Established in 2020 Saturday, August 13, 2022


 
Hubble sees red supergiant star Betelgeuse slowly recovering after blowing its top

This illustration plots changes in brightness of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, following the titanic mass ejection of a large piece of its visible surface. Image courtesy: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Analyzing data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse quite literally blew its top in 2019, losing a substantial part of its visible surface and producing a gigantic Surface Mass Ejection (SME). This is something never before seen in a normal star's behavior. The sun routinely blows off parts of its tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona, in an event known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). But the Betelgeuse SME blasted off 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME. The monster star is still slowly recovering from this catastrophic upheaval. "Betelgeuse continues doing some very unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing," said Andrea Dupree of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. These new observations yield clues as to how red stars lose mass late in their lives as their nuclear fusion fur ... More



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Study achieves longest continuous tracking of migrating insects   Northwestern rocket to image supernova remnant   All the better to better eat you with: Dinosaurs evolved different eye socket shapes to allow stronger bites


After tagging, moths were released in Konstanz, Germany, and followed in a light aircraft for up to 80 kilometers into the Alps. Image courtesy: © MPI of Animal Behavior/ Christian Ziegler.

RADOLFZELL AM BODENSEE.- Insects are the world’s smallest flying migrants, but they can maintain perfectly straight flight paths even in unfavorable wind conditions, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz. Researchers radio tracked migrating hawkmoths for up to 80 kilometers—the longest distance that any insect has been continuously monitored in the wild. By closely following individuals during migration, the world-first study unlocks a century-old mystery of what insects do over their long-range journeys. The study confirms that hawkmoths can accurately maintain straight trajectories over long distances, employing sophisticated strategies to counter and correct for unfavorable wind conditions. The findings reveal that insects are capable of accurate navigation, confirming that an internal compass guides them on their long journeys. With trillions of individuals migrating every year, ... More
 

Cassiopeia A. Image courtesy: NASA/CXC/SAO.

EVANSTON, IL.- A Northwestern University astrophysics team is aiming for the stars — well, a dead star, that is. On Aug. 21, the NASA-funded team will launch its “Micro-X” rocket from White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. The rocket will spend 15 minutes in space — just enough time to snap a quick image of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, a star in the Cassiopeia constellation that exploded approximately 11,000 light-years away from Earth. Then, the rocket will parachute back to Earth, landing in the desert — about 45 miles from the launchpad — where the Northwestern team will recover its payload. Short for “high-resolution microcalorimeter X-ray imaging rocket,” the Micro-X rocket will carry a superconductor-based X-ray imaging spectrometer that is capable of measuring the energy of each incoming X-ray from astronomical sources with unprecedented accuracy. “The supernova remnant is so ... More
 

Skull and life reconstruction of Tyrannosaurus rex with original eye socket and eye (left) and hypothetical reconstruction with circular eye socket and enlarged eye (right). Image courtesy: Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, University of Birmingham.

BIRMINGHAM.- Large dinosaur predators, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, evolved different shapes of eye sockets to better deal with high bite forces, new research has shown. While in many animals—and most dinosaurs—the eye socket is just a circular hole in the skull housing the eyeball, this is very different in large carnivores. In a new study, published in Communications Biology, researchers at the University of Birmingham reveal how the unusual elliptical, or oval, eye sockets found in the skulls of these predators could have evolved to help the skull absorb impact as they pounced on prey. Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, Senior Lecturer for Palaeobiology at the University of Birmingham and author of the new study, analyzed the shape of the eye sockets of about 500 different dinosaurs and related species. "The results show that only some dinosaurs had eye sockets that were elliptical or keyhole-shaped," said Dr. Stephan Lautens ... More



Bioengineered cornea restores sight to the blind and visually impaired   A new method boosts wind farms' energy output, without new equipment   UVA researchers find medicine for asthma and eczema helps COVID patients


In a pilot study, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind prior to receiving the implant. Image courtesy: Thor Balkhed/Linköping University.

LINKÖPING.- Researchers and entrepreneurs have developed an implant made of collagen protein from pig's skin, which resembles the human cornea. In a pilot study, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind prior to receiving the implant. The study jointly led by researchers at Linköping University and LinkoCare Life Sciences AB has been published in Nature Biotechnology. The promising results bring hope to those suffering from corneal blindness and low vision by providing a bioengineered implant as an alternative to the transplantation of donated human corneas, which are scarce in countries where the need for them is greatest. "The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for being used as human implants, which can be mass-produced and stored up to two years and thereby reach even more people with vision problems. This gets us around the problem of shortage of do ... More
 

Illustration shows the concept of collective wind farm flow control. Image courtesy: Victor Leshyk.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Virtually all wind turbines, which produce more than 5 percent of the world’s electricity, are controlled as if they were individual, free-standing units. In fact, the vast majority are part of larger wind farm installations involving dozens or even hundreds of turbines, whose wakes can affect each other. Now, engineers at MIT and elsewhere have found that, with no need for any new investment in equipment, the energy output of such wind farm installations can be increased by modeling the wind flow of the entire collection of turbines and optimizing the control of individual units accordingly. The increase in energy output from a given installation may seem modest — it’s about 1.2 percent overall, and 3 percent for optimal wind speeds. But the algorithm can be deployed at any wind farm, and the number of wind farms is rapidly growing to meet accelerated climate goals. If that 1 ... More
 

Dr. Jennifer Sasson, who led the trail at UVA, said dupilumab is not a magic bullet, but could be a useful treatment for some patients. Image courtesy: UVA Health.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- A medication used to treat asthma and eczema can improve survival rates for patients with moderate to severe COVID-19, a clinical trial conducted at UVA Health suggests. UVA is the first to test this novel and promising approach to COVID-19 treatment. The study centered on a monoclonal antibody called dupilumab, most often prescribed for skin conditions, asthma, and sinus congestion and swelling. The treatment also proved safe in the small study, as expected, because dupilumab is already a safe and effective allergy medicine. The small trial, designed and led by Dr. Jennifer Sasson, found that dupilumab improved patient survival at 60 days and reduced the number of patients who needed intensive care. Almost 90% of patients who received dupilumab in the randomized trial were alive at 60 days, compared with 76% of patients who did not. “Our clinical trial suggests that treatment with the anti-allergy medicine dupilumab may decreas ... More



Secret behind 'nic-sickness' could help break tobacco addiction   Green hydrogen: Nanostructured nickel silicide shines as a catalyst   Tweaking turbine angles squeezes more power out of wind farms


UC Berkeley researchers now show in experiments on mice that nicotine in high doses also activates a recently discovered dopamine network that responds to unpleasant stimuli. Image courtesy: Christine Liu, UC Berkeley.

BERKELEY, CA.- If you remember your first hit on a cigarette, you know how sickening nicotine can be. Yet, for many people, the rewards of nicotine outweigh the negative effects of high doses. University of California, Berkeley, researchers have now mapped out part of the brain network responsible for the negative consequences of nicotine, opening the door to interventions that could boost the aversive effects to help people quit smoking. Though most addictive drugs at high doses can cause physiological symptoms that lead to unconsciousness or even death, nicotine is unique in making people physically ill when inhaled or ingested in large quantities. As a result, nicotine overdoses are rare, though the advent of e-cigarettes has made “nic-sick” symptoms like nausea and vomiting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and headaches more common. The new research, conducted in mice, suggests that this aversive network could be manipulated to treat ni ... More
 

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of the catalytically active phase was combined with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy to map the distribution of Ni (green), Si (blue), and oxygen (red) around the core-shell structures.

BERLIN.- Electrolysis might be a familiar concept from chemistry lessons in school: Two electrodes are immersed in water and put under voltage. This voltage causes water molecules to break down into their components, and gas bubbles rise at the electrodes: Oxygen gas forms at the anode, while hydrogen bubbles form at the cathode. Electrolysis could produce hydrogen in a CO2-neutral way—as long as the required electricity is generated by fossil free energy forms such as sun or wind. The only problem is that these reactions are not very efficient and extremely slow. To speed up the reactions, catalysts are used, based on precious and rare metals such as platinum, ruthenium or iridium. For large-scale use, however, such catalysts must consist of widely available and very cheap elements. To accelerate the oxygen evolution reaction at the anode, nickel-based materials are considered as good candidates. Nickel is resistant to corrosion, hardly toxic and also inexpensive. Until now, however, ener ... More
 

Image courtesy: Neeraj Yadav/ReNew Power.

PASADENA, CA.- In a boost for sustainability science, engineers show how turbines can act in concert to mitigate choppy wakes and thereby generate more energy. A new control algorithm for wind farms that alters how individual turbines are oriented into the wind promises to boost farms' overall efficiency and energy output by optimizing how they deal with their turbulent wake. The algorithm, which was tested at a commercial wind farm in India but could be employed anywhere, offers the potential for an immediate, no-cost improvement in existing wind farms. It also may enable wind farms to be constructed in tighter quarters, thus squeezing more power out of less real estate—mitigating a huge con of wind energy. Collectively, wind farms generate about 380 billion kilowatt-hours each year in the United States. If every U.S. wind farm were to adopt the new strategy and see efficiency increases similar to those found in the new study, it would be equivalent to adding hundreds of new turbines capable of ... More



Bird behavior influenced by human activity during COVID-19 lockdowns   Building the best zeolite   How patterns in nature arise and inspire everything from scientific theory to biodegradable materials


A fledgling black capped chickadee. Image courtesy: Holly Hauser.

SEATTLE, WA.- For humans, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a stressful time, marked by fear, isolation, canceled plans and uncertainty. But for birds that inhabit developed areas of the Pacific Northwest, the reduction in noise and commotion from pandemic lockdowns may have allowed them to use a wider range of habitats in cities. A new University of Washington study led by Olivia Sanderfoot reports that many birds were just as likely to be found in highly developed urban areas as they were in less-developed green spaces during the peak of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The paper was published Aug. 11 in the journal Scientific Reports. “Our findings suggest that some birds may have been able to use more spaces in cities because our human footprint was a little lighter,” said Sanderfoot, who completed the study as a doctoral researcher in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and is now a postdoctoral scholar in the ... More
 

Zeolite. Image courtesy: Hannes Grobe, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons.

HOUSTON, TX.- If science and nature were to have a baby, it would surely be the zeolite. This special rock, with its porous structure that traps water inside, also traps atoms and molecules that can cause chemical reactions. That's why zeolites are important as catalysts, or substances that speed up chemical reactions without harming themselves. Zeolites work their magic in the drug and energy industries and a slew of others. With petrochemicals, they break large hydrocarbon molecules into gasoline and further into all kinds of petroleum byproducts. Applications like fluid catalytic cracking and hydrocracking rely heavily on zeolites. So important is the use of zeolites that decades ago scientists began making them (synthetic ones) in the lab with the total number of crystal structures exceeding 250. Now, an undisputed bedrock in the global zeolite research community, Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the ... More
 

Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, an associate professor in the UArizona Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Image courtesy: Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, University of Arizona.

TUCSON, AZ.- Nature is full of patterns. Among them are tiling patterns, which mimic what you'd see on a tiled bathroom floor, characterized by both tiles and interfaces – such as grout – in between. In nature, a giraffe's coloring is an example of a tiling pattern. But what makes these natural patterns form? A new University of Arizona study uses bacteria to understand how tiles and interfaces come to be. The findings have implications for understanding how complex, multicellular life might have evolved on Earth and how new biomaterials might be created from biological sources. In many biological systems, tiling patterns are functionally important. For example, a fly's wings have tiles and interfaces. Veins, which provide stability and contain nerves, are interfaces, which break up a wing into smaller tiles. And in humans, the retina at the back of the inner eye contains cells that are arranged like a mosaic of tiles to process what' ... More


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Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion. Democritus

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Stiff, achy knees? Lab-made cartilage gel outperforms the real thing
DURHAM, NC.- Over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, steroid injections -- some people have tried it all and are still dealing with knee pain. Often knee pain comes from the progressive wear and tear of cartilage known as osteoarthritis, which affects nearly one in six adults -- 867 million people -- worldwide. For those who want to avoid replacing the entire knee joint, there may soon be another option that could help patients get back on their feet fast, pain-free, and stay that way. Writing in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, a Duke University-led team says they have created the first gel-based cartilage substitute that is even stronger and more durable than the real thing. Mechanical testing reveals that the Duke team’s hydrogel -- a material made of water-absorbing polymers -- can be pressed and pulled ... More

A new shortcut for quantum simulations could unlock new doors for technology
CHICAGO, IL.- From water boiling into steam to ice cubes melting in a glass, we’ve all seen the phenomenon known as a phase transition in our everyday lives. But there’s another type of phase transition that’s much harder to see, but just as stark: quantum phase transitions. When cooled to near absolute zero, certain materials can undergo these quantum phase transitions, which can make a physicist’s jaw drop. The material can flip from being magnetic to non-magnetic, or it can suddenly acquire the superpower to conduct electricity with zero energy lost as heat. The mathematics behind these transitions is tough to handle even for supercomputers—but a new study from the University of Chicago suggests a new way to work with these complicated calculations, which could eventually yield technologi ... More

MIT scientists discover new antiviral defense system in bacteria
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Bacteria use a variety of defense strategies to fight off viral infection, and some of these systems have led to groundbreaking technologies, such as CRISPR-based gene-editing. Scientists predict there are many more antiviral weapons yet to be found in the microbial world. A team led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT has discovered and characterized one of these unexplored microbial defense systems. They found that certain proteins in bacteria and archaea (together known as prokaryotes) detect viruses in surprisingly direct ways, recognizing key parts of the viruses and causing the single-celled organisms to commit suicide to quell the infection within a microbial community. The study is the first time this mechanism has been s ... More

Thinking like a cyber-attacker to protect user data
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- A component of computer processors that connects different parts of the chip can be exploited by malicious agents who seek to steal secret information from programs running on the computer, MIT researchers have found. Modern computer processors contain many computing units, called cores, which share the same hardware resources. The on-chip interconnect is the component that enables these cores to communicate with each other. But when programs on multiple cores run simultaneously, there is a chance they can delay one another when they use the interconnect to send data across the chip at the same time. By monitoring and measuring these delays, a malicious agent could conduct what is known as a “side-channel attack” and reconstruct secret information that is stored in a program, s ... More

New method can remove dyes from wastewater
RALEIGH, NC.- North Carolina State University researchers have demonstrated that a synthetic polymer can remove certain dyes from water, and that the polymer can be recovered and reused. The findings offer a new potential method for cleaning wastewater after use by textiles, cosmetics or other industries. "Dyes are used everywhere, including in the textile industry, as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paper, leather and even in medicines," said Januka Budhathoki-Uprety, lead author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at NC State. "If these contaminants aren't properly removed from wastewater after dyeing and finishing, they can be a significant source of environmental pollution and pose risks for human health." In the study, published in ... More







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Flashback
On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Salvador Luria was born
August 13, 1912. Salvador Edward Luria (August 13, 1912 - February 6, 1991) was an Italian microbiologist, later a naturalized U.S. citizen. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969, with Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, for their discoveries on the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses. Salvador Luria also showed that bacterial resistance to viruses (phages) is genetically inherited. In the early 1950s, Luria and Giuseppe Bertani discovered the phenomenon of host-controlled restriction and modification of a bacterial virus: a culture of E. coli can significantly reduce the production of phages grown in other strains; however, once the phage become established in that strain, they also become restricted in their ability to grow in other strains. It was later discovered by other researchers that bacteria produce enzymes that cut viral DNA at particular sequences but not the bacteria's own DNA, which is protected by methylation.



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