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Discovery of a new topological phase could lead to exciting developments in nanotechnology

Illustration of merons in a twisted bilayer. The discovery of a new topDiscovery of a new topological phase in twisted bilayers could lead to exciting developments in nanotechnology. Image courtesy: Daniel Bennett.

CAMBRIDGE.- Cambridge researchers have discovered a new topological phase in a two-dimensional system, which could be used as a new platform for exploring topological physics in nanoscale devices. Two-dimensional materials such as graphene have served as a playground for the experimental discovery and theoretical understanding of a wide range of phenomena in physics and materials science. Beyond graphene, there are a large number 2D materials, all with different physical properties. This is promising for potential applications in nanotechnology, where a wide range of functionality can be achieved in devices by using different 2D materials or stacking combinations of different layers. It was recently discovered that in materials such as hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which are less symmetric than graphene, ferroelectricity occurs when one layer slides over the other and breaks a symmetry. Ferroelectricity is the switching of a material's electric ... More

Three newly discovered sea worms that glow in the dark named after creatures from Japanese folklore and marine biologist   Discovery could be key to reducing leukemia treatment resistance   Mimicking biological enzymes may be key to hydrogen fuel production

Polycirrus onibi, a newly discovered marine worm that glows in the dark was named after a creature from Japanese folklore. Image courtesy: Naoto Jimi (Nagoya University).

NAGOYA.- A research group from Nagoya University in central Japan has discovered three new species of bioluminescent polycirrus worms from different parts of Japan. Usually found in shallow water, polycirrus are small worms, known for their bioluminescence. The researchers named one of their discoveries after a ghostly yokai, a creature in Japanese foklore; another after a lantern yokai; and the other after an influential Japanese marine biologist. The researchers published their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science. Scientists have studied only a small fraction of the more than 7,000 species of luminescent organisms in the world. Research remains limited to certain species because of the existence of specimens that are difficult to classify into species. Without correct identification of the species, comparisons of different results are of limited use. Naoto Jimi (he/him) and Special Assistant Professor Manabu Bessho-Uehara ... More

Image courtesy: Newcastle University.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE.- In a world first, Newcastle researchers have discovered the mechanisms acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells use to produce "free radicals"—the byproduct of a cell process that aggressively fuels the growth of cancer cells and limits the effectiveness of current treatments. Published March 28 in Science Signaling, University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) researchers also identified a strategy to silence the production of free radicals in leukemia cells, in turn strengthening their response to current therapies used to treat leukemia patients. The production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), also known as free radicals, is a necessary and expected byproduct of cell processes within the human body. However, overproduction or uncontrolled ROS can cause damage to DNA, cells and tissues, leading to disease. In the case of cancer, malignant cells become addicted to ROS, using its destructive power to cause con ... More

Gradute student Sagnik Chakrabarti. Image courtesy: Sagnik Chakrabarti.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- An ancient biological enzyme known as nickel-iron hydrogenase may play a key role in producing hydrogen for a renewables-based energy economy, researchers said. Careful study of the enzyme has led chemists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to design a synthetic molecule that mimics the hydrogen gas-producing chemical reaction performed by the enzyme. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications. Currently, industrial hydrogen is usually produced by separating hydrogen gas molecules from oxygen atoms in water using a process called electrolysis. To boost this chemical reaction in the industrial setting, platinum metal is used as a catalyst in the cathodes that direct the reaction. However, many studies have shown that the expense and rarity of platinum make it unattractive as the world pushes toward more environmentally sound energy sources. On the other hand, nature's nickel-iron hydrogen ... More

Detecting coral biodiversity in seawater samples   Feed them or lose them: How developing nerve cells are influenced by essential amino acids   Energy-efficient and customisable inorganic membranes for a cleaner future

On a reef in Okinawa, a snorkeler notes the different coral genera present. Image courtesy: OIST/Noriyuki Satoh.

OKINAWA.- Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology have developed a method to measure coral biodiversity through extracting the environmental DNA (or eDNA) from a liter of surface seawater collected from above a reef. The method has been confirmed to work through observations made by scientific divers in the same areas of ocean. The research, conducted in collaboration with the Okinawa Prefecture Environmental Science Center and University of Tokyo, was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. It has paved the way for large-scale comprehensive surveys of reef-building coral to take place and removes the reliance of direct observations made through scientific scuba diving or snorkeling. "Beautiful coral reefs in subtropical and tropical seas account for only 0.2% of the entire ocean," said co-author Prof. Nori Satoh, Principal Investigator of OIST's Marine Genomics Unit. "However, they are ... More

Starving neurons of certain amino acids during brain development leads to severe effects in mice after birth. Image courtesy: Lisa Knaus/ISTA.

KLOSTERNEUBURG.- Brain development consists of a sequence of coordinated steps, which are mainly instructed by our genes. During these steps, the proper positioning and functionality of nerve cells in the brain (neurons) are critical—nonfunctional or incorrectly positioned neurons can lead to severe neuropathological consequences. Mutations in genes coordinating this program are often linked to neurodevelopmental disorders; however, environmental stressors such as nutrient scarcity or malnutrition can also influence the development of the brain. Still, very little is known about the importance of specific nutrients and the role of metabolism during brain development. Professor Gaia Novarino and her team at ISTA have now shed light on this brain mystery. In collaboration with several Viennese universities, the scientists profiled the nutritional program of the mouse brain. They found that a group of amino acids—the building blocks of pro ... More

Limitations of traditional membrane technologies served as the impetus for Dr Zhang Chen (seated) in Prof Ho's (standing) team to develop a new synthesis strategy for highly efficient inorganic membranes. Image courtesy: NUS.

SINGAPORE.- A breakthrough in synthesis strategy enables the facile formulation of inorganic membranes that are not just energy-efficient but also highly customisable, potentially revolutionising the way many industries operate for greater sustainability. Inorganic membranes can be thought of as kitchen sieves. Similar to how sieves separate smaller particles from larger ones, inorganic membranes, typically made of ceramics or metals, selectively separate molecules based on their size and properties. In a ground-breaking achievement, a team of researchers from the College of Design and Engineering (CDE) at the National University of Singapore, led by Professor Ho Ghim Wei from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has developed a revolutionary technique for producing ultrathin inorganic membranes. These freestanding membranes can function without any supporting substrate — a significant advancement in membrane technology. High ... More

Microplastic found in Antarctic krill and salps   Bacterial injection system delivers proteins in mice and human cells   How did the orchid mantis adapt and evolve?

Antarctic krill, small crustaceans, are filter feeders eating phytoplankton and other microscopic organisms. Image courtesy: Pete Lens (BAS).

CAMBRIDGE.- A new study led by researchers at the British Antarctic Survey discovered microplastics in krill (Euphausia superba), a small shrimp-like crustacean, and salps (Salpa thompsoni), a gelatinous marine invertebrate. The results were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. While Antarctic krill have been observed ingesting microplastics in laboratory settings, the team's findings provide important evidence that these animals, as well as other zooplankton, ingest plastic in their natural environment. Microplastics are present in the Southern Ocean from the sea surface to seabed. Due to the small size of these particles (<5 mm), Antarctic zooplankton are likely to mistake the plastics for their natural food source. The team focused on two of the most abundant species of Southern Ocean zooplankton: Antarctic krill, and salps. These two species are critical to the diet of much of the Southern Ocean's marine wildlife. Krill is th ... More

Purified Photorhabdus virulence cassettes (PVCs), imaged using TEM. Image courtesy: Joseph Kreitz, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have harnessed a natural bacterial system to develop a new protein delivery approach that works in human cells and animals. The technology, described today in Nature, can be programmed to deliver a variety of proteins, including ones for gene editing, to different cell types. The system could potentially be a safe and efficient way to deliver gene therapies and cancer therapies. Led by Broad core institute member and McGovern Institute investigator Feng Zhang, the team took advantage of a tiny syringe-like injection structure, produced by a bacterium, that naturally binds to insect cells and injects a protein payload into them. The researchers used the artificial intelligence tool AlphaFold to engineer these syringe structures to deliver a range of useful proteins to both human cells and cells in live mice. "This is a r ... More

Orchid mantis. Image courtesy: Chen Zhanqi.

XISHUANGBANNA.- Researchers from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences recently presented the first study systematically investigating basic biological traits of a classic conspicuous masquerader, the orchid mantis. The study was featured as the cover story in Evolutionary Ecology. Masquerade is a form of camouflage in which the masqueraders resemble inedible or inanimate objects to render themselves sensorily detectable but cognitively misclassified by predators and/or prey. Hymenopus coronatus, commonly known as the orchid mantis, is the only masquerader that resembles an entire blooming flower, making it an excellent model of conspicuous masquerade. In this study, the researchers examined the biological features of the orchid mantis, including its field abundance, life cycle, microhabitats, color morph diversity and the key environmental factors that may affect its life cycle, and then recorded its in ... More

Study finds sulfate pollution impacts Texas gulf coast air   New paper investigates exoplanet climates   Rats! Rodents seem to make the same logical errors humans do

Image courtesy: Environmental Science & Technology (2023). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c05469.

HOUSTON, TX.- Sitting on the beach, taking in the breeze, you might think the sea air is better for you than its inland equivalent. But researchers at the University of Houston have found that the air along the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas can be more polluted due to its highly processed and acidic chemical components of particulate matter, which are microscopic solid or liquid particles in the air. Shan Zhou, research assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry, led the new study published in Environmental Science & Technology. "We found that ocean air was hazier and more polluted than the land breeze. The next question we had was why is it not clean? We concluded the microscopic particles known as particulate matter or aerosols from the Gulf of Mexico contain high concentrations of sulfate, which originates from anthropogenic (human-generated) shipping emissions. The emissions likely pump a lot of chemicals over the gulf and with a strong sea breeze, ... More

Early findings have shown multi-planet systems that have planets close together influence each other’s spin rate, and the spin rate can change dramatically throughout time. Image courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

MELBOURNE, FL.- Inspired by the Milankovitch cycles that play a role in Earth's climate over time, new research at Florida Tech examines how these recurring orbital movements may affect the climate of exoplanets. "Sporadic Spin-Orbit Variations in Compact Multi-planet Systems and their Influence on Exoplanet Climate," a study by Florida Tech exoplanetary scientist and astrobiologist Howard Chen and researchers at Georgia Tech, University of Toronto and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, features new research that looks at the planetary spin associated with the Milankovitch cycle. Early findings have shown multi-planet systems that have planets close together influence each other's spin rate, and the spin rate can change dramatically throughout time. Chen is modeling systems to study the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system for this research. This work could have major impacts on the study of exoplanets. "This means that the star shines on a planet un ... More

White rat against blue background. Image courtesy: Rebecca Lai/Flickr.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Animals, like humans, appear to be troubled by a Linda problem. The famous “Linda problem” was designed by psychologists to illustrate how people fall prey to what is known as the conjunction fallacy: the incorrect reasoning that if two events sometimes occur in conjunction, they are more likely to occur together than either event is to occur alone. Now, for the first time, UCLA psychology researchers have shown that this type of logical error isn’t the sole province of humans — surprisingly, rats seem to make the same mistakes. Their study is published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. “The classical research has all been done with humans, so the usual explanation for the effect attributes it to a departure from rationality distinct to humans,” said Valeria González, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at UCLA and first author of the study. “Our work shows that maybe there is a more g ... More

More News
Imaging technique reveals electronic charges with single-atom resolution
BOSTON, MA.- Materials typically conduct electricity or insulate against it – so experimental and theoretical physicists have been captivated by a compound called samarium hexaboride (SmB6) that appears to do both. Numerous studies over the course of 50 years have revealed that SmB6 acts like an insulator as well as an electricity-conducting metal. Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences say it’s possible to image the exact position of electrons along the surface of SmB6 with single-atom precision, enabling a breakthrough in understanding the compond’s properties and why it can both insulate and conduct. The findings, published in Science, build upon SEAS research reported in 2019 that determined that SmB6 is a topological insulator – meaning ... More

Was plate tectonics occurring when life first formed on Earth?
ROCHESTER, NY.- Earth is a dynamic and constantly changing planet. From the formation of mountains and oceans to the eruption of volcanoes, the surface of our planet is in a constant state of flux. At the heart of these changes lies the powerful force of plate tectonics—the movements of Earth’s crustal plates. This fundamental process has shaped the current topography of our planet and continues to play a role in its future. But what was plate tectonic activity like during early Earth? And was the process even occurring during the time when life is thought to have formed? “The dynamic tectonic nature of the modern Earth is one of the reasons why life exists today,” says Wriju Chowdhury, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Dustin Trail, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the ... More

Integrating unique long-term datasets reveals how upwelling affects marine life from the surface to deep seafloor
MOSS LANDING, CA.- For California's Central Coast, wind is much more than weather. Spring and summer bring offshore, northwesterly winds to Central California. Those winds push the top layer of water out to sea, then colder, deeper water rises from below to replace it. This process is known as coastal upwelling and it contributes to the bounty of life in Monterey Bay. The influx of cool, nutrient-rich water fuels blooms of tiny plankton and kickstarts the bay's food web. Tiny plant-like phytoplankton feed swarms of krill and zooplankton. Those tiny animals feed bigger and bigger animals, including salmon, tunas, and even blue whales. Researchers have long recogni ... More

Dissecting the circadian clock in real time
SAN DIEGO, CA.- As our bodies and minds continue to adjust to the recent time change, debates continue around society about whether to make daylight saving time a permanent fixture, eliminate it or stay with the current semi-annual clock adjustment. As those discussions continue, scientists at the University of California San Diego and their colleagues have made progress in understanding the circadian clock, the 24-hour cycle that synchronizes with light-dark exposure, and how it functions (scientists in circadian and sleep research recommend permanent standard time as the healthiest option when considering light and dark exposure). Internal biological clocks exist throughout the tree of life, rhythmically influencing daily activities and behavior. Two years ago a multi-institutional team of researchers ... More

Magnon-based computation could signal computing paradigm shift
LAUSANNE.- Thanks to a breakthrough in the field of magnonics, EPFL researchers have sent and stored data using charge-free magnetic waves, rather than traditional electron flows. The discovery could solve the dilemma of energy-hungry computing technology in the age of big data. Like electronics or photonics, magnonics is an engineering subfield that aims to advance information technologies when it comes to speed, device architecture, and energy consumption. A magnon corresponds to the specific amount of energy required to change the magnetization of a material via a collective excitation called a spin wave. Because they interact with magnetic fields, magnons can be used to encode and transport data without electron flows, which involve energy loss through heating (known as Joule heating) of the co ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate William Lawrence Bragg was born
April 31, 2023. Sir William Lawrence Bragg (31 March 1890 - 1 July 1971) was an Australian-born British physicist and X-ray crystallographer, discoverer (1912) of Bragg's law of X-ray diffraction, which is basic for the determination of crystal structure. He was joint recipient (with his father, William Henry Bragg) of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915, "For their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays"; an important step in the development of X-ray crystallography. Bragg was knighted in 1941. As of 2021, he is the youngest ever Nobel laureate in physics, having received the award at the age of 25 years. Bragg was the director of the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, when the discovery of the structure of DNA was reported by James D. Watson and Francis Crick in February 1953. Bragg was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1921 - "a qualification that makes other ones irrelevant".


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