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Engineering a more efficient fuel cell

July 9, 2014 10:38 am | by Glen Martin, Stanford New Service | News | Comments

Using high-brilliance x-rays, Stanford Univ. researchers track the process that fuel cells use to produce electricity, knowledge that will help make large-scale alternative energy power systems more practical and reliable. Fuel cells use oxygen and hydrogen as fuel to create electricity; if the process were run in reverse, the fuel cells could be used to store electricity, as well.  

Unprecedented detail of intact neuronal receptor offers blueprint for drug developers

July 9, 2014 8:23 am | by Tona Kunz, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists succeeded in obtaining an unprecedented view of a type of brain cell receptor that is implicated in a range of neurological illnesses. The team of biologists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to get an atomic-level picture of the intact NMDA (N-methyl, D-aspartate) receptor should serve as template and guide for the design of therapeutic compounds.

Scientists measure rock in a hard place

July 9, 2014 8:11 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Measuring the extreme pressures and temperatures of hydrothermal systems in the Earth's crust is no easy feat. However, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have made a new tool that allows them to probe pressures up to 20 kbar (20,000 Earth atmospheres of pressure).

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Gas hydrates by the slice

July 9, 2014 8:00 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

A decade of research by Rice Univ. scientists has produced a 2-D model to prove how gas hydrate, the “ice that burns,” is formed under the ocean floor. Gas hydrate has potential as a source of abundant energy, if it can be extracted and turned into usable form. It also has potential to do great harm.

Scientists uncover new compounds that could affect circadian rhythm

July 9, 2014 7:45 am | News | Comments

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have discovered a surprising new role for a pair of compounds—which have the potential to alter circadian rhythm, the complex physiological process that responds to a cycle of light and dark and is present in most living things. At least one of these compounds could be developed as a chemical probe to uncover new therapeutic approaches to a range of disorders, including diabetes and obesity.

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.

Did Neanderthals eat their vegetables?

June 27, 2014 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The popular conception of the Neanderthal as a club-wielding carnivore is, well, rather primitive, according to a new study conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, our prehistoric cousin may have had a more varied diet that, while heavy on meat, also included plant tissues, such as tubers and nuts.

Researchers detect smallest force ever measured

June 27, 2014 7:29 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

What is believed to be the smallest force ever measured has been detected by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Univ. of California, Berkeley. Using a combination of lasers and a unique optical trapping system that provides a cloud of ultracold atoms, the researchers measured a force of approximately 42 yoctonewtons.

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Carbon-fiber epoxy honeycombs mimic material performance of balsa wood

June 25, 2014 4:06 pm | by Paul Karoff, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

In wind farms across North America and Europe, sleek turbines equipped with state-of-the-art technology convert wind energy into electric power. But tucked inside the blades of these feats of modern engineering is a decidedly low-tech core material: balsa wood.

Advanced Light Source provides new look at skyrmions

June 25, 2014 3:07 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Skyrmions have been observed for the first time using x-rays. An international collaboration of researchers working at the Advanced Light Source observed skyrmions in copper selenite an insulator with multiferroic properties. The results not only hold promise for ultra-compact data storage and processing, but may also open up entire new areas of study in quantum topology.

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.

Collaborative learning for robots

June 25, 2014 7:54 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Machine learning, in which computers learn new skills by looking for patterns in training data, is the basis of most recent advances in artificial intelligence, from voice-recognition systems to self-parking cars. It’s also the technique that autonomous robots typically use to build models of their environments. That type of model-building gets complicated, however, in cases in which clusters of robots work as teams.

Terahertz tech gets a major push

June 25, 2014 7:45 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. scientists have received a grant to develop terahertz-based technology that could enable a dramatic advance in wireless communications and other disciplines. The $1 million grant by the W.M. Keck Foundation will let them tackle some of the knotty problems barring them from using the largely untapped terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Rice will supplement the grant with a $1.5 million commitment.

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New particle-sorting method breaks speed records

June 24, 2014 8:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers compare the processing of biological fluid samples with searching for a needle in a haystack—only in this case, the haystack could be diagnostic samples, and the needle might be tumor cells present in just ppm concentrations. Now, a new way of processing these samples could make such detections possible in real time.

Wearable computing gloves can teach Braille

June 24, 2014 8:12 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Several years ago, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers created a technology-enhanced glove that can teach beginners how to play piano melodies in 45 min. Now they’ve advanced the same wearable computing technology to help people learn how to read and write Braille. The twist is that people wearing the glove don’t have to pay attention. They learn while doing something else.

Morphable surfaces could cut air resistance

June 24, 2014 7:56 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

There’s a story about how the modern golf ball, with its dimpled surface, came to be: In the mid-1800s, it’s said, new golf balls were smooth, but became dimpled over time as impacts left permanent dents. Smooth new balls were typically used for tournament play, but in one match, a player ran short, had to use an old, dented one, and realized that he could drive this dimpled ball much further than a smooth one.

Delivering drugs on cue

June 24, 2014 7:43 am | News | Comments

Current drug delivery systems used to administer chemotherapy to cancer patients typically release a constant dose of the drug over time, but a new study challenges this "slow and steady" approach and offers a novel way to locally deliver the drugs "on demand," as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Sensing skin” quickly detects cracks, damage in concrete structures

June 23, 2014 8:10 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and the Univ. of Eastern Finland have developed new “sensing skin” technology designed to serve as an early warning system for concrete structures, allowing authorities to respond quickly to damage in everything from nuclear facilities to bridges.

Researchers unveil experimental 36-core chip

June 23, 2014 7:38 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The more cores a computer chip has, the bigger the problem of communication between cores becomes. For years, Li-Shiuan Peh, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued that the massively multicore chips of the future will need to resemble little Internets, where each core has an associated router, and data travels between cores in packets of fixed size.

New monkey model for AIDS offers promise for medical research

June 19, 2014 4:38 pm | by Zach Veilleux, The Rockefeller Univ. | News | Comments

HIV-1, the virus responsible for most cases of AIDS, is a very selective virus. It doesn’t readily infect species other than its usual hosts. While this would qualify as good news for most mammals, for humans this fact has made the search for effective treatments and vaccines for AIDS that much more difficult; without an accurate animal model of the disease, researchers have had few options for clinical studies of the virus.

Bioengineers invent way to speed up drug discovery

June 19, 2014 4:20 pm | by Tom Abate, Stanford Engineering | Videos | Comments

Think of the human body as an intricate machine whose working parts are proteins: molecules that change shape to enable our organs and tissues to perform tasks such as breathing, eating or thinking. Of the millions of proteins, 500 in the kinase family are particularly important to drug discovery. Kinases are messengers: They deliver signals that regulate and orchestrate the actions of other proteins.

Researchers develop new ultra-light, ultra-stiff 3-D printed materials

June 19, 2014 4:11 pm | by Kenneth Ma, LLNL | News | Comments

Imagine a material with the same weight and density as aerogel—a material so light it's called “frozen smoke”—but with 10,000 times more stiffness. This material could have a profound impact on the aerospace and automotive industries as well as other applications where lightweight, high-stiffness and high-strength materials are needed.

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.

Nanoengineering boosts carrier multiplication in quantum dots

June 19, 2014 8:51 am | by Nancy Ambrosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated an almost four-fold boost of the carrier multiplication yield with nanoengineered quantum dots. Carrier multiplication is when a single photon can excite multiple electrons. Quantum dots are novel nanostructures that can become the basis of the next generation of solar cells, capable of squeezing additional electricity out of the extra energy of blue and ultraviolet photons.

A new way to detect leaks in pipes

June 19, 2014 8:09 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Explosions caused by leaking gas pipes have frequently made headlines in recent years. But while the problem of old and failing pipes has garnered much attention, methods for addressing such failing infrastructure have lagged far behind. Typically, leaks are found using aboveground acoustic sensors. But these systems are very slow, and can miss small leaks altogether. Now researchers have devised a robotic system that can detect leaks.

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