Sunday, March 23, 2008

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

Fake diamonds help jet engines take the heat
Engineers are developing a technology to coat jet engine turbine blades with zirconium dioxide -- commonly called zirconia, the stuff of synthetic diamonds -- to combat high-temperature corrosion. The zirconia chemically converts sand and other corrosive particles that build up on the blade into a new, protective outer coating. In effect, the surface of the engine blade constantly renews itself.

Tiny buckyballs squeeze hydrogen like giant Jupiter
Research featured on the March cover of Nano Letters finds that tiny carbon capsules called buckyballs are strong enough to hold volumes of hydrogen nearly as dense as those found at the center of Jupiter. Using a computer model, materials scientists at Rice University found some buckyballs were capable of holding hydrogen volumes so dense as to be almost metallic.

Substantial improvement in essential cheap solar cell process
A cheap alternative to silicon solar cells can be found in dye-sensitized solar cells. This type of cell imitates the natural conversion of sunlight into energy by, for instance, plants and light-sensitive bacteria. Annemarie Huijser has succeeded in substantially improving a process in this type of solar cell, which is similar to Graetzel cells. Huijser will receive her PhD on this subject from TU Delft on Tuesday, March 25.

Coming soon: Cell therapies for diabetes, cancer?
This double issue of Cell Transplantation highlights the efforts of Japanese researchers who are working toward using stem cell transplantation to benefit those who suffer from diabetes, cancer, and other debilitating diseases. The scientists are working toward three important goals: overcoming the shortage of human pancreatic islet tissue, building a bioartifical pancreas, and determining whether cancer stem cells in tumors can be targeted and destroyed in order to provide new, more effective cancer therapies.

Scientists successfully awaken sleeping stem cells
Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have discovered what chemical in the eye triggers the dormant capacity of certain non-neuronal cells to transform into progenitor cells, a stem-like cell that can generate new retinal cells. The discovery, published in the March issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, offers new hope to victims of diseases that harm the retina, such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Tug of war in the cells
Logistics is a key part of life. Nutrition, tools and information constantly have to be transported from one place to another in cells. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have now discovered how molecular motors transport cargo in cells. Two competing teams of motors pull in opposite directions, like in a tug-of-war contest. The winning team determines the direction of transport after the competition.

Scientists find color vision system independent of motion detection
The vision system used to process color is separate from that used to detect motion, according to a new study by researchers at New York University's Center for Developmental Genetics and in the Department of Genetics and Neurobiology at Germany's University of Wuerzburg.

Floating a big idea: MIT demos ancient use of rafts to transport goods
Oceangoing sailing rafts plied the waters of the equatorial Pacific long before Europeans arrived in the Americas, and carried trade goods for thousands of miles all the way from modern-day Chile to western Mexico, according to new findings by MIT researchers in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Findings could improve fuel cell efficiency
A new type of membrane based on tiny iron particles appears to address one of the major limitations exhibited by current power-generating fuel cell technology.

Hubble finds first organic molecule on extrasolar planet
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has made the first detection ever of an organic molecule in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. This breakthrough is an important step in eventually identifying signs of life on a planet outside our Solar System.

Robot fetches objects with just a point and a click
Researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have created a robot, designed to help users with limited mobility with everyday tasks, that moves autonomously to an item selected with a green laser pointer, picks up the item and then delivers it to the user, another person or a selected location such as a table. The new robotic communication method may help robots find their way into the home sooner.

Stanford researchers developing 3-D camera with 12,616 lenses
Stanford researchers led by Electrical Engineering Professor Abbas El Gamal are developing an on-chip imaging sensor with small pixels and 12,616 mini-optic lenses that are created as part of the semiconductor manufacturing process. Used in a digital camera, these lenses will record overlapping views of the scene, creating an electronic "depth map" as well as a photograph. Downloaded to a computer, the map can be used in many ways.

Tiny torrents
Engineers harnessing the same physical property that drives silent household air purifiers have created a miniaturized device that is now ready for testing as a silent, ultra-thin, low-power and low maintenance cooling system for laptop computers and other electronic devices.

Time isn't money: Study finds that we spend the resources differently
Economists usually treat time like money -- as another scarce resource that people spend to achieve certain ends. Money is used to pay for things like furniture and plane tickets; time is spent assembling the do-it-yourself bookshelf or searching for cheap flights on the Internet. But despite the old adage, the two are far from psychologically equivalent -- particularly when it comes to consumer spending decisions.

New portrait of Earth shows land cover as never before
A new global portrait taken from space details Earth's land cover with a resolution never before obtained. ESA, in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, presented the preliminary version of the map to scientists last week at the 2nd GlobCover User Consultation workshop held in Rome, Italy.

Chemical engineers discover new way to control particle motion
Chemical engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have discovered a new way to control the motion of fluid particles through tiny channels, potentially aiding the development of micro- and nano-scale technologies such as drug delivery devices, chemical and biological sensors, and components for miniaturized biological "lab-on-a-chip" applications.

Work with power grids leads to cell biology discovery
Gene therapy is a promising experimental technique for the prevention and treatment of disease. Now a Northwestern University research team reports that a counterintuitive approach also holds promise. The targeted removal of genes can restore cellular function in cells with genetic defects, such as mutations. The results have ramifications for medical research as well as for optimizing certain metabolic processes used in the production of biofuels, such as ethanol.

First 'rule' of evolution suggests that life is destined to become more complex
Scientists have revealed what may well be the first pervasive 'rule' of evolution. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.

UC-San Diego Medical Center reports United States' first oral appendix removal
On Wednesday, March 12, 2008, surgeons at UC-San Diego Medical Center performed what is believed to be the country's first removal of a diseased appendix through the mouth. This clinical trial procedure received approval for a limited number of patients by UC-San Diego's Institutional Review Board which oversees clinical research.


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