Established in 2020 Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Wind from black holes may influence development of surrounding galaxies

An artist's impression of a quasar wind (in light blue) being launched off of the accretion disk (red-orange) around a supermassive black hole. Image courtesy: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss, Catherine Grier and the SDSS collaboration.

MADISON, WI.- Clouds of gas in a distant galaxy are being pushed faster and faster—at more than 10,000 miles per second—out among neighboring stars by blasts of radiation from the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center. It's a discovery that helps illuminate the way active black holes can continuously shape their galaxies by spurring on or snuffing out the development of new stars. A team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomy professor Catherine Grier and recent graduate Robert Wheatley revealed the accelerating gas using years of data collected from a quasar, a particularly bright and turbulent kind of black hole, billions of light years away in the constellation Boötes. They presented their findings today at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison. Scientists believe black holes are situated at the center of most galaxies. Quasars are supermassive black holes surrounded by ... More

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Gut microbes from aged mice induce inflammation in young mice, study finds   Brain's structure hangs in 'a delicate balance'   New computer vision method helps speed up screening of electronic materials

Allen and his colleagues found evidence supporting the idea that changes to the gut microbiome play a role in the system-wide inflammation that often occurs with aging. Image courtesy: Fred Zwicky.

EVANSTON, IL.- When scientists transplanted the gut microbes of aged mice into young “germ-free” mice — raised to have no gut microbes of their own — the recipient mice experienced an increase in inflammation that parallels inflammatory processes associated with aging in humans. Young germ-free mice transplanted with microbes from other young mice had no such increase. The findings suggest that changes to the gut microbiome play a role in the systemwide inflammation that often occurs with aging, the researchers said. Reported in the journal Aging Cell, the study also found that antibiotics caused longer-lasting disruptions in the gut microbiomes of aged mice than in young mice. “There’s been a growing consensus that aging is associated with a progressive increase in chronic low-grade inflammation,” said Jacob Allen, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who l ... More

Snapshot of select neurons from the human cortex dataset, viewed using the online neuroglancer platform. Image courtesy: Harvard University/Google.

EVANSTON, IL.- When a magnet is heated up, it reaches a critical point where it loses magnetization. Called “criticality,” this point of high complexity is reached when a physical object is transitioning smoothly from one phase into the next. Now, a new Northwestern University study has discovered that the brain’s structural features reside in the vicinity of a similar critical point — either at or close to a structural phase transition. Surprisingly, these results are consistent across brains from humans, mice and fruit flies, which suggests the finding might be universal. Although the researchers don’t know what phases the brain’s structure is transitioning between, they say this new information could enable new designs for computational models of the brain’s complexity and emergent phenomena. The research was published in Communications Physics, a journal published by Nature Portfolio. “The human br ... More

To speed up the search for advanced functional materials, scientists are using a new computer vision approach to identify new solar cell materials from hundreds of millions of chemical formulations. Image courtesy: Bryce Vickmark.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- Boosting the performance of solar cells, transistors, LEDs, and batteries will require better electronic materials, made from novel compositions that have yet to be discovered. To speed up the search for advanced functional materials, scientists are using AI tools to identify promising materials from hundreds of millions of chemical formulations. In tandem, engineers are building machines that can print hundreds of material samples at a time based on chemical compositions tagged by AI search algorithms. But to date, there’s been no similarly speedy way to confirm that these printed materials actually perform as expected. This last step of material characterization has been a major bottleneck in the pipeline of advanced materials screening. Now, a new computer vision technique developed by MIT engineers significantly speeds up the characterization of ne ... More

Novel quantum sensor breaks limits of optical measurement using entanglement   Scientists engineer yellow-seeded camelina with high oil output   New technique could help build quantum computers of the future

Researchers performing optical alignment with the pump laser of the composite interferometer experiment device. Image courtesy: Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS).

DAEJEON.- The Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS) has developed a novel quantum sensor technology that allows the measurement of perturbations in the infrared region with visible light by leveraging the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. This will enable low-cost, high-performance IR optical measurement, which previously accompanied limitations in delivering quality results. The work is published in the journal Quantum Science and Technology. When a pair of photons, the smallest unit of light particles, are linked by quantum entanglement, they share an associated quantum state regardless of their respective distance. The recently developed undetected photon quantum sensor is a remote sensor that utilizes two light sources that recreate such quantum entanglement. An undetected photon (idler) refers to a photon that travels to the target of measurement and bounces back. Instead of directly measuring this photon, the ... More

Artist's representation of the effect of editing of all six copies of the TT8 gene in Camelina sativa. Image courtesy: Valerie Lentz/Brookhaven National Laboratory.

UPTON, NY.- Efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from transportation fuels are increasing demand for oil produced by nonfood crops. These plants use sunlight to power the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide into oil, which accumulates in seeds. Crop breeders, interested in selecting plants that produce a lot of oil, look for yellow seeds. In oilseed crops like canola, yellow-seeded varieties generally produce more oil than their brown-seeded counterparts. The reason: The protein responsible for brown seed color—which yellow-seeded plants lack—also plays a key role in oil production. Now, plant biochemists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory—who are interested in increasing plant oil synthesis for the sustainable production of biofuels and other bioproducts—have harnessed this knowledge to create a new high-yielding oilseed crop variety. In a paper just published in The Plan ... More

Kaushalya Jhuria in the lab testing the electronics from the experimental setup used to make qubits in silicon. Image courtesy: Thor Swift/Berkeley Lab.

BERKELEY, CA.- Quantum computers have the potential to solve complex problems in human health, drug discovery, and artificial intelligence millions of times faster than some of the world's fastest supercomputers. A network of quantum computers could advance these discoveries even faster. But before that can happen, the computer industry will need a reliable way to string together billions of qubits—or quantum bits—with atomic precision. Connecting qubits, however, has been challenging for the research community. Some methods form qubits by placing an entire silicon wafer in a rapid annealing oven at very high temperatures. With these methods, qubits randomly form from defects (also known as color centers or quantum emitters) in silicon's crystal lattice. And without knowing exactly where qubits are located in a material, a quantum computer of connected qubits will be difficult to realize. But now, getting qubits to connect may soon be possible. A research team led by ... More

How invertebrates support the decomposition of plants   Small, cool and sulfurous exoplanet may help write recipe for planetary formation   Fine-tuning leaf angle with CRISPR improves sugarcane yield

According to the study, soil animals such as horn mites (here Steganacarus sp.) could also play an important, previously overlooked role in the carbon cycle of soils. Image courtesy: Andy Murray,

FRANKFURT.- When plants or parts of them die, billions of small creatures help to break down the organic material. Next to microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, also some soil-living invertebrates seem to be involved in this process. A team of researchers from the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) in Hesse, Germany, and further institutions has now started to unravel the genetic basis of plant cell wall degradation in these invertebrates. Their findings will help to improve predictions of carbon and nutrient cycling in the soil. They live in large numbers in the soil and are represented by a wide variety of species: microscopically small invertebrate soil animals such as springtails and horn mites. They break down organic matter and release nutrients for plants. In a study published in the journal “Molecular Ecology”, researchers have now discovered that a much larger proportion of their species may also be directly involved in decomposing dead plant materia ... More

The sulfur-laden atmosphere discovered on gaseous exoplanet GJ 3470 b, show here in an illustration orbiting its star in the constellation Cancer, could help researchers figure out how it (and similar planets) were formed.

MADISON, WI.- A surprising yellow haze of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of a gas “dwarf” exoplanet about 96 light years away from our own solar system makes the planet a prime target for scientists trying to understand how worlds are formed. Astronomers discovered the planet, GJ 3470 b, in 2012 when the planet’s shadow crossed the star it orbits. GJ 3470 b is located in the constellation Cancer and is about half the size of Neptune, with a mass 10 times that of Earth. In the intervening years, researchers have compiled data on the planet using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, culminating in a pair of recent observations with the James Webb Space Telescope. Planets outside our solar system — called exoplanets — like GJ 3470 b are interesting subjects for researchers wondering how planets are created. Ideally, astronomers capture light from a star that shines through the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. This allows them to assemble a measure of the component li ... More

Eleanor Brant collecting leaf samples for molecular analysis of gene edited sugarcane. Image courtesy: Charles Keato.

GAINESVILLE, FL.- Sugarcane is the world's largest crop by biomass yield, providing 80% of the sugar and 40% of the biofuel produced worldwide. The plant's size and efficient use of water and light make it a prime candidate to produce advanced renewable, value-added bioproducts and biofuels. However, as a hybrid of Saccharum officinarum and Saccharum spontaneum, sugarcane has the most complex genome of all crops. This complexity means that improving sugarcane through conventional breeding is challenging. Because of this, researchers turn to gene editing tools, such as the CRISPR/Cas9 system to precisely target the sugarcane genome for improvement. In their new paper, published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, a team of researchers from the University of Florida at the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) has leveraged this genetic complexity to their advantage to use the CRISPR/Cas9 system to fine-tune leaf angle in sugarcane. ... More

Research team develops first-in-kind protocol for creating 'wired miniature brains'   A strikingly natural coincidence: Researchers find heating gallium nitride and magnesium forms a superlattice   Millions of insects migrate through 30-meter Pyrenees pass

Brain cortical organoids are examined under an electronic microscope. Muotri recently published his method for making such organoids, which he says are so realistic that they "rival the complexity of the fetal brain's neural network." Image courtesy: UC San Diego Health Sciences.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Researchers worldwide can now create highly realistic brain cortical organoids—essentially miniature artificial brains with functioning neural networks—thanks to a proprietary protocol released this month by researchers at the University of California San Diego. The new technique, published in Nature Protocols, paves the way for scientists to perform more advanced research regarding autism, schizophrenia and other neurological disorders in which the brain's structure is usually typical, but electrical activity is altered. That's according to Alysson Muotri, Ph.D., corresponding author and director of the UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Institute (SSCI) Integrated Space Stem Cell Orbital Research Center. The SSCI is directed by Dr. Catriona Jamieson, a leading physician-scientist in cancer stem cell biology whose research explores the fundamental question of how space alters cancer progression. The newly detailed method allows for ... More

Thermal treating of metallic magneiusm on gallium nitride semiconductor results in the formation of a distinctive superlattice structure. Magnesium, nitrogen, gallium atoms are shown in orange, blue, and gray, respectively. Image courtesy: Jia Wang.

NAGOYA.- A study led by Nagoya University in Japan revealed that a simple thermal reaction of gallium nitride (GaN) with metallic magnesium (Mg) results in the formation of a distinctive superlattice structure. This represents the first time researchers have identified the insertion of 2D metal layers into a bulk semiconductor. By carefully observing the materials through various cutting-edge characterization techniques, the researchers uncovered new insights into the process of semiconductor doping and elastic strain engineering. They published their findings in the journal Nature. GaN is an important wide bandgap semiconductor material that is poised to replace traditional silicon semiconductors in applications demanding higher power density and faster operating frequencies. These distinctive characteristics of GaN make it valuable in devices such as LEDs, laser diodes, and power electronics—including critical components in electri ... More

Marmalade hoverfly. Image courtesy: Will Hawkes.

EXETER.- Over 17 million insects migrate each year through a single mountain pass on the border between France and Spain, new research shows. University of Exeter scientists have studied migrating insects in the Pass of Bujaruelo, a 30-meter gap between two high peaks in the Pyrenees. Their paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is titled "The most remarkable migrants—systematic analysis of the Western European insect flyway at a Pyrenean mountain pass." The team visited the pass each autumn for four years, monitoring the vast number and variety of day-flying insects heading south. The findings for this single pass suggest that billions of insects cross the Pyrenees each year, making it a key location for many migrating species. The migrating insects begin these journeys further north in Europe, including the UK. "More than 70 years ago, two ornithologists—Elizabeth and David Lack—chanced upon an ... More

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve. Karl Popper

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Combined X-ray surveys and supercomputer simulations track 12 billion years of cosmic black-hole growth
STATE COLLEGE, PA.- By combining forefront X-ray observations with state-of-the-art supercomputer simulations of the buildup of galaxies over cosmic history, researchers have provided the best modeling to date of the growth of the supermassive black holes found in the centers of galaxies. Using this hybrid approach, a research team led by Penn State astronomers has derived a complete picture of black-hole growth over 12 billion years, from the universe's infancy at around 1.8 billion years old to now at 13.8 billion years old. Two papers comprise the research, one published in The Astrophysical Journal, and one as yet unpublished that will be submitted to the same journal. The results will be presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held June 9 through June 13 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin. "Supermassive black holes in galaxy centers have millions-to-billions of times the mass of the sun," said F ... More

Scientists make and test efficient water-splitting catalyst predicted by theory
UPTON, NY.- Hydrogen (H2) is a promising fuel for reducing greenhouse gases, especially if produced by using renewable energy to split water molecules (H2O). But as simple as it may seem to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, the chemistry is complex. Two separate simultaneous electrochemical reactions each require catalysts, chemical "deal makers" that help break and remake chemical bonds. Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University say they've developed a new efficient catalyst for the more challenging part: the oxygen evolution reaction. As described in a paper just published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the catalyst was designed "from the bottom up" based on theoretical calculations seeking to minimize the amount of iridium, an expensive metal used as a catalytic material, and to maximize the catalyst's stability in acidic conditions. When the team ... More

Lone star state: Tracking a low-mass star as it speeds across the Milky Way
SAN DIEGO, CA.- It may seem like the sun is stationary while the planets in its orbit are moving, but the sun is actually orbiting around the Milky Way galaxy at an impressive rate of about 220 kilometers per second—almost half a million miles per hour. As fast as that may seem, when a faint red star was discovered crossing the sky at a noticeably quick pace, scientists took notice. Thanks to the efforts of a citizen science project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 and a team of astronomers from around the country, a rare hypervelocity L subdwarf star has been found racing through the Milky Way. More remarkably, this star may be on a trajectory that causes it to leave the Milky Way altogether. The research, led by University of California San Diego Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Adam Burgasser, was presented at a press conference during the 244th national meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Madison, Wisconsin. The star, ch ... More

Webb opens new window on supernova science
BALTIMORE, MD.- Peering deeply into the cosmos, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is giving scientists their first detailed glimpse of supernovae from a time when our universe was just a small fraction of its current age. A team using Webb data has identified 10 times more supernovae in the early universe than were previously known. A few of the newfound exploding stars are the most distant examples of their type, including those used to measure the universe's expansion rate. "Webb is a supernova discovery machine," said Christa DeCoursey, a third-year graduate student at the Steward Observatory and the University of Arizona in Tucson. "The sheer number of detections plus the great distances to these supernovae are the two most exciting outcomes from our survey." DeCoursey presented these findings in a press conference at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. To make these discoveries, the team analyzed imaging data obtained as part of the JWST Advanced Deep Ext ... More

Splitting hairs: Research team applies science of biomechanics to understand our bad hair days
DUBLIN.- Academics are often accused of "splitting hairs," but a team at Trinity College Dublin has now devised a machine to do just that. We all have a bad hair day from time to time, and split ends are a common problem. However, the science behind this kind of hair damage is poorly understood, which is why the Trinity team, led by Professor David Taylor, is investigating this knotty problem. Prof. Taylor's research in the Trinity Centre for Biomedical Engineering covers all kinds of natural materials, from human bone to seashells but he had never worked on hair. So, when cosmetics company L'Oreal approached him, he was happy to accept the challenge. Working with colleagues, he developed the "Moving Loop Fatigue machine," which has been expertly designed to recreate what happens when tangled hair is combed out. The results have just been published in the journal Interface Focus. Two types of hair were tested: some from a person who suffered fro ... More

Peeking into the invisible world of the atmosphere
TUCSON, AZ.- Earth's atmosphere might be out of sight, out of mind, but it is actually a dynamic place with layers of distinct characteristics that are constantly vying for real estate in the sky. And while the atmosphere's layers can't be seen with the naked eye, scientists have the incentive to determine where they lie. For example, knowing the height of what's called the planetary boundary layer – the layer of the atmosphere that interacts directly with the planet's surface – compared to the mixing layer, which contains thoroughly mixed air that steadily cools with increased elevation, can help meteorologists predict air quality. The planetary boundary layer and mixed layer usually have nearly the same height. When they do, lidar laser technology can be used to effectively detect their height. Lidar uses pulsed lasers to measure light scattering and absorption by aerosol particles in the atmosphere. But sometimes, atmospheric conditions arise in which the mixed layer is significantly l ... More

New insights on the role of nucleon exchange in nuclear fusion
NASHVILLE, TN.- Low-energy nuclear fusion reactions can potentially provide clean energy. In stars, low-energy fusion reactions during the stages of carbon and oxygen burning are critical to stellar evolution. These reactions also offer valuable insights into the exotic processes occurring in the inner crust of neutron stars as they accumulate matter. However, scientists do not fully understand the underlying dynamics governing these reactions. The key to unlocking the fusion process is understanding how nucleons move between the two fusing nuclei. As the nuclei draw close enough for the nuclear forces to become effective, neutrons and protons can migrate from one nucleus to another. This movement potentially eases the fusion process. A recent study has explored the influence on low-energy fusion processes of isospin composition. This is a key nuclear property that differentiates protons from neutrons. The researchers used computational techniques and theoretical modeling to investigate the fusion of ... More

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On a day like today, French chemist and physicist Henri Victor Regnault was born
July 21, 1810. Henri Victor Regnault (21 July 1810 - 19 January 1878) was a French chemist and physicist best known for his careful measurements of the thermal properties of gases. He was an early thermodynamicist and was mentor to William Thomson in the late 1840s. He never used his first given name, and was known throughout his lifetime as Victor Regnault. At Sèvres, he continued work on the thermal properties of matter. He designed sensitive thermometers, hygrometers, hypsometers and calorimeters, and measured the specific heats of many substances and the coefficient of thermal expansion of gases. In the course of this work, he discovered that not all gases expand equally when heated and that Boyle's Law is only an approximation, especially at temperatures near a substance's boiling point. The crater Regnault on the Moon is named after Regnault, and his name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower. Some have suggested that the symbol R for the ideal gas constant is also named after him.

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