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Holey metalens! New metalens focuses light with ultra-deep holes

Artistic representation of a holey metalens. Image courtesy: Capasso Lab/Harvard SEAS.

BOSTON, MASS.- Metasurfaces are nanoscale structures that interact with light. Today, most metasurfaces use monolith-like nanopillars to focus, shape and control light. The taller the nanopillar, the more time it takes for light to pass through the nanostructure, giving the metasurface more versatile control of each color of light. But very tall pillars tend to fall or cling together. What if, instead of building tall structures, you went the other way? In a recent paper, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences developed a metasurface that uses very deep, very narrow holes, rather than very tall pillars, to focus light to a single spot. The research was published in Nano Letters. The new metasurface uses more than 12 million needle-like holes drilled into a 5-micrometer silicon membrane, about 1/20 the thickness of hair. The diameter of these long, thin holes is only a few hundred nanometers, mak ... More

Humans enjoyed blue cheese and beer 2,700 years ago: study   Over a thousand cosmic explosions detected in 47 days   Discovery of new role for brain's immune cells could have alzheimer's implications

Archaeological excavations in a Bronze Age mining chamber. A wooden bucket over 3000 years old is being excavated. Image courtesy: © D. Brander/T. Gatt/NHM Wien.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- It's no secret that beer and cheese go hand in hand -- but a new study reveals how deep their roots run in Europe, where workers at a salt mine in Austria were gorging on both up to 2,700 years ago. Scientists made the discovery by analyzing samples of human excrement found at the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. The study was published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday. Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, who was the lead author of the report, said he was surprised to learn that salt miners more than two millennia ago were advanced enough to "use fermentation intentionally." "This is very sophisticated in my opinion," Maixner told AFP. "This is something I did not expect at that time." The finding was the earliest evidence to date of cheese ripening in Europe, according to researchers. And while alcohol consumption is certainly well documented in older writings and archaeological evidence, the salt miners' feces ... More

FAST catches a real pulse from FRB 121102. Image courtesy: NAOC.

BEIJING.- An international research team led by Prof. Li Di and Dr. Wang Pei from National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences caught an extreme episode of cosmic explosions from Fast Radio Burst (FRB) 121102, using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST). A total of 1,652 independent bursts were detected within 47 days starting Aug. 29, 2019 (UT). It is the largest set of FRB events so far, more than the number reported in all other publications combined. Such a burst set allows for the determination, for the first time, of the characteristic energy and energy distribution of any FRB, thus shedding light on the central engine powering FRBs. These results were published in Nature on Oct. 13, 2021. FRBs were first detected in 2007. These cosmic explosions can be as short as one-thousandth of a second while producing one year's worth of the Sun's total energy output. The origin of FRBs is still unk ... More

“Precise blood vessel function is critical to accommodate the extreme energy demands of the brain for normal brain function,” said Ukpong B. Eyo, a top expert on microglia. Image courtesy: Dan Addison, University Communications.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have revealed a vital but previously unknown role for immune cells that protect the brain from disease and injury: The cells, known as microglia, also help regulate blood flow and maintain the brain’s critical blood vessels. In addition to revealing a new aspect of human biology, the findings may prove important in cognitive decline, dementia and stroke, among other conditions linked to diseases of the brain’s small vessels, the researchers say. “Precise blood vessel function is critical to accommodate the extreme energy demands of the brain for normal brain function,” said Ukpong B. Eyo of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience, the UVA Brain Institute and UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, or BIG. “These findings suggest previously unknown roles for these brain cells in the proper maintenance of blood delivery to the brain and provide nov ... More

Did Venus ever have oceans?   HKUST research shows growing dominance of diatom algae in the Pearl River Estuary   How many people get 'long COVID?' More than half, researchers find

Artist’s view of the surface and atmosphere of early Venus, more than 4 billion years ago. In the foreground is a mysterious explorer surprised to see the oceans completely vaporised in the sky. Image courtesy: © Manchu.

GENEVA.- The planet Venus can be seen as the Earth's evil twin. At first sight, it is of comparable mass and size as our home planet, similarly consists mostly of rocky material, holds some water and has an atmosphere. Yet, a closer look reveals striking differences between them: Venus' thick CO2 atmosphere, extreme surface temperature and pressure, and sulphuric acid clouds are indeed a stark contrast to the conditions needed for life on Earth. This may, however, have not always been the case. Previous studies have suggested that Venus may have been a much more hospitable place in the past, with its own liquid water oceans. A team of astrophysicists led by the University of Geneva and the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS, Switzerland, investigated whether our planet's twin did indeed have milder periods. The results, published in the journal Nature, suggest that this is not the case. Venus has recently become an import ... More

Microscopic images of dinoflagellates. Image courtesy: The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

HONG KONG.- It is a common perception that waters close to population would be more polluted than those offshore or at higher latitudes. However, researchers from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that the ratio between two common microalgae diatom and dinoflagellate (dino) – a common benchmark of water quality, has been nearly doubled in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE), one of the world’s most urbanized subtropical coastal waters, over the past two decades. Usually, the higher the Diatom/Dino ratio is, the healthier the water quality is supposed to be. However, according to Prof. Liu Hongbin, Associate Head and Chair Professor of HKUST’s Department of Ocean Science who led the research, it is not conclusive whether this finding indicates an improved water quality at PRE, as the team discovered that temperature as well as the level of nutrient concentration in the ocean also took a toll to the algae population ... More

A resident receives the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on October 14, 2021. STR / AFP.

HERSHEY, PA.- More than half of the 236 million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide since December 2019 will experience post-COVID symptoms—more commonly known as "long COVID"—up to six months after recovering, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. The research team said that governments, health care organizations and public health professionals should prepare for the large number of COVID-19 survivors who will need care for a variety of psychological and physical symptoms. During their illnesses, many patients with COVID-19 experience symptoms, such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sore joints and loss of taste or smell. Until recently, few studies have evaluated patients' health after recovering from the coronavirus. To better understand the short- and long-term health effects of the virus, the researchers examined worldwide studies involving unvaccinated patients who recovered from CO ... More

Moderna or Pfizer booster works better for people vaccinated with J&J: study   Cellular environments shape molecular architecture   Solving mystery of rare cancers directly caused by HIV

In this file photo taken on September 09, 2021 a nurse holds a vial of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at Oltepesi Dispensary in Kajiado, Kenya. Patrick Meinhardt / AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- People who received Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine may benefit from a booster dose of Pfizer or Moderna, preliminary results of a US study published Wednesday showed. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was eagerly awaited in the United States because it looked at the possibility of "mixing" vaccines -- using a different vaccine than the initial doses for the booster shot -- which is not currently allowed in the country. The study was conducted on 458 adults who had been vaccinated with one of three US-approved brands (Pfizer, Moderna or J&J) for at least 12 weeks. These three groups were each divided into three new groups to receive one of the available vaccines as a booster. The nine groups consisted of about 50 people each. Researchers then analyzed antibody levels 15 days after the booster shot. For people originally inoculated with J&J, antibody levels were four times higher after a J&J booster, 35 times higher after a Pfizer booster and 76 times hi ... More

A model of the human nuclear pore complex depicts the major proteins that make up the pore’s three rings. Image courtesy: Anthony Schuller.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Context matters. It’s true for many facets of life, including the tiny molecular machines that perform vital functions inside our cells. Scientists often purify cellular components, such as proteins or organelles, in order to examine them individually. However, a new study published in the journal Nature suggests that this practice can drastically alter the components in question. The researchers devised a method to study a large, donut-shaped structure called the nuclear pore complex (NPC) directly inside cells. Their results revealed that the pore had larger dimensions than previously thought, emphasizing the importance of analyzing complex molecules in their native environments. “We’ve shown that the cellular environment has a significant impact on large structures like the NPC, which was something we weren’t expecting when we started,” says Thomas Schwartz, the Boris Magasanik Professor of Biology at ... More

John Mellors, M.D., who holds the Endowed Chair for Global Elimination of HIV and AIDS at Pitt. Image courtesy: UPMC.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- For nearly a decade, scientists have known that HIV integrates itself into genes in cells that have the potential to cause cancer. And when this happens in animals with other retroviruses, those animals often develop cancer. But, perplexingly and fortunately, that isn't regularly happening in people living with HIV. A team led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and National Cancer Institute (NCI) scientists published in Science Advances that they've discovered why doctors aren't seeing high rates of T cell lymphomas—or cancers of the immune system—in patients living with HIV. "We seem to have explained some of the mystery of why HIV is rarely the direct cause of cancer," said co-lead author John Mellors, M.D., who holds the Endowed Chair for Global Elimination of HIV and AIDS at Pitt. "Our investigation showed that it requires a very unusual series of events involving changes in both HIV and additional ... More

New clues toward treating pediatric brain tumors harboring epigenetic mutation   New proteins enable scientists to control cell activities   New test rapidly detects bacteria associated with greater risk of preterm birth

Thirty to 60% of these pediatric brain tumors bear mutations in the gene H3F3A. Image: Pixabay.

ANN ARBOR, MI.- While substantial strides have been made against some types of childhood cancers, high-grade gliomas still lack effective treatments. Thirty to 60% of these pediatric brain tumors bear mutations in the gene H3F3A. This gene contains the encoded blueprint for histone H3.3, which plays an important role in the structure of chromatin. One of these mutations is known to scientists as H3.3G34R/V—meaning the amino acid glycine that's normally found at position 34 has been replaced by either an arginine or a valine. Now an international research team led by the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center has found a small-molecule inhibitor that was able to suppress tumor growth in animal models of this glioma—offering new hope toward developing therapies for pediatric patients. Their findings were published in Science Translational Medicine. "These tumors tend to occur in slightly older children than some of the more well-known ... More

EPFL scientists have developed new controlled proteins and used to switch cellular activities on and off like a light bulb. Image courtesy: © Sailan Shui 2021 EPFL.

LAUSANNE.- Sailan Shui, a doctoral assistant at EPFL’s Laboratory of Protein Design and Immunoengineering, enjoys playing with proteins, activating and deactivating them as she wishes, as if light switches that can be turned on and off. However, instead of using electronic, her method relies on proteins to trigger the process. Shui’s research has just been published in Nature Communications. To develop her method, Shui and her colleagues began by computationally modeling proteins that don’t exist naturally. She then assembled proteins into OFF- and ON-switches. “The first step was joining the two synthetic proteins together and making sure they can work in tandem. One protein acts like cement, gluing the entire structure together, and the other is a drug receptor. We also had to find two proteins that form strong, stable bonds so that they remain attached,” says Shui. Once the protein pairs were formed, the next step w ... More

The test could help identify women at risk of preterm birth sooner, potentially allowing obstetricians to monitor these women more closely and start preventative treatments earlier and in a more targeted way than currently possible.

LONDON.- A study has found that a new device can rapidly and accurately detect changes in vaginal bacteria and corresponding immune responses in pregnant women. These changes are associated with increased risk of preterm birth. The test could help identify women at risk of preterm birth sooner, potentially allowing obstetricians to monitor these women more closely and start preventative treatments earlier and in a more targeted way than currently possible. This is according to the researchers from the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Imperial College London, who have published their work in Nature Communications. "We've known for some time that the vaginal microbiome can contribute to the risk of preterm birth, but now we have developed a device which in just a few minutes can report both the microbiome composition and inflammatory status of a sample collected during pregnancy," said Dr. David MacIntyre, from the Department ... More

More News
How the Sun's magnetic forces arrange gas particles
GÖTTINGEN.- Solar prominences hover above the visible solar disk like giant clouds, held there by a supporting framework of magnetic forces, originating from layers deep within the Sun. The magnetic lines of force are moved by ever-present gas currents—and when the supporting framework moves, so does the prominence cloud. A research team from the University of Göttingen and the astrophysics institutes at Paris, Potsdam and Locarno observed how magnetic forces lifted a prominence by 25,000 kilometers—about two Earth diameters—within ten minutes. The results of the study were published in The Astrophysical Journal. This uplift corresponds to a speed of 42 kilometers per second, which is about four times the speed of sound, in the prominence. Oscillations occurred with a period of 22 seconds, during w ... More

Did a black hole eating a star generate a neutrino? Unlikely, new study shows
EVANSTON, IL.- In October 2019, a high-energy neutrino slammed into Antarctica. The neutrino, which was remarkably hard to detect, piqued astronomers’ interest: what could generate such a powerful particle? Researchers traced the neutrino back to a supermassive black hole that had just ripped apart and swallowed a star. Known as a tidal disruption event (TDE), AT2019dsg occurred just months earlier — in April 2019 — in the same region of the sky where the neutrino had come from. The monstrously violent event must have been the source of the powerful particle, astronomers said. But new research casts doubt on that claim. In a study published this month in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers at Northwestern University and the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, present extensive ... More

Liquid metal proven to be cheap and efficient CO2 converter
SYDNEY.- Engineers from UNSW have helped to discover a cheap new way to capture and convert CO2 greenhouse emissions using liquid metal. The process can be done at room temperature and uses liquid gallium to convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen and a high-value solid carbon product that can later be used in batteries, or in construction, or aircraft manufacturing. A team from the School of Chemical Engineering, led by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, worked in collaboration with researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), North Carolina State University, RMIT, University of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology, and the Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO). Their findings have been published in the Advanced Materials journal and Professor Kalantar-Zadeh and his team say th ... More

Fluorescent spray lights up tumors for easy detection during surgery
WASHINGTON, DC.- The prognosis for a cancer patient who undergoes surgery is better if the surgeon removes all of the tumor, but it can be hard to tell where a tumor ends and healthy tissue begins. Now, scientists report in ACS Sensors that they have developed a fluorescent spray that specifically lights up cancerous tissue so it can be identified readily and removed during surgery. Surgeons often use sight and touch to identify cancerous tissue, but this approach can miss small tumors, as well as diseased cells at the margins between a tumor and healthy tissue. Fluorescence-guided surgery is an emerging technology that could enhance this difference. The method relies on fluorescent probes that target cancerous tissue and heighten its visibility. But some of these compounds must be administered many hou ... More

DNA reveals how ice ages affected African rainforests
EXETER.- Today, rainforest covers much of Central Africa, but scarce fossil records suggest ice ages may have caused the forest to shrink and fragment, giving way to savannahs. The new study found clues to support this, by identifying genetic signs of points when two populations of the same species emerged from one ancestral population – probably caused by the forest fragmenting into separate sections. It is believed that repeated ice ages over the last few million years made Central Africa cooler and drier, while areas further from the Equator froze. The study was carried out by the University of Exeter, the University of Copenhagen, ULB (Brussels) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. "We examined the DNA of five legume trees, which are found widely in African rainforests," said Dr Rosalía Pińeiro, of the ... More

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On a day like today, Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli was born
October 15, 1608. Evangelista Torricelli (15 October 1608 - 25 October 1647) was an Italian physicist and mathematician, and a student of Galileo. He is best known for his invention of the barometer, but is also known for his advances in optics and work on the method of indivisibles. The perusal of Galileo's Two New Sciences (1638) inspired Torricelli with many developments of the mechanical principles there set forth, which he embodied in a treatise De motu (printed amongst his Opera geometrica, 1644). Torricelli also discovered a law, regarding the speed of a fluid flowing out of an opening, which was later shown to be a particular case of Bernoulli's principle. He found that water leaks out a small hole in the bottom of a container at a rate proportional to the square root of the depth of the water.


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