (ROW) countries—those other than the U.S., those in Europe and China—are expected to see moderate growth in their R&D investments in 2014, with leadership from countries like South Korea, Russia and Taiwan. Most Asian countries are projected to experience significant economic growth in 2014.
Research and development is a long-term investment in the future, serving as the cornerstone for innovation-driven growth. While there is a significant immediate economic impact from R&D activities, the big pay-off from investments in R&D are longer-term sustained economic gains through strengthened global competitiveness and even creation of entire new industries.
R&D among aerospace, defense and security firms is primarily driven by two sectors: the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the global airline industry. The major aerospace and defense contractors plan R&D in close coordination with DOD to meet the needs of national defense and global security, while capacity, economics and efficiency are drivers for civil aviation requirements.
The Battelle/R&D Magazine survey of the global research community delivers original insights that indicate the temperament of R&D activities around the world, and adds context to the quantitative analysis involved in this 2014 Forecast.
Transistors, the workhorses of the electronics world, are plagued by leakage current. This results in unnecessary energy losses, which is why smartphones and laptops, for example, have to be recharged so often. Researchers have recently shown that this leakage current can be radically reduced by “squeezing” the transistor with a piezoelectric material. Using this approach, they have surpassed the theoretical limit for leakage current.
A researcher team from Spain and Italy say that when envisioning in vivo microrobots of the future, we should forget cogwheels, pistons and levers. These miniature robots will be soft, and behave much like euglenids, tiny unicellular aquatic animals. Their work in studying these creatures have given them insights on how to design soft robots with effective mechanical structures.
Highly insulating triple-pane windows keep a house snug and cozy, but it takes two decades or more for the windows to pay off financially based on utility-bill savings, according to a report by energy-efficiency experts at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The report is based on a study at PNNL's Lab Homes, a pair of identical manufactured homes used to study energy efficiency.
The ChemCam laser instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover fired its 100,000th shot recently, chronicling its adventures on Mars with a coffee-table-book’s worth of spectral data that might rival snapshots gathered during a long and satisfying family vacation here on Earth. ChemCam zaps rocks with a high-powered laser to determine their composition and carries a camera that can survey the Martian landscape.
Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. Pharmaceutical drugs are known for their potential side effects, and an important aspect of personalized medicine is to tailor therapies to individuals to reduce the chances of adverse events. Now researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have updated an extensive toxicology database so that it can be used to track information about therapeutic drugs and their unintentional toxic effects.
From green electricity tariffs to car sharing schemes, many sustainable products and services are being brought to market by start-ups. However, there has been relatively little research into how and why individuals take this step and whether their start-ups become a success. Fourteen European institutes coordinated by the Technical Univ. of Munich will be investigating this trend to see what potential it holds for a sustainable economy.
A new technique developed at the Advanced Light Source could help scientists better understand and improve the materials required for high-performance lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs) and other applications. The technique, which uses soft x-ray spectroscopy, measures something never seen before: the migration of ions and electrons in an integrated, operating battery electrode.
BP's strategy after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy: Go deeper. BP is leading an industry-wide push to develop technology that can retrieve oil from formations that are so deep under the sea floor, and under such high pressure and temperature, that conventional equipment would melt or be crushed by the conditions.
Much of what is known about sensory touch and hearing cells is based on indirect observation. Scientists know that these tiny cells are sensitive to changes in force and pressure. But to truly understand how they function, scientists must be able to manipulate them directly. Now, Stanford Univ. scientists are developing a set of tools that are small enough to stimulate an individual nerve or group of nerves.
X-rays transformed medicine a century ago by providing a noninvasive way to detect internal structures in the body. Still, they have limitations: X-rays cannot image the body’s soft tissues, except with the use of contrast-enhancing agents that must be swallowed or injected, and their resolution is limited. But a newly developed approach could dramatically change that.
DARPA-funded researchers have recently developed new methods to integrate long 50-m coils of waveguides with low signal loss onto microchips. This new class of photonic waveguides, with losses approaching that of optical fiber, is smaller and more precise than any previous light delay device.
A chemical system developed by researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago can efficiently perform the first step in the process of creating syngas, gasoline and other energy-rich products out of carbon dioxide. A novel “co-catalyst” system using inexpensive, easy-to-fabricate carbon-based nanofiber materials efficiently converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, a useful starting material for synthesizing fuels.
Online retailer Amazon.com aiming to deliver packages quicker than pizza. Its so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project, now underway in Amazon’s research and development labs, could get goods to customers in 30 minutes or less. But the company admits it will take years to advance the needed technology and for the needed federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations to be created.
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