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This microrobot could be a model for a future dual aerial-aquatic vehicle

It flies. It dives. It swims. It's a flapping-wing insect-size microbot. It's ... RobotBee!
October 23, 2015

The Harvard RoboBee: a potential dual aerial-aquatic vehicle (credit: Harvard Microrobotics Lab)

In 1939, Russian engineer Boris Ushakov proposed a “flying submarine” — a cool James Bond-style vehicle that could seamlessly transition from air to water and back again. Ever since, engineers have been trying to design one, with little success. The biggest challenge: aerial vehicles require large airfoils like wings or sails to generate lift, while underwater vehicles need to minimize surface area to reduce drag.

Engineers at the … read more

Mass extinctions linked to comet and asteroid showers

October 22, 2015

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, a new study concludes. An artist's illustration of a major asteroid impact on Earth. (credit: NASA/Don Davis)

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, scientists conclude in a new study published in an open-access paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters — caused by comet and asteroid showers — on Earth.

In… read more

Largest astronomical image to date contains 46 billion pixels

Accessible for online viewing
October 22, 2015

A small section of the Milky Way photo showing Eta Carinae (credit: Lehrstuhl für Astrophysik, RUB)

Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany have compiled the largest astronomical image to date: a picture of the Milky Way containing 46 billion pixels, viewable here (you can enter an object name, such as “Eta Carinae,” in the lower-left box).

The image was generated over a period of five years of astronomical observations by two telescopes at Bochum’s university observatory in the Atacama Desert… read more

Custom 3-D printed ear models help surgeons carve new ears

October 21, 2015

Children with under-formed or missing ears can undergo surgeries to fashion a new ear from rib cartilage, as shown in the above photo. But aspiring surgeons lack lifelike practice models. (credit: University of Washington)

A University of Washington (UW) otolaryngology resident and a bioengineering student have used 3-D printing to create a low-cost pediatric rib cartilage model that more closely resembles the feel of real cartilage, which is used in an operation called auricular reconstruction (ear replacement).

The innovation could make it possible for aspiring surgeons to become proficient in the sought-after but challenging procedure. And because the UW… read more

Is your thinking chaotic? There’s a model for that.

How the mind processes sequential memory may help understand psychiatric disorders
October 21, 2015

Limitless (credit: CBS)

Try to remember a phone number. You’re now using “sequential memory,” in which your mind processes a sequence of numbers, events, or ideas. It underlies how people think, perceive, and interact as social beings. To understand how sequential memory works, researchers have built mathematical models that mimic this process.

Cognitive modes

Taking this a step further, Mikhail Rabinovich, a physicist and neurocognitive scientist at the University of California,… read more

A powerful new ‘tool’ for assembling biomolecules

Replaces the existing expensive and complex process needed when synthesizing new chemicals --- could revolutionize pharmaceutical and biomaterials manufacturing
October 21, 2015

Proposed new simplified chemical reaction for assembling biomolecules in a single step (credit: Tiffany Piou & Tomislav Rovis/Nature)

Colorado State University chemists have invented a single chemical reaction that couples two constituent chemicals into a carbon-carbon bond, while simultaneously introducing a nitrogen component. The process promises to replace a multi-step, expensive, and complex process needed when synthesizing new chemicals — for drug creation and testing, for example.

The researchers were able to control this reaction to make the nitrogen atoms go exactly where they want them to,… read more

Most Earth-like worlds have yet to be born, says new NASA study

October 20, 2015

This is an artist's impression of innumerable Earth-like planets that have yet to be born over the next trillion years in the evolving universe. (credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI); Science: NASA, ESA, P. Behroozi and M. Peeples (STScI))

When our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago, only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed, according to an assessment of data collected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Kepler space observatory and published today (Oct. 20) in an open-access paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In… read more

How to control heartbeats more precisely, using light

October 20, 2015

Using computer-generated light patterns, researchers were able to control the direction of spiralling electrical waves in heart cells. (credit: Eana Park)

Researchers from Oxford and Stony Brook universities has found a way to precisely control the electrical waves that regulate the rhythm of our heartbeat — using light. Their results are published in the journal Nature Photonics.

Cardiac cells in the heart and neurons in the brain communicate by electrical signals, and these messages of communication travel fast from cell to cell as “excitation waves.”… read more

A portable paper-smartphone device that analyzes trace pesticides

A fast, low-cost device for home use
October 20, 2015

The prototype smartphone-based detection system – courtesy of Professor Mei et al., the images first appeared in the paper in Biosensors and Bioelectronics. (credit: Elsevier)

A new system that may allow people to detect pesticides cheaply and rapidly, combining a paper sensor and an Android program on a smartphone, has been developed by researchers in China and Singapore, according to a new study published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

As the potential effects of pesticides on health become clearer, it is increasingly important to be able to detect them in the environment… read more

A metamaterial that enhances thermal energy harvesting

October 19, 2015

A schematic drawing shows a metamaterial surface with bow-tie antennas (credit: Won Park/University of Colorado)

Scientists from the University of Colorado are developing a new type of “rectenna” to efficiently “harvest” thermal emissions (waste heat) radiated from devices (a rectenna converts electromagnetic radiation to DC current).

Currently rectennas work best at low frequencies, but most heat is at higher radiation frequencies — up to the 100 THz (100 trillion cycles per second) range. So Won Park and his… read more

Engineered viruses provide quantum-based enhancement of energy transport

October 19, 2015

Rendering of a virus used in the MIT experiments. The light-collecting centers, called chromophores, are in red, and chromophores that just absorbed a photon of light are glowing white. After the virus is modified to adjust the spacing between the chromophores, energy can jump from one set of chromophores to the next faster and more efficiently. (credit: the researchers and Lauren Alexa Kaye)

MIT engineers have achieved a significant efficiency boost in a light-harvesting system, using genetically engineered viruses to achieve higher efficiency in transporting energy from receptors to reaction centers where it can be harnessed, making use of the exotic effects of quantum mechanics. Emulating photosynthesis in nature, it could lead to inexpensive and efficient solar cells or light-driven catalysis,

This achievement in coupling quantum research and genetic manipulation,… read more

3-D-printed ‘soft’ robotic tentacle with new level of octopus agility

October 19, 2015


Cornell University engineers have developed a process for 3D-printing a soft robotic tentacle that mimics the complex movements and degree of freedom of an octopus tentacle.

The tentacle achieves its dexterity through a 3-dimensional arrangement of muscles in three mutually perpendicular directions (longitudinal, transverse and helical). The process uses an elastomeric (both elastic and flows) material combined with a low-cost, reliable, and simple method for… read more

Carbon nanotubes found in cells from airways of asthmatic children in Paris

Carbon nanotubes, possibly from cars, are ubiquitous, found even in ice cores --- we may all have them in our lungs, say Rice scientists
October 19, 2015

carbon in lung cells

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been found in cells extracted from the airways of Parisian children under routine treatment for asthma, according to a report in the journal EBioMedicine (open access) by scientists in France and at Rice University.

The cells were taken from 69 randomly selected asthma patients aged 2 to 17 who underwent routine fiber-optic bronchoscopies as part of their treatment. The… read more

Artificial ‘skin’ system transmits the pressure of touch

Might someday be applied to prosthetics to mimic human skin’s ability to feel sensation
October 16, 2015

Model robotic hand with artificial mechanoreceptors (credit: Bao Research Group, Stanford University)

Researchers have created a sensory system that mimics the ability of human skin to feel pressure and have transmitted the digital signals from the system’s sensors to the brain cells of mice. These new developments, reported in the October 16 issue of Science, could one day allow people living with prosthetics to feel sensation in their artificial limbs.

The system consists of printed plastic circuits, designed to… read more

Graphene nano-coils discovered to be powerful natural electromagnets

The solenoid/inductor may become one of the remaining bulky electronic parts to be nanoscaled
October 16, 2015

A nano-coil made of graphene could be an effective solenoid inductor for electronic applications, according to researchers at Rice University (credit: Yakobson Research Group/Rice University)

Rice University scientists have discovered that a widely used electronic part called a solenoid could be scaled down to nano-size with macro-scale performance.

The secret: a spiral form of atom-thin graphene that, remarkably, can be found in nature, even in common coal, according to Rice theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his colleagues.

The researchers determined that when a voltage is applied to… read more

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