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Research grant seeks to reduce crops' fertilizer dependence

October 18, 2013 9:56 am | News | Comments

A research team including a Penn State chemical engineer was recently awarded a $3.9 million National Science Foundation grant to understand how blue-green algae convert nitrogen into oxygen. The objective is to learn how to "transplant" the nitrogen fixing capability of one species to another.

Study of photosynthesis clears the path to developing new super-crops

October 17, 2013 1:28 pm | News | Comments

Around 3% of all plants use an advanced form of photosynthesis, which allows them to capture more carbon dioxide, use less water, and grow more rapidly. This phenomenon had been a mystery, but researchers have used a mathematical analysis to uncover a number of tiny changes in the plants' physiology that allow them to grow more quickly, using a third as much water as other plants and capturing around 13 times more carbon dioxide.

Without plants, Earth would cook under billions of tons of additional carbon

October 16, 2013 2:19 pm | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

Enhanced growth of Earth's leafy greens during the 20th century has significantly slowed the planet's transition to being red-hot, according to the first study to specify the extent to which plants have prevented climate change since pre-industrial times. Researchers have found that land ecosystems have kept the planet cooler by absorbing billions of tons of carbon, especially during the past 60 years.

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Three win Nobel chemistry prize for cyber experiments

October 9, 2013 8:15 am | by Karl Ritter and Malin Rising, Associated Press | News | Comments

Three U.S.-based scientists won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing powerful computer models that others can use to understand complex chemical interactions and create new drugs. Research in the 1970s by Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fume or photosynthesis, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Innovative approach could end sleeping sickness

October 7, 2013 9:18 am | News | Comments

A tag team of two bacteria, one of them genetically modified, has a good chance to reduce or even eliminate the deadly disease African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, researchers at Oregon State Univ. conclude in a recent mathematical modeling study. African trypanosomiasis, caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly, infects 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa each year and is almost always fatal without treatment.

Global electric circuit model to help scientists understand electricity in the air

October 4, 2013 11:35 am | News | Comments

Electrical currents born from thunderstorms are able to flow through the atmosphere and around the globe, causing a detectable electrification of the air even in places with no thunderstorm activity. But a good understanding of atmospheric conductivity has eluded scientists. Now, a research team in Colorado has developed a global electric circuit model by adding an additional layer to a climate model.

Scientists explain the formation of unusual ring of radiation in space

September 23, 2013 9:29 am | News | Comments

Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958, space scientists have believed these belts encircling the Earth consist of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles. In February of 2013, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring. In new research, scientists have successfully modeled and explained the unprecedented behavior of this third ring.

Human activity affects vertical structure of atmospheric temperature

September 18, 2013 7:45 am | News | Comments

Human influences have directly impacted the latitude/altitude pattern of atmospheric temperature. That is the conclusion of a new report by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and six other scientific institutions. The research compares multiple satellite records of atmospheric temperature change with results from a large, multimodel archive of simulations.

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Research determines best arrangement of tidal sails device

September 17, 2013 1:09 pm | News | Comments

Just as wind turbines tap into the energy of flowing air to generate electricity, hydrokinetic devices produce power from moving masses of water. Engineers in Spain have performed a computer simulation to determine the optimal configuration of a system produced by a Norwegian company to enable it to extract the maximum amount of energy from any given current.

Computer model to help design flexible touchscreens

September 4, 2013 7:33 am | News | Comments

Electronic devices with touchscreens rely on transparent conductors made of indium tin oxide, or ITO. But cost and the physical limitations of this material are limiting progress in developing flexible touchscreens. A research collaboration between the Univ. of Pennsylvania and Duke Univ. is exploring the use of nanowires to replace ITO, and are using simulation tools to determine how they might work.

Study reveals true raw material footprint of nations

September 3, 2013 10:37 am | News | Comments

The amount of raw materials needed to sustain the economies of developed countries is significantly greater than present indicators suggest, a new Australian study has revealed. Using a new modeling tool and more comprehensive indicators, researchers Australia were able to map the flow of raw materials across the world economy with unprecedented accuracy to determine the true “material footprint” of 186 countries over a two-decade period.

Sandy's “freaky” path may be less likely in future

September 3, 2013 8:17 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Global warming may further lessen the likelihood of the freak atmospheric steering currents that last year shoved Superstorm Sandy due west into New Jersey, a new study says. But the study's authors said the once-in-700-years path was only one factor in the $50 billion storm. They say other variables such as sea level rise and stronger storms will worsen with global warming and outweigh changes in steering currents predicted by models.

Electrons jostling in a traffic jam

August 29, 2013 1:58 pm | News | Comments

Quantum point contacts in electrical circuits are narrow constrictions that can impede the passage of electrons in unexpected ways. Using a combination of experimental measurements and numerical modeling, physicists have recently provided the first detailed microscopic explanation of the associated conductance anomalies.

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Wildfires projected to worsen with climate change

August 29, 2013 11:55 am | News | Comments

Research by Harvard Univ. environmental scientists brings bad news to the western U.S., where firefighters are currently battling dozens of fires in at least 11 states. A new model predicts wildfire seasons by 2050 will be three weeks longer, up to twice as smoky and will burn a wider area in the western U.S.

Scientists develop model of “near-optimal” genetic code

August 28, 2013 2:54 pm | News | Comments

Since the genetic code’s discovery in the 1960s, researchers have wondered: How is it that a near-optimal code became so universal? To address this question, the researchers created a model of genetic code evolution in which multiple “translating” RNAs and “genomic” RNAs competed for survival. The approach revealed phenomena that offers new insights into how RNA signaling likely developed into the modern genetic code.

Researchers aim to use light to restore healthy heartbeats

August 28, 2013 2:48 pm | News | Comments

When a beating heart slips into an irregular, life-threatening rhythm, the treatment is well known: deliver a burst of electric current from a pacemaker or defibrillator. But because the electricity itself can cause pain, tissue damage and other serious side-effects, a Johns Hopkins-led research team wants to use laboratory data and an intricate computer model replace these jolts with a kinder, gentler remedy: light.

New energy model offers transparency to let others replicate findings

August 27, 2013 8:34 am | News | Comments

Computer models are used to inform policy decisions about energy, but existing models are generally “black boxes” that don’t show how they work, making it impossible for anyone to replicate their findings. Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have developed a new open-source model and are sharing the data they put into it, to allow anyone to check their work.

How quickly can a bacterium grow?

August 27, 2013 8:02 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

All living things must obey the laws of physics, including the second law of thermodynamics. Highly ordered cells and organisms appear to contradict this principle, but they actually do conform because they generate heat that increases the universe’s overall entropy. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist mathematically modeled the replication of E. coli bacteria and found that the process is nearly as efficient as possible.

Physicists offer explanation for strange magnetic behavior at semiconductor interfaces

August 26, 2013 7:57 am | News | Comments

They're not exactly the peanut butter and jelly of semiconductors, but when you put them together, something magical happens. Alone, neither lanthanum aluminate nor strontium titanate exhibit any particularly notable properties. But when they are layered together, they become not only conductive, but also magnetic.

Team will dive deep into cell structures

August 26, 2013 7:49 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create processes that will look more deeply than ever into the protein networks that drive cells. The four-year grant will enable a collaboration on new ways to see and evaluate the mechanisms that give cells their shapes and prompt them to change and move.

3-D Earth model accurately pinpoints source of earthquakes, explosions

August 22, 2013 7:58 am | News | Comments

During the Cold War, U.S. and international monitoring agencies could spot nuclear tests and focused on measuring their sizes. Today, they’re looking around the globe to pinpoint much smaller explosives tests. Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory have partnered to develop a 3-D model of the Earth’s mantle and crust called SALSA3D, with the purpose to assist in locating explosions.

New theory points to “zombie vortices” as key step in star formation

August 21, 2013 7:47 am | News | Comments

A new theory by fluid dynamics experts at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, shows how “zombie vortices” help lead to the birth of a new star. In a recent report, a UC Berkeley-led team shows how variations in gas density lead to instability, which then generates the whirlpool-like vortices needed for stars to form.

Magma can survive in upper crust for hundreds of millennia

August 20, 2013 12:33 am | by Vince Stricherz, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Reservoirs of silica-rich magma can persist in Earth’s upper crust for hundreds of thousands of years without triggering an eruption, according to new modeling research. That means an area known to have experienced a massive volcanic eruption in the past, such as Yellowstone National Park, could have a large pool of magma festering beneath it and still not be close to going off as it did 600,000 years ago.

Researchers examine dynamics of nanoscale liquid metal particles

August 15, 2013 2:31 pm | News | Comments

The evolution of fluid drops deposited on solid substrates has been a focus of large research effort for decades, and most recently it has focused on nanoscale properties. Two New Jersey Institute of Technology researchers are the first to demonstrate that simulations based on continuum fluid mechanics can explain the nanoscale dynamics of liquid metal particles on a substrate.

Low-temperature combustion enables cleaner, more efficient engines

August 14, 2013 8:45 am | News | Comments

As demand climbs for more fuel-efficient vehicles, knowledge compiled over several years about diesel engines and a new strategy known as “low-temperature combustion” (LTC) might soon lead auto manufacturers and consumers to broader use of cleaner diesel engines in the U.S.

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