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Social or stinky? New study reveals how animal defenses evolve

February 10, 2014 7:44 am | by Andy Fell, UC Davis | News | Comments

When people see a skunk, the reaction usually is “Eww,” but when they see a group of meerkats peering around, they often think “Aww.” Why some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups to defend themselves against predators is the question that biologists in California have sought to answer through a comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions among carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.

Key photosynthetic substance present on Earth before atmospheric oxygen

February 7, 2014 11:19 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.

Sochi: Our tweeted emotions to be decrypted in real time

February 7, 2014 10:59 am | News | Comments

Via social media, researchers at the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL) will be tracking emotions of the viewing public during the Olympic Games in Sochi. Their goal is to show, in real time, what people are feeling during the competitions. The new software will not only contend with multiple languages and breakneck speed, it will also track dozens of commonly used emoticons.

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Fire ants inspire new process for storing and dissipating energy

February 7, 2014 10:49 am | News | Comments

U.S. Army-sponsored researchers have discovered a process for simultaneously storing and dissipating energy within structures that could lead to design rules for new types of active, reconfigurable materials. The study method was derived from an examination of how a species of South American fire ant collectively entangle themselves to form an active structure capable of changing state from a liquid to a solid when subject to applied loads.

Artificial hand feels what you touch

February 6, 2014 12:23 pm | by Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer | News | Comments

It's not quite the bionics of science fiction, but European researchers have created a robotic hand that gave an amputee a sense of touch he hadn't felt in a decade. The experiment lasted only a week, but it let the patient feel if different objects were hard or soft, slim or round, and intuitively adjust his grasp.

Graphene “sandwich” improves imaging of biomolecules

February 5, 2014 12:56 pm | by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago | News | Comments

By sandwiching a biological molecule between sheets of graphene, researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago have obtained atomic-level images of the molecule in its natural watery environment. Researchers typically rely on relatively thick windows of silicon nitrate to protect specimens in a vacuum environment of an electron microscope, but the atomically-thin graphene sheets promise a major improvement.

A disc brake for molecules

February 3, 2014 8:50 am | News | Comments

Nitrogen molecules travel at a speed of more than 1,700 km/hr at room temperature, which means the particles are much too fast for many experiments and applications. However, physicists have now found a rather simple way to slow down polar molecules to about 70 km/hr: centrifugal force. The new method makes it possible to produce relatively large quantities of cold molecules in a continuous flow.

An electrical switch for magnetism

January 31, 2014 11:13 am | News | Comments

Only a few elements in the periodic table are inherently magnetic, but scientists have recently discovered that gold, silver, platinum, palladium and other transition metals demonstrate magnetic behavior when formed into nanometer-scale structures. Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science have now shown that this nanoscale magnetism in thin films of platinum can be controlled using an externally applied electric field.

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Zebra fish fins help researchers gain insight into bone regeneration

January 31, 2014 9:05 am | News | Comments

Univ. of Oregon biologists say they have opened the window on the natural process of bone regeneration in zebra fish, and that the insights they gained could be used to advance therapies for bone fractures and disease. Their work shows that two molecular pathways work in concert to allow adult zebra fish to perfectly replace bones lost upon fin amputation.

Self-aligning DNA wires have been constructed for nanoelectronics

January 30, 2014 11:46 am | News | Comments

Continuous miniaturization in microelectronics is nearing physical limits, so researchers are seeking new methods for device fabrication. One promising candidate is a DNA origami technique in which individual strands of the biomolecule self-assemble into arbitrarily-shaped nanostructures. A new simpler strategy combines DNA origami with self-organized pattern formation to do away with elaborate procedures for positioning DNA structures.

Stress turns ordinary cells pluripotent

January 29, 2014 12:20 pm | News | Comments

Scientists in Japan have developed a new, surprisingly simple method for creating stem cell. In a pair of reports, the researchers show that ordinary somatic cells from newborn mice can be stripped of their differentiation memory, reverting to a state of pluripotency resembling embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. All that’s needed is a dose of sublethal stress.

Seafloor carpet catches waves to generate energy

January 29, 2014 7:37 am | by Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

What do champion surfers who gathered at last week’s Mavericks Invitational have in common with a Univ. of California, Berkeley engineer? They all are looking to harness the power of big ocean waves. But the similarities end there. For assistant professor Reza Alam, an expert in wave mechanics, the seafloor “carpet” he is proposing will convert ocean waves into usable energy.

Want to get the flu? Volunteers sneeze for science

January 29, 2014 7:31 am | by Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer | News | Comments

Forget being sneezed on: Government scientists are deliberately giving dozens of volunteers the flu by squirting the live virus straight up their noses. It may sound bizarre, but the rare type of research is a step in the quest for better flu vaccines. It turns out that how the body fends off influenza remains something of a mystery.

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Computing with silicon neurons

January 28, 2014 1:20 pm | News | Comments

Scientists in Germany, inspired by the odor-processing nervous system of insects, have recently refined a new technology that is based on parallel data processing. Called neuromorphic computing, their system is composed of silicon neurons linked together in a similar fashion to the nerve cells in our brains. If the assembly is fed with data, all silicon neurons work in parallel to solve the problem.

Research uncovers historical rise, fall and re-emergence of plague strains

January 28, 2014 9:00 am | News | Comments

An international team of scientists has discovered that two of the world’s most devastating pandemics, the plague of Justinian and the Black Death, each responsible for killing as many as half the people in Europe, were caused by distinct strains of the same pathogen. Because these plagues were hundreds of years apart, the findings suggest a new strain of bubonic plague could emerge again in humans in the future.

Silk coat for diamonds makes sleek new imaging, drug delivery tool

January 27, 2014 2:12 pm | News | Comments

Silk and diamonds aren't just for ties and jewelry anymore. They're ingredients for a new kind of tiny glowing particle that could provide doctors and researchers with a novel technique for biological imaging and drug delivery. Just tens of nanometers across, the new particles are made of diamond, covered in silk and can be injected into living cells.

New boron nanomaterial may be possible

January 27, 2014 1:53 pm | News | Comments

Graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick, may soon have a new nanomaterial partner. In the laboratory and on supercomputers, chemical engineers have determined that a unique arrangement of 36 boron atoms in a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle may be the preferred building blocks for “borophene.”

Getting a charge from changes in humidity

January 27, 2014 11:15 am | News | Comments

A new type of electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water, according to research conducted at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Univ. Its developers foresee electrical generators driven by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors.

World’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system created in Iceland

January 23, 2014 1:54 pm | by Iqbal Pittalwala, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma at only 2100 m depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, called IDDP-1, essentially created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system, and is now blowing superheated 450 C steam directly from a molten magma.

Water in star dust points to origins of life in the universe

January 23, 2014 11:44 am | News | Comments

Space weathering, which works similar to geological erosion on the Earth, produces water in the rims of tiny particles of interplanetary dust. The discovery may have implications on the origins of life and sources of water throughout the galaxy. As a byproduct of star formation, water ice is the most abundant solid material in the universe. But this new source was a surprise.

Fur and feathers keep animals warm by scattering light

January 23, 2014 9:33 am | News | Comments

Scientists have wondered why polar bear fur is much more efficient at insulation than what we can develop for our housing. Now, a team has calculated that hairs, due to an unexpected optical mechanism, reflect infrared light and may contribute significant insulating power to the exceptionally warm winter coats of polar bears and other animals.

Staying cool in the nanoelectric universe by getting hot

January 22, 2014 11:40 am | by Cory Nealon, Univ. at Buffalo | News | Comments

New research hints that nanodevices in microcircuits can protect themselves from heat generation through the transformation of nanotransistors into quantum states. The finding, demonstrated in nanoscale semiconductors devices, could boost computing power without large-scale changes to electronics.

Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archeologists, paleontologists

January 22, 2014 9:04 am | News | Comments

Recreating the story of humanity’s past by studying ancient bones can hit a snag when they deteriorate, but scientists are now reporting an advance inspired by seashells that can better preserve valuable remains. Their findings, which appear in Langmuir, could have wide-ranging implications for both archeology and paleontology.

Turkeys inspire smartphone-capable early warning system for toxins

January 21, 2014 11:46 am | by Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

Some may think of turkeys as good for just lunch meat and holiday meals, but bioengineers at the Univ. of California (UC), Berkeley saw inspiration in the big birds for a new type of biosensor that changes color when exposed to chemical vapors. This feature makes the sensors valuable detectors of toxins or airborne pathogens.

Researcher develops energy-dense sugar battery

January 21, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar, using a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar. While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled.

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