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Atomically thin solar cells

March 10, 2014 12:56 pm | News | Comments

Graphene is not the only ultrathin material that exhibits special electronic properties. Ultrathin layers made of tungsten and selenium have recently been created in Austria that show a high internal efficiency when used to gather sunlight. More than 95% of light passes straight through, but a tenth of what is stopped is converted to electricity.

NASA launches new research on twins, seeking the subtle in parallel ways

March 9, 2014 11:47 pm | News | Comments

Although NASA’s Human Research Program has been researching the effects of spaceflight on the human body for decades, the March 7 announcement of 10 investigations for the study of identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly will provide a broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth-based environments.

Pigment or bacteria? Researchers re-examine the idea of “color” in fossil feathers

March 7, 2014 8:33 am | by Tracey Peake, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Paleontologists studying fossilized feathers have proposed that the shapes of certain microscopic structures inside the feathers can tell us the color of ancient birds. But new research from North Carolina State Univ. demonstrates that it is not yet possible to tell if these structures, thought to be melanosomes, are what they seem, or if they are merely the remnants of ancient bacteria.

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Bright pulses of light could make space veggies more nutritious

March 5, 2014 9:48 am | News | Comments

One of the concerns for astronauts during future extended spaceflights will be the onslaught of eye-damaging radiation, and plants that contain carotenoids would help mitigate that harm. According to a new study by researchers at the Univ. of Colorado Boulder, exposing leafy vegetables grown during spaceflight to a few bright pulses of light daily could increase the amount of eye-protecting nutrients produced by the plants.

Giant virus revived after more than 30,000 years

March 4, 2014 3:15 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have revived a giant virus more than 30,000 years old, recovered from the permafrost of northeast Siberia. It is a new kind of giant virus, joining a group that was first discovered 10 years ago. But the virus poses no threat to people, only amoebas.

Physics in 3-D? That's nothing. Try 0-D

March 4, 2014 10:43 am | by Tom Robinette, Univ. of Cincinnati | News | Comments

In physics, there's small, and then there's nullity, as in zero-dimensional. Univ. of Cincinnati researchers have reached this threshold with a special structure, zero-dimensional quantum dots, that may someday lead to better ways of harnessing solar energy, stronger lasers or more sensitive medical diagnostic devices.

Peat soils as gigantic batteries

February 28, 2014 4:02 pm | by Peter Rüegg, ETH Zurch | News | Comments

Researchers from ETH Zurich and the Univ. of Tubingen in Europehave recently described a process that suppresses the formation of methane in soils that are rich in humic substances. The soils act as a battery, releasing to and accepting electrons from soil bacteria depending on the presence of oxygen. The study shows that electron transfer to and from humic substances is an important process with global implications for methane release.

Planet bonanza: Kepler finds 715 new worlds

February 27, 2014 12:57 pm | News | Comments

NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system. Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.

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Researchers develop ultrathin perfect ultraviolet light absorber

February 27, 2014 12:00 pm | News | Comments

Ultraviolet light (UV) has not only harmful effects on molecules and biological tissue like human skin but it also can impair the performance of organic solar cells upon long-term exposure. Researchers in Germany have now developed a so-called plasmonic metamaterial which is compatible with solar technology and completely absorbs UV light despite being only 20 nm thin.

Need a water filter? Peel a tree branch

February 27, 2014 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If you’ve run out of drinking water during a lakeside camping trip, there’s a simple solution: Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark and slowly pour lake water through the stick. The improvised filter should trap any bacteria, producing fresh, uncontaminated water. In fact, a team has discovered that this low-tech filtration system can produce up to 4 L of drinking water a day.

Maze puts images on floor, where rats look

February 26, 2014 3:01 pm | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Visual acuity is sharpest for rats and mice when the animals are looking down. Researchers have found that rodents can learn tasks in a fourth to a sixth of the usual number of repetitions when visual stimuli are projected onto the floor of the maze rather than onto the walls.

Self-administration of flu vaccine with a patch may be feasible

February 26, 2014 2:17 pm | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

The annual ritual of visiting a doctor’s office or health clinic to receive a flu shot may soon be outdated, thanks to the findings of a new study. The research, which involved nearly 100 people recruited in the metropolitan Atlanta area, found that test subjects could successfully apply a prototype vaccine patch to themselves.

Electron on the scale: A new measurement of mass

February 26, 2014 11:15 am | News | Comments

Collaborative work by physicists has successfully "weighed" the mass of the electron 13 times more precisely than the best previous effort. The result, which could have an impact on our understanding of fundamental physical laws, was achieved using a method that could determine the presence of a mosquito on a jumbo jet just by weighing the airplane.

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Scientists twist sound with metamaterials

February 25, 2014 5:14 pm | News | Comments

A Chinese-U.S. research team is exploring the use of metamaterials to create devices that manipulate sound in versatile and unprecedented ways. In a recently published paper, the team reports a simple design for a device, called an acoustic field rotator, which can twist wave fronts inside it so that they appear to be propagating from another direction.

Soy supplements with isoflavones “reprogram” breast cancer cells

February 25, 2014 8:05 am | by Sharita Forrest, News Editor, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Women with estrogen-responsive breast cancer who consume soy protein supplements containing isoflavones to alleviate the side effects of menopause may be accelerating progression of their cancer, changing it from a treatable subtype to a more aggressive, less treatable form of the disease, new research suggests.

Nanotechnology in glass sponge

February 24, 2014 9:54 am | News | Comments

To attach itself to surfaces, the marine sponge Monorhaphis chuni forms an unusual glass rod. Researchers have recently analyzed the nanostructure of the filament passing through the center of this glass rod and discovered that it is formed with a perfect periodic arrangement of nanopores. In this way, the sponge employs a similar method that is now used for fabrication of man-made mesoporous nanomaterials.

Going with the flow makes bacteria stick

February 24, 2014 7:32 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a surprising new finding, researchers have discovered that bacterial movement is impeded in flowing water, enhancing the likelihood that the microbes will attach to surfaces. The new work could have implications for the study of marine ecosystems, and for our understanding of how infections take hold in medical devices.

Meet your match: Algorithms to spark scientific collaboration

February 21, 2014 10:33 am | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.K. have developed a novel approach to enabling collaborations between researchers at conferences and academic meetings: Treat them like genes. Using mathematical algorithms, the team created a method of matching conference-goers according to pre-set criteria, bringing about unforeseen collaboration opportunities while also enabling “would-like-to-meet” match-ups across disciplines and knowledge areas.

Quantum computation in diamond

February 20, 2014 3:09 am | News | Comments

Computers don’t need to be error-free. They just need to correct their errors reliably, which means that controlling a quantum system is crucial to the function of a quantum computer. A research team has now found a way to control the quantum system of a diamond which has a few nitrogen impurities. They have used the system to perform a logic operation and error correction in a quantum register made from nuclear spins of the gemstone.

A stretchable highway for light

February 20, 2014 2:53 am | News | Comments

A team of Belgian researchers have made what may be the first optical circuit that uses interconnections that are not only bendable, but also stretchable. These new interconnections, made of a rubbery transparent material called PDMS, guide light along their path even when stretched up to 30% and when bent around an object the diameter of a human finger.

Within tarantula venom, new hope for safe painkillers found

February 19, 2014 9:19 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Screening more than 100 spider toxins, Yale Univ. researchers identified a protein from the venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula that blunts activity in pain-transmitting neurons. The findings, reported in Current Biology, show the new screening method used by the scientists has the potential to search millions of different spider toxins for safe pain-killing drugs and therapies.

Pomegranate-inspired design solves problems for lithium-ion batteries

February 18, 2014 8:46 am | News | Comments

An electrode designed like a pomegranate—with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seeds in a tough carbon rind—overcomes several remaining obstacles to using silicon for a new generation of lithium-ion batteries, say its inventors at Stanford Univ. and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Robotic construction crew needs no foreman

February 14, 2014 8:42 am | by Caroline Perry, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

Inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, a team of computer scientists and engineers at Harvard Univ. has created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky and no communication. Exhibiting a swarm-like intelligence, these robots, in any number, can cooperate simply by modifying their environment.

The physics of curly hair

February 14, 2014 8:23 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering | News | Comments

The heroes and villains in animated films tend to be on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. But they’re often similar in their hair, which is usually extremely rigid or straight and swings to and fro. It’s rare to see an animated character with bouncy, curly hair, since computer animators don’t have a simple mathematical means for describing it. That is, until now.

Researchers develop first single-molecule LED

February 13, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

A team in France has greatly miniaturized the light-emitting diode (LED) by creating one from a single polythiophene wire placed between the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope and a gold surface. This nanowire, which is made of the same hydrogen, carbon and sulfur components found in much larger LEDs, emits light only when the current passes in a certain direction.

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