Sunday, January 06, 2008

Science Sunday: Wrap-up of recent advancements in science from EurekAlert!

Life at the jolt
Researchers at the Biodesign Institute are using the tiniest organisms on the planet 'bacteria' as a viable option to make electricity. In a new study featured in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, lead author Andrew Kato Marcus and colleagues Cesar Torres and Bruce Rittmann have gained critical insights that may lead to commercialization of a promising microbial fuel cell technology.

Osteoarthritis risk linked to finger length ratio
People whose index finger is shorter than their ring finger are at higher risk of osteoarthritis, a new University of Nottingham study has found.

Mobile metal atoms
A team led by Hans-Jörg Deiseroth in Siegen, Germany reports the characterization of the most conductive representative of the man-made argyrodite minerals made of lithium, phosphorus, sulfur, and bromine atoms, a potential material for lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices.

A crystal that nature may have missed
Some secrets of the beauty of a diamond can be uncovered by a mathematical analysis of its microscopic crystal structure. This structure has some very special, and especially symmetric, properties. Out of an infinite universe of mathematical crystals, only one other, the "K_4 crystal", shares these properties with the diamond. It is not known whether the K_4 crystal exists in nature or could be synthesized.

Novel mechanism for long-term learning identified by Carnegie Mellon researchers
Practice makes perfect -- or at least that's what we're told as we struggle through of multiplication tables and piano scales -- and it seems to be true. That's why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses increased, repetitive stimulation reverses gains in synaptic strength. Neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that resolves this paradox. The findings are published in Science.

Carnegie Mellon study identifies where thoughts of familiar objects occur inside the human brain
Carnegie Mellon University researchers, using machine learning and brain imaging, have found a way to identify where people's thoughts and perceptions of familiar objects originate in the brain by identifying the patterns of brain activity associated with the objects.

Plate tectonics may take a break
Plate tectonics, the geologic process responsible for creating the Earth's continents, mountain ranges, and ocean basins, may be an on-again, off-again affair. Scientists have assumed that the shifting of crustal plates has been slow but continuous over most of the Earth's history, but a new study from researchers at the Carnegie Institution suggests that plate tectonics may have ground to a halt at least once in our planet's history -- and may do so again.

2 explosive evolutionary events shaped early history of multicellular life
Scientists have known for some time that most major groups of complex animals appeared in the fossils record during the Cambrian Explosion, a seemingly rapid evolutionary event that occurred 542 million years ago. Now Virginia Tech paleontologists, using rigorous analytical methods, have identified another explosive evolutionary event that occurred about 33 million years earlier among macroscopic life forms unrelated to the Cambrian animals.

Smaller is stronger -- now scientists know why
As metal structures get smaller -- as their dimensions approach the micrometer scale or less -- they get stronger. Now scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Hysitron Inc. and General Motors Research and Development Center, working at the National Center for Electron Microscopy, have learned how. The researchers observed that compressing nanoscale pillars of nickel drives out dislocations and can produce a perfect crystal -- a process the researchers call "mechanical annealing."

Einstein researchers discover important clue to the cause of Parkinson's disease
A glitch in the mechanism by which cells recycle damaged components may trigger Parkinson's disease, according to a study by scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The research, which appears in the Jan. 2 advance online issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to new strategies for treating Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.



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