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Researchers measure the binding state of light and matter for the first time

The atoms are polarized by the beam of light and start to attract each other. Image courtesy: Harald Ritsch / TU Wien.

VIENNA.- A special bonding state between atoms has been created in the laboratory for the first time: With a laser beam, atoms can be polarized so that they are positively charged on one side and negatively charged on the other. This makes them attract each other creating a very special bonding state—much weaker than the bond between two atoms in an ordinary molecule, but still measurable. The attraction comes from the polarized atoms themselves, but it is the laser beam that gives them the ability to do so—in a sense, it is a "molecule" of light and matter. Theoretically, this effect has been predicted for a long time, but now scientists at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ) at TU Wien, in cooperation with the University of Innsbruck, have succeeded in measuring this exotic atomic bond for the first time. This interaction is useful for manipulating extremely cold atoms, and the effect could also play a ro ... More

Tuberculosis vaccine passes safety test   Webb captures Stellar Gymnastics in the Cartwheel Galaxy   Virginia Tech researcher's 3D model of brain tumor environment could aid personalized treatment

Stefan H.E. Kaufmann performs immunogenicity testing of human samples. Image courtesy: © Max Planck Society.

FRANKFURT.- No other infectious disease has killed more people than tuberculosis. Currently, only one vaccine is available to prevent severe courses: Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG). However, it is not equally effective against all types of tuberculosis. Especially infants and immunocompromised patients are therefore in urgent need for more effective tuberculosis vaccines. A clinical trial in South Africa has now shown that the new vaccine candidate VPM1002, developed by Max Planck researcher Stefan H.E. Kaufmann and his team, is equally safe for newborns with and without HIV exposure and has fewer side effects compared to BCG. At least 20 million people worldwide suffer from tuberculosis, according to World Health Organization (WHO), with 10 million new cases every year and about 1.5 million deaths annually. The disease is caused by mycobacteria, which predominantly affect the lungs, but can also infect any other organ. Tuberculosis is particular ... More

This image of the Cartwheel Galaxy and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Image courtesy: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.

PASADENA, CA.- The space telescope’s powerful infrared gaze provides a new view of how the galaxy has changed over billions of years. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has peered into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing new details about star formation and the galaxy’s central black hole. Webb’s powerful infrared gaze produced this detailed image of the Cartwheel and two smaller companion galaxies against a backdrop of many other galaxies. This image provides a new view of how the Cartwheel Galaxy has changed over billions of years. The Cartwheel Galaxy, located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, is a rare sight. Its appearance, much like that of the wheel of a wagon, is the result of an intense event – a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image. Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different, smaller events betw ... More

Jennifer Munson, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. Image courtesy: Clayton Metz, Virginia Tech.

BLACKSBURG, VA.- Glioblastoma, a rare but deadly brain cancer, is wickedly sturdy. Surgeons remove tumors only to see the cancer come back ferociously. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy have limited effects. About half of patients die within 18 months. But now Virginia Tech scientists have developed a novel 3D tissue-engineered model of the glioblastoma tumor microenvironment that can be used to learn why the tumors return and what treatments will be most effective at eradicating them – right down to a patient-specific level. The model and its development are described in a paper published July 29 in Nature Partner Journals Precision Oncology. “Our goal is ultimately to develop a personalized medicine approach in which we can take a patient's tumor, build a model of that tumor in a dish, test drugs on it, and tell a clinician which therapy will work best to treat it,” said Jennifer Munson, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Researc ... More

UCLA-led team develops new approach for building quantum computers   Light as a tool for the synthesis of complex molecules   Light-activated technique helps bring cell powerhouses back into balance

UCLA physics professor Eric Hudson. Image courtesy: Stuart Wolpert/UCLA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Quantum computing, though still in its early days, has the potential to dramatically increase processing power by harnessing the strange behavior of particles at the smallest scales. Some research groups have already reported performing calculations that would take a traditional supercomputer thousands of years. In the long term, quantum computers could provide unbreakable encryption and simulations of nature beyond today’s capabilities. A UCLA-led interdisciplinary research team including collaborators at Harvard University has now developed a fundamentally new strategy for building these computers. While the current state of the art employs circuits, semiconductors and other tools of electrical engineering, the team has produced a game plan based in chemists’ ability to custom-design atomic building blocks that control the properties of larger molecular structures when they’re put together. The findings, published las ... More

Blue light is used as a tool for the synthesis of complex molecules called β-amino acid derivatives. Image courtesy: AG Glorius.

MÜNSTER.- Chemists at the University of Münster have developed a novel and straightforward way to produce complex organic molecules. Mild reaction conditions, simple operation, scalability and the use of an inexpensive and commercially available photosensitizer make the method interesting for industrial applications. The results of the study published August 1 in Nature Chemistry. "Visible light has proven to be a powerful tool for the synthesis of complex organic molecules," explains Prof. Dr. Frank Glorius. "With its energy, we succeed in breaking certain chemical bonds X-Y." The resulting X and Y fragments are highly reactive, so-called "radicals." They can rapidly react with olefins A in a controlled manner, creating biologically valuable molecules (X-A-Y): β-amino acids. In this way, the Glorius group has succeeded in synthesizing a bifunctional oxime oxalate ester that provides both amine and ester functionalities for the r ... More

University of Illinois biochemistry professor Kai Zhang and collaborators developed a technique using light to regulate mitochondria, the energy-producing powerhouses inside cells. Image courtesy: School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- Light-activated proteins can help normalize dysfunction within cells and could be used as a treatment for diseases such as cancer or mitochondrial diseases, new research suggests. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University at Buffalo published the results of their study in the journal Nature Communications. The research centers on the functions of mitochondria, organelles within a cell that act as the cell’s “power plant” and source of energy. Hundreds of mitochondria are constantly coming together – a process called fusion – and dividing into smaller parts – a process known as fission – to stay balanced in healthy cells, said study leader Jiajie Diao, a professor of cancer biology at UC. But when mitochondria are not functioning properly, there is an imbalance of this process of fission and fusion. This imbalance can lead to a number ... More

Using artificial intelligence to control digital manufacturing   Mutations in novel gene found to be responsible for severe liver disease in children   Scientists reveal method of converting methane gas into liquid methanol

MIT researchers have trained a machine-learning model to monitor and adjust the 3D printing process in real-time. Image courtesy of the researchers.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Scientists and engineers are constantly developing new materials with unique properties that can be used for 3D printing, but figuring out how to print with these materials can be a complex, costly conundrum. Often, an expert operator must use manual trial-and-error — possibly making thousands of prints — to determine ideal parameters that consistently print a new material effectively. These parameters include printing speed and how much material the printer deposits. MIT researchers have now used artificial intelligence to streamline this procedure. They developed a machine-learning system that uses computer vision to watch the manufacturing process and then correct errors in how it handles the material in real-time. They used simulations to teach a neural network how to adjust printing parameters to minimize error, and then applied that controller to a real 3D printer. Their sy ... More

Image of the resected liver from a child with mutations in the FOCAD gene showing striking signs of cirrhosis, requiring liver transplant. Image courtesy: A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore.

SINGAPORE.- New findings have uncovered how essential the FOCAD gene is for maintaining a healthy liver, especially in children. In a research study published in Nature Genetics, scientists have found that children carrying loss-of-function mutations in FOCAD are presented with an early onset, pediatric form of liver cirrhosis that can be life-threatening. The study was carried out by scientists from A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore, in collaboration with hospitals and institutes across seven countries (India, U.S., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Portugal, Brazil, and France). Liver disease is becoming a major health concern and is estimated to be the fifth most common cause of death worldwide. A systematic review from the Global Burden of Disease Study identified 1.32 million deaths due to liver cirrhosis in 2017, accounting for more than two percent of the total global deaths. Liver cirrhosis is usually diagnosed late in life, and is tradit ... More

The conversion took place under ambient temperature and pressure conditions, which could enable methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to be used to produce fuel. Image courtesy: UFSCAR.

SAO PAULO.- A group of researchers has succeeded in converting methane into methanol using light and dispersed transition metals such as copper in a process known as photo-oxidation. According to an article reporting the study published in Chemical Communications, the reaction was the best obtained to date for conversion of methane gas into liquid fuel under ambient conditions of temperature and pressure (25 °C and 1 bar respectively). The term bar as a unit of pressure derives from the Greek word for weight (baros). One bar is equivalent to 100,000 Pascals (100 kPa), which is very close to the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level (101,325 Pa). The results of the study are an important step in making natural gas available as an energy source for the production of alternative fuels to gasoline and diesel. Although natural gas is considered a fossil fuel, its conversion into methanol emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) than other liquid fuels in the same category. In Brazil, methanol plays a key r ... More

The Bantu expansion took a rainforest route   Tonga eruption blasted unprecedented amount of water into stratosphere   Nanoscale observations simplify how scientists describe earthquake movement

Bantu man and women working the fields near Kismayo in Somalia.

LEIPZIG.- The study used novel computational approaches and linguistic data from more than 400 Bantu languages to reconstruct the historic migration routes. The project was a collaboration between scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The Bantu Expansion transformed sub-Saharan Africa's linguistic, economic, and cultural composition. Today, more than 240 million people speak one of the more than 500 Bantu languages. It is generally accepted that the ancestors of current Bantu speakers lived around 5,000 to 6,000 years before present in a region by the current border of Nigeria and Cameroon. However, until recently, it was not known how and when they succeeded in crossing southward through or around the dense Central African Rainforest to finally settle in their current locations, covering about half of the African continen ... More

This satellite image shows an intact Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai in April 2015. Image courtesy: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

PASADENA, CA.- The huge amount of water vapor hurled into the atmosphere, as detected by NASA’s Microwave Limb Sounder, could end up temporarily warming Earth’s surface. When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Jan. 15, it sent a tsunami racing around the world and set off a sonic boom that circled the globe twice. The underwater eruption in the South Pacific Ocean also blasted an enormous plume of water vapor into Earth’s stratosphere – enough to fill more than 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. The sheer amount of water vapor could be enough to temporarily affect Earth’s global average temperature. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Luis Millán, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. He led a new study examining the amount of water vapor that the Tonga volcano injected into the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere between a ... More

Graduate student Binxin Fu, left, and civil and environmental engineering professor Rosa Espinosa-Marzal used microscopic-scale observations to simplify how scientists describe macroscale earthquake movement. Image courtesy: Michelle Hassel.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- Using single calcite crystals with varying surface roughness allows engineers to simplify the complex physics that describes fault movement. In a new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, researchers show how this simplification may lead to better earthquake prediction. Scientists describe fault behavior using models based on observational studies that account for the frictional coefficients of rocks and minerals. These “rate-and-state” equations calculate the fault strength, which has implications for earthquake strength and frequency. However, applying these empirical models to earthquake prediction is not practical because of the number of unique variables to be considered for each fault, including the effect of water. The study, led by civil and environmental engineering professor Rosa Espinosa- Marzal, looks at the relationship between friction and the surface roughness of calcite – one of the mos ... More

More News
Why it's a problem that pulse oximeters don't work as well on patients of color
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Pulse oximetry is a noninvasive test that measures the oxygen saturation level in a patient’s blood, and it has become an important tool for monitoring many patients, including those with Covid-19. But new research links faulty readings from pulse oximeters with racial disparities in health outcomes, potentially leading to higher rates of death and complications such as organ dysfunction, in patients with darker skin. It is well known that non-white intensive care unit (ICU) patients receive less-accurate readings of their oxygen levels using pulse oximeters — the common devices clamped on patients’ fingers. Now, a paper co-authored by MIT scientists reveals that inaccurate pulse oximeter readings can lead to critically ill patients of color receiving less supplemental oxygen during ICU stays. The paper ... More

Researchers create biosensor by turning spider silk into optical fiber
TAIPEI.- Researchers have harnessed the light-guiding properties of spider silk to develop a sensor that can detect and measure small changes in the refractive index of a biological solution, including glucose and other types of sugar solutions. The new light-based sensor might one day be useful for measuring blood sugar and other biochemical analytes. "Glucose sensors are crucial to people with diabetes, but these devices tend to be invasive, uncomfortable and not cost-efficient," said research team leader Cheng-Yang Liu from National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. "With spider silk attracting attention for its superior optomechanical properties, we wanted to explore using this biocompatible material to optically detect various sugar concentrations in real-time." Liu and colleagues from Ta ... More

Analysis of molecular processes in living cells with sub-10 nm spatial resolution
WÜRZBURG.- Researchers at the University of Würzburg have developed "photoswitching fingerprint analysis"—a unique technology that for the first time allows the analysis of molecular processes and the regulation of individual proteins in living cells with sub-10 nm spatial resolution. Its application ranges from biological to medical research and the work has been published in Nature Methods. Super-resolution microscopy allows fluorescence images of cells, organelles and molecular complexes to be acquired with unprecedented spatial resolution. However, this resolution is not sufficient to resolve proteins as small as a few nanometers and their interactions with other molecules or the architecture of protein complexes. It prevents, for example, the study of the molecular interplay of neurons in learning and me ... More

Researchers reveal how an insect-eating plant uses rain energy to power its traps
BRISTOL.- Scientists at the University of Bristol have uncovered the deadly workings of a carnivorous plant. In the steaming jungles of Borneo, plants have evolved innumerable tricks to help them survive and outcompete their neighbors. The Slender Pitcher Plant, Nepenthes gracilis, is amongst the most ingenious: Its elaborate cup-shaped leaves are equipped with a canopy-like hanging lid that turns into a deadly springboard for ants when it is hit by a falling rain drop. The findings, published in Biology Letters, reveal for the first time how the lethal spring works. The team were surprised to find that rather than bending in the lid itself or in the narrow constriction between pitcher cup and lid, the spring is located far down in the back of the tubular pitcher wall. The off-center location at the rear of the tube has two effects. First ... More

Suspended sediment reduced by rapid revegetation after Fukushima decontamination
TSUKUBA.- The effects of increased sediment load in rivers during the recovery phase after a nuclear accident are a key consideration in decontamination efforts. Researchers from Japan have discovered that with some planning, unsustainable effects from these efforts could be mitigated. In a study published this month in Nature Sustainability, a research group led by the University of Tsukuba has revealed that although the initial effects of increased sediment load in rivers caused by the Fukushima decontamination efforts were unsustainable, several factors worked in the region's favor to reduce these effects. On 11 March 2011, the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan released a large amount of radiocesium into the landscape, resulting in long-term radioac ... More

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Rice bioscientists use mixed-reality headset, custom software to measure vegetation in the field

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Richard Willstätter died
August 03, 1942. Richard Martin Willstätter (13 August 1872 - 3 August 1942) was a German organic chemist whose study of the structure of plant pigments, chlorophyll included, won him the 1915 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Willstätter invented paper chromatography independently of Mikhail Tsvet. In 1912 he became professor of chemistry at the University of Berlin and director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry, studying the structure of pigments of flowers and fruits. It was here that Willstätter showed that chlorophyll was a mixture of two compounds, chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. He lived in the Dahlem neighborhood near other scientists.


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