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New system uses floor vibrations to detect building occupants

Slah Drira. By installing sensors in a building’s floor slabs, it's possible to measure the vibrations created by footsteps. Image courtesy: 2020 EPFL Alain Herzog.

LAUSANNE.- Many buildings, manufacturing sites, shopping malls and other public spaces are equipped with occupant detection systems. These systems generally rely on cameras or occupants’ mobile phones. Such technologies infringe on privacy and may not function in emergencies such as fires. Scientists at ENAC’s Applied Computing and Mechanics Laboratory (IMAC), headed by Professor Ian Smith, have developed an alternative approach. “By installing sensors in a building’s floor slabs, we can measure the vibrations created by footsteps. That lets us calculate the number of people in the building as well as where they are located and their trajectory,” says Slah Drira, the IMAC PhD student who completed his thesis on this topic. The challenge with Drira’s approach is screening out the background noise caused by spurious events such as a door closing or an object falling to the ground. These events can trigger vibrations similar to those induced by footsteps. Another challe ... More

For the first time, scientists demonstrate self-repair mechanism in cells   Lighting a path to Planet Nine   Research tracks how pterosaurs mastered the primeval skies

Jonathan Winkelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago. Image courtesy: The University of Chicago.

CHICAGO, IL.- As cells bump into each other, forces cause them to move and shake, or even sometimes rupture. “Cells are constantly generating forces and responding to them. They are being pulled on by their environment,” said Jonathan Winkelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago. Winkelman works in the lab of Margaret Gardel, professor in the Department of Physics and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. Unlike a rubber band that breaks when you stretch it too much, an overstretched cell initiates a response to repair itself. This phenomenon has been observed using microscopy, but the question of how the repair and adaptation process initiates inside the cells has remained unanswered until now. In an innovative new study published Sept. 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Winkelman, along with several other University of Chicago researchers, demonstrated how a protein detects forces ... More

Artist's impression of Planet Nine as an ice giant eclipsing the central Milky Way, with a star-like Sun in the distance. Image courtesy: nagualdesign; Tom Ruen.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- The search for Planet Nine — a hypothesized ninth planet in our solar system — may come down to pinpointing the faintest orbital trails in an incredibly dark corner of space. That’s exactly what Yale astronomers Malena Rice and Gregory Laughlin are attempting with a technique that scoops up scattered light from thousands of space telescope images and identifies orbital pathways for previously undetected objects. “You really can’t see them without using this kind of method. If Planet Nine is out there, it’s going to be incredibly dim,” said Rice, lead author of a new study that has been accepted by The Planetary Science Journal. Rice, a Ph.D. student in astronomy and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, presented the findings Oct. 27 at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. The possibility of a ninth planet in Earth’s sola ... More

Image courtesy: Pixabay.

by Kelly Macnamara

PARIS (AFP).- By the time they were wiped out alongside their dinosaur cousins, most winged pterosaurs had evolved from awkwardly airborne to lords of the primeval skies, according to new research published Wednesday. Pterosaurs, the first creatures with a backbone to fly under their own power, emerged during the late Triassic period more than 200 million years ago and include some of the largest animals ever to take to the air. Paleontologists are still piecing together details of the lives of these winged reptiles -- neither dinosaurs nor birds -- which soared above T-rex, Triceratops and other dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous. In one of two studies published in Nature on pterosaurs, researchers in Britain found the creatures were initially ungainly fliers. But the study, which used statistical methods, biophysical models and the fossil record, said that pterosaurs spent 150 million years perfecting their flying skills. "Pterosaurs really were incredible animals," co-author Joanna Baker of Reading ... More

Dull-colored birds don't see the world like bright birds do   How stem cells choose their careers   Gilead Sciences reports almost $900 mn in Q3 remdesivir sales

The brown, black and white Bengalese finch doesn’t rely on colorful signals when choosing a mate. Image courtesy: Stanbalik.

DURHAM, NC.- Fall is here, and we see the leaves turning yellow, orange or red thanks to a trick of our vision: our brains categorize colors. Scientists have learned that birds with colorful markings do this too. But what about drab birds that don’t rely on color. According to a new Duke University study, the ability to mentally categorize colors is not a universal avian attribute, and dull-colored birds may see the world in a completely different way than their colorful cousins. To test whether birds separate colors into categories, a team led by Duke postdoctoral researcher Eleanor Caves selected eight colors varying continuously from orange to red, and made little disks with either one solid color or a combination of two colors. Birds were then trained to flip over only the disks that showed two different colors, in exchange for a food reward. In previous experiments, the team showed that female zebra finches presented with a continuum of oran ... More

Neural crest cells (purple / magenta / orange) are unable to migrate through a blocked laminin channel (cyan) caused by a reduction in Wnt signaling on the right side of the dorsal neural tube. Image courtesy: Gandhi et al., eLife, 2020.

PASADENA, CA.- "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a question it seems like every child gets asked. A few precocious ones might answer "a doctor" or "an astronaut," but most will probably smile and shrug their shoulders. But well before a child could comprehend the question or the concept of choosing one's own path in life—while they were an embryo, in fact—the child's own stem cells were asking themselves the same thing. Stem cells are cells that have not yet chosen a specialized fate, such as to become a neuron, or white blood cell. At some point, each stem cell decides what it will be when it "grows up," and these decisions are critical junctures in any organism's development. In the laboratory of Marianne Bronner, Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering, researchers focus on a particular population of stem cells, called the neural crest, which is found along the organism's head-to-tail axis. These cells have the ability to differentiate into hea ... More

One vial of the drug Remdesivir is seen during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg. Ulrich Perrey / Pool / AFP.

NEW YORK, NY (AFP).- Remdesivir, a therapeutic to treat Covid-19, boosted third-quarter sales for pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences by nearly $900 million, according to results released Wednesday by the drugmaker. The medication, sold under the brand name Veklury and originally developed to treat Ebola, has been shown to shorten the recovery time for patients hospitalized with the new coronavirus. Gilead reported a 17 percent jump in third-quarter revenues to $6.6 billion. The company reported a profit of $360 million, compared with a loss of $1.2 billion in the year-ago period. The US Food and Drug Administration last Thursday granted full approval to the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, after conditional authorization was given in May. Remdesivir, which is administered by an injection, was one of the first drugs to show relative promise in treating the virus, although its efficacy in reducing its mortality rate is unproven. President Donald Trump, who ... More

New smartwatch app alerts d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users to birdsong, sirens and other desired sounds   A census of the soil microbiome   CUHK develops effective energy harvester breaking through the limitation of battery life of smart watches and Wristbands

UW researchers have developed a smartwatch app for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people who want to be aware of nearby sounds. Image courtesy: Jain et al./ASSETS 2020.

SEATTLE, WA.- Smartwatches offer people a private method for getting notifications about their surroundings — such as a phone call, health alerts or an upcoming package delivery. Now University of Washington researchers have developed SoundWatch, a smartwatch app for deaf, Deaf and hard-of-hearing people who want to be aware of nearby sounds. When the smartwatch picks up a sound the user is interested in — examples include a siren, a microwave beeping or a bird chirping — SoundWatch will identify it and send the user a friendly buzz along with information about the sound. “This technology provides people with a way to experience sounds that require an action — such as getting food from the microwave when it beeps. But these devices can also enhance people’s experiences and help them feel more connected to the world,” said lead author Dhruv Jain, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer S ... More

The hairs of maize roots (blue) are intimately colonized by bacteria (pink). Image courtesy: D. Dar.

PASADENA, CA.- Many people have experienced the mysterious death of a houseplant. Despite ample water and sunlight, something invisible seems to happen under the soil's surface to sabotage the plant's health. Just as communities of microbes live in the human gut and influence human health, the so-called soil microbiome of bacteria and fungi intimately influences plant health starting at the root. In our changing climate, a thorough understanding of healthy soil microbiomes will lead to more resilient crops and thus more sustainable food sources. Now, a team led by Caltech researchers has developed a new computational technique for analyzing the DNA present within a soil sample in order to survey the microbial species present. The technique has revealed new insights into the bacterial species that protect plants from pathogenic fungi. The work was done in the laboratory of Dianne Newman, Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology a ... More

Prof. LIAO has recently received the Adaptive Structures and Material Systems Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Image courtesy: The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

HONG KONG.- Smart watches and wristbands are becoming more and more popular. Various new functions such as health monitoring, contactless payment, entertainment, living assistance, have been added to these small devices and bring convenience to our daily lives. However, the limited battery life of these devices, due to its critical size, remains a key issue. To address this issue, a research team led by Prof. Wei-Hsin LIAO, Chairman of the Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering (MAE) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, has developed an embedded energy harvester which is very efficient in generating electricity to sustainably power the smart watches and wristbands. Energy harvesters have been used to power up traditional watches in which mechanical gears are equipped to increase the frequency of human motion and convert mechanical energy to electricity. But these designs have the disadvantage of incompact stru ... More

Researchers found that commercially available wearables do not accurately monitor stress fracture risks   NASA's Perseverance rover is midway to Mars   Stanford researchers link poor memory to attention lapses and media multitasking

Vanderbilt technology provides a unique new capability to estimate internal tissue forces and damage due to repetitive loading, which is lacking in existing wearables. Image: Flo Karr, Unsplash.

NASHVILLE, TN.- A trans-institutional team of Vanderbilt engineering, data science and clinical researchers has developed a novel approach for monitoring bone stress in recreational and professional athletes, with the goal of anticipating and preventing injury. Using machine learning and biomechanical modeling techniques, the researchers built multisensory algorithms that combine data from lightweight, low-profile wearable sensors in shoes to estimate forces on the tibia, or shin bone—a common place for runners’ stress fractures. The research builds off the researchers’ 2019 study, which found that commercially available wearables do not accurately monitor stress fracture risks. Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and physical medicine and rehabilitation, sought to develop a better technique to solve this problem. “Today’s wearables measure ground reaction forces—how ha ... More

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's path shown with the orbits of Earth and Mars. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

PASADENA, CA.- NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission has logged a lot of flight miles since being lofted skyward on July 30 - 146.3 million miles (235.4 million kilometers) to be exact. Turns out that is exactly the same distance it has to go before the spacecraft hits the Red Planet's atmosphere like a 11,900 mph (19,000 kph) freight train on Feb. 18, 2021. "At 1:40 p.m. Pacific Time today, our spacecraft will have just as many miles in its metaphorical rearview mirror as it will out its metaphorical windshield," said Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance rover mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech manages for NASA. "While I don't think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from home, it's still a pretty neat milestone. Next stop, Jezero Crater." The Sun's gravitational influence plays a significant role in shaping not just spacecraft trajectories to Mars (as well as to everywhere els ... More

Stanford researchers have found a correlation between media multitasking and poor attention and memory loss. Image: Andrew Neel, Unsplash.

STANFORD, CA.- The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but they can also provide insightful glimpses into memory. Stanford scientists are now able to predict whether an individual will remember or forget based on their neural activity and pupil size. “As we navigate our lives, we have these periods in which we’re frustrated because we’re not able to bring knowledge to mind, expressing what we know,” said Anthony Wagner, the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “Fortunately, science now has tools that allow us to explain why an individual, from moment to moment, might fail to remember something stored in their memory.” In addition to investigating why people sometimes remember and other times forget, the team of scientists also wanted to understand why some of us seem to have better memory recall than others, and how media multitasking might be a factor. ... More

More News
Increased risk of death in smoke impacted areas during and after the Hazelwood mine fire
MELBOURNE.- The Hazelwood Health Study’s Hazelinks Stream, which uses population health datasets to investigate changes in the health of the community during and after the Hazelwood mine fire, has released a report on risk of death in smoke impacted areas. The researchers used data from the National Mortality Database to determine whether death rates increased during and/or after the mine fire and whether those rates were affected by daily changes in the levels of mine fire smoke pollution. It was found that during the first 30 days of the mine fire period (9th February to 10th March 2014) when the smoke levels were the most intense, there was an increase in the risk of death from injuries, but not from other causes. Across all smoke-impacted communities, there were approximately ... More

University expands access to OMEGA laser with Energy Department's LaserNetUS initiative
ROCHESTER, NY.- The University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) is one of 10 recipients in the LaserNetUS that has recently been granted a three-year collective award of $18 million from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES). The funds, which will be distributed among the 10 participating institutions, will allow the LLE and the other nine LaserNetUS partner organizations to expand user access to their laser facilities for frontier research and student training. The findings from these experiments could have a broad range of applications in basic research, advanced manufacturing, and medicine. Of the total $18 million for three years, $17 million will be devoted to funding facility operations, with an additional $1 million to provide user support ... More

Penn Medicine researchers receive $5.4 million grant to find genetic drivers of testicular cancer
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The international hunt to find more genetic risk markers for testicular cancer is expanding. A team of researchers led by Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, deputy director of the Abramson Cancer Center and the Pearl Basser Professor for BRCA-Related Research in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was recently awarded $5.4 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health to continue the long-standing genomics work of the TEsticular CAncer Consortium (TECAC). A total of nearly $7 million has been awarded to TECAC, which includes researchers from 27 institutions around the world, whose collaborative goal is understand the genetic susceptibility to testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT). TGCT are the most common ... More

'Fast' MRI detects breast cancers that 3-D mammograms may miss
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Beth Reisboard, 76, was relieved in 2018 when she received the results from her annual mammogram: “Negative.” But her OB-GYN suggested she have a second screening. Reisboard has dense breasts, which means there are certain cancers that mammography may not be sensitive enough to detect. Surprised, Reisboard scheduled an appointment to undergo an abbreviated MRI at Penn Medicine. Twelve hours later, she received a call from the clinic — they had found a tumor. “By the time the cancer would have been picked up by a mammogram, it could have been stage two or three. By recommending a second screening, Dr. Ann Steiner saved my life,” Reisboard said. Reisboard is among the more than 400 asymptomatic women with dense breasts who underwent abbr ... More

AI helps molecular engineers design custom plastics
CHICAGO, IL.- Imagine a plastic bag that can carry home your groceries, then quickly degrade without harming the environment. Or a super-strong, lightweight plastic for airplanes, rockets, and satellites that can replace traditional structural metals in aerospace technologies. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have accelerated the ability to design materials with specific properties like these. But while scientists have had success designing new metallic alloys, plastics have been much more difficult to design. The molecules that make them up, called polymers, are extremely chemically complex. Researchers from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, however, announced they have finally found a way to design polymers by combining modeling and ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Baruj Benacerraf was born
October 29, 1920. Baruj Benacerraf (October 29, 1920 - August 2, 2011) was a Venezuelan-American immunologist, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the "discovery of the major histocompatibility complex genes which encode cell surface protein molecules important for the immune system's distinction between self and non-self." His colleagues and shared recipients were Jean Dausset and George Davis Snell. His discovery still holds true, and more has been discovered over the last century. More than 30 genes have been discovered in a gene complex called the major histocompatibility complex. The histocompatibility complex is a complex part of DNA that controls the immune response. This research has also led to clarify autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.


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