Sunday, December 31, 2006

We live in a wonderful, interesting time: Science Sunday's Best for 2006

Scientists predict how to detect a fourth dimension of space: Scientists at Duke and Rutgers universities have developed a mathematical framework they say will enable astronomers to test a new five-dimensional theory of gravity that competes with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

Towards a new test of general relativity?: Scientists funded by the European Space Agency have measured the gravitational equivalent of a magnetic field for the first time in a laboratory. Under certain special conditions the effect is much larger than expected from general relativity and could help physicists to make a significant step towards the long-sought-after quantum theory of gravity.

A Biologist's Listening Guide to Bacteria: Every young scientist dreams of doing an experiment that changes the world. A remarkable biologist at Princeton University has done just that. Bonnie Bassler's discovery about how bacteria talk to one another has led to a whole new field of research -- and maybe someday drugs that would be effective against all bacteria.

Self-assembling nano-ice discovered at UNL -- Structure resembles DNA:UNL chemist Xiao Cheng Zeng and his team discovered double helixes of ice molecules that resemble the structure of DNA and self-assemble under high pressure inside carbon nanotubes. This discovery could have major implications for scientists in other fields who study the protein structures that cause diseases such as Alzheimer's and bovine spongiform ecephalitis. It could also help guide those searching for ways to target or direct self-assembly in nanomaterials.

Breakthrough in computer chip design eliminates wires in data transmission: Research slated to appear in the Oct. 2 edition of the Optical Society of America's Optics Express will unveil that researchers have created a new laser-silicon hybrid computer chip that can produce laser beams that will make it possible to use laser light rather than wires to send data between chips, removing the most significant bottleneck in computer design.

First quantum teleportation between light and matter: Researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen have succeeded in transferring a quantum state of light to a material object -- an ensemble of atoms.

Scientists convert modern enzyme into its hypothesized ancestor: By making a single substitution in the amino acid sequence of a modern enzyme, scientists at Brookhaven Lab have changed its function into that of a theoretical distant ancestor, providing the first experimental evidence for the common origin of the two distinct enzyme types.

Scientists reverse evolution: University of Utah scientists have shown how evolution works by reversing the process, reconstructing a 530-million-year-old gene by combining key portions of two modern mouse genes that descended from the archaic gene.

Theoretical blueprint for invisibility cloak reported: Using a new design theory, researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and Imperial College London have developed the blueprint for an invisibility cloak. Once devised, the cloak could have numerous uses, from defense applications to wireless communications, the researchers said.

First demonstration of a working invisibility cloak: A team led by scientists at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering has demonstrated the first working "invisibility cloak." The cloak deflects microwave beams so they flow around a "hidden" object inside with little distortion, making it appear almost as if nothing were there at all.

Related: The mathematics of cloaking: The theorists who first created the mathematics that describe the behavior of the recently announced "invisibility cloak" have revealed a new analysis that may extend the current cloak's powers, enabling it to hide even actively radiating objects like a flashlight or cell phone.

Science's breakthrough of the year -- The Poincaré Theorem: In 2006, researchers closed a major chapter in mathematics, reaching a consensus that the elusive Poincaré Conjecture, which deals with abstract shapes in three-dimensional space, had finally been solved. Science and its publisher AAAS, the nonprofit society, now salute this development as the Breakthrough of the Year and also give props to nine other of the year's most significant scientific accomplishments.

New research could lead to 'invisible' electronics: Imagine a car windshield that displays a map to your destination or a billboard that doubles as a window. Researchers have long worked on developing new types of displays powered by electronics without visible wires but have fallen short of developing the right materials. Now Northwestern University researchers report that by combining organic and inorganic materials they have produced transparent, high-performance transistors that can be assembled inexpensively on both glass and plastics.

Wireless energy transfer can potentially recharge laptops, cell phones without cords: Recharging your laptop computer -- and also your cell phone and a variety of other gadgets -- might one day be doable in the same convenient way many people now surf the Web: wirelessly. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology team will present research on the physics of electromagnetic fields, showing how wireless energy could power future gadgets. The MIT team is also working on demonstrating the technology in practice.

U-M researchers use nanoparticles to target brain cancer: Tiny particles one-billionth of a meter in size can be loaded with high concentrations of drugs designed to kill brain cancer. What's more, these nanoparticles can be used to image and track tumors as well as destroy them, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Got cotton? Texas researchers' discovery could yield protein to feed millions: Researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station used RNAi to reduce the toxic compound gossypol from cottonseed to a level that is considered safe for consumption, but left the compound in the rest of the plant to ward off insects and disease. Once commercialized, seed from these plants could provide a new, high-protein food available to 500 million people a year.

Social cues and illusion: There's more to magic than meets the eye: The mechanisms that govern visual perception are only partly understood by scientists, and in fact much of what we know about how the human visual system works stems from investigations into our susceptibility to visual illusions. While scientists have used knowledge of illusions to further our understanding of the mind, magicians have learned to master the art of deception for entertainment purposes.

A quantum (computer) step: A University of Utah physicist took a step toward developing a superfast computer based on the weird reality of quantum physics by showing it is feasible to read data stored in the form of the magnetic "spins" of phosphorus atoms.

Nature's process for nitrogen fixation caught in action: A research team from Utah State University, Virginia Tech and Northwestern University asked whether the biological process for nitrogen fixation, carried out by microbes that contain the enzyme nitrogenase, follows the same pathway as recently reported chemical methods. Their research method resulted in the ability to witness steps in the biological process that enables some microorganisms to convert atmospheric nitrogen to nutrients.

Electronic life extension: Peter Bruce of the University of St. Andrews and team have devised a new and efficient way to improve battery power as well as make charge last longer by using lithium oxide intercalation materials. They describe their results in the latest issue of Advanced Materials.

Brown engineers build a better battery -- with plastic: It's thin, light, flexible -- and plastic. Brown University engineers Hyun-Kon Song and Tayhas Palmore have created a prototype polymer-based battery that packs more power than a standard alkaline battery and more storage capacity than a double-layered capacitor. Their work, published in Advanced Materials, will be of interest to the energy, defense and aerospace industries, which are looking at more efficient ways to deliver electricity.

What's next for gene therapy? Plastic: Gene therapy depends upon foreign DNA, even viruses, to deliver genes, therapeutic proteins or medicine to cells within the body. Many scientists are looking for better chaperones across the cell membrane. Virginia Tech researchers think polymer molecules can be created to do the job.

A plastic pill for periodontal problems: Rutgers scientists today announced a revolutionary new treatment for killing the bacteria that attack gum tissue during periodontal disease, while also promoting healing and the regeneration of tissue and bone around the teeth. The breakthrough technology, employing a polymer-based drug delivery system that may be implanted in pockets between the teeth and the gum, was developed at Rutgers University.

Related: New study supports findings that periodontal bacteria may be linked to heart disease: The presence of specific bacteria and combinations of bacteria in periodontal pockets might be an explanation for the relationship between periodontal disease and acute coronary syndrome (ACS), according to a new study published in the Journal of Periodontology and The effect of periodontal disease on health care costs: Prevention of periodontal disease may lead to saving of not only dental care but also medical care costs.

University of Penn chemists reinvent the science and industry of making plastics: Chemists at the University of Pennsylvania have created a new process for free radical polymerization, the chemical reaction responsible for creating an enormous array of everyday plastic products, from Styrofoam cups to PVC tubing to car parts. Unlike the "traditional" method for living polymerization, which has been around for more than 50 years, this method takes place at room temperature, uses less metal catalyst to drive the reaction and requires a very short reaction time.

Carnegie Mellon study sets benchmark properties for popular conducting plastic: Steadily increasing the length of a purified conducting polymer vastly improves its ability to conduct electricity, report researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, whose work appeared March 22 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Their study of regioregular polythiophenes establishes benchmark properties for these materials that suggest how to optimize their use for a new generation of diverse materials, including solar panels, transistors in radio frequency identification tags, and light-weight, flexible, organic light-emitting displays.

Related to plastic developments: "I want to say one word to you. Just one word....Plastics"Of rice and hen: Fashions from the farm

MIT: engine on a chip promises to best the battery: MIT researchers are putting a tiny gas-turbine engine inside a silicon chip about the size of a quarter. The resulting device could run 10 times longer than a battery of the same weight can, powering laptops, cell phones, radios and other electronic devices.

MIT researchers build tiny batteries with viruses: MIT scientists have harnessed the construction talents of tiny viruses to build ultra-small "nanowire" structures for use in very thin lithium-ion batteries.

Swedish researcher launches unique search engine for the Web: The Sweden-based company Polar Rose will soon be introducing a Web-based search engine that can find photographs of people by analyzing pictures and identifying faces. The search engine­ -- which will be the first of its kind in the world­ -- is the result of research carried out by Jan Erik Solem at Technology and Society, Malmö University College. He will publicly defend his thesis on Friday, September 29.

It might could is!!!: Scientists of the CDF collaboration at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced today (September 25, 2006) that they have met the exacting standard to claim discovery of astonishingly rapid transitions between matter and antimatter: 3 trillion oscillations per second.

MIT material stops bleeding in seconds: MIT and Hong Kong University researchers have shown that some simple biodegradable liquids can stop bleeding in wounded rodents within seconds, a development that could significantly impact medicine.

Saved by 'sand' poured into wounds: QuikClot is a sand-like material developed for the military which when poured into a wound can stop bleeding within seconds - saving lives. New advances in this material and the development of new substances could soon see blood clotting treatments being acceptable for ambulance crews, surgeons or ultimately to use by individuals at home in their first aid kits.

The Space Elevator Games: Elevator:2010 is designed to address the "social engineering" of the Space Elevator.

Oxygen deprived brains repaired and saved: Scientists from Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute have found special proteins that protect the brain after it has been damaged by a lack of oxygen, which occurs in conditions such as stroke, perinatal asphyxia, near-drowning and traumatic brain injury.

Honey helps problem wounds: Honey helps the treatment of some wounds better than the most modern antibiotics. For several years now medical experts from the University of Bonn have been clocking up largely positive experience with what is known as "Medihoney." Even chronic wounds infected with multi-resistant bacteria often healed within a few weeks. In conjunction with colleagues from Düsseldorf, Homburg and Berlin they now want to test the experience gained in a large-scale study.

How can identical twins be genetically different?: U-M researchers have discovered three genes that are over-expressed in rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, that were not known to be associated with the disease before. They also found that non-genetic factors influenced the expression of these genes and that the expression patterns varied between identical twins where only one twin had RA.

Gas escaping from ocean floor may drive global warming: Gas escaping from the ocean floor may provide some answers to understanding historical global warming cycles -- and provide information on current climate changes according to a team of UCSB scientists. The findings are reported in the July 20 on-line version of the scientific journal, Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Remarkable and unexpected support for this idea occurred when divers and scientists observed and videotaped a massive blowout of methane from the ocean floor near Santa Barbara.

UCLA scientists strengthen case for life more than 3.8 billion years ago: Ten years ago, an international team of scientists reported evidence, in a controversial cover story in Nature, that life on Earth began more than 3.8 billion years ago -- 400 million years earlier than previously thought. A UCLA professor who was not part of that team and two of the original authors now report in that the evidence is stronger than ever.

Reversing and accelerating the speed of light: Physicist Costas Soukoulis and his research group at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory on the Iowa State University campus are having the time of their lives making light travel backwards at negative speeds that appear faster than the speed of light.

Light's most exotic trick yet: so fast it goes . backwards?: In the past few years, scientists have found ways to make light go both faster and slower than its usual speed limit, but now researchers at the University of Rochester have published a paper today in Science on how they've gone one step further: pushing light into reverse. As if to defy common sense, the backward-moving pulse of light travels faster than light.Confused? You're not alone.

Nano machine switches between biological and silicon worlds: Scientists have created a molecular switch that could play a key role in thousands of nanotech applications. The Mol-Switch project successfully developed a demonstrator to prove the principle, despite deep scepticism from specialist colleagues in biotechnology and biophysics.

How is a human fetus like a parasite?: In research that draws unforeseen links between reproductive biology and the ability to hybridize - which is the major determinant of how new species evolve - Mick Elliot and Bernie Crespi (Simon Frasier University) demonstrate that mammal species with invasive placentas, such as humans, can successfully hybridize with species that are much more genetically distant, apparently as a byproduct of more strongly reducing their immune response during pregnancy. Their findings have profound consequences for mammalian evolution.

Molecular DNA switch found to be the same for all life: Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have shown that the core machinery for initiating DNA replication is the same for all three domains of life -- Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya.

Self-cooling soda bottles?: Every day, the sun bathes the planet in energy--free of charge--yet few systems can take advantage of that source for both heating and cooling. Now, researchers are making progress on a thin-film technology that adheres both solar cells and heat pumps onto surfaces, ultimately turning walls, windows, and maybe even soda bottles into climate control systems.

UCLA study finds same genes act differently in males and females: Scientists may have revealed the origin of the battle of the sexes -- in our genes. UCLA researchers report that thousands of genes behave differently in the same organs of males and females - something never detected to this degree. Published in the August issue of Genome Research, the study sheds light on why the same disease often strikes males and females differently, and why the genders may respond differently to the same drug.

How cooperation can evolve in a cheater's world: Whether you're a free-loading virus or a meat-stealing monkey, selfishness pays. So how could cooperators survive in a cheater's world? Thomas Flatt, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown, was part of a group that created a theoretical model that neatly solves this dilemma, which has stumped evolutionary biologists and social scientists for decades. The trick: Keep the altruists in small groups, away from the swindling horde, where they multiply and migrate. Related: Generous players: game theory explores the Golden Rule's place in biology.

Ultrasound may help regrow teeth: Hockey players, rejoice! A team of University of Alberta researchers has created technology to regrow teeth--the first time scientists have been able to reform human dental tissue.Using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), Dr. Tarak El-Bialy from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and Dr. Jie Chen and Dr. Ying Tsui from the Faculty of Engineering have created a miniaturized system-on-a-chip that offers a non-invasive and novel way to stimulate jaw growth and dental tissue healing.

New technology will allow for flexible television and computer screens: The fabrication of flexible OLEDs has up to now been held back by the fragility of the brittle indium tin oxide layer that serves as the transparent electrode. But researchers at the Regroupement Qu.becois sur les Mat.riaux de Pointe (RQMP) have found a solution which they published in the May online issue of Applied Physics Letters.

Brain on chip: For the first time, scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich coupled living brain tissue to a chip equivalent to the chips that run computers. The researchers under Peter Fromherz have reported this news in the online edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology (May 10, 2006).

Parasitic worms used to fight bowel disease: At Michigan State University, researcher Linda Mansfield is part of a national team of scientists investigating the role that parasites can play in treating inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, in humans.

Research highlights how bacteria produce energy: The world's smallest life forms could be the answer to one of today's biggest problems: providing sustainable, renewable energy for the future. Using a variety of natural food sources, bacteria can be used to create electricity, produce alternative fuels like ethanol and even boost the output of existing oil wells, according to research being presented this week at the 106th General Meeting of the (ASM) American Society for Microbiology in Orlando, Florida.

MIT studies undersea channels for oil recovery: Work in an MIT lab may help energy companies withdraw millions of additional barrels of oil from beneath the sea floor. Typically, companies recover only 30 percent to 40 percent of the oil in a given reservoir. Since a single reservoir may contain a billion barrels total, increasing that "recovery efficiency" by even a single percentage point would mean a lot of additional oil.

Mice with glowing hearts shed light on how hearts develop: Many people have heard of a heart of gold, but what about a heart that glows? Cornell researchers have genetically engineered mice whose hearts fluoresce as they beat. The development gives researchers insights into how hearts develop in living mouse embryos and could improve our understanding of irregular heartbeats.

There's more than meets the eye in judging the size of an object: You can't always trust your eyes. Neuroscientists from the University of Washington and University of Minnesota have found that the first area in the cortex of the human brain and receives information from the eyes processes the perceived size, rather than the actual size, of an object.

Rutgers team's coal-to-diesel breakthrough could drastically cut oil imports: Researchers have developed a practical way to convert carbon sources, such as coal to diesel fuel, that could significantly cut America's dependence on foreign oil. The breakthrough technology employs a pair of catalytic chemical reactions that operate in tandem, one of which captured the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. They have revamped the Fischer-Tropsch process to the point where, for the first time, it becomes commercially viable for coal conversion.

Nanogenerators convert mechanical energy to electricity for self-powered devices: Researchers have developed a new technique for powering nanometer-scale devices without the need for bulky energy sources such as batteries. By converting mechanical energy from body movement, muscle stretching or water flow into electricity, these "nanogenerators" could make possible a new class of self-powered implantable medical devices, sensors and portable electronics.

Rewind, please: Nature paper shows that cell division is reversible: Gary J. Gorbsky, PhD, a scientist with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, has found a way to reverse the process of cell division. The discovery could have important implications for the treatment of cancer, birth defects and numerous other diseases and disorders. Gorbsky's findings appear in the April 13 issue of the journal Nature.

High efficiency flat light source invented: A group of chemists and electrical engineers succeeds in making a prototype white-light organic LED. Assuming the development of a waterproof backing, the advance could bring major changes in indoor lighting.

Waterproof superglue may be strongest in nature: The glue one species of water-loving bacteria uses to grip its surroundings may be the strongest natural adhesive known to science. If engineers can find a way to mass-produce the material, it could have uses in medicine, marine technology and a range of other applications.

Aha! Favors the prepared mind: But why do "Aha!" moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all? A newstudy reveals that patterns of brain activity before people even see a problem predict whether they will solve it with or without such an insight, and these brain activity patterns are likely linked to distinct types of mental preparation.

Chaos=Order: Physicists make baffling discovery: According to a computational study conducted by a group of physicists at Washington University in St. Louis, one may create order by introducing disorder.

One big biology question solved: An Australian research team has solved one of biology's most fundamental questions - why males produce sperm and females produce eggs.

Conscious and unconscious memory linked in storing new information: The way the brain stores new, conscious information such as a first kiss or a childhood home is strongly linked to the way the human brain stores unconscious information.

Quantum computer solves problem, without running: By combining quantum computation and quantum interrogation, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found an exotic way of determining an answer to an algorithm - without ever running the algorithm. Using an optical-based quantum computer, a research team led by physicist Paul Kwiat has presented the first demonstration of "counterfactual computation," inferring information about an answer, even though the computer did not run. The researchers report their work in the Feb. 23 issue of Nature.

Atoms in new state of matter behave like Three Musketeers: All for one, one for all: An international team of physicists has converted three normal atoms into a special new state of matter whose existence was proposed by Russian scientist Vitaly Efimov in 1970.


Blogger Brent Adrian said...

Thanks for the wrap up on the year's science discoveries. I posted a link to your article and blog at

January 2, 2007 at 11:29 AM  

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