Sunday, March 16, 2008

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

Killer fungus spells disaster for wheat
A wheat disease that could destroy most of the world's main wheat crops could strike south Asia's vast wheat fields two years earlier than expected, leaving millions to starve. The fungus, called Ug99, has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Pakistan. If so, this is extremely bad news, as Pakistan is not only critically reliant on its wheat crop, it is also the gateway to the Asian breadbasket.

Artificial event horizon generates hawking radiation
A simulated black hole generated in the lab could split entangled pairs in the way Stephen Hawking predicted.

Physicists: After 30 years of study, rare particle confirms prediction
High-energy physicists devoted to recreating the conditions at the beginning of the universe have for the first time observed a new way to produce those basic particles of atoms, protons and neutrons.

Physicists and engineers search for new dimension
Researchers in the Department of Physics and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech are exploring the possibility of an extra dimension -- an imperceptibly small dimension, about one billionth of a nanometer.

Obesity chokes up the cellular power plant
The machinery responsible for energy production in fat cells is working poorly as a result of obesity. This may aggravate and work to maintain the obese state in humans, suggests the recent Finnish study. Studying rare cases of young identical twins with large differences in bodyweight a Finnish research group has shown that already in the very early stages of obesity, clear changes in the function of the cellular mitochondria can be observed.

To bet or not to bet: How the brain learns to estimate risk
Researchers from EPFL and Caltech have made an important neurobiological discovery of how humans learn to predict risk. The research, appearing in the March 12 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, will shed light on why certain kinds of risk, notably financial risk, are often underestimated, and whether abnormal behavior such as addiction (e.g. to gambling or drugs) could be caused by an erroneous evaluation of risk.

Same process discovered to both form skeleton and protect it for life
A protein signaling pathway recently discovered to guide the formation of the skeleton in the fetus also keeps bones strong through adult life. Furthermore, the same mechanism may be at the heart of osteoporosis, where too little bone is made over time, and bone cancer, where uncontrolled bone growth contributes to tumors. Lastly, the results argue that an experimental Alzheimer's drug may also be useful against bone cancer.

Single-crystal semiconductor wire built into an optical fiber
A process has been developed for growing a single-crystal semiconductor inside the tunnel of a hollow optical fiber. The new device will add new electronic capabilities to optical fibers, which are ideal media for transmitting many types of signals and which are used in a wide range of technologies that employ light, including telecommunications, medicine, computing, and remote-sensing devices.

Nanomaterials show unexpected strength under stress
In yet another twist on the strangeness of the nanoworld, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland-College Park have discovered that materials such as silica that are quite brittle in bulk form behave as ductile as gold at the nanoscale. Their results may affect the design of future nanomachines.

Short-term stress can affect learning and memory
Short-term stress lasting as little as a few hours can impair brain-cell communication in areas associated with learning and memory, University of California, Irvine researchers have found.

The hand can't be fooled, study shows
New research suggests that humans are not as fooled as they seem when viewing visual illusions.

Trash today, ethanol tomorrow
University of Maryland research that started with bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay has led to a process that may be able to convert large volumes of all kinds of plant products, from leftover brewer's mash to paper trash, into ethanol and other biofuel alternatives to gasoline.

Extra via Science Daily: Two-Dimensional High-Temperature Superconductor Discovered


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