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Science News

Scientists take first dip into water's mysterious 'no-man's land'

An X-ray laser pulse at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source probes a supercooled water droplet (center, left). The speed and brightness of the X-ray pulses allowed researchers to study water molecules in the instant before freezing.DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have made the first structural observations of liquid water at temperatures down to minus 51 degrees Fahrenheit, within an elusive "no-man's land" where water's strange properties are super-amplified.

The research, made possible by SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser and reported June 18 in Nature, opens a new window for exploring liquid water in these exotic conditions, and promises to improve our understanding of its unique properties at the more natural temperatures and states that are relevant to global ocean currents, climate and biology.

Scientists have known for some time that water can remain liquid at extremely cold temperatures, but they've never before been able to examine its molecular structure in this zone.

"Water is not only essential for life as we know it, but it also has very strange properties compared to most other liquids," said Anders Nilsson, deputy director of the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, a joint SLAC/Stanford institute, and leader of the research. "Now, thanks to LCLS, we have finally been able to enter this cold zone that should provide new information about the unique nature of water."

New Fossil Fox Discovery Supports Out-of-Tibet Hypothesis

The exciting discovery of an extinct species of Tibetan fox adds more credence to the out-of-Tibet hypothesis, in which the Tibetan Plateau served as a cradle of Ice Age megafauna in northern Eurasia.
This is an artist's reconstruction of the fauna of Zanda basin - the richest basin on the Tibetan Plateau - from the Pliocene (about 5 to 3 million years ago). Image credit: Julie Selan / Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.by Sci-News.com

For the last 2.5 million years, Earth has experienced cold and warm, millennia-long cycles that collectively have become known as the Ice Age.

During cold periods, continental-scale ice sheets blanketed large tracts of the northern hemisphere. As the climate warmed up, these colossal glaciers receded.

The advance and retreat of the ice sheets also had a profound influence in the evolution and geographic distribution of many animals, including those that live today in the Arctic regions.

Previously, paleontologists described a great number of extinct, cold-adapted species – of a wooly rhino (Coelodonta thibetana), three-toed horse (Hipparion), Tibetan bharal (Pseudois, known as blue sheep), chiru (Pantholops, known as Tibetan antelope), snow leopard (Uncia), badger (Meles), and 23 other mammals – that lived in what is now the Tibetan Plateau during the Pliocene and Pleistocene (5 million to 11,500 years ago).

Technology News

Making smartphones smarter with see-through sensors: Pack more apps into new real estate, the display glass itself

An invisible waveguide (pathway for light) being written via laser into a smartphone's display glass is shown. The waveguide is a horizontal line from the left side of the screen, but it cannot be seen with the naked eye.The Optical Society

Your smartphone's display glass could soon be more than just a pretty face, thanks to new technology developed by researchers from Montreal and the New York-based company Corning Incorporated. The team has created the first laser-written light-guiding systems that are efficient enough to be developed for commercial use. They describe their work in a paper published today in The Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal, Optics Express.

This revolutionary work could open up new real estate in the phone by embedding the glass with layer upon layer of sensors, including ones that could take your temperature, assess your blood sugar levels if you're diabetic or even analyze DNA.

The researchers have used their new technology to build two completely transparent systems -- a temperature sensor and a new system for authenticating a smartphone using infrared light -- into a type of glass that's currently used in most smartphones.

In addition to biomedical sensors, the technology could also eventually allow computing devices to be embedded into any glass surface, such as windows or tabletops, creating the transparent touchscreens seen in movies like Avatar and Iron Man, the researchers say.

Harley-Davidson’s First Electric Motorcycle Surprisingly Doesn’t Suck

Harley-DavidsonBy Alex Davies

Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle, or even a brand. It is an icon, one that brings to mind big, loud bikes ridden by burly men with tattoos and beards. The company has long been known for rumbling V-twin engines and the open road. All of which makes the idea of an electric Harley seem downright absurd.

It’s actually pretty cool.

The LiveWire is the first electric two-wheeler out of Milwaukee. We spent an afternoon riding one amongst the weeds and broken glass of an abandoned Marine Corps runway outside Los Angeles last week and came away impressed. The Hell’s Angels aren’t going to be riding them anytime soon, but the bike offers an entertaining blend of power and comfort. It doesn’t sound anything at all like a proper Harley—or a “fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier” as Harley brass say—but it’s got a futuristic sound that brings to mind an airliner taking to the air.

The LiveWire may not rumble like the Harleys everyone knows, and it doesn’t perform like them. But it’ll hit 60 mph in under four seconds and it’s got more style than other electrics we’ve ridden. Now Harley has to find out if anyone actually wants the thing.

Environmental News

Goats In The City? Making A Case For Detroit's Munching Mowers

Goats graze in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood.by Maanvi Singh

As more urban folk strive to produce their own food, gardens both large and small are popping up everywhere. And while it's not unheard of for city dwellers to keep bees and even chickens, only a brave few have been willing to try their hand at goats.

Like billionaire Mark Spitznagel, who recently tried to revitalize Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood with a herd of 18 baby goats.

As The New York Times reported, the plan was to direct the goats from Spitznagel's nearby in Michigan to graze on overgrown, abandoned lots. He would employ locals to herd and raise the animals, and eventually they'd be sold as meat. But the project met resistance. It's against the law in Detroit to keep farm animals in the city, and Spitznagel's herd was kicked out after two days.

So how hard is it to keep goats in a city anyway? Fans of these weed-munching animals point out that goats are an eco-friendly landscaping option, their meat is a staple in diets around the world and their milk makes for some delicious cheese. It also helps that they're totally adorable.

Expansion of US marine protected zone could double world reserves

The protected area around Palmyra atoll will be significantly extendedBy Matt McGrath

The US plans to create the world's biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km.

The extended zone would double the world's fully protected marine reserves.

Rare species

The Pacific Remote Islands Area is controlled by the US and consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

Medical News

Autoimmune diseases stopped in mice

Experimental treatment halted diabetes, MS without ruining rodents’ ability to fight infection
by Tina Hesman Saey

A new strategy to rebalance out-of-control immune systems could one day stop autoimmune diseases. The method, tested in mice, preserves the body’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses.

Autoimmune diseases result when the immune system mistakes some of the body’s proteins for invaders and attacks organs. Doctors usually treat such disorders — including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis —with immune-suppressing drugs. The drugs calm the attacks but damage the ability to fight infections and cancer.

But research now shows that the immune system can relearn that the body’s proteins are friends, not foes. Scientists broke down and rebuilt the immune systems of mice with diseases that mimic type 1 diabetes and MS. The treatment stopped the progress of diabetes in four out of five mice and put animals with a disease similar to MS into remission, the team reports in the June 18 Science Translational Medicine.

Achilles' heel in antibiotic-resistant bacteria discovered

Researchers investigated Gram-negative bacteria, which cause a vast range of infections, including e-coli, salmonella, gonorrhea, pseudomonas, and meningitis. The outer surface of a Gram-negative bacterial cell acts as a disguising “cloak” that provides a barrier against toxic compounds such as antibiotics and camouflages the invading organism to evade detection and destruction by the body’s defences. Using the intense light produced by Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchotron science facility, to study these bacteria at an atomic level, the researchers were able to pinpoint the structure of the integral protein responsible for the final stage of creating the bacteria’s camouflage.University of East Anglia

New research published today in the journal Nature reveals an Achilles' heel in the defensive barrier which surrounds drug-resistant bacterial cells.

The findings pave the way for a new wave of drugs that kill superbugs by bringing down their defensive walls rather than attacking the bacteria itself. It means that in future, bacteria may not develop drug-resistance at all.

The discovery doesn't come a moment too soon. The World Health Organization has warned that antibiotic-resistance in bacteria is spreading globally, causing severe consequences. And even common infections which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

Researchers investigated a class of bacteria called 'Gram-negative bacteria' which is particularly resistant to antibiotics because of its cells' impermeable lipid-based outer membrane.

Space News

Unexpected findings: Small asteroids can be flying rock clusters or even clouds of dust surrouding solid rocks

An artist's conception of two possible views of asteroid 2011 MD.Northern Arizona University

What seemed to be rock-solid assumptions about the nature of small asteroids may end in collections of rubble or even a cloud of dust, but in such findings lies the lure of the unexpected.

Northern Arizona University researchers David Trilling and Michael Mommert, while playing a well-defined role in the NASA Asteroid Initiative, are beginning to wonder if they have found a separate path of investigation.

The two researchers presented their findings about asteroid 2011 MD on Thursday during a NASA event updating progress on the path to capturing a small asteroid and relocating it for a closer look by astronauts in the 2020s.

The job of Trilling and Mommert was to use the infrared capabilities of the Spitzer Space Telescope to determine the size of 2011 MD, which needs to be within a narrow range for the mission to succeed. Trilling, an associate professor, explained that using infrared light is the most accurate way to determine an asteroid's size because visible light through a traditional telescope fails to distinguish a small, highly reflective asteroid from a large one with little reflectivity.

NASA to Test Flying Saucer-Shaped Vehicle

Engineers and scientists from NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project are about to test a new technology for landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary surfaces.
A saucer-shaped test vehicle holding equipment for landing large payloads on Mars is shown at the US Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. This image was taken during a hang-angle measurement, in which engineers set the rocket motor to the appropriate angle for the high-altitude test. The nozzle and the lower half of the Star-48 solid rocket motor are the dark objects seen in the middle of the image below the saucer. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.by Sci-News.com

The objective of an experimental flight test, planned for June 2014, is to see if the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) cutting-edge, rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle operates as it was designed – in near-space at high Mach numbers.

During the test, a balloon will carry the LDSD vehicle from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, to an altitude of about 36.5 km.

There, it will be dropped and its booster rocket will quickly kick in and carry it to 55 km, accelerating to Mach 4.

Once in the very rarified air high above the Pacific, the vehicle will begin a series of automated tests of a 6-meter supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator and a parachute.

“The success of this experimental test flight will be measured by the success of the test vehicle to launch and fly its flight profile as advertised. If our flying saucer hits its speed and altitude targets, it will be a great day,” said Mark Adler, a team member of the LDSD project.

Odd News

Blocking brain's 'internal marijuana' may trigger early Alzheimer's deficits, study shows

A new study has implicated the blocking of endocannabinoids -- signaling substances that are the brain's internal versions of the psychoactive chemicals in marijuana and hashish -- in the early pathology of Alzheimer's disease.Stanford University Medical Center

A new study led by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine has implicated the blocking of endocannabinoids -- signaling substances that are the brain's internal versions of the psychoactive chemicals in marijuana and hashish -- in the early pathology of Alzheimer's disease.

A substance called A-beta -- strongly suspected to play a key role in Alzheimer's because it's the chief constituent of the hallmark clumps dotting the brains of people with Alzheimer's -- may, in the disease's earliest stages, impair learning and memory by blocking the natural, beneficial action of endocannabinoids in the brain, the study demonstrates. The Stanford group is now trying to figure out the molecular details of how and where this interference occurs. Pinning down those details could pave the path to new drugs to stave off the defects in learning ability and memory that characterize Alzheimer's.

In the study, published June 18 in Neuron, researchers analyzed A-beta's effects on a brain structure known as the hippocampus. In all mammals, this midbrain structure serves as a combination GPS system and memory-filing assistant, along with other duties.

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