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A hot start to the origin of life?

May 6, 2015 8:01 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

DNA is synonymous with life, but where did it originate? One way to answer this question is to try to recreate the conditions that formed DNA’s molecular precursors. These precursors are carbon ring structures with embedded nitrogen atoms, key components of nucleobases, which themselves are building blocks of the double helix.

Observed: The moment your mind changes

May 6, 2015 7:48 am | by Janet Rae-Dupree and Tom Abate, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers studying how the brain makes decisions have, for the first time, recorded the moment-by-moment fluctuations in brain signals that occur when a monkey making free choices has a change of mind. The findings result from experiments led by electrical engineering Prof. Krishna Shenoy, whose Stanford Univ. lab focuses on movement control and neural prostheses controlled by the user's brain.

Producing jet fuel compounds from fungus

May 6, 2015 7:36 am | by Tina Hilding, Washington State Univ. | News | Comments

Washington State Univ. researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. The researchers hope the process leads to economically viable production of aviation biofuels in the next five years. The researchers used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.

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Improving organic transistors that drive flexible, comfortable electronics

May 5, 2015 12:40 pm | by Janet Lathrop, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst | News | Comments

A revolution is coming in flexible electronic technologies as cheaper, more flexible, organic transistors come on the scene to replace expensive, rigid, silicone-based semiconductors, but not enough is known about how bending in these new thin-film electronic devices will affect their performance, say materials scientists at the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst.

Toward a squishier robot

May 5, 2015 11:37 am | by Univ. of Pittsburgh | News | Comments

For decades, robots have advanced the efficiency of human activity. Typically, however, robots are formed from bulky, stiff materials and require connections to external power sources; these features limit their dexterity and mobility. But what if a new material would allow for development of a "soft robot" that could reconfigure its own shape and move using its own internally generated power?

A first for field-effect transistors

May 5, 2015 11:14 am | by Bonnie Davis, Office of Communications and External Relations, Wake Forest Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from Wake Forest Univ. and the Univ. of Utah are the first to successfully fabricate halide organic-inorganic hybrid perovskite field-effect transistors and measure their electrical characteristics at room temperature. The team designed the structure of these field-effect transistors to achieve electrostatic gating of these materials and determine directly their electrical properties.

“Microcombing” creates stronger, more conductive carbon nanotube films

May 5, 2015 9:42 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers have developed an inexpensive technique called “microcombing” to align carbon nanotubes, which can be used to create large, pure CNT films that are stronger than any previous such films. The technique also improves the electrical conductivity that makes these films attractive for use in electronic and aerospace applications.

First evidence of changing conditions on a super Earth

May 5, 2015 8:36 am | by Sarah Collins, Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super Earth, the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the solar system, and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the “diamond planet”.

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Channeling valleytronics in graphene

May 5, 2015 8:05 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

To the list of potential applications of graphene we can now add valleytronics, the coding of data in the wave-like motion of electrons as they speed through a conductor. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have discovered topologically protected 1-D electron conducting channels at the domain walls of bilayer graphene. These conducting channels are “valley polarized".

Tracking photosynthesis from space

May 5, 2015 7:55 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Watching plants perform photosynthesis from space sounds like a futuristic proposal, but a new application of data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite may enable scientists to do just that. The new technique, which allows researchers to analyze plant productivity from far above Earth, will provide a clearer picture of the global carbon cycle.

Engineering students create real-time 3-D radar system

May 5, 2015 7:44 am | by Jade Boyd, Rice Univ. | Videos | Comments

Spencer Kent stands nervously in front of Team D.R.A.D.I.S.’ booth at Rice Univ.’s annual Engineering Design Showcase. Judging begins in about 10 min, and his teammate Galen Schmidt is frantically typing computer code into a laptop beside the team’s custom-made radar system.

Implantable electrode coating good as gold

May 4, 2015 11:51 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Univ. of California, Davis, have found that covering an implantable neural electrode with nanoporous gold could eliminate the risk of scar tissue forming over the electrode’s surface. The team demonstrated that the nanostructure of nanoporous gold achieves close physical coupling of neurons by maintaining a high neuron-to-astrocyte surface coverage ratio.

Proteomics identifies DNA repair toolbox

May 4, 2015 10:49 am | by Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry | News | Comments

During each cell division, more than 3.3 billion base pairs of genomic DNA have to be duplicated and segregated accurately to daughter cells. But what happens when the DNA template is damaged in such a way that the replication machinery gets stuck? To answer this question, a team of scientists have analyzed how the protein composition of the DNA replication machinery changes upon encountering damaged DNA.

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The random Raman laser: A new light source for microcosmos

May 4, 2015 10:42 am | by The Optical Society | News | Comments

In modern microscope imaging techniques, lasers are used as light sources because they can deliver fast pulsed and extremely high-intensity radiation to a target, allowing for rapid image acquisition. However, traditional lasers come with a significant disadvantage in that they produce images with blurred speckle patterns: a visual artifact that arises because of a property of traditional lasers called "high spatial coherence."

“Nanoflares” superheat sun’s corona

May 4, 2015 9:44 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

New research by NASA, Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Glasgow details the first solid evidence of why the sun’s atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its 10,340 F surface. The answer, according to Rice astrophysicist Stephen Bradshaw and his colleagues, involves intermittent “nanoflares,” bursts of hot plasma in the corona that have a billion times less energy than regular flares but still reach temperatures of 18 million degrees Fahrenheit.

How studying bat touch could help build better planes

May 4, 2015 8:51 am | by Columbia Univ. Medical Center | Videos | Comments

Bats are masters of flight in the night sky, capable of steep nosedives and sharp turns that put our best aircrafts to shame. Although the role of echolocation in bats’ impressive midair maneuvering has been extensively studied, the contribution of touch has been largely overlooked. A study published in Cell Reports shows, for the first time, that a unique array of sensory receptors in the wing provides feedback to a bat during flight.

For batteries, one material does it all

May 4, 2015 8:22 am | by Univ. of Maryland | News | Comments

Engineers at the Univ. of Maryland have created a battery that is made entirely out of one material, which can both move electricity and store it. Envision an Oreo cookie. Most batteries have at either end a layer of material for the electrodes like the chocolate cookies to help move ions though the creamy frosting (the electrolyte). The team made a single material that incorporates the properties of both the electrodes and electrolyte.

From brittle to plastic in one breath

May 4, 2015 7:49 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

What if peanut brittle, under certain conditions, behaved like taffy? Something like that happens to a 2-D dichalcogenide analyzed by scientists at Rice Univ. Rice researchers calculated that atomically thin layers of molybdenum disulfide can take on the qualities of plastic through exposure to a sulfur-infused gas at the right temperature and pressure.

Researchers probe chemistry, topography and mechanics with one instrument

May 4, 2015 7:39 am | by Dawn Levy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

The probe of an atomic force microscope (AFM) scans a surface to reveal details at a resolution 1,000 times greater than that of an optical microscope. That makes AFM the premier tool for analyzing physical features, but it cannot tell scientists anything about chemistry. For that they turn to the mass spectrometer.

New research into health benefits of coffee

May 1, 2015 10:29 am | by Monash Univ. | News | Comments

New research has brought us closer to being able to understand the health benefits of coffee. Monash Univ. researchers, in collaboration with Italian coffee roasting company Illycaffè, have conducted the most comprehensive study to date on how free radicals and antioxidants behave during every stage of the coffee brewing process, from intact bean to coffee brew.

Practical gel that simply “clicks” for biomedical applications

May 1, 2015 10:17 am | by Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

If you opt to wear soft contact lenses, chances are you are using hydrogels on a daily basis. Made up of polymer chains that are able to absorb water, hydrogels used in contacts are flexible and allow oxygen to pass through the lenses, keeping eyes healthy. Hydrogels can be up to 99% water and as a result are similar in composition to human tissues.

Gravity data show that Antarctic ice sheet is melting increasingly faster

May 1, 2015 9:09 am | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

During the past decade, Antarctica's massive ice sheet lost twice the amount of ice in its western portion compared with what it accumulated in the east, according to Princeton Univ. researchers who came to one overall conclusion: The southern continent's ice cap is melting ever faster.

Dull glow of forest yields orbital tracking of photosynthesis

May 1, 2015 8:59 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

A research team has provided some crucial ground-truth for a method of measuring plant photosynthesis on a global scale from low-Earth orbit. The researchers have shown that chlorophyll fluorescence, a faint glow produced by plant leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis, is a strong proxy for photosynthetic activity in the canopy of a deciduous forest.

How metal contamination makes gasoline production inefficient

May 1, 2015 8:45 am | by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory | Videos | Comments

Scientists have identified key mechanisms of the aging process of catalyst particles that are used to refine crude oil into gasoline. This advance could lead to more efficient gasoline production. Their recent experiments studied so-called fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) particles that are used to break long-chain hydrocarbons in crude oil into smaller, more valuable hydrocarbons like gasoline.

Cellular sensing platform supports next-gen bioscience, biotech applications

May 1, 2015 8:25 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a novel cellular sensing platform that promises to expand the use of semiconductor technology in the development of next-generation bioscience and biotech applications. The research proposes and demonstrates the world’s first multi-modality cellular sensor arranged in a standard low-cost CMOS process.

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