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Study: Earthquake acoustics can indicate if a massive tsunami is imminent

June 7, 2013 12:07 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford University | News | Comments

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake occurred 43 miles off the shore of Japan. It generated an unexpectedly massive tsunami that washed over eastern Japan roughly 30 minutes later. Scientists at Stanford University have identified key acoustic characteristics of this quake that indicated it would cause a large tsunami.

Quantum model helps solve mysteries of water

June 4, 2013 12:16 pm | News | Comments

Water is one of the most common and extensively studied substances on Earth. It is vital for all known forms of life but its unique behavior has yet to be explained in terms of the properties of individual molecules. A research team has now revealed a major breakthrough in the modeling of water that could shed light on its mysterious properties.

Crash-testing lithium-ion batteries

June 4, 2013 8:06 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight, fully rechargeable and can pack a lot of energy into a small volume—making them attractive as power sources for hybrid and electric vehicles. However, there’s a significant downside: Overheating and collisions may cause the batteries to short-circuit and burst into flames. Engineers have worked to improve the safety of lithium-ion batteries and now there may be ways to make batteries more resilient.

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Wit, grit, and a supercomputer yield chemical structure of HIV capsid

May 29, 2013 5:43 pm | News | Comments

Researchers report that they have determined the precise chemical structure of the HIV capsid, a protein shell that protects the virus’s genetic material and is a key to its virulence. The capsid has become an attractive target for the development of new antiretroviral drugs. The researchers used the University of Illinois’ supercomputer Blue Waters to determine the complete HIV capsid structure.

Computational study tracks E. coli cells’ regulatory mechanisms

May 22, 2013 8:58 am | News | Comments

Environment is not the only factor in shaping cell regulatory patterns—and it might not even be the primary factor, according to a new Rice University study that looks at how cells’ protein networks relate to a bacteria’s genome. When environmental factors are eliminated from an evolutionary model, the researchers say, mutations and genetic drift can give rise to the patterns that appear.

Cells must use their brakes moderately for effective speed control

May 15, 2013 11:34 am | News | Comments

All living cells have a regulatory system similar to what can be found in today's smartphones. Just like our phones process a large amount of information that we feed them, cells continuously process information about their outer and inner environment. Researchers have recently modeled how cells regulate this processing function.

Sulfate aerosols cool climate less than assumed

May 15, 2013 10:47 am | News | Comments

Sulfur dioxide has been pegged as a significant cooling element in atmospheric climate models because of its ability to form sulfate aerosol particles that reflect sunlight. Recent findings from a team suggest that it is likely most models overestimate the cooling effect of these particles. The reason is a largely disregarded reaction pathway catalyzed by mineral dust within clouds.

Revising Darwin's sinking-island theory

May 13, 2013 7:41 am | by Genevieve Wanucha, Oceans at MIT | News | Comments

The three different formations of South Pacific coral-reef islands, fringing, barrier, and atoll, have long fascinated geologists. The question of how reefs develop into these shapes over evolutionary time produced an enduring conflict between two hypotheses, one from Charles Darwin and the other from Reginald Daly. But in a recently published paper, researchers use modern measurements and computer modeling to resolve this old conundrum.

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Mathematics of popping bubbles in a foam

May 10, 2013 7:42 am | News | Comments

Bubble baths and soapy dishwater and the refreshing head on a beer: These are foams, beautiful yet ephemeral as the bubbles pop one by one. Now, a team of researchers has described mathematically the successive stages in the complex evolution and disappearance of foamy bubbles, a feat that could help in modeling industrial processes in which liquids mix or in the formation of solid foams such as those used to cushion bicycle helmets.

Computer simulations reveal the energy landscape of ion channels

May 3, 2013 11:55 am | News | Comments

Ion channels are important drug targets. A team of researchers University of Vienna has investigated the opening and closing mechanisms of these channels, which represent large proteins with more than 400 amino acids. Their work for the first time calculates in atomic detail the full energy landscape of this protein.

Material loss protects teeth against fatigue failure

May 1, 2013 9:07 am | News | Comments

Computer simulations conducted in Germany have shown that the reduction of natural dental wear might be the main cause for widely spread non-carius cervical lesions—the loss of enamel and dentine at the base of the crown—in our teeth. The discovery was made by examining the biomechanical behavior of teeth using finite element analysis methods typically applied to engineering problems.

Computer scientists suggest new spin on origins of evolvability

April 29, 2013 8:53 am | News | Comments

Scientists have long observed that species seem to have become increasingly capable of evolving in response to changes in the environment. But computer science researchers now say that the popular explanation of competition to survive in nature may not actually be necessary for evolvability to increase.

U.S. Coast Guard accredits analytical system developed at Purdue

April 24, 2013 7:48 am | News | Comments

In efforts to prioritize and efficiently manage the repair of boats and stations damaged by Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Coast Guard has accredited a system called Coast Guard Search and Rescue Visual Analytics (cgSARVA) developed in collaboration with Purdue University.

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Study aims to understand how neurons represent the world

April 23, 2013 11:49 am | News | Comments

To understand the development of sensory representations within our brain, we have to comprehend how electrical activation is linked to the sensory experience. For this reason, researchers in Italy have analyzed the behavior and the activation of neural networks in rats while carrying out tactile object recognition tests. The study represents the first time that the activity of multiple neurons has been monitored.

New fatigue model could lead to more durable, efficient ships

April 23, 2013 11:14 am | News | Comments

An engineer in Finland has designed a new evaluation model that allows developers to determine how fatigue sets in with various welded steel materials. By considering the differences between traditional welds and structural joining technologies and newer more advanced methods, he model allows for the development of lighter structures, and as a consequence, more energy-efficient ships.

Nitrogen has key role in estimating CO2 emissions from land use change

April 23, 2013 9:42 am | News | Comments

A new global-scale modeling study that takes into account nitrogen—a key nutrient for plants—estimates that carbon emissions from human activities on land were 40% higher in the 1990s than in studies that did not account for nitrogen. Most existing models used to estimate global emissions changes based on land use do not have the ability to model nitrogen limitations on plant regrowth.

Decision making in scientific peer review unraveled with modeling

April 22, 2013 11:12 am | News | Comments

A research team from Aalto University has modeled the work processes and human decision making in scientific peer review with the help of statistical physics. Their study will improve understanding of how actions of reviewers and editors during the review work correlate with the decisions to publish or reject article manuscripts.

Computational physics software supported presidential inauguration

April 19, 2013 12:41 pm | News | Comments

The Naval Research Laboratory aided both the 2009 and 2013 Presidential Inaugurations with a technology called CT-Analyst. The software modeling tool is designed to provide first responders with a tool that can provides accurate, instantaneous, 3D predictions of chemical, biological, and radiological agent transport in urban settings.

Big data algorithm used to customize video game difficulty

April 18, 2013 11:07 am | News | Comments

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a computational model that can predict video game players’ in-game performance and provide a corresponding challenge they can beat, leading to quicker mastery of new skills. The advance not only could help improve user experiences with video games but also applications beyond the gaming world.

Decoding the structure of bone

April 17, 2013 8:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The bones that support our bodies are made of remarkably complex arrangements of materials—so much so that decoding the precise structure responsible for their great strength and resilience has eluded scientists’ best efforts for decades. But now, a team of researchers has finally unraveled the structure of bone with almost atom-by-atom precision.

Bad decisions arise from faulty information, not faulty brain circuits

April 16, 2013 8:11 am | News | Comments

Making choices involves the evaluation of an accumulation of facts. If a wrong choice is made, Princeton University researchers have recently found, the problem may lie in the facts, or information, rather than the brain's decision-making process. The researchers report that erroneous decisions tend to arise from errors, or "noise," in the information coming into the brain.

Softening steel problem expands computer model applications

April 16, 2013 8:11 am | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories researchers Lisa Deibler and Arthur Brown had a ready-made problem for their computer modeling work when they partnered with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Kansas City Plant to improve stainless steel tubing that was too hard to meet nuclear weapon requirements.

Plant protein shape puzzle solved by molecular 3D model

April 15, 2013 4:33 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State University believe they have solved a puzzle that has vexed science since plants first appeared on Earth. In a paper published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers provide the first 3D model of an enzyme that links a simple sugar, glucose, into long-chain cellulose, the basic building block within plant cell walls that gives plants structure.

Widely used index may have overestimated drought

April 8, 2013 6:26 pm | News | Comments

For decades, scientists have used sophisticated instruments and computer models to predict the nature of droughts. The majority of these models have steadily predicted an increasingly frequent and severe global drought cycle. But a recent study from a team of researchers in the United State and Australia suggests that one of these widely used tools—the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI)—may be incorrect.

Thin, low Arctic clouds an important key to Greenland Ice Sheet melt

April 5, 2013 6:06 pm | News | Comments

According to a new study by scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), clouds over the central Greenland Ice Sheet last July were "just right" for driving surface temperatures there above the melting point. The 2012 melt illustrates the often-overlooked role that clouds play in climate change. Current models don’t do enough, says researchers, to account for their effects.

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