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The search for the missing gravitational signal

LISA - Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. Image courtesy: Simon Barke - University of Florida.

TRIESTE.- Every year, hundreds of thousands of pairs of black holes merge in a cosmic dance that emits gravitational waves in every direction. Since 2015, the large ground-based LIGO, Virgo and KAGRA interferometers have made it possible to detect these signals, although only about a hundred such events, an infinitesimal fraction of the total, have been observed. Most of the waves remain 'indistinguishable,' superimposed and added together, creating a flat, diffuse background signal that scientists call the 'stochastic gravitational wave background' (SGWB). New SISSA research, published in The Astrophysical Journal, proposes using a constellation of three or four space interferometers to map the flat and almost perfectly homogeneous background in a search for ripples. These small fluctuations, known to scientists as anisotropies, hold the information needed to understand the distribution of gravitational wave sources on the largest cosmological ... More

1,000-plus years of tree rings confirm historic extremity of 2021 western North America heat wave   Hybrid micro-robot able to navigate in physiological environment, capture targeted damaged cells   Origin of superconductivity in nickelates revealed

Lead author Karen Heeter takes a core sample from an old mountain hemlock near Crater Lake, Oregon, where at least one tree dated to the 1300s. Image courtesy: Grant Harley/University of Idaho.

NEW YORK, NY.- In summer 2021, a stunning heat wave swept western North America, from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon and beyond into other inland areas where the climate is generally mild. Temperature records were set by tens of degrees in many places, wildfires broke out, and at least 1,400 people died. Scientists blamed the event largely on human-driven climate warming, and declared it unprecedented. But without reliable weather data going back more than a century or so, did it really have no precedent? A new study of tree rings from the region shows that the event was almost certainly the worst in at least the past millennium. The research, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, established a year-by-year record of summer average temperatures going back to the year 950. Scores of abnormally hot summers showed up, many grouped into multiyear warm periods. But the new study shows that the last 40 years, driven by human-influenced warming, has been the hottest—and ... More

Hybrid micro-robot simulation. Image courtesy: Tel Aviv University.

TEL AVIV.- Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a hybrid micro-robot, the size of a single biological cell (about 10 microns across), that can be controlled and navigated using two different mechanisms—electric and magnetic. The micro-robot is able to navigate between different cells in a biological sample, distinguish between different types of cells, identify whether they are healthy or dying, and then transport the desired cell for further study, such as genetic analysis. The micro-robot can also transfect a drug and/or gene into the captured targeted single cell. According to the researchers, the development may help promote research in the important field of single-cell analysis, as well as find use in medical diagnosis, drug transport and screening, surgery, and environmental protection. The innovative technology was developed by Prof. Gilad Yossifon from the School of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Biomedi ... More

Lena Kourkoutis, left, associate professor of applied and engineering physics, and Berit Goodge, Ph.D. ’22, with the scanning transmission electron microscope. Image courtesy: Charissa King-O'Brien.

ITHACA, NY.- Nickelates are a material class that has excited scientists because of its recently discovered superconducting ability, and now a new study led by Cornell has changed where scientists thought this ability might originate, providing a blueprint for how more functional versions might be engineered in the future. Superconductivity was predicted in nickel-based oxide compounds, or nickelates, more than 20 years ago, yet only realized experimentally for the first time in 2019, and only in samples that are grown as very thin, crystalline films – less than 20 nanometers thick – layered on a supporting substrate material. Researchers worldwide have been working to better understand the microscopic details and origins of superconductivity in nickelates in an effort to create samples that successfully superconduct in macroscopic “bulk” crystalline form, but have yet to be successful. This limitation led some researchers t ... More

In the tropics, woody vines may make lightning more deadly for forests   Intestinal bacteria trigger postoperative complications   Advanced electrode to help remediation of stubborn new 'forever chemicals'

Dr. Evan Gora inspects a recent lightning strike at a forested field site on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Image courtesy: Jeff Burchfield.

MILLBROOK, NY.- Many tropical forests are experiencing increases in lightning and lianas, thanks in part to global change. This one-two punch is likely causing an increase in the death of small trees, which could lead to shifts in composition of tropical forests and their ability to store carbon. A paper in the journal New Phytologist reports on this development. Tropical forests experience 35-67 million lightning strikes each year, and strikes appear to be becoming more frequent. Evan Gora, the paper's lead author and a Research Fellow at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains, "Lightning is a major cause of tree death and forest disturbance, yet it has been understudied as an agent of change. We wanted to understand why some lightning strikes kill more trees than others—and discovered that lianas play an outsized role." Lianas are woody vines with long climbing stems that are common in the tropics. In competition for sunlight, ... More

Stained intestinal bacteria (red: bacteria, blue: nucleus, green: mucus). Image courtesy: © Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology.

WÜRZBURG.- Previously, it was believed that a germ-free environment was the most critical factor in preventing postoperative infections. However, a recent study by Mercedes Gomez de Agüero's team from the Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology in Würzburg, Germany, in collaboration with the University Hospital of Bern, Switzerland, has revealed that the source of the danger is apparently entirely different: the patients' intestines. Hospitals have traditionally sought to prevent infections after surgical procedures by maintaining a germ-free environment. It has long been established that concomitant infections during invasive procedures increase mortality rates. For this reason, extensive sterilization measures are implemented to eliminate microorganisms during surgery. The research team's study shows that the causative agents of these infections have a microbial signature from the intestine. In nearly all patients, the pathogens were ... More

Illinois researchers. Image courtesy: Fred Zwicky.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- As new environmental regulations are rolling out to mitigate the industry-retired long-chain chemicals known as PFAS in drinking water, there are concerns regarding a new breed of “forever chemicals” called short-chain PFAS. Research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is helping shift the focus to include mitigation of the chemicals – which researchers say are just as persistent as, more mobile and harder to remove from the environment than their long-chain counterparts. A study directed by chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Xiao Su uses electrosorption rather than filters and solvents and combines synthesis, separations testing and computer simulations to help design an electrode that can attract and capture a range of short-chain PFAS from environmental waters. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. “One of the challenges of working with short-chain ... More

New research highlights an overlooked accelerant of ice loss from Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier   Giant planet atmospheres vary widely, JWST confirms   Bomb-sniffing rodents undergo 'weird' vaginal transformations

Thwaites Glacier is often called the “doomsday glacier” because of its massive size and potential to dramatically raise global sea levels as the world warms. Image courtesy: NASA.

STANFORD, CA.- In West Antarctica, the 80-mile-wide stream of sliding ice at the heart of Thwaites Glacier is likely to creep outward over the next 20 years, a change that could speed up ice loss, new research finds. "It's like a torrential river eating away at the riverbanks and widening in the process," said senior study author Jenny Suckale, an assistant professor of geophysics at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. Thwaites Glacier is often called the "doomsday glacier" because of its massive size and potential to dramatically raise global sea levels. As the world warms, it could drop billions of tons of ice into the Amundsen Sea and open a path for more inland ice to flow freely to the coast. Many previous studies have examined how the glacier's speed and thickness are likely to evolve over centuries. Less research has focused on the glacier's width, which influences how much ice collapses into the sea in any given timef ... More

A ‘hot Jupiter’ called HD 149026b, is about 3 times hotter than the rocky surface of Venus, the hottest planet in our solar system. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

ITHACA, NY.- Gas giants orbiting our sun show a clear pattern; the more massive the planet, the lower the percentage of “heavy” elements (anything other than hydrogen and helium) in the planet’s atmosphere. But out in the galaxy, the atmospheric compositions of giant planets do not fit the solar system trend, an international team of astronomers has found. Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the researchers discovered that the atmosphere of exoplanet HD149026b, a “hot jupiter” orbiting a star comparable to our sun, is super-abundant in the heavier elements carbon and oxygen – far above what scientists would expect for a planet of its mass. In addition, the diagnostic carbon-to-oxygen ratio of HD149026b, also known as “Smertrios,” is elevated relative to our solar system. These findings, published in “High Atmospheric Metal Enrichment for a Saturn-mass Planet,” in Nature on March 27 are an important first step toward obtaining simila ... More

Giant African pouched rat. Image courtesy: Cornell University.

ITHACA, NY.- Female giant African pouched rats, used for sniffing out landmines and detecting tuberculosis, can undergo astounding reproductive organ transformations, according to a new study. Unlike most female mammals whose vaginal entrance opens before or during puberty and remains that way for the rest of their lives, this rodent’s vaginal entrance remains sealed well into adulthood. It also has the ability to open or close back up multiple times during a lifetime, even after giving birth. The paper, “Extreme Plasticity of Reproductive State in a Female Rodent,” which published March 27 in Current Biology, explores how traits once considered “fixed” in adult animals may become variable under specific pressures. Though these rodents could have important military, biodetection and humanitarian uses, breeding them at high rates has been a challenge. The study’s findings are a step toward understanding their reproductive biology, and possibly breeding them more effecti ... More

Woodpecker that likes burned forest can breed in unburned woods too, research shows   How football-shaped molecules occur in the universe   Protein-based coating could keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer

Black-backed woodpecker. Image courtesy: Jim Rivers, OSU College of Forestry.

CORVALLIS, OR.- A species of woodpecker once thought to limit itself to recently burned areas can breed successfully in the unburned parts of fire-prone landscapes too, according to a study by Oregon State University scientists that holds key implications for improved conservation and forest management efforts. The research led by doctoral student Mark Kerstens and Jim Rivers, a faculty member in the OSU College of Forestry, sheds new light on the black-backed woodpecker, which lives throughout northern North America. Because woodpecker populations are sensitive to large-scale forest disturbances, they serve as an indicator for guiding management decisions, the researchers note. Woodpeckers exert strong influence on the surrounding ecological community by creating nesting sites that benefit a range of vertebrates and other organisms. The black-backed woodpecker has become a species of conservation concern because of habitat loss resulting from pos ... More

Image courtesy: Shane Goettl/Ralf I. Kaiser.

VILLIGEN.- For a long time it has been suspected that fullerene and its derivatives could form naturally in the universe. These are large carbon molecules shaped like a football, salad bowl or nanotube. An international team of researchers using the Swiss SLS synchrotron light source at PSI has shown how this reaction works. The results have just been published in the journal Nature Communications. "We are stardust, we are golden. We are billion-year-old carbon." In the song they performed at Woodstock, the US group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young summarized what humans are essentially made of: star dust. Anyone with a little knowledge of astronomy can confirm the words of the cult American band—both the planets and we humans are actually made up of dust from burnt-out supernovae and carbon compounds billions of years old. The universe is a giant reactor and understanding these reactions means understanding the origins and development of the u ... More

Muhammad Rahman is an assistant research professor in materials science and nanoengineering in Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. Image courtesy: Muhammad Rahman/Rice University.

HOUSTON, TX.- Your fruits and vegetables might come with a side — or coating — of extra protein in the future. Rice University materials scientist Muhammad Rahman has won a Partnerships for Innovation-Technology Translation award from the National Science Foundation to develop a sustainable, low-cost, egg-based coating to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. The project addresses both food preservation and waste management challenges and could help improve access to fresh produce in food deserts, areas with poor access to healthy and affordable foods. “The goal of this project is to develop an eco-friendly, biodegradable, protein-based nanocomposite coating that can be applied to the surface of variously shaped fruits and vegetables,” said Rahman, an assistant research professor in materials science and nanoengineering. “The coating will extend shelf life by reducing produce spoilage, dehydration and microbial gr ... More

More News
Soaking up sunlight with a microscopic molecular device
NEW HAVEN, CT.- A Yale-led research team has discovered a molecular “device” found in nature that harvests a particular sliver of the sunlight spectrum in order to convert it into chemical energy. In a study led by Yale’s Gary Brudvig and Christopher Gisriel, and Donald Bryant of Pennsylvania State University, the researchers describe a helix-shaped nanotube structure that forms within photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria. The discovery of this structure offers new insights into how nature collects and stores light energy in challenging conditions — something researchers seek to mimic for new solar technology and more resilient crops. The study appears in the journal Science Advances. Other authors include researchers at Yale, Pennsylvania State University, City University of New York, and ... More

Earth needed time to 'mix' its continental crust, Yale researchers say
NEW HAVEN, CT.- Earth’s continental crust may have begun forming hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought, Yale scientists say — and the reason will be obvious to anyone who has ever baked a cake or a batch of cookies. In a new study in the journal Science Advances, Jun Korenaga and Meng Guo suggest that more than half of Earth’s continental crust was already formed at the start of the Archean geological eon, 4 billion years ago, a time that scientists had previously believed was when crust formation began. It would mean crust formation began during the Hadean geological eon, 4.5 to 4 billion years ago. Why? Because Earth needed to mix its mantle. “When we want to make a cake, or cookies, from scratch, we need to mix flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc., in a bowl and it takes ti ... More

New additives could turn concrete into an effective carbon sink
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Despite the many advantages of concrete as a modern construction material, including its high strength, low cost, and ease of manufacture, its production currently accounts for approximately 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Recent discoveries by a team at MIT have revealed that introducing new materials into existing concrete manufacturing processes could significantly reduce this carbon footprint, without altering concrete’s bulk mechanical properties. The findings were published in the journal PNAS Nexus, in a paper by MIT professors of civil and environmental engineering Admir Masic and Franz-Josef Ulm, MIT postdoc Damian Stefaniuk and doctoral student Marcin Hajduczek, and James Weaver from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute. After water, concrete is the world’s ... More

Webb space telescope measures the temperature of a rocky exoplanet
PARIS.- An international team of researchers has used the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to measure the temperature of the rocky exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 b. The measurement is based on the planet's thermal emission: heat energy given off in the form of infrared light detected by Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The result indicates that the planet's dayside has a temperature of about 500 Kelvin (roughly 230°C), and suggests that it has no significant atmosphere. This is the first detection of any form of light emitted by an exoplanet as small and as cool as the rocky planets in our own solar system. The result marks an important step in determining whether planets orbiting small active stars like TRAPPIST-1 can sustain atmospheres needed to support life. It also bodes well for Webb's abi ... More

Earth's first plants likely to have been branched, study finds
BRISTOL.- A new discovery by scientists at the University of Bristol changes ideas about the origin of branching in plants. By studying the mechanisms responsible for branching, the team have determined what the first land plants are likely to have looked like millions of years ago. Despite fundamentally different patterns in growth, their research has identified a common mechanism for branching in vascular plants. Dr. Jill Harrison from Bristol's School of Biological Sciences explained, "Diverse shapes abound in the dominant flowering plant group, and gardeners will be familiar with 'pinching out' plants' shoot tips to stimulate side branch growth, leading to a bushier overall form. "However, unlike flowering plants, other vascular plants branch by splitting the shoot apex into two during growth, a process known as 'dic ... More

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3D-printed insoles measure sole pressure directly in the shoe

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Corneille Heymans was born
April 28, 1892. Corneille Jean François Heymans (28 March 1892 - 18 July 1968) was a Belgian physiologist. He studied at the Jesuit College of Saint Barbara and then at Ghent University, where he obtained a doctor's degree in 1920. Heymans won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1938 for showing how blood pressure and the oxygen content of the blood are measured by the body and transmitted to the brain. Heymans accomplished this by vivisection of two dogs, the head of one connected to its body only by nerves, and the second one's body was used to cross-perfuse (supply blood) to the first dog's head. Heymans found that the first dog's upward and downward cardiovascular reflex arc traffic were carried by its own vagus nerves, but agents introduced to the second dog's blood, which served the first dog's brain, had no effect. He used a similar experiment to demonstrate the role of peripheral chemoreceptors in respiratory regulation, for which he received his Nobel Prize.


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