Established in 2020 Sunday, June 13, 2021

Microscope reveals the secrets of a material's structure

Emad Oveisi in front of the "Titan-Themis" microscope. Image courtesy: Alain Herzog / 2021 EPFL.

LAUSANNE.- Barium titanate is a ferroelectric material used in nearly all electronic devices – computers, smartphones and even electric cars. It’s used to make the sensors and capacitors they run on, for example. “A single smartphone generally has around 700 capacitors containing barium titanate, and trillions of these capacitors are made every year,” says Dragan Damjanovic, an EPFL professor and head of the Group for Ferroelectrics and Functional Oxides at EPFL’s School of Engineering. Despite barium titanate’s widespread use, however, researchers still don’t fully understand how it works. “There are of course theoretical models out there, but some of their key predictions have never been experimentally confirmed. So that’s what we set out to do,” says Damjanovic. Emad Oveisi, a senior scientist at EPFL’s Interdisciplinary Center for Electron Microscopy, suggested that Damjanovic and his ... More

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Germany's CureVac faces delay on Covid vaccine   Understanding the evolution of viruses   Novel liquid crystal metalens offers electric zoom

A girl is tested with a rapid Corona test at the DRK (German Red Cross) test centre in Warendorf, western Germany on June 10, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. Ina Fassbender / AFP.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP).- A coronavirus vaccine being developed by Germany's CureVac is facing delays as its late-stage trial is slowed by the wait for enough participants to catch Covid, officials said Friday. CureVac initially expected to seek European approval for its jab in the second quarter, with Germany pencilling in 1.4 million doses by end-June. But Health Minister Jens Spahn told his regional counterparts the regulatory authorisation is now not expected to come before August, Baden-Wuerttemberg's health minister Manfred Lucha told AFP, confirming earlier reports. Lucha, whose state is home to CureVac's Tuebingen headquarters, told local media there were "complications" with the trial. The German government, which has promised to offer all adults a jab by late September, is no longer counting on CureVac to play a role in the current inoculation drive, according to the Mannheimer Morgen daily. The German health ministry declined to comment further, but said once the vaccine is greenlit "we will include ... More

A hollow protein shell that occurs naturally in bacteria was evolved in the laboratory into a capsid structure capable of storing RNA. Image courtesy: ETH Zurich / Stephan Tetter.

ZURICH.- Viruses have always had a major influence on life. They emerged a few billion years ago, precisely when is difficult to estimate. There are also several theories as to how viruses originated. While exploring one possibility, researchers at ETH Zurich have managed to recapitulate a potentially pivotal stage in virus evolution in the lab: the creation of a virus-​like protein container capable of storing its own genetic information. In simple terms, viruses are made up of genetic material (RNA or DNA) wrapped in a protein shell. The purpose of the capsid is to protect the genetic material from environmental influences and to aid propagation. Success in storing the genetic material hinges on parts of the capsid being able to accurately recognise the viral genetic material and bind to it according to the lock-​and-key principle. Researchers led by Donald Hilvert, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Applied ... More

Conceptual rendering of an ultrathin, electrically tunable metalens developed by Cornell and Samsung engineers. Image courtesy: Daniil Shilkin.

ITHACA, NY.- Researchers from Cornell’s School of Applied and Engineering Physics and Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology have created a first-of-its-kind metalens – a metamaterial lens – that can be focused using voltage instead of mechanically moving its components. The proof of concept opens the door to a range of compact varifocal lenses for possible use in many imaging applications such as satellites, telescopes and microscopes, which traditionally focus light using curved lenses that adjust using mechanical parts. In some applications, moving traditional glass or plastic lenses to vary the focal distance is simply not practical due to space, weight or size considerations. Metalenses are flat arrays of nano-antennas or resonators, less than a micron thick, that act as focusing devices. But until now, once a metalens was fabricated, its focal length was hard to change, according to Melissa Bosch, doctoral s ... More

Indonesia dengue fever study offers hope in disease battle   Rover leaves 'China's imprint' on Mars   'Space pups': Mouse sperm stored on ISS produces healthy young

Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito, is a mosquito that can spread dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro and yellow fever viruses, and other disease agents. Image courtesy: Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

JAKARTA (AFP).- Dengue fever infections dropped dramatically in an Indonesian study where a bacteria was introduced into disease-carrying mosquitoes, offering hope in the battle against an illness that sickens millions annually around the world. Results of the three-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, found that infecting dengue-carrying mosquitoes with a harmless bacteria called Wolbachia led to a 77 percent drop in human cases. Infections requiring hospitalisation also fell by 86 percent in Wolbachia-treated areas of Yogyakarta, a city on Java island where the experiment was conducted, researchers said. The study was conducted by the World Mosquito Program at Monash University in Australia and Indonesia's Gadjah Mada university. "The 77 percent figure is honestly quite fantastic for a transmittable disease and we're very grateful with the result," said Adi Utarini, a public-health researcher from Gadjah Mada university who was a co-lead on the study. The trial inv ... More

This combination of pictures released on June 7, 2021, by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows an image of the landing site before China's Tianwen-1 Mars probe landed (L) and after it landed (R) on June 2, 2021. CNS/CNSA / AFP.

BEIJING (AFP).- Solar panel "wings" spread out and two camera "eyes" pointing ahead, China's Mars rover Zhurong struck a birdlike pose as it explored the red planet in photos released by the country's space agency Friday. Zhurong's touchdown in May was the first ever successful probe landing by any country on its first Mars mission -- a milestone in China's ascent to space superpower status. The rover, named after a mythical Chinese fire god, has since been studying the topography of a vast Martian lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia. Photos published by the China National Space Administration showed tracks in the red soil left by Zhurong, which the agency described as "China's imprint", after it drove onto the planet's surface form a landing platform adorned with a large Chinese flag. The six-wheeled, solar-powered, 240-kilogramme (530-pound) Zhurong is expected to spend three months taking photos, harvesting geographical data, and collecting rock samples. The space agency said on Friday that the ... More

This September 11, 2020 image shows healthy offspring and next generation of mice derived from space preserved spermatozoa. Image courtesy: Teruhiko Wakayama, University of Yamanashi.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Turns out the comic books were wrong. Japanese researchers found mouse sperm exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation for nearly six years produced a large brood of healthy, unremarkable "space pups." Their study was published Friday in Science Advances -- which noted no signs so far of Mousezillas or rodent Hulks. The sperm was stored in the International Space Station in freeze-dried form. Once brought back to Earth and rehydrated, it resulted in the birth of 168 young, free of genetic defects. Developmental biologist and lead author Teruhiko Wakayama told AFP on Thursday that there was little difference between mice fertilized by space sperm and sperm that had remained confined to our planet. "All pups had normal appearance," he said, and when researchers examined their genes "no abnormalities were found." In 2013, Wakayama and colleagues at the University of Yamanashi in Japan launched three boxes, each containing 48 ampoules of freeze-dried sperm, to the ISS for the long-term st ... More

Portable technology offers boost for nuclear security, arms control   Mixing solutions in the world's smallest test tubes   COVID-19 PCR tests can be freeze dried

A DT neutron source showing three disks of 6Li doped glass scintillator mounted on a photomultiplier tube. Image courtesy of the researchers.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- About five years ago, Areg Danagoulian, associate professor in the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE), became intrigued by a technique developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory that uses a neutron beam to identify unknown materials. “They could look into a black box containing uranium and say what kind and how much,” says Danagoulian, who directs MIT’s Laboratory of Applied Nuclear Physics (LANPh). “I was thinking about the problem of verifying nuclear material in warheads, and it just dawned on me, this amazing technology could be applied to what we’re working on.” But there was a problem: This method, called neutron resonance transmission analysis (NRTA), requires an enormous, expensive apparatus, limiting its utility for the kind of on-site nuclear material applications Danagoulian and his rese ... More

Imaging the dynamics of a reaction can provide mechanistic insights and signpost strategies for tailoring the properties the resulting materials. Image courtesy: The University of Manchester.

MANCHESTER.- Researchers based at The University of Manchester have demonstrated a new method for imaging live chemical reactions with atomic resolution using nanoscale test tubes created using two-dimensional (2D) materials. The ability to observe solution-based chemical reactions with sub-nanometre resolution in real time has been highly sought after since the invention of the electron microscope 90 years ago. Imaging the dynamics of a reaction can provide mechanistic insights and signpost strategies for tailoring the properties the resulting materials. A transmission electron microscope (TEM) is one of a few instruments capable of resolving individual atoms, though conventionally it requires completely dry samples imaged in a vacuum environment, precluding any wet chemical synthesis. Based on previous work developing graphene liquid cells that allow TEM imaging of liquid-phase nanostructures, a team of researchers based at The Universit ... More

A lyophilized, the instrument used to freeze-dry diagnostics. Image courtesy: Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, ILL.- In fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not just the vaccines that require complicated cold supply chains and refrigerated storage. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests — often considered the “gold standard” of testing — also have enzymes and reagents that need to be frozen. Northwestern University researchers have discovered that commercially available PCR tests can withstand the freeze-drying process, making them shelf-stable for up to 30 days and 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) without sacrificing sensitivity and accuracy. The researchers found that the testing reagents could be pre-mixed with a standard preservative, freeze-dried and then distributed and stored at room temperatures. When the test is needed, health care workers then add water to rehydrate the test for immediate use. The new strategy could help ease logistical challenges, making tests more available to help schools, busi ... More

Air pollution exposure during pregnancy may boost babies' obesity risk   Monolayer superconductor exhibits unusual behavior   No evidence mystery UFOs are alien spacecraft, report finds: NYTimes

Exposure to a combination of ozone and nitrogen dioxide in utero was associated with faster growth around the waist in females. Image: Alexei Scutari, Unsplash.

BOULDER, CO.- Women exposed to higher levels of air pollution during pregnancy have babies who grow unusually fast in the first months after birth, putting on excess fat that puts them at risk of obesity and related diseases later in life, new CU Boulder research shows. The study of Hispanic mother-child pairs, published this week in the journal Environmental Health, is the latest to suggest that poor air quality may contribute at least in part to the nation’s obesity epidemic, particularly among minority populations who tend to live in places with more exposure to toxic pollutants. About one in four Hispanic youth in the United States are obese, compared to about 14% of white youth and 11% of Asian youth. “Higher rates of obesity among certain groups in our society are not simply a byproduct of personal choices like exercise and calories in, calories out. It’s more complicated than that,” said senior author Tanya Alderete, ... More

A Cornell team sought to explore the properties of monolayer iron selenide because, as a high-temperature superconductor, it has the potential to help researchers create novel electrical devices that conduct with zero resistance.

ITHACA, NY.- Cornell researchers have discovered a rare “pseudogap” phenomenon that helps explain how the superconducting transition temperature can be greatly boosted in a single monolayer of iron selenide, and how it might be applied to other superconducting materials. The group’s paper, “Incoherent Cooper Pairing and Pseudogap Behavior in Single-Layer FeSe/SrTiO3,” published June 10 in Physical Review X. The paper’s lead author is Brendan Faeth, Ph.D. ’20. The team was led by Kyle Shen, the James A. Weeks Professor of Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, who, together with Faeth, sought to explore the properties of monolayer iron selenide because, as a high-temperature superconductor, it has the potential to help researchers create novel electrical devices that conduct with zero resistance and, therefore, much greater efficiency. One of the unusual traits of iron selenide is that, when it ... More

The Pentagon last year released videos taken by US Navy pilots showing in-flight encounters with the unusual aircraft. Image: Pixabay.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- There is no evidence that unexplained aerial phenomena spotted in recent years by US military personnel are aliens, an upcoming government report quoted by The New York Times Thursday said, but officials still can't explain the mysterious aircraft. The newspaper, which cited senior administration officials briefed on the findings of the highly anticipated report, said they were able to confirm the unusual vessels were not the product of secret Pentagon technology. But the review of more than 120 incidents over the past two decades was unable to explain the mysterious movements of the craft, which include unusual acceleration, direction changes and the ability to rapidly submerge. And while senior officials told the Times the lack of clear findings means that while there's no evidence of alien technology behind the phenomena, it's also impossible to rule out. One senior official briefed on the report said intelligence and military officials increasingly worry the phenomena could be Chin ... More

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir? John Maynard Keynes

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Black and white women have same mutations linked to breast cancer risk
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The prevalence of genetic mutations associated with breast cancer in Black and white women is the same, according to a new JAMA Oncology study of nearly 30,000 patients led by researchers in the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center. About five percent of both Black and white women have a genetic mutation that increases their risk of breast cancer. “The findings challenge past, smaller studies that found Black women face a greater genetic risk and the suggestion that race should be an independent factor when considering genetic testing,” said first author Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA. “We shouldn’t make changes to testing guidelines based on race alone. Rather, our efforts should focus on ensuring equal access to and uptake of testing to minimize disparities ... More

Edge of Pine Island Glacier's ice shelf is ripping apart, causing key Antarctic glacier to gain speed
SEATTLE, WA.- For decades, the ice shelf helping to hold back one of the fastest-moving glaciers in Antarctica has gradually thinned. Analysis of satellite images reveals a more dramatic process in recent years: From 2017 to 2020, large icebergs at the ice shelf’s edge broke off, and the glacier sped up. Since floating ice shelves help to hold back the larger grounded mass of the glacier, the recent speedup due to the weakening edge could shorten the timeline for Pine Island Glacier’s eventual collapse into the sea. The study from researchers at the University of Washington and British Antarctic Survey was published June 11 in the open-access journal Science Advances. “We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said lead author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW Applied P ... More

Movies, music and pictures can train synthetic brain
ITHACA, NY.- A new AI-based technology developed by Cornell researchers will help gain new insights into how our brains respond to external stimuli. Meenakshi Khosla, doctoral student in the field of electrical and computer engineering, along with her adviser, Mert Sabuncu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering and colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine, are authors of a new paper published in Science Advances, “Cortical response to naturalistic stimuli is largely predictable with deep neural networks.” “Major discoveries in the field of sensory neuroscience have been driven by controlled experiments that present animals with carefully designed artificial visual and auditory stimuli,” Khosla said. “In this study, we present an alternate way to expedite neuroscientific discovery.” This alternate method involves collecting n ... More

Rice lab peers inside 2D crystal synthesis
HOUSTON, TX.- Scientific studies describing the most basic processes often have the greatest impact in the long run. A new work by Rice University engineers could be one such, and it’s a gas, gas, gas for nanomaterials. Rice materials theorist Boris Yakobson, graduate student Jincheng Lei and alumnus Yu Xie of Rice’s Brown School of Engineering have unveiled how a popular 2D material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), flashes into existence during chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Knowing how the process works will give scientists and engineers a way to optimize the bulk manufacture of MoS2 and other valuable materials classed as transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), semiconducting crystals that are good bets to find a home in next-generation electronics. Their study in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano focuses on MoS2’s “pre-histo ... More

AI predicts how patients with viral infections, including COVID-19, will fare
SAN DIEGO, CA.- Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine used an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to sift through terabytes of gene expression data — which genes are “on” or “off” during infection — to look for shared patterns in patients with past pandemic viral infections, including SARS, MERS and swine flu. Two telltale signatures emerged from the study, published June 11, 2021 in eBiomedicine. One, a set of 166 genes, reveals how the human immune system responds to viral infections. A second set of 20 signature genes predicts the severity of a patient’s disease. For example, the need to hospitalize or use a mechanical ventilator. The algorithm’s utility was validated using lung tissues collected at autopsies from deceased patients with COVID-19 and animal models of the infection. “These viral pandemic-associated sig ... More

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Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launch in 2009


On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Fritz Albert Lipmann was born
June 12, 1899. Fritz Albert Lipmann (June 12, 1899 - July 24, 1986) was a German-American biochemist and a co-discoverer in 1945 of coenzyme A. For this, together with other research on coenzyme A, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953 (shared with Hans Adolf Krebs). In 1953, Lipmann received one half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine "for his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism." The other half of the award was won by Hans Adolf Krebs. Lipmann was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1966. He would try to dive further into his discovery by finding a variant of co-enzyme A, now known as Pantethine. Lipmann introduced the specific squiggle designation (~) to indicate high energy-rich phosphate in energy-rich biomolecules like ATP in his essay "Metabolic Generation and Utilization of Phosphate Bond Energy."

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