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Designing nanoparticles that can deliver drugs more easily

July 28, 2014

MIT engineers created simulations of how a gold nanoparticle coated with special molecules can penetrate a membrane. At left, the particle (top) makes contact with the membrane. At right, it has fused to the membrane. (Credit: Reid Van Lehn)

A new study led by MIT materials scientists reveals the reason why gold nanoparticles  can easily slip through cell membranes to deliver drugs directly to target cells.

The nanoparticles enter cells by taking advantage of a route normally used in vesicle-vesicle fusion, a crucial process that allows signal transmission between neurons.

In the July 21 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers describe in detail the mechanism… read more

Understanding graphene’s electrical properties at the atomic level

"If you cut it one way, it might behave more like a metal, and, if you cut it another way, it could be more like a semiconductor."
July 28, 2014

An illustration of a graphene nanoribbon shaped by the beam of a transmission electron microscope (credit: Robert Johnson)

University of Pennsylvania researchers have used a cutting-edge microscope to study the relationship between the atomic geometry of a ribbon of graphene and its electrical properties.

A deeper understanding of this relationship will be necessary for the design of graphene-based integrated circuits, computer chips, and other electronic devices.

The study was published in the journal Nano Letters.

The researchers used Brookhaven National Laboratory‘s aberration-corrected… read more

A cost-effective nanotube-based catalyst for producing hydrogen fuel

July 28, 2014

A new technology based on carbon nanotubes promises commercially viable hydrogen production from water (credit: Tewodros Asefa)

Rutgers researchers have used carbon nanotubes as a catalyst for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, which could replace expensive platinum for making clean-burning hydrogen fuel — which could one day replace expensive, environmentally harmful fossil fuels.

The Rutgers technology is also far more efficient than other low-cost catalysts investigated to date for electrolysis reactions, which use electric currents to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen,… read more

Curiosity’s images show Earth-like soils on Mars, suggest microbial life

July 26, 2014

Rover image from Gale Crater reveals soil features similar to paleosols on Earth (credit: NASA)

Ancient fossilized soils potentially found deep inside an impact crater suggest microbial life.

Soil deep in a crater dating to some 3.7 billion years ago contains evidence that Mars was once much warmer and wetter, says University of Oregon geologist Gregory Retallack, based on recent images from Curiosity.

The images from the impact Gale Crater, Retallack said, reveal Earth-like soil profiles with cracked surfaces… read more

Study suggests probiotics could prevent obesity and insulin resistance

A pill that prevents obesity (even with a high-fat diet) could be on the horizon
July 25, 2014

Obese vs. normal mouse (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Vanderbilt University researchers have discovered that engineered probiotic bacteria (“friendly” bacteria like those in yogurt) in the gut produce a therapeutic compound that inhibits weight gain, insulin resistance, and other adverse effects of a high-fat diet in mice.

“Of course it’s hard to speculate from mouse to human,” said senior investigator Sean Davies, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology. “But essentially, we’ve prevented most… read more

New clues to how synapses in the brain are programmed

July 25, 2014

Cerebellar granule cells, parallel fibers, and flattened dendritic trees of Purkinje cells (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Washington University School of Medicine researchers have identified a group of proteins that program synapses in the brain, controlling neural development and learning, with implications for conditions such as autism.

In a study of the cerebellum (which plays a central role in controlling the coordination of movement and is essential for “procedural motor learning”) of mice, published in the journal Neuron, they found that a complex of… read more

A fly-inspired miniature microphone

Hypersensitive 2-millimeter-wide device could lead to a new generation of miniaturized low-power hearing aids
July 25, 2014

This is a photograph of the biologically-inspired microphone taken under a microscope, providing a top-side view. The tiny structure rotates and flaps about the pivots (labeled), producing an electric potential across the electrodes (labeled). (Credit: N. Hall/UT Austin)

University of Texas Austin researchers have developed a tiny prototype microphone device that mimics the Ormia ochraceafly’s hearing mechanism. The design may be useful for a new generation of hypersensitive, millimeter-sized, low-power hearing aids.

The yellow-colored Ormia ochracea fly, the inspiration for the design, can pinpoint the location of a chirping cricket with remarkable accuracy because of its freakishly acute hearing, which relies upon a sophisticated sound processing… read more

New Google X Project to look for disease and health patterns in collected data

July 25, 2014

Smart contact lens (credit: Google)

Google X has launched a new Moonshot project called Baseline Study to “collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people—and later thousands more—to create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be,” says The Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Google will collect samples and look for disease and health biomarkers, or patterns.

The project is run by… read more

How to prevent diseases of aging

July 24, 2014

By 2050, the number of people aged over 60 years is projected to be five times that in 1950 (credit: Luigi Fontana, Brian K. Kennedy, and and Valter D. Longo/Nature)

By 2050, the number of people over the age of 80 will triple globally, which could come at great cost to individuals and economies.

Unfortunately, medicine focuses almost entirely on fighting chronic diseases in a piecemeal fashion as symptoms develop, researchers writing in the journal Nature say. Instead, more efforts should be directed to promoting interventions that have the potential to prevent multiple chronic diseases and extend healthy lifespans.… read more

A new approach to SETI: targeting alien polluters

July 24, 2014

In this artist's conception, the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet displays a brownish haze - the result of widespread pollution. New research shows that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope potentially could detect certain pollutants, specifically CFCs, in the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting white dwarf stars. (Credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA))

We might be able to spot extraterrestrial civilizations if we assume they spew industrial pollution into the atmosphere, say theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Conversely, ET could spot us.

The team suggests that under ideal conditions, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — aerosols and ozone-destroying chemicals used in solvents.… read more

Designing the exascale computers of the future

July 24, 2014

Tianhe-2-supercomputer

Several groups in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), are contributing to the basic science and engineering that will be needed to create the hardware and software for the next generation of supercomputers.

The goal: an exascale machine, performing at least 1018 (sextillian) operations per second — 30 times faster than the current fastest machine in the world, China’s Tianhe-2, capable of an Rmax* of 33.86… read more

A robot with two extra fingers helps you grip stuff

July 23, 2014

The 7-fingered hand can perform tasks that would usually require two hands, such as holding up a tablet computer and typing letters on it (credit: Harry Asad and Faye Wu)

MIT researchers have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand.

The device, worn around your wrist, works like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb.

A novel control algorithm enables it to move in sync with the wearer’s fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. Wearing the robot, a user could use one hand to hold the… read more

Chinese city sealed off after man dies from bubonic plague

July 23, 2014

Yersinia pestis bacteria (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Chinese city of Yumen in Gansu province in China was sealed off Tuesday for nine days (ending today) after a man died of bubonic plague,  South China Post reports, based on a report by China Central Television.

“Other reports said the 38-year-old victim had come across a dead marmot on July 13. He is said to have chopped it up to feed to his dog, but… read more

More-efficient solar-powered steam

Can convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam, eliminating need for complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight
July 22, 2014

solar steam generator - ft

A new carbon-based material structure developed at MIT generates steam from solar energy.

The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water.

When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light,… read more

Noninvasive retinal imaging device detects Alzheimer’s 20 years in advance

Device could be FDA-approved by 2015 and early signs of Alzheimer's could be detected in a regular ophthalmologist exam
July 22, 2014

Retina test for Alzheimers - feat

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center researchers have developed a noninvasive retinal imaging device that can provide early detection of changes indicating Alzheimer’s disease 15 to 20 years before clinical diagnosis.

“In preliminary results in 40 patients, the test could differentiate between Alzheimer’s disease and non-Alzheimer’s disease with 100 percent sensitivity and 80.6 percent specificity, meaning that all people with the disease tested positive and most of the people without… read more

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