Established in 2020 Saturday, September 23, 2023

Black holes eat faster than previously expected

Using new high-resolution simulations, researchers discover completely new way that gas reaches a black hole to feed it. Image courtesy: A. Tchekhovskoy/Nick Kaaz/Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, IL.- A new Northwestern University-led study is changing the way astrophysicists understand the eating habits of supermassive black holes. While previous researchers have hypothesized that black holes eat slowly, new simulations indicate that black holes scarf food much faster than conventional understanding suggests. The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal. According to new high-resolution 3D simulations, spinning black holes twist up the surrounding space-time, ultimately ripping apart the violent whirlpool of gas (or accretion disk) that encircles and feeds them. This results in the disk tearing into inner and outer subdisks. Black holes first devour the inner ring. Then, debris from the outer subdisk spills inward to refill the gap left behind by the wholly consumed inner ring, and the eating process repeats. One cycle of the endlessly repeating eat-refill-eat process takes mere months — a shockingly fast time ... More

The Best Photo of the Day

SPHEREx space telescope stays cool in basement at Caltech   Webb telescope finds carbon source on Jupiter's Europa   Technique for 3-D printing metals at the nanoscale reveals surprise benefit

JPL Director Laurie Leshin poses with SPHEREx at JPL. The instrument is mounted to a vibration table for simulating shaking during launch. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

PASADENA, CA.- NASA's SPHEREx space telescope has been tucked inside a custom-built chamber on and off for the past two months undergoing tests to prepare it for its two-year mission in space. SPHEREx, which stands for Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer, is set to launch into orbit around Earth no later than April 2025. It will map the entire sky in infrared wavelengths of light, capturing not only images of hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies but spectra for these objects as well. Spectra are created by instruments that break apart light into a rainbow of wavelengths, revealing new details about a cosmic object's composition, distance, and more. "It's a small telescope, but it gathers an enormous amount of light thanks to its very wide field of view," explains Stephen Padin, a research professor of physics at Caltech and member of the SPHEREx team. "This will ... More

This color composite view shows the moon Europa in natural color (left) and in enhanced color (right). The yellowish patch is Tara Regio, the geologic region where the most CO2 is seen and where Hubble recently detected ocean-derived salt. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

ITHACA, NY.- Astronomers using data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have identified carbon dioxide on the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa – one of a handful of worlds in our solar system that could potentially harbor conditions suitable for life. Previous research had shown that beneath Europa’s water-ice crust lies a salty ocean of liquid water with a rocky seafloor. However, planetary scientists had not confirmed if that ocean contained the chemicals needed for life, particularly carbon. This new analysis indicates that the carbon dioxide likely originated in the subsurface ocean and was not delivered by meteorites or other external sources. Moreover, it was deposited on a geologically recent timescale. This discovery has important implications for the potential habitability of Europa’s ocean ... More

Mechanical engineering graduate student Wenxin Zhang works in the nano-fabrication lab. Image courtesy: Caltech.

PASADENA, CA.- Late last year, Caltech researchers revealed that they had developed a new fabrication technique for printing microsized metal parts containing features about as thick as three or four sheets of paper. Now, the team has reinvented the technique to allow for printing objects a thousand times smaller: 150 nanometers, which is comparable to the size of a flu virus. In doing so, the team also discovered that the atomic arrangements within these objects are disordered, which would, at large scale, make these materials unusable because they would be considered weak and "low quality." In the case of nanosized metal objects, however, this atomic-level mess has the opposite effect: these parts can be three-to-five-times stronger than similarly sized structures with more orderly atomic arrangements. The work was conducted in the lab of Julia R. Greer, the Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engine ... More

Researchers zoom in on new ways to view biomolecules in pathogens   Discovery of protein orientation helps scientists understand Parkinson's disease   New role for autophagy protein in membrane repair discovered

Zhangyu "Sharey" Cheng demonstrates ExMicroVR, an immersive virtual reality environment that allows scientists to collaborate and virtually explore biological data. Image courtesy: Carnegie Mellon University.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- A new set of protocols will allow researchers to expand the way they look at pathogens.The principle of physically expanding biological study samples for imaging is known as expansion microscopy. The technique uses a hydrogel to homogenously expand cells and decrowd biomolecules, providing researchers with a way to visualize fine details using standardized microscopes instead of expensive, specialized tools. Led by Eberly Family Career Development Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Leon Zhao, the Zhao Biophotonics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University is a leader in advancing expansion microscopy for biomedical applications. MicroMagnify, the latest protocol published by the Zhao Lab, takes their work a step forward. The protocol expands complex microbial cells and infected tissues without distortion, allowing for enhanced high-plex fluorescence imaging. Super-resolution optical imaging tools are crucial in microbiology to understa ... More

In the presence of elevated concentrations, α-synuclein undergoes structural rearrangement at cell membranes, potentially catalyzing the formation of harmful aggregates within brain tissue. Image courtesy: Andreas Weidner, AU.

AARHUS.- For several years, scientists have known that Parkinson's disease is related to misfolding of the protein alpha-synuclein. Deposited aggregates of a protein called alpha-synuclein (α-syn) can damage and kill nerve cells, leading to neurological dysfunction. It has been known that lipid layers on cell surfaces can accelerate the misfolding process; however, the microscopic mechanisms involved have been a mystery. Now, scientists from the Departments of Chemistry and iNANO at Aarhus University have unraveled what actually happens when alpha-synuclein binds to lipid layers. A research team headed by Steven Roeters and Tobias Weidner shows how the lipid surface influences the orientation and folding of α-syn. The Aarhus researchers report in Nature Communications that the orientation of α-syn changes at elevated protein concentrations, going from the previously reported flat geometry ... More

Postdoc Laura Herzog – sitting closest to the camera, professor Yaowen Wu. Postdoc Anastasia Knyazeva, and Postdoc Dale Corkery. Image courtesy: Shuang Li.

UMEĊ.- Maintaining the structure of intracellular membranes is essential for preserving normal cellular function. New research by a team of biochemists at Umeċ University identifies a strategy employed by cells to detect and repair membranes that have been damaged by chemical or bacterial stress. The study is published in EMBO Reports and highlighted in the News & Views in EMBO Journal. "It is definitely surprising. We began this project to learn more about how cells remove damaged membranes, and ended up discovering an entirely new pathway for membrane repair," says Dale Corkery, Research Engineer at the Department of Chemistry at Umeċ University, lead author of the study. When cellular membranes become damaged, the cell must rapidly decide whether it is going to repair or remove the damaged membrane. Removal of damaged membranes is regulated by the cellular recycling process called autophagy—a process that professor Yaowen Wu and his ... More

Urban light pollution linked to smaller eyes in birds: Study   Synthetic biology tool comprehensively reveals gene regulatory networks in E. coli   Coral colony size, shape impact marine complexity, health

Painted Bunting. Image courtesy: Jennifer Phillips, Washington State University.

PULLMAN, WA.- The bright lights of big cities could be causing an evolutionary adaptation for smaller eyes in some birds, a new study indicates. Researchers found that two common songbirds, the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, that live year-round in the urban core of San Antonio, Texas, had eyes about 5% smaller than members of the same species from the less bright outskirts. Researchers found no eye-size difference for two species of migratory birds, the Painted Bunting and White-eyed Vireo, no matter which part of the city they lived in for most of the year. The findings, published in Global Change Biology, have implications for conservation efforts amid the rapid decline of bird populations across the U.S. "This study shows that residential birds may adapt over time to urban areas, but migratory birds are not adapting, probably because where they spend the winter—they are less likely to have the same human-caused light and noise pressures. It may make it more difficult for them to adjus ... More

An illustration of the inner workings of E. coli, a simple organism with remarkably complex genome-scale regulatory networks. Image courtesy: Yichao Han.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- The intricate interplay of gene expression within living cells is akin to a well-orchestrated symphony, with each gene playing its part in perfect harmony to ensure cells function as they should. At the heart of this symphony are transcription factors (TFs), molecular maestros that regulate the expression of genes by binding to specific DNA sequences known as promoters. Unlocking the secrets of these genome-scale regulatory networks requires a comprehensive collection of gene expression profiles, but measuring gene expression responses for every TF and promoter pair has posed a formidable challenge due to the sheer number of potential combinations, even in relatively simple organisms such as bacteria. To tackle this challenge, researchers led by Fuzhong Zhang, professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at ... More

UH Hilo graduate student Sofia Ferreira collects coral reef data using photogrammetry techniques. Image courtesy: Jeff Kuwabara.

HILO, HI.- Every curve and every angle of a coral colony holds the key to sustaining an array of marine species, according to University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo public impact research. UH Hilo graduate student Sofia Ferreira led a study published in Nature on predicting how coral reefs in Guam influence habitat complexity. Ferreira, who hails from Paraguay, and marine scientists from UH Hilo analyzed data collected from overseas in UH Hilo's Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis Laboratory, or MEGA Lab, which specializes in the study of coral reefs. "Underneath the shimmering waves, coral reefs flourish as underwater cities, carefully designed by nature's architects, corals themselves," said Ferreira. "Much like architects design unique houses for different people, corals create diverse habitats and refuge for the ocean's inhabitants. This diversity within coral refuges is the foundation to the health and resilience of coral reef ecosys ... More

UW team's shape-changing smart speaker lets users mute different areas of a room   New fluorescent approach reveals different DNA densities in stem cells   Corrugated plastic inspires a new design principle for programmable materials

A team led by researchers at the University of Washington has developed a shape-changing smart speaker. Image courtesy: April Hong/University of Washington.

SEATTLE, WA.- In virtual meetings, it’s easy to keep people from talking over each other. Someone just hits mute. But for the most part, this ability doesn’t translate easily to recording in-person gatherings. In a bustling cafe, there are no buttons to silence the table beside you. The ability to locate and control sound — isolating one person talking from a specific location in a crowded room, for instance — has challenged researchers, especially without visual cues from cameras. A team led by researchers at the University of Washington has developed a shape-changing smart speaker, which uses self-deploying microphones to divide rooms into speech zones and track the positions of individual speakers. With the help of the team’s deep-learning algorithms, the system lets users mute certain areas or separate simultaneous conversations, even if two adjacent people have ... More

Within the nucleus of an embryonic stem cell (depicted on the left), HP1α bodies can be observed. Image courtesy: Khalil Joron.

JERUSALEM.- A new study, recently published in Nature Communications, unveils a powerful new method for studying the inner workings of cell nuclei during embryonic stem cell differentiation. The team led by Dr. Eitan Lerner from the Institute of Life Sciences and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Prof. Eran Meshorer, from the Institute of Life Sciences and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Sarah Rauscher from the University of Toronto used a specific feature of special glowing proteins (fluorescent proteins or FPs), their fluorescence lifetimes, to learn about how cells change and grow. These protein-based reporters helped them understand how parts of DNA called heterochromatin are packed inside the cell nucleus and what happens to these parts during cell development. This discovery gives us important information ... More

Corrugated plastic unveiling a new design principle for programmable materials. Image courtesy: AMOLF.

AMSTERDAM.- Corrugated plastic turns out to be exemplary of a new class of "multistable" metamaterials that can reversibly change shape. This insight can lead to new applications, from robots to medical devices. Physicists Anne Meeussen (previously AMOLF/Leiden University, now Harvard University) and Martin van Hecke (AMOLF/Leiden University) describe these materials in a Nature article that was published on 20 September 2023. From a flower unfurling its petals to a robot grabbing an object: things are changing shape all around us. Researchers have been inspired by nature to create materials that can shift from one shape to another. But there is one problem. Usually, these shapes are not stable, and if they are stable they cannot be reshaped. Clay has a similar issue; a shape created with soft clay is not stable, but once the clay has been baked, its shape cannot be reset. In their Nature article, Meeussen and Van Hecke describe a new governing for t ... More

The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away. Stephen Hawking

More News
Zero-waste synthesis of new supramolecular materials with remarkable mechanical properties
KUMAMOTO.- Researchers from Japan have unlocked the potential of tannic acid and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene oxide by using them to synthesize strong and smart supramolecular gels in a zero-waste process. These gels exhibit remarkable characteristics, such as high elongation, strong adhesion, resistance to swelling, shape memory, self-healing property, and biocompatibility. Going forward, these innovative, zero-waste gels can have promising applications as advanced medical materials, promoting a sustainable approach to material science. Recent advances in chemistry have allowed for the cost-effective synthesis of supramolecular materials with advanced properties. Due to their unique properties, such as toughness, elasticity, self-healing, biodegradability, and shape ... More

Supercomputer simulation tackles problem of drug-resistant bacteria
LOS ALAMOS, NM.- A first-ever, atom-by-atom supercomputer simulation shows how antibiotics kill bacteria and illustrates other processes of the molecular machinery in living cells. The research opens fresh pathways to improving antibiotics, designing new ones to fight drug-resistant bacteria and developing vaccines for viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. "The ribosome is the central information-processing molecular machine in all life forms. It has to decipher information about accepting correct amino acids and rejecting incorrect amino acids for building proteins in the cell," said Karissa Sanbonmatsu, a structural biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sanbonmatsu is co-author of a new paper about the breakthrough simulation published in Nature Communications. "Using the ... More

New method makes microcombs 10 times more efficient
GOTHENBURG.- Microcombs can help us discover planets outside our solar system and track new diseases in our bodies. But current microcombs are inefficient and unable to reach their full potential. Now, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have scored a world first with their solution to make microcombs 10 times more efficient. Their breakthrough opens the way to new discoveries in space and health care and paves the way for high-performance lasers in a range of other technologies. The study "Surpassing the nonlinear conversion efficiency of soliton microcombs" has been published in Nature Photonics. Laser frequency combs can measure frequencies with revolutionary precision and are considered the most disruptive technological advance in the field since the birth of t ... More

Making contact: Researchers wire up individual graphene nanoribbons
CHAMPAIGN, IL.- Researchers have developed a method of "wiring up" graphene nanoribbons (GNRs), a class of one-dimensional materials that are of interest in the scaling of microelectronic devices. Using a direct-write scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) based process, the nanometer-scale metal contacts were fabricated on individual GNRs and could control the electronic character of the GNRs. The researchers say that this is the first demonstration of making metal contacts to specific GNRs with certainty and that those contacts induce device functionality needed for transistor function. The results of this research, led by electrical and computer engineering (ECE) professor Joseph Lyding, along with ECE graduate student Pin-Chiao Huang and materials science and engineering graduate student ... More

Why are the brain's nerve cells organized into modules?
SENDAI.- Scientists have found that the outer cortex of the mammalian brain is able to maintain control over all the external inputs it receives because of how its nerve networks are organized into interconnected but independently functioning "modules." The finding was the result of a unique experimental system that grew neurons, the functional elements of the brain, on microfabricated glass surfaces. Computational models then described the experimental observations. The work, by an international team of researchers led by Hideaki Yamamoto from Tohoku University and Jordi Soriano from the University of Barcelona, was published in the journal Science Advances. The cortex is the outer layer of the brain that contains a large number of neurons responsible for functions such as sensory perception, motor con ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Clifford Shull was born
September 23, 1915. Clifford Glenwood Shull (September 23, 1915 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – March 31, 2001) was a Nobel Prize-winning American physicist. Clifford G. Shull was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics with Canadian Bertram Brockhouse. The two won the prize for the development of the neutron scattering technique. He also conducted research on condensed matter. Professor Shull's prize was awarded for his pioneering work in neutron scattering, a technique that reveals where atoms are within a material like ricocheting bullets reveal where obstacles are in the dark. When a beam of neutrons is directed at a given material, the neutrons bounce off, or are scattered by, atoms in the sample being investigated. The neutrons' directions change, depending on the location of the atoms they hit, and a diffraction pattern of the atoms' positions can then be obtained. Understanding where atoms are in a material and how they interact with one another is the key to understanding a material's properties. Professor Shull came to MIT as a full professor in 1955 and retired in 1986, though he continued to visit and to "look over the shoulders" of students doing experiments in the "remnants of my old research laboratory."

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