Category Archives: Science

Interest and fascination grows about robots’ artistic talents

Captives #B04 from Quayola on Vimeo.

Industrial robots which are normally seen in factories making cars or some other heavy industrial object are increasingly shown as drawing or painting like artists. 

These days, with ever-more powerful artificial intelligence software driving the robots, it’s difficult to say if there’s anything left that robots cannot do.

The big question is probably, “Is there anything that humans can do that robots cannot?”

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Carnegie Mellon names one of its rooms after Leybold

leybold carnegie mellon

University marks inauguration of a Leybold Conference and Reception Room at Carnegie Mellon University Nanofabrication Facility

Being at the forefront of university research is very important for innovating next generation vacuum technology products.

As a local partner with Pittsburgh based Carnegie Mellon University, Leybold has been not only a supplier, but also a generous and benevolent sponsor for years.

As an acknowledgement for this close cooperation, the CMU community named one of the new conference center and reception rooms “Leybold” and celebrated this inauguration with a presentation and reception held at the CMU Nanofabrication Facility recently. 

Robots now ‘essential’ to clinical diagnostic labs, says new report

fl smith lab automation

Picture courtesy FL Automation

There is an $8.8 billion market for robotic laboratory automation systems, according to Kalorama Information.

The healthcare research firm just completed a report on lab robots, and notes the imbalance between the high demand for diagnostics and the lack of supply of qualified technicians.

Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama, says: “More than two-thirds of clinical decisions are based on laboratory test results, and new tests are developed constantly.

“But a shrinking field of qualified laboratory personnel, while demand grows requires something to handle the tasks created.” 

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UNSW scientists unveil a giant leap for anti-aging

researchers

University of New South Wales researchers have made a discovery that could lead to a revolutionary drug that actually reverses ageing, improves DNA repair and could even help NASA get its astronauts to Mars.

In a paper published in Science today, the team identifies a critical step in the molecular process that allows cells to repair damaged DNA.

Their experiments in mice suggest a treatment is possible for DNA damage from ageing and radiation. It is so promising it has attracted the attention of NASA, which believes the treatment can help its Mars mission. 

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Physicists design a device inspired by sonic screwdriver

physics researchers

Physicists have designed a handheld device inspired by the sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who and the tricorder in Star Trek that will use the power of MRI and mass spectrometry to perform a chemical analysis of objects.

The sonic screwdriver is a tool used in Doctor Who to scan and identify matter, among other functions, while the multi-purpose tricorder in Star Trek can provide a detailed analysis of living things.

Lead researcher Dr Marcus Doherty from The Australian National University (ANU) said the team had proven the concept of a diamond-based quantum device to perform similar functions to these science fiction tools and would now develop a prototype.

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Scientists create new form of matter, a time crystal

time crystal

Salt, snowflakes and diamonds are all crystals, meaning their atoms are arranged in 3-D patterns that repeat. Today scientists are reporting in the journal Nature on the creation of a phase of matter, dubbed a time crystal, in which atoms move in a pattern that repeats in time rather than in space.

The atoms in a time crystal never settle down into what’s known as thermal equilibrium, a state in which they all have the same amount of heat. It’s one of the first examples of a broad new class of matter, called nonequilibrium phases, that have been predicted but until now have remained out of reach. Like explorers stepping onto an uncharted continent, physicists are eager to explore this exotic new realm.

“This opens the door to a whole new world of nonequilibrium phases,” says Andrew Potter, an assistant professor of physics at The University of Texas at Austin. “We’ve taken these theoretical ideas that we’ve been poking around for the last couple of years and actually built it in the laboratory. Hopefully, this is just the first example of these, with many more to come.”

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Large Hadron Collider gets new upgrade

hadron collider

CERN physicists and engineers have carried out a highly complex operation right at the heart of one of the four main experiments of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC): the CMS detector, located 100 m below ground under French territory, at one of the LHC’s collision points.

CMS is one of the four main detectors on the 27km LHC accelerator., and one of the two experiments which found the Higgs boson in 2012. The heart of the CMS experiment is the pixel detector, the innermost instrument in the very heart of the CMS apparatus, the very point where new particles, such as the Higgs boson, are produced by the energy of the proton proton collisions of the LHC accelerator.

With thousands of silicon sensors, the new Pixel Tracker is now being upgraded to improve the particle-tracking capabilities of CMS. This operation, started on Tuesday February 28 when the first components of the new instrument were descended into the experiment’s cavern, is one of the most significant milestones ahead of the LHC restart this spring.

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Most complex nanoparticle crystal ever made by design

complex crystal

The most complex crystal designed and built from nanoparticles has been reported by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan. The work demonstrates that some of nature’s most complicated structures can be deliberately assembled if researchers can control the shapes of the particles and the way they connect using DNA.

“This is a tour de force demonstration of what is possible when one harnesses the chemistry of DNA and combines it with nanoparticles whose shapes encourage a particular crystal structure,” said Chad A. Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

Nanotechnology promises to bring materials together in new ways, forging new capabilities by design. One potential application for crystals built of nanoparticles, such as these newly reported ones, is the control of light — nanoparticles interact well with light waves because they are similar in size. This could lead to materials that can change colors or patterns on command or block certain wavelengths of light, while transmitting or amplifying others. New types of lenses, lasers and even Star Trek-like cloaking materials are possible.

How protein misfolding may kickstart chemical evolution

gene

Researchers from Emory University and Georgia Tech have demonstrated the connection between abnormal folding of proteins and the emergence of life. Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative conditions involving abnormal folding of proteins, may help explain the emergence of life – and how to create it.

Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Tech demonstrated this connection in two new papers published by Nature Chemistry: “Design of multi-phase dynamic chemical networks” and “Catalytic diversity in self-propagating peptide assemblies.”

“In the first paper we showed that you can create tension between a chemical and physical system to give rise to more complex systems. And in the second paper, we showed that these complex systems can have remarkable and unexpected functions,” said David Lynn, a systems chemist at Emory who led the research. “The work was inspired by our current understanding of Darwinian selection of protein misfolding in neurodegenerative diseases.”

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New finds from China suggest human evolution probably of regional continuity

skull

The period between about 200,000 and 50,000 years ago saw the amplification of regional diversity in human biology. Given the fragmentary nature of that human fossil record, the nature of these late Middle and early Late Pleistocene humans in the more northern portions of eastern Eurasia has been unclear.

In their recent study, paleontologists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and their collaborators reported two early Late Pleistocene (~105,000- to 125,000-year-old) crania from Lingjing, Xuchang, China. They exhibit a morphological mosaic with differences from and similarities to their western contemporaries. This morphological combination reflects Pleistocene human evolutionary patterns in general biology, as well as both regional continuity and interregional population dynamics.

The Xuchang 1 and 2 crania, excavated in situ in the Lingjing site in Xuchang County of Henan Province between 2007 and 2014, exhibit a distinctive morphological pattern combined with paleobiological trends that appear to have been pan-Old World. They reflect eastern Eurasian ancestry in having low, sagittally flat, and inferiorly broad neurocrania. They share occipital (suprainiac and nuchal torus) and temporal labyrinthine (semicircular canal) morphology with the Neandertals.

First clouded leopard cub produced with cryopreserved cells

leopard cub

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and the Nashville Zoo are pleased to announce the birth of a male clouded leopard on March 1, 2017 from an artificial insemination (AI) procedure using frozen/thawed semen. This accomplishment is a first for this species and a giant step for global conservation efforts.

“This cub, the first clouded leopard offspring produced with cryopreserved semen, is a symbol of how zoos and scientists can come together to make positive change for animals and preserving global biodiversity,” said Adrienne Crosier, biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “Collaboration is the key to conservation of clouded leopards, along with so many other rare and endangered species we care for and study.”

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and Nashville Zoo have a long history of working together on clouded leopard conservation. Since 2000, they have collaborated with Point Defiance Zoo and Thailand’s Zoological Park Organization to form the Clouded Leopard Consortium and develop breeding programs as well as field monitoring projects for clouded leopards in Thailand. Because the captive clouded leopard population is not self-sustaining, it necessitates the need for intensive reproductive management techniques to maintaining captive populations not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.

Sugar’s ‘tipping point’ link to Alzheimer’s disease revealed

sugar cubes

For the first time a “tipping point” molecular link between the blood sugar glucose and Alzheimer’s disease has been established by scientists, who have shown that excess glucose damages a vital enzyme involved with inflammation response to the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Abnormally high blood sugar levels, or hyperglycaemia, is well-known as a characteristic of diabetes and obesity, but its link to Alzheimer’s disease is less familiar.

Diabetes patients have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy individuals. In Alzheimer’s disease abnormal proteins aggregate to form plaques and tangles in the brain which progressively damage the brain and lead to severe cognitive decline.

Big changes from a small package for hydrogen storage

hydrogen

Sometimes, you have to go small to win big. That is the approach a multilab, interdisciplinary team took in using nanoparticles and a novel nanoconfinement system to develop a method to change hydrogen storage properties.

This discovery could enable the creation of high-capacity hydrogen storage materials capable of quick refueling, improving the performance of emerging hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.

Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, collaborated on the research, which was published Feb. 8 in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

The work was funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office and the Boeing Co.

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Broad cancer vaccine may be out of reach

vaccination

The high level of genetic diversity between individual tumors suggests that if it were to be developed, a broad cancer vaccine would be unlikely to work for more than 0.3 per cent of the population, according to new research published in the open access journal Genome Medicine.

Next generation sequencing has revealed a wealth of information on the genetic diversity of tumors, which in turn has led to research into individualised treatments for cancer based on the molecular characteristics of a patient’s tumor.

Cancer vaccines are one type of prospective treatment that involves turning the patient’s immune system against the tumor.

Dr Ryan Hartmaier, lead author from Foundation Medicine, USA, said: “A broad or semi-universal vaccine capable of targeting many different tumors would be seen by some as the ‘holy grail’ of cancer therapy as it wouldn’t involve the time or cost of individualising treatment. 

Machine learning helps researchers design less costly optical sensors

Finding practical solutions to detect proteins, cancer biomarkers, viruses and other small objects has been a key challenge for researchers worldwide for decades. These solutions hold promise for saving lives through more timely diagnosis and treatment of serious infections and diseases.

Now a UCLA team’s new research shows how such detections might be done for a fraction of the cost by using “smart” mobile devices designed by machine learning.

One method to detect small objects and related biomarkers is called plasmonic sensing, which involves shining light onto metal nanostructures to amplify the local electric field. The interaction between this amplified electric field and the molecule of interest can be measured, revealing important information about molecular concentration and kinetics.

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