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The Lead

Gasoline from sawdust

November 26, 2014 8:45 am | by KU Leuven | News | Comments

Researchers at KU Leuven’s Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline. Using a new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons can be used as an additive in gasoline, or as a component in plastics.

Want a Nobel Prize? You can buy one

November 25, 2014 5:03 pm | by Associated Press | News | Comments

The 1962 Nobel Prize James Watson won for his role in the discovery of the structure of DNA is...

How turkeys may be lifesavers

November 25, 2014 4:51 pm | by Todd Hollingshead, Brigham Young Univ. | News | Comments

While the turkey you eat on Thursday will bring your stomach happiness and could probably kick-...

Angiogenesis drug could provide treatment for TB

November 25, 2014 9:27 am | by Karl Bates, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

The body responds to tuberculosis infection by locking the bacterial offenders into tiny...

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Engineers climb walls using gecko-inspired climbing device

November 25, 2014 8:54 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service | Videos | Comments

If you spot someone stuck to the sheer glass side of a building on the Stanford Univ. campus, it's probably Elliot Hawkes testing his dissertation work. Hawkes, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works with a team of engineers who are developing controllable, reusable adhesive materials that, like the gecko toes that inspire the work, can form a strong bond with smooth surfaces but also release with minimal effort.

Bee brains offer insights into how human memories form

November 24, 2014 9:46 am | by Univ. of Queensland | News | Comments

Scientists have discovered that genes switch off as memories are being formed, allowing for new connections between nerve cells. The discovery could eventually lead to a key for treating conditions such as autism and dementia. Researchers studying honeybees during learning activities have shown that memory management in the bee brain is controlled by small genetic elements called microRNAs that help regulate gene expression.

Many older brains have plasticity, but in a different place

November 20, 2014 8:38 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

A widely presumed problem of aging is that the brain becomes less flexible or plastic, and that learning may therefore become more difficult. A new study led by Brown Univ. researchers contradicts that notion with a finding that plasticity did occur in seniors who learned a task well, but it occurred in a different part of the brain than in younger people.

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Fool’s gold as a solar material?

November 19, 2014 7:47 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

As the installation of photovoltaic solar cells continues to accelerate, scientists are looking for inexpensive materials beyond the traditional silicon that can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Theoretically, iron pyrite could do the job, but when it works at all, the conversion efficiency remains frustratingly low. Now, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison research team explains why that is.

Warmth, flowing water on early Mars were episodic

November 18, 2014 11:46 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Ample evidence of ancient rivers, streams and lakes make it clear that Mars was at some point warm enough for liquid water to flow on its surface. While that may conjure up images of a tropical Martian paradise, new research published in Nature Geoscience throws a bit of cold water on that notion.

As temperatures rise, soil will relinquish less carbon to atmosphere

November 18, 2014 8:26 am | by Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Here’s another reason to pay close attention to microbes: Current climate models probably overestimate the amount of carbon that will be released from soil into the atmosphere as global temperatures rise, according to research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The findings are from a new computer model that explores the feedbacks between soil carbon and climate change.

Chemical in coffee may help prevent obesity-related disease

November 17, 2014 10:33 am | by James Hataway, Univ. of Georgia | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Georgia have discovered that a chemical compound commonly found in coffee may help prevent some of the damaging effects of obesity. In a recently published paper published, scientists found that chlorogenic acid, or CGA, significantly reduced insulin resistance and accumulation of fat in the livers of mice who were fed a high-fat diet.

Artificial intelligence magic tricks

November 17, 2014 8:46 am | by Queen Mary Univ. of London | Videos | Comments

Researchers from the Queen Mary Univ. of London gave a computer program the outline of how a magic jigsaw puzzle and a mind-reading card trick work, as well the results of experiments into how humans understand magic tricks, and the system created completely new variants on those tricks which can be delivered by a magician.

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Motion-induced quicksand

November 17, 2014 7:45 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

From a mechanical perspective, granular materials are stuck between a rock and a fluid place, with behavior resembling neither a solid nor a liquid. Think of sand through an hourglass: As grains funnel through, they appear to flow like water, but once deposited, they form a relatively stable mound, much like a solid.

Subducting oceanic plates are thinning adjacent continents

November 13, 2014 4:28 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

The continental margins of plates on either side of the Atlantic Ocean are thinner than expected, and an international team led by a Rice Univ. scientist is using an array of advanced tools to understand why. The viscous bottom layers of the continental shelves beneath the Gibraltar arc and northeastern South America are literally being pulled off by adjacent subducting oceanic plates.

Drugging the undruggable

November 13, 2014 11:07 am | by Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

A trawl through a library of more than 50,000 small molecules has identified a potential candidate to inhibit the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. Reported in Nature Communications, the molecule targets a mechanism of tumor development that had previously been considered “undruggable” and could open the door to further promising new candidates.

Moving cameras talk to each other to identify, track pedestrians

November 13, 2014 10:11 am | by Michelle Ma, Univ. of Washington | Videos | Comments

It’s not uncommon to see cameras mounted on store ceilings, propped up in public places or placed inside subways, buses and even on the dashboards of cars. Cameras record our world down to the second. This can be a powerful surveillance tool on the roads and in buildings, but it’s surprisingly hard to sift through vast amounts of visual data to find pertinent information, until now.

Common fracking chemicals no more toxic than household substances

November 12, 2014 4:15 pm | by Laura Snider, CU-Boulder Media Relations | News | Comments

The “surfactant” chemicals found in samples of fracking fluid collected in five states were no more toxic than substances commonly found in homes, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by researchers at the Univ. of Colorado Boulder. Fracking fluid is largely comprised of water and sand, but oil and gas companies also add a variety of other chemicals, including surfactants.

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Electronic “tongue” to ensure food quality

November 12, 2014 10:35 am | by American Chemical Society | News | Comments

An electronic “tongue” could one day sample food and drinks as a quality check before they hit store shelves. Or it could someday monitor water for pollutants or test blood for signs of disease. With an eye toward these applications, scientists are reporting the development of a new, inexpensive and highly sensitive version of such a device in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Synthetic biology for space exploration

November 10, 2014 9:27 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Does synthetic biology hold the key to manned space exploration of the moon and Mars? Berkeley Lab researchers have used synthetic biology to produce an inexpensive and reliable microbial-based alternative to the world’s most effective anti-malaria drug, and to develop clean, green and sustainable alternatives to gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. In the future, synthetic biology could also be used to make manned space missions more practical.

First peek at how neurons multitask

November 10, 2014 8:01 am | by Laura Williams, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have shown how a single neuron can perform multiple functions in a model organism, illuminating for the first time this fundamental biological mechanism and shedding light on the human brain. Investigators found that a neuron in C. elegans regulates both the speed and direction in which the worm moves.

3-D printing a lunar base

November 7, 2014 9:29 am | by European Space Agency | News | Comments

Could astronauts one day be printing rather than building a base on the Moon? In 2013 ESA, working with industrial partners, proved that 3-D printing using lunar material was feasible in principle. Since then, work continues to investigate the technique.

The origins of multicellular life

November 6, 2014 10:14 am | by Massey Univ. | News | Comments

In groundbreaking research reported in this week’s edition of Nature, researchers from New Zealand, Germany and the United States report the real-time evolution of life forms that have all the hallmarks of multicellular organisms.       

Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds

November 6, 2014 9:47 am | by Matt Shipman, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

North Carolina State Univ. researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound.                  

Longhorn beetle inspires ink to fight counterfeiting

November 5, 2014 9:30 am | by American Chemical Society | News | Comments

From water marks to colored threads, governments are constantly adding new features to paper money to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters. Now a longhorn beetle has inspired yet another way to foil cash fraud, as well as to produce colorful, changing billboards and art displays. In ACS Nano, researchers report a new kind of ink that mimics the beetle’s color-shifting ability in a way that would be long-lasting and difficult to copy.

Synthetic fish measures wild ride through dams

November 5, 2014 8:31 am | by Frances White, PNNL | News | Comments

In the Pacific Northwest, young salmon must dodge predatory birds, sea lions and more in their perilous trek toward the ocean. Hydroelectric dams don't make the trip any easier, with their manmade currents sweeping fish past swirling turbines and other obstacles. Despite these challenges, most juvenile salmon survive this journey every year.

Thirdhand smoke: Toxic airborne pollutants linger long after the smoke clears

November 4, 2014 2:47 pm | by Julie Chao, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Ever walked into a hotel room and smelled old cigarette smoke? While the last smoker may have left the room hours or even days ago, the lingering odors are thanks to thirdhand smoke. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who have made important findings on the dangers of thirdhand smoke and how it adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, have published a new study assessing the health effects of thirdhand smoke constituents.

Running robots of future may learn from world’s best two-legged runners

November 3, 2014 10:49 am | by David Stauth, Oregon State Univ. | News | Comments

With an eye toward making better running robots, researchers have made surprising new findings about some of nature’s most energy-efficient bipeds—running birds. Although birds are designed primarily for flight, scientists have learned that species that predominately live on land and scurry around on the ground are also some of the most sophisticated runners of any two-legged land animals.

Cell division, minus the cells

October 31, 2014 12:42 pm | by Elizabeth Cooney, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

The process of cell division is central to life. The last stage, cytokinesis, when two daughter cells split from each other, has fascinated scientists but has been notoriously difficult to study. Now Harvard Medical School systems biologists report that they have reconstituted cytokinesis, complete with signals that direct molecular traffic, without the cell.

Climate change beliefs more influenced by long-term temperature fluctuations

October 31, 2014 8:14 am | by Phil Ciciora, Business & Law Editor, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

In spite of the broad scientific consensus about its existence, global warming remains a contentious public policy issue. Yet it’s also an issue that requires a public consensus to support policies that might curb or counteract it. According to research, the task of educating the public about climate change might be made easier or more difficult depending on their perception of short-term versus long-term temperature changes.

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