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Low pressure, high stakes: Physicists make major gains in race for room-temperature superconductivity

A team of physicists from UNLV's Nevada Extreme Conditions Lab (NEXCL) used a diamond anvil cell, a research device similar to the one pictured, in their research to lower the pressure needed to observe a material capable of room-temperature superconductivity. Image courtesy: NEXCL.

LAS VEGAS, NV.- Less than two years after shocking the science world with the discovery of a material capable of room-temperature superconductivity, a team of UNLV physicists has upped the ante once again by reproducing the feat at the lowest pressure ever recorded. In other words, science is closer than it's ever been to a usable, replicable material that could one day revolutionize how energy is transported. UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and colleague Ranga Dias, a physicist with the University of Rochester, made international headlines in 2020 by reporting room-temperature superconductivity for the first time. To achieve the feat, the scientists chemically synthesized a mix of carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen first into a metallic state, and then even further into a room-temperature superconducting state using extreme pressure—267 gigapascals—conditions you'd only find in nature near the center of the Earth. Fast forward less than two years, ... More

Microscopic blood vessel disease in the brain's white matter associated with worse cognition in Alzheimer's   Explosive neutron star merger captured for first time in millimeter light   Transition metal catalyst discovery could help establish renewably generated electricity

Dr. Zsolt Bagi with coauthors Katie Anne Fopiano, AU graduate student, and Dr. Yanna Tian. Image courtesy: Michael Holahan, Augusta University.

AUGUSTA, GA.- Disease of the microscopic blood vessels that feed the white matter of our brain is associated with worse cognitive function and memory deficits in individuals with Alzheimer's, scientists report. "The main message of this paper is the mixed pathology as we call it—microvascular disease and Alzheimer's—is associated with more brain damage, more white matter damage and more inflammation," says Dr. Zsolt Bagi, vascular biologist in the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Theirs and other recent findings suggest that some people with Alzheimer's who have brain changes widely associated with the condition, like amyloid plaques, may not develop dementia without this underlying vascular dysfunction, the researchers write in the journal GeroScience. "We are proposing that if you prevent development of the microvascular component, you may at least add several years of more normal ... More

In a first for radio astronomy, scientists have detected millimeter-wavelength light from a short-duration gamma-ray burst. Image courtesy: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), M. Weiss (NRAO/AUI/NSF).

EVANSTON, IL.- For the first time, scientists have recorded millimeter-wavelength light from a fiery explosion caused by the merger of a neutron star with another star. Led by Northwestern University and Radboud University in the Netherlands, the team also confirmed this flash as one of the most energetic short-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) ever observed, leaving behind one of the most luminous afterglows on record. Astrophysicists made the discovery with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international observatory operated by the National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Located in the high-altitude Atacama Desert in Chile, the ALMA array comprises 66 radio telescopes, making it the largest radio telescope in the world. “This short gamma-ray burst was the first time we tried to observe such an event with ALMA,” said Northwestern’s Wen-fai Fong, principal invest ... More

A team of KAUST catalyst scientists have shown how a molybdenum-based catalyst can play a central role in a process pivotal to the sustainable production of renewable energy and green chemicals. Image courtesy: KAUST; Anastasia Serin.

THUWAL.- Sustainable fuel and chemicals production is closer to becoming a practical reality after KAUST researchers analyzed a precious metal-free electrochemical hydride transfer catalyst and discovered molybdenum was playing the central role. Platinum has long been the preferred catalyst for electrochemical hydride transfer, a versatile chemical process for producing valuable chemicals or carbon-free fuels. If this electrochemical process was powered with renewable electricity, it could enable a more sustainable society. Platinum, however, is a rare and expensive precious metal, placing significant limitations on the uptake of this technology. A far more abundant and less costly metal, molybdenum, could potentially take platinum's place in the process, Magnus Rueping and his team have shown. Several molybdenum-based catalysts, including molybdenum sulfide, have previously shown promise for hydride transfer electrocatalysis, but the re ... More

What's new under the sun? Researchers offer an alternate view on how 'novel' structures evolve   A better way to quantify radiation damage in materials   Rotary motor reveals how microbial metabolites modulate bacterial energetics

The freshwater crustacean Daphnia (water flea) is a common research organism in ecology, toxicology, evolutionary developmental biology, and other fields. Image courtesy: Proyecto Agua.

WOODS HOLE, MA.- Many crustaceans, including lobster, crabs, and barnacles, have a cape-like shell protruding from the head that can serve various roles, such as a little cave for storing eggs, or a protective shield to keep gills moist. This shell (carapace), it's been proposed, didn't evolve from any similar structure in the crustacean ancestor, but appeared de novo (or out of the blue) through somewhat random co-option of the genes that also specify insect wings. However, in a new study from the Marine Biological Laboratory, Research Associate Heather Bruce and Director Nipam Patel provide evidence for an alternate view: The carapace, along with other plate-like structures in arthropods (crustaceans, insects, arachnids, and myriapods) all evolved from a lateral leg lobe in a common ancestor. This evidence buttresses their proposal for a new concept of how novel structures evolve—one that suggests that they aren't so novel, after all. The study, ... More

Much of the damage inside nuclear reactors is so small that it has eluded previous tests. Image courtesy of the researchers.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- It was just a piece of junk sitting in the back of a lab at the MIT Nuclear Reactor facility, ready to be disposed of. But it became the key to demonstrating a more comprehensive way of detecting atomic-level structural damage in materials — an approach that will aid the development of new materials, and could potentially support the ongoing operation of carbon-emission-free nuclear power plants, which would help alleviate global climate change. A tiny titanium nut that had been removed from inside the reactor was just the kind of material needed to prove that this new technique, developed at MIT and at other institutions, provides a way to probe defects created inside materials, including those that have been exposed to radiation, with five times greater sensitivity than existing methods. The new approach revealed that much of the damage that takes place inside reactors is at the atom ... More

Graduate student Rachit Gupta uses a high-resolution microscope to detect and study tiny molecular motors in bacteria. Image courtesy: Texas A&M Engineering.

COLLEGE STATION, TX.- Dr. Pushkar Lele and a team of researchers from Texas A&M University conducted a study to see how indole—an organic compound and a significant component of the bacterial exometabolome—impacts the energy levels and protein function in bacteria. Indole can promote antibiotic resistance, so understanding the metabolite's diverse effects on bacterial physiology is critical. This study was recently published in PNAS Nexus. Microorganisms release metabolites, substances capable of breaking down food, chemicals or other products. These metabolites, as a collective, make up what is referred to as the exometabolome. Indole is abundant in the exometabolome and is understood to have significant effects on the functions of bacteria. However, the mechanisms remain poorly understood. In this work, the researchers attempted to understand the fundamental principles of indole's action on Escherichia coli (E. coli). To do this, Rachit Gupta, ... More

A flexible device that harvests thermal energy to power wearable electronics   Developing AI models based on human brain activity to solve self-locating and navigation issues   Asexual reproduction leads to harmful genetic mutations

University of Washington researchers have created the first-of-its kind flexible, wearable thermoelectric device that converts body heat to electricity. Image courtesy: Han et al./Advanced Energy Materials.

SEATTLE, WA.- Wearable electronics, from health and fitness trackers to virtual reality headsets, are part of our everyday lives. But finding ways to continuously power these devices is a challenge. University of Washington researchers have developed an innovative solution: the first-of-its kind flexible, wearable thermoelectric device that converts body heat to electricity. This device is soft and stretchable, yet sturdy and efficient—properties that can be challenging to combine. The team published these findings July 24 in Advanced Energy Materials. "It's a 100% gain if we harvest thermal energy that would otherwise be wasted to the surroundings. Because we want to use that energy for self-powered electronics, a higher power density is needed," said Mohammad Malakooti, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "We leverage additive manufacturing to fabricate stretchable electronics, increase their efficiency and enable their ... More

Future scenes predicted by human subjects during maze navigation were decoded from fMRI activity patterns. Image courtesy: KyotoU/Global Comms/Risa Katayama.

KYOTO.- Imagine a future where your hometown gets destroyed by some calamity. In the aftermath, how easily could you locate your home after your neighborhood has been transformed into a giant maze of rubble, leaving only minimal landmarks? Now researchers at Kyoto University have used partial-observation mazes in virtual reality to find that they can decode from brain activity the subjects' abilities to predict their positions and scenes within the maze, as well as the degree of confidence in their predictions. "An AI model based on human brain activity shows that the decoding accuracy of the scene prediction is dependent on the confidence level of the subject's ability to predict," says lead author Risa Katayama. In the hypothetical apocalyptic scenario, the subject navigates through a sequence of scenes by comparing each scene prediction with the observed scene, thereby confirming or updating the preceding VR. The team investigated w ... More

Goldteju Tupinambis teguixin. Image courtesy: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0.

ARLINGTON, TX.- A team led by biologists at The University of Texas at Arlington has published a study supporting the theory that species that reproduce asexually have more harmful genetic mutations than those utilizing sexual reproduction. Jose Maldonado, a UTA doctoral student in biology, is lead author of the new paper, titled "Parthenogenesis doubles the rate of amino acid substitution in whiptail mitochondria." It was published in May in Evolution, the flagship journal of evolutionary biology. Co-authors include T.J. Firneno, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Denver who received his Ph.D. from UTA in 2020; Alexander Hall, a product application specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific who received a Ph.D. from UTA in 2016; and Matt Fujita, UTA associate professor of biology, who is Maldonado's faculty advisor and previously served in the same role for Firneno and Hall. Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in ... More

New technique protects data on solid-state drives from radiation   New vaccine formulation protects newborn mice against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)   Cancer research repurposed to expose age-related blood diseases

Dr. Biswajit Ray, right, with students (from left) Matchima Buddhanoy, Sijay Huang, Umeshwarnath Surendranathan and Modol Anik Kumar in the Ray Research Group lab. Image courtesy: Michael Mercier / UAH.

HUNTSVILLE, AL.- A new method of radiation-resistant computer data storage called watermark storage that's been developed by a University of Alabama in Huntsville professor leading a student team has direct applications in the nuclear power and space industries. "Data-driven analytics are growing exponentially for space and nuclear environments," says Dr. Biswajit Ray, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System. He says the new storage system doesn't rely on an electronic charge for NAND flash storage, as traditional data drives do. NAND stands for the "not and" type of flash memory, which is in common use. Interestingly, the watermark storage method requires no new components. "We adeptly use the breakdown mechanism of a transistor's oxide layer to imprint information on the same commercial off-the-shelf memory cells," Dr. Ray says. "This technique is more resistant to irradiation d ... More

Transmission electron micrograph of RSV. Image courtesy: CDC/ Dr. Erskine Palmer.

BOSTON, MASS.- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading global cause of death in children under age 5 and lacks an effective vaccine. In a study from the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children's Hospital, a new vaccine formulation protected newborn mice against infection and evoked strong responses in immune cells from human newborns in the laboratory. Results were reported August 2 in Nature Communications. RSV is a leading cause of infant hospitalizations in the U.S. and is also a threat in older adults. While several potential RSV vaccines are in late-stage clinical trials in adults, there have been no such vaccines for children since the dramatic failure of a candidate vaccine in 1966. The antibodies induced by that vaccine could not neutralize the virus; instead, the vaccine caused an allergic-like ("Th2") white blood cell response in the infants' airways. This resulted in respiratory distress when vaccinated infants ... More

Tools and datasets used to identify cancer driver genes could also advance research in clonal hematopoiesis. Image courtesy: IRB Barcelona.

BARCELONA.- Clonal hematopoiesis is a biological process in which a blood stem cell (the population that gives rise to a variety of blood cell types) acquires an advantageous mutation and outgrows neighboring cells. Clonal hematopoiesis is diagnosed when this mutation is present in 2% of all blood cells in a given individual. The advantageous mutations that drive clonal hematopoiesis are under positive selection, just like mutations in cancer genes which are responsible for the malignisation of cells. Led by ICREA research professor Dr. Núria López-Bigas, scientists in the Biomedical Genomics lab at IRB Barcelona have repurposed computational tools, initially designed within the field of cancer genomics, to pinpoint the genes driving clonal hematopoiesis. The rationale behind this strategy is that the development of both cancer and clonal hematopoiesis is subject to positive selection, and therefore, if properly adapted, tools and datas ... More

More News
New nanoparticle-based material could detect antibiotics in water
ESPOO.- An international team of researchers has developed a new type of strong and elastic two-dimensional (2D) membrane. The invention could prove useful, for instance, in detecting remnants of antibiotics from water. Two-dimensional materials are ultrathin and composed of either single- or few-layer atoms. Recently, nanoparticle-based 2D materials have gained tremendous interest among researchers and industry due to their mechanical strength, flexibility, and optical and electronic properties which could make them key components, for instance, in emerging optoelectronic devices, sensors, and next-generation computing technologies. So far, though, no commercial applications exist due to problems with both scalability and obtaining uniform products from one batch to another. A research team led by Nonappa ... More

Next-gen heat pump could cut energy bills and carbon emissions
GLASGOW.- Researchers from the University of Glasgow have developed a new type of heat pump, a flexible heat pump technology, which could help households save on their energy bills and contribute towards net-zero emissions goals. Heat pumps are a low-carbon alternative to gas boilers. They draw energy from external low temperature sources, most commonly outdoor air, in order to heat indoor spaces. When powered by renewable sources of power, they are significantly more environmentally friendly than conventional gas boilers. Around the world, about 40% of carbon emissions come from heating powered by fossil fuels. The U.K. Government has set a target for 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 in order to reduce the country's carbon footprint. However, the heating capacity a ... More

Automation speeds the search for stable proteins
PRINCETON, NJ.- Harnessing the power of robotics and machine intelligence, researchers from Princeton Engineering and Rutgers University have found a way to design stable proteins in a fraction of the time of current state of the art. The team's robotics platform speeds things up more than tenfold, and their computational approach finds solutions anywhere from weeks to years faster than what is possible by human intelligence alone. Stabilizing proteins is a central challenge for research into drug creation, biofuel production and plastic recycling. Currently, scientists use their knowledge of chemistry to estimate which chemical compounds will pair well with proteins under different conditions. The conventional approach uses trial and error to refine results. This painstaking method can take months as scientists create and t ... More

Mechanism of bacterial toxins in deadly attacks
DORTMUND.- Only one thousandth of a milligram of the bacterial botulinum toxin is necessary to kill a living organism. The toxin unfolds its lethal effect by preventing the release of neurotransmitters at the point where nerve cells attach to muscles, thereby paralyzing them. As simple as it may seem, this process is in fact a sophisticated and multi-staged procedure. No less complex and in fact very effective is the intoxication process of toxin complexes (Tc), virulence factors of many bacteria, including insect and human pathogens. The mechanism of action of Tc toxins has only recently been uncovered to a greater extent by the work of Stefan Raunser's team in structural biology at the MPI Dortmund. "Unraveling the structure of the Tc toxin subunits and their assembly by cryo electron microscopy (cryo-EM ... More

Advanced imaging reveals mired migration of neurons in Rett syndrome lab models
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Using an innovative microscopy method, scientists at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT observed how newborn neurons struggle to reach their proper places in advanced human brain tissue models of Rett syndrome, producing new insight into how developmental deficits observed in the brains of patients with the devastating disorder may emerge. Rett syndrome, which is characterized by symptoms including severe intellectual disability and impaired social behavior, is caused by mutations in the gene MECP2. To gain new insight into how the mutation affects the early stages of human brain development, researchers in the lab of Mriganka Sur, Newton Professor of Neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, grew 3D cell cultures called cerebral ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Heinrich Otto Wieland died
August 05, 1957. Heinrich Otto Wieland (4 June 1877 - 5 August 1957) was a German chemist. He won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research into the bile acids. From 1913 to 1921, he was Professor at the Technical University of Munich. He then moved to the University of Freiburg as successor of Ludwig Gattermann (he also assumed responsibility for Gattermanns famous cookbook). In Freiburg he started working on toad poisons and bile acids. In association with Boehringer Ingelheim he worked on synthetic alkaloids such as morphine and strychnine. In 1925 Wieland succeeded Richard Willstätter as Chemistry Professor at the University of Munich. In 1941, Wieland isolated the toxin alpha-amanitin, the principal active agent of one of the world's most poisonous mushrooms Amanita phalloides.


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