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Physicists announce the world's most precise measurement of neutron lifetime

The high-efficiency ultracold neutron detector employed in the 'bathtub' trap. Image courtesy: Los Alamos National Lab / Michael Pierce.

PASADENA, CA.- Particles called neutrons are typically very content inside atoms. They stick around for billions of years and longer inside some of the atoms that make up matter in our universe. But when neutrons are free and floating alone outside of an atom, they start to decay into protons and other particles. Their lifetime is short, lasting only about 15 minutes. Physicists have spent decades trying to measure the precise lifetime of a neutron using two techniques, one involving bottles and the other beams. But the results from the two methods have not matched: they differ by about 9 seconds, which is significant for a particle that only lives about 15 minutes. Now, in a new study published in the journal Physical Review Letters, a team of scientists has made the most precise measurement yet of a neutron's lifetime using the bottle technique. The experiment, known as UCNtau (for Ultra Cold Neutrons tau, where tau refers to the neutron lifetime), has revealed that the neutron lives 14.629 minutes ... More





Explore the universe with virtual reality   By 2500 earth could be alien to humans   Sex matters when it comes to immune responses against infection and disease, study shows


In order to get visual representations of the vast amounts of data, like a movie, it’s standard practice to pre-render specific sequences. 2021 eM+ / Hadrien Gurnel.

LAUSANNE.- You’re floating in space, just above the Earth. The International Space Station is an arm’s length away. You twist your head around only to see the moon, a tiny circle, far off in the distance. You can’t help but think that this is probably what an astronaut would see during a space-walk. This is the beginning of a journey into outer-space, in a virtual environment developed by EPFL scientists. Now, for the very first time, you can enter the most comprehensive virtual universe based on the latest astrophysical and cosmological data, thanks to powerful, open-source software developed at EPFL’s Laboratory of Astrophysics (LASTRO). The software is called VIRUP, for Virtual Reality Universe Project. “You can navigate through the most detailed map of the universe from the comfort of your own home,” explains Jean-Paul Kneib, director of LASTRO. “It’s the chance to travel through space, through time, ... More
 

The Amazon: The top image shows a traditional pre-contact Indigenous village (1500 CE) with access to the river and crops planted in the rainforest. Image: James McKay.

MONTREAL.- To fully grasp and plan for climate impacts under any scenario, researchers and policymakers must look well beyond the 2100 benchmark. Unless CO2 emissions drop significantly, global warming by 2500 will make the Amazon barren, the American Midwest tropical, and India too hot to live in, according to a team of international scientists. “We need to envision the Earth our children and grandchildren may face, and what we can do now to make it just and liveable for them,” says Christopher Lyon, a Postdoctoral Researcher under the supervision of Professor Elena Bennett at McGill University. “If we fail to meet the Paris Agreement goals, and emissions keep rising, many places in the world will dramatically change.” The scientists ran global climate model projections based on time dependent projections of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations for low, medium, and high mitigation scenarios up to the year 2500. Their f ... More
 

Shokrollah Elahi led a new study showing how anemia can generate different immune responses in females versus males, a finding that further cements the need to stop treating both sexes with the same strategies, he says.

EDMONTON.- A University of Alberta-led study shows that when it comes to susceptibility to infections and other health conditions, sex matters. The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, was led by U of A immunologist Shokrollah Elahi. Elahi and his team looked at how anemia — a condition in which a person lacks enough mature red blood cells to carry oxygen in the body — can be due to an iron deficiency or loss of blood, and can generate different immunological responses in males versus females. Knowing females are generally more predisposed than males to anemia due to monthly blood loss or pregnancy and childbirth, Elahi said looking at the impact of anemia on the immune systems in a controlled environment was the key. “We have shown in this study that females in general have more immature red blood cells in their blood circulation than males. One main reason for the presence of immature red bloo ... More



Gorillas can tell human voices apart   Common respiratory virus manipulates immune genes to protect itself   Pain relief without side effects with promising technique


Charlie, one of the male gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, thumps his chest in his enclosure. Image courtesy: Zoo Atlanta.

ATHENS, GA.- Many animals recognize the voices of members of their own species, and some can even recognize those of other species, such as humans. But it turns out a few animals, such as gorillas, can not only recognize familiar voices but also connect those voices to pleasant or not so pleasant memories. A new study from the University of Georgia is the first to show that gorillas are able to recognize familiar human voices based on their relationship with the speaker. The researchers found that captive gorillas responded negatively when they heard the voices of people they didn't know or with whom they'd had negative interactions. Their reaction indicates that the apes likely recognized who the voices belonged to and possibly the nature of their relationship with those individuals. Although this project focused specifically on gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, the findings, published in the journal Animal Cognition, have wider implications for the captiv ... More
 

The viral protein NS1 (green) is found inside the nuclei (blue) of ciliated human respiratory tract cells (cilia shown in red) that have been infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Image courtesy: Leung and Brody labs.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- Nearly everyone gets infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) repeatedly over the course of a lifetime, starting in childhood. Most times, people fight off the virus handily and only end up with a mild cold. But some people—most often young children experiencing their first infection or older adults whose immunity has waned—develop pneumonia or bronchiolitis, serious lung infections that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have figured out how the virus undermines the body's defenses, a step toward understanding why the virus is capable of causing serious illness in vulnerable populations. They discovered that the virus produces a protein—called nonstructural protein 1, or NS1—that slips inside the nucleus and alters the activity of immune genes, sabotaging the immune response. The findings, published Oct. 12 in Cell Repo ... More
 

Matilda Forni with the ultra-thin microelectrodes during production. Image courtesy: Agata Garpenlind.

LUND.- Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a completely new stimulation method, using ultra-thin microelectrodes, to combat severe pain. This provides effective and personalized pain relief without the common side effects from pain relief drugs. The study, which was conducted on rats, has been published in the research journal Science Advances. The lack of a side effect-free treatment for long-term pain often considerably impairs the quality of life of the patients affected. Without analgesic treatment, the persistent pain makes it difficult for the patient to function in everyday life. Traditional pain-relieving treatment certainly reduces the pain, but at the same time affects the senses and mental function, and there is a considerable risk of developing a drug addiction. Pain also entails a considerable cost for society in the form of sick leave, healthcare costs and lost production. According to a recent A ... More



Strange radio waves emerge from the direction of the galactic center   Scientists report evidence for a new but now extinct species of ancient ground-dwelling sloth   New battery technology could power wearable, self-sustaining fever detector


Artist's impression of radio signal ASKAP J173608.2-321635 arriving at Earth. Image courtesy: Sebastian Zentilomo/University of Sydney.

SYDNEY.- Astronomers have discovered unusual signals coming from the direction of the Milky Way's center. The radio waves fit no currently understood pattern of variable radio source and could suggest a new class of stellar object. "The strangest property of this new signal is that it is has a very high polarization. This means its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates with time," said Ziteng Wang, lead author of the new study and a Ph.D. student in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. "The brightness of the object also varies dramatically, by a factor of 100, and the signal switches on and off apparently at random. We've never seen anything like it." Many types of star emit variable light across the electromagnetic spectrum. With tremendous advances in radio astronomy, the study of variable or transient objects in radio waves is a huge field of study helping us to reveal the secrets of the Unive ... More
 

Left hind limb of P. dominicanus. The ancient precursors to modern sloths migrated as far north as parts of present-day North America. Image courtesy: Robert McAfee.

BALTIMORE, MD.- Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine report new evidence that some 5,000 years ago, a sloth smaller than a black bear roamed the forest floor of what is now the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea, living a lowland life different from its cousins on the other side of the island. The newly identified mammalian species—now extinct—was smaller and had anatomical differences in its forelimb that gave it greater range of motion, possibly to help the animal occupy more lowland areas than its tree-dwelling kin. The evidence was uncovered initially in January 2009, when divers found the sloth's bones in a flooded cave on the island of Hispaniola, now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. After extensive study of the partial skeleton and bones from several other specimens, the scientists have concluded it is a previously unknown species of ground sloth, which ... More
 

Given the typical rate of corrosion for carbon steel, Yu said the amount utilized by their device could last for more than a decade. Image: Unsplash.

COLLEGE STATION, TX.- Public temperature checks have become common practice around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at Texas A&M University hope to make it possible to check the temperatures of large groups of people more quickly and at a less expensive cost than allowed by current methods. Choongho Yu, professor and Sallie and Don Davis '61 Faculty Fellow II in the J. Mike Walker '66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, is working alongside his students to harness the thermal energy generated by body heat to power a small, self-sustaining electronic device capable of detecting fever in its wearer. The team's research was recently published in Nature Communications. If successful, Yu said such a device could benefit a large number of people—especially when implemented in a public setting—by quickly and efficiently identifying fever. "The fever detector can be distributed to many unspecified people at public places at a low pri ... More



Lack of power grids sealed fate for early electric cars   How to force photons to never bounce back   Dairy researcher aims to buy more time for dairy calves to absorb vital antibodies


Detroit Electric ad in 1912. If electricity grids had spread just 15 or 20 years earlier, a majority of producers would have likely opted for electric cars. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

LUND.- New research from Lund University shows that insufficient infrastructure was key in American car manufacturers choosing gasoline cars over electric cars in the early 20th century. If electricity grids had spread just 15 or 20 years earlier, a majority of producers would have likely opted for electric cars, according to the study published in Nature Energy. A broad political commitment to a universal electricity grid was introduced in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s, but came decades too late. “It is a common notion that electric cars were technically inferior and more expensive. We find that this is not entirely true. Electric cars were more expensive, but not relative to their performance. In addition, the average range was surprisingly good because early cars were light and relatively small”, says Josef Taalbi, Associate Professor of Economic history at Lund University. In their study, Josef Taalbi a ... More
 

Topological isolators with reconfigurable functionality. Image courtesy: Zhe Zhang / EPFL 2021.

LAUSANNE.- Topological insulators are materials whose structure forces photons and electrons to move only along the material’s boundary and only in one direction. These particles experience very little resistance and travel freely past obstacles such as impurities, fabrication defects, a change of signal’s trajectory within a circuit, or objects placed intentionally in the particles’ path. That’s because these particles, instead of being reflected by the obstacle, go around it “like river-water flowing past a rock,” says Prof. Romain Fleury, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Wave Engineering, within the School of Engineering. Until now, these particles’ exceptional resilience to obstacles applied only to limited perturbations in the material, meaning this property couldn’t be exploited widely in photonics-based applications. However, that could soon change thanks to research being conducted by Prof. Fleu ... More
 

PhD candidate Becs Hiltz is taking up research that left off in the 1980s, looking at ways to widen a narrow window of opportunity for dairy calves to absorb vital antibodies that protect them from potentially fatal diseases.

EDMONTON.- A University of Alberta dairy researcher is picking up where scientists left off 40 years ago, trying to solve an ongoing problem with calf health. Up to 30 per cent of dairy calves worldwide don’t get enough vital antibodies before birth to ward off the risk of diarrhea caused by E. coli and other bacteria. The condition can be deadly to the young animals, said Becs Hiltz, a PhD candidate in animal science in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. Though calves do get antibodies through colostrum — their mother’s milk — they don’t develop immunity right away. “Calves are born with a functional immune system, but it is slow and can take two to three weeks to respond to any sort of disease they may encounter.” In addition, they can only absorb the antibodies within the first 12 to 24 hours of life — something Hiltz wants to change through a better understanding o ... More



More News
'It was unbelievable': Star Trek's Shatner becomes real life astronaut
WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Star Trek's William Shatner, one of science-fiction's most recognizable characters, became a real life space traveler Wednesday on Blue Origin's second human mission. "It was unbelievable," said the 90-year-old Canadian, who was moved to tears after the 11-minute journey beyond the planet's atmosphere and back again to the Texas desert. The New Shepard rocket took off around 9:49 am (1449 GMT) after experiencing two brief delays. Shatner was joined by Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, an Australian national, and Glen de Vries of clinical research platform Medidata Solutions. Company founder Jeff Bezos was on hand to greet the crew members as they climbed out of the capsule and were showered with applause and champagne. L ... More

'Cleaning up' an oil spill
PITTSBURGH, PA.- After thousands of gallons of oil poured into the Pacific Ocean following the October 2 spill, agencies and volunteers have worked around the clock to mitigate the damage and stop the spread. To do this, crews have employed booms, physical floating barriers that help contain the oil from extending outward. Skimmers are then used within the perimeter of the boom to remove the oil from the water before soaking it up with a sand-like mixture. The current spill is just one of many over the past 30 years, and its estimated 24 to 131 thousand gallons is relatively small compared to the nearly 134 million gallons that affected the Gulf of Mexico following Deep Water Horizon in 2010. While booms have been effective in this most recent spill, previous larger spills have called for additional mitigation techni ... More

To watch a comet form, a spacecraft could tag along for a journey toward the sun
CHICAGO, IL.- Deep in the solar system, between Jupiter and Neptune, lurk thousands of small chunks of ice and rock. Occasionally, one of them will bump into Jupiter’s orbit, get caught and flung into the inner solar system—towards the sun, and us. This is thought to be the source of many of the comets that eventually pass Earth. A new study lays out the dynamics of this little-understood system. Among the findings: it would be doable for a spacecraft to fly to Jupiter, wait in Jupiter’s orbit until one of these objects gets caught in the planet’s gravity well, and hitch a ride with the object to watch it become a comet in real time. “This would be an amazing opportunity to see a pristine comet ‘turn on’ for the first time,” said Darryl Seligman, a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Chicago and corresponding author of the pa ... More

Phage therapy research brings scientists a step closer to harnessing viruses to fight antibiotic resistance
EXETER.- As bacteria that cause infection increasingly develop resistance to antibiotics, scientists have moved a step closer to harnessing viruses as an alternative form of therapy. Phage therapy is the concept of using viruses (known as phage) to kill bacteria, instead of using antibiotics. A growing number of infections, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis, are becoming harder to treat, resulting in higher death rates, longer hospital stays and higher costs. Bacteriophages (or phage for short) are viruses that kill bacteria. Unlike other viruses, they cannot harm humans and represent a promising alternative to antibiotics. Phage therapy was first used in 1919, when Parisian microbiologist Felix d'Herelle gave a phage cocktail to a 12-year-old boy, apparently curing his severe dysentery. Y ... More

Widespread monoculture found to increase prevalence of pollinator parasites
WASHINGTON, DC.- A team of researchers affiliated with a host of entities across the U.S., has found evidence that suggests the practice of widespread monoculture has increased the prevalence of pollinator parasites. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group describes their study of bees in California's Central Valley, and what they found. Prior studies have shown that pollinators such as bees are experiencing a global reduction in their numbers—most have blamed the widespread use of pesticides for such declines. In this new effort, the researchers have found another possible contributor—widespread monoculture. Monoculture is the practice of planting just one crop at a time on croplands. It has become more and more common as farmers have found it the most profitable way to grow ... More



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3D models reveal hidden process in X chromosome inactivation



Flashback
On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Raymond Davis Jr. was born
October 14, 1914. Raymond "Ray" Davis Jr. (October 14, 1914 - May 31, 2006) was an American chemist and physicist. He is best known as the leader of the Homestake experiment in the 1960s-1980s, which was the first experiment to detect neutrinos emitted from the Sun; for this he shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics. Davis reports that he was asked "to find something interesting to work on," and dedicated his career to the study of neutrinos, particles which had been predicted to explain the process of beta decay, but whose separate existence had not been confirmed. Davis investigated the detection of neutrinos by beta decay, the process by which a neutrino brings enough energy to a nucleus to make certain stable isotopes into radioactive ones. Since the rate for this process is very low, the number of radioactive atoms created in neutrino experiments is very small, and Davis began investigating the rates of processes other than beta decay that would mimic the signal of neutrinos.



 


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