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Science News Reports

Mechanobiology: Enzyme micropump autonomously delivers insulin in response to glucose levels
(Phys.org) —For next-generation smart devices, autonomy is key. These devices will be able to power themselves, independently respond to stimuli, and perform different kinds of work, all without human intervention. With
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Easter Lilies Kill Cats, FDA Warns 14 April 2014, 20.38 Science
Easter Lilies Kill Cats, FDA Warns
Lilies are poisonous to cats. Credit: via Shutterstock Easter lilies are a popular decoration around this time of year, but it might be best to avoid having them in your house if you have a curious cat, the Food and
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Unusual Bacteria Gobbles Up Carbon in the Ocean
Underneath the floating debris in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA - Marine Debris Program. A single strain of marine bacteria called Alteromonas may consume as much dissolved carbon in the ocean as an entire, diverse
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What You Post On Yelp Says More About You Than About The Food
"Like meth, but in a good way." "Seriously, the Bacon Maple is like heroin." "These cupcakes are like crack."  When people review cheap restaurants in particular on Yelp, they often use drug metaphors, and speak in the
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Alzheimer's Gene Has Greater Effect on Women 14 April 2014, 20.38 Science
Alzheimer's Gene Has Greater Effect on Women
Credit: Artem Chernyshevych | Stock Xchng Women with a certain gene are more likely than men with the same gene to develop Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests. In the study, healthy older women with the gene,
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Explore The Deep Ocean While You Eat Lunch 14 April 2014, 20.38 Science
Explore The Deep Ocean While You Eat Lunch
Visit shipwrecks, coral reefs, canyons, and more with NOAA researchers as they livestream an expedition from the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Okeanos Explorer. By Posted 04.14.2014 at 10:39 am 0 The ship Okeanos
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What is Anthropology? 14 April 2014, 20.38 Science
What is Anthropology?
Physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of human beings and hominids to investigate human disease, diet, genetics and lifestyle. Credit: Photobank gallery | Shutterstock Anthropology is the study of
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LIGO Lasers Could Help Reveal Aftermath of Black Hole Crashes
A still frame from a computer animation shows two binary neutron stars coalescing into a black hole. Taken from the video, "LIGO, A Passion for Understanding," by Kai Staats. Credit: Kai Staats A powerful scientific tool
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Software Shows What Children Will Look Like In 70 Years, With Unprecedented Accuracy
Look at a kid under the age of five, and it's hard to imagine what he'll look like in 70 years. But this new piece of software does just that. Check out this series of photos, which compares actual photos of a boy as he grows
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Japan Company To Give Maglev Tech To U.S. For Free
The Japanese rail operator JR Tokai said it would not charge the US to license its proprietary "maglev" technology, which allows trains to hover about 4 inches (10 centimeters) above tracks and travel at speeds of 310 mph
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Cherry Trees That Flew To Space Bloom Six Years Early
Japanese astronauts took hundreds of cherry tree seeds with them to the International Space Station in 2008-2009, after which they were planted in several locations throughout Japan. About 265 seeds were taken from a
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Varicose Veins & Spider Veins: Causes & Treatment
By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer   |   April 15, 2014 01:16am ET Varicose veins are usually harmless, but in some people, they can lead to serious problems. Credit: schankz | Shutterstock Varicose veins are spidery,
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Trolls In Their Natural Habitats: An Analysis Of Comments On TED Talks
Think of it as a study of the natural behaviors of the troll. A team of information science researchers recently analyzed the comments people make on recorded TED talks. Actually, the researchers found that the majority of
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Have galactic 'radio loops' been mistaken for B-mode polarization?
"Radio loop" emissions, rather than signatures of the early universe, could account for the observation of B-mode polarization announced by the BICEP2 collaboration earlier this year. That is the claim of a trio of
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Atom-thin sheets are transferred with ease 14 April 2014, 20.38 Science
Atom-thin sheets are transferred with ease
Picking up a tiny flake of material just one atom thick and placing it with precision onto a substrate is no easy task. But now it has become a bit easier, thanks to researchers at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in the
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Single-atom gates open the door to quantum computing
A quantum-information analogue of the transistor has been unveiled by two independent groups in Germany and the US. Both devices comprise a single atom that can switch the quantum state of a single photon. The results are a
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Acoustic metamaterial can be reconfigured in a jiffy
A metamaterial with acoustic properties that can be reconfigured in less than one tenth of a second has been made by researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK. Created by Mihai Caleap and Bruce Drinkwater, the device
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Plasmonic waveguide stops light in its tracks 14 April 2014, 20.37 Science
Plasmonic waveguide stops light in its tracks
A simple, solid-state waveguide that can "stop" light has been proposed by physicists in the UK. The researchers say that their device – which has yet to be built in the lab – would be straightforward to create and could
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A deluge of data in Dublin 14 April 2014, 20.37 Science
A deluge of data in Dublin
With global data output growing rapidly, it is vital that researchers come together to build the social and technical bridges required to enable open sharing of research data. The organization charged with achieving this is
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Data Avenue for easy storage access 14 April 2014, 20.37 Science
Data Avenue for easy storage access
Discover Data Avenue, a service that makes transferring large amounts of data between distributed computing infrastructures
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Modeling heavy-ion collisions with Open Science Grid
During its cooling and rapid expansion, the universe underwent a phase transition from a Quark-Gluon-Plasma state to form hadrons (protons and neutrons), the building blocks of matter as we know it. One of the main tasks in
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Hepatitis C treatment appears extremely effective
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager Read Later Facebook Reddit Google+ A mix of four medications has provided the most effective way so far to counter the hepatitis C virus in people with
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The surprising life of a piece of sunken wood 14 April 2014, 20.37 Science
The surprising life of a piece of sunken wood
Wood-boring clams are among the first creatures to settle on wood underwater. They have jawlike shells that help them to burrow and gut bacteria that assist in the digestion of cellulose. The ocean is full of unique
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Turkana Boy sparks row over Homo erectus height
 GETTING BIGGER, MAYBE  Scientists disagree about whether a Homo erectus boy from 1.5 million years ago, represented here by a cast of the child’s skull, had a modern, humanlike teenage growth spurt. Read
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Ocean bacteria may have shut off ancient global warming
 WARMER WORLD  The amount of carbon-containing matter falling to the deep ocean increased during an extraordinarily warm period around 56 million years ago, researchers argue. In this computer simulation of the
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Ancient boy died surprisingly young 14 April 2014, 20.37 Science
Ancient boy died surprisingly young
 Read Later Facebook Reddit Google+ CALGARY, Alberta—  A nearly 2-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba skeleton from South Africa belonged to a boy who was just 7.5 years old when he plunged to his death
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Reef fish act drunk in carbon dioxide–rich ocean waters
 SMELL NO EVIL  Young damselfishes (shown) living in carbon dioxide-rich waters have trouble detecting predator odors, compared to fish in areas with less CO2 dissolved in the water.   Read Later Facebook
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Solar cells made from polar nanocrystal inks show promising early performance
(Phys.org) —Achieving a balance between low-cost fabrication and high efficiency is key to the future success of solar cells. Over the past several years, researchers have been working on developing low-cost methods to
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'Clever Editing' Warps Scientists' Words in New Geocentrism Film
Geocentrism, a long-debunked idea, holds that the Earth is the center of the universe. Credit: JAXA, CC BY-NC-ND. Four prominent cosmologists say they were misquoted in a documentary trailer promoting a claim debunked
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Viagra Ice Cream Arouses Controversy 14 April 2014, 18.59 Science
Viagra Ice Cream Arouses Controversy
Credit: Lick Me I'm Delicious The long list of unnatural food combinations just grew a little bigger: Viagra and Champagne ice cream. The treat — which has the familiar blue hue of the popular erectile dysfunction (ED)
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Unhappy Workers Name Their Biggest Complaints 14 April 2014, 18.59 Science
Unhappy Workers Name Their Biggest Complaints
Unhappy workers have lots of reasons to dislike their jobs. Credit: Unhappy employees image via Shutterstock The discontent U.S. workers have for their job has many looking for new opportunities. Overall, nearly 20
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Near-Complete T. Rex Skeleton Arrives at Smithsonian
A 66-million-year-old T. rex fossil was unveiled at its new home, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, on April 15, 2014. Credit: Smithsonian | Ustream Joining a diverse roster of iconic American objects
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Watch Live: Scientists Explore a Mysterious Deep Sea World
Marine life, including tubeworms, clusters on the shore of a brine pool in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition) This month, you can fly along the Gulf of Mexico
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Under a Blood Moon: 1st Total Lunar Eclipse of 2014 Wows Stargazers (Photos)
The moon took on an eerie blood-red hue early Tuesday during the first total lunar eclipse of 2014, a celestial sight that wowed potentially millions of stargazers across North and South America. The total lunar eclipse of
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How Mountains In Our Solar System Compare [Infographic]
Hawaii's Mauna Kea is a gigantic mountain—but it doesn't quite stack up to some of the other landforms in our solar system. Here's a look at our neighbors' most impressive peaks. This article originally appeared in the May
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Scientists Rank World's Most 'Evolutionarily Distinct' Birds
Is a bird more worth saving from extinction if it is evolutionarily unique, as well as physically rare? That's one challenging question raised by newly published research that factors together the distinct evolutionary
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How Carl Sagan Described Death To His Young Daughter
When your dad is Carl Sagan, your first lessons on death aren't sugar-coated. But they are nevertheless sweet and compassionate. That's how Sasha Sagan, Carl's daughter, describes them in a recent essay in New York magazine.
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Laetoli footprints show signs of unusual gait 14 April 2014, 18.58 Science
Laetoli footprints show signs of unusual gait
 WALK IT BACK  A new analysis of 3.6-million-year-old footprints excavated in 1978 at Laetoli, Tanzania, challenges the argument that early hominids strode in much the same manner as people today do. Shown is a cast
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Earliest case of a battered child found in Greece
 Read Later Facebook Reddit Google+ CALGARY, Alberta — A pit where Athenians living 2,200 years ago typically deposited fetuses and babies who had died of natural causes contained a grim surprise for Maria
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Modern hunter-gatherers' guts host distinct microbes
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager Hadza women dig for plant food, which makes their diet rich in fiber and influences the microbes in their gut. The bacteria of the hunter-gatherers' guts are
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History of the Celts 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
History of the Celts
A stone sculpture of a Celtic hero is displayed in the National Museum in Prague, Czech Republic. Credit: Kozuch / Creative Commons. The “Celts” refer to a people that thrived in both ancient and modern times. Today,
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Fiber's Cancer-Fighting Effect Depends on Gut Bacteria
Bacteria Credit: Dreamstime SAN DIEGO — A high-fiber diet may protect against colon cancer, but only if you have the right gut bacteria, a new study in mice suggests. In the study, mice were fed either a low- or
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Rare Earthquake Strikes Southern France 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Rare Earthquake Strikes Southern France
Map of earthquake today (April 7, 2014) in southern France. Credit: EMSC An earthquake of preliminary magnitude 5.0 shook southern France today (April 7), according to France's National Seismic Monitoring Network. The
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Miscarriage: Signs, Symptoms & Causes 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Miscarriage: Signs, Symptoms & Causes
By Elaine J. Hom, Live Science Contributor   |   April 07, 2014 05:10pm ET Ten to 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. Credit: Maridav | Shutterstock A miscarriage is the loss of
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Pancreas: Function, Location & Diseases 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Pancreas: Function, Location & Diseases
By Jessie Szalay, Live Science Contributor   |   April 07, 2014 05:04pm ET The pancreas is located deep inside the abdomen. Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki The pancreas is an abdominal organ that is part of the
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Predicting Mars Cuisine: Grasshoppers with a Side of Fungi (Op-Ed)
Thai grasshopper snack food in Bangkok, Thailand. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Doug Turnbull is a hard-science-fiction writer. The majority of his books, novellas and short stories confront problems faced by early settlers
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The Week In Numbers: An Alien Ocean, Beer-Flavored Jelly Beans, And More
310 miles: the diameter of Saturn's moon Enceladus, whose large underground ocean is now a top candidate for extraterrestrial life 10 million microbes per square centimeter: the population density of human skin (see what's
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Watch Rare Footage Of Living, Swimming Oarfish 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Watch Rare Footage Of Living, Swimming Oarfish
Behold the oarfish, the world's longest bony fish. The beasts typically live hundreds of feet below the ocean surface are thus are rarely seen. Since 2002, however, a few videos (like the one above) have surfaced and given
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Enjoy The Feeling Of Adderall? You May Be Less Likely To Develop ADHD
Amphetamine, the primary ingredient in Adderall, is commonly taken by people with ADHD to improve their focus, memory, and so on. Some people in particular who take this drug, also known as dextroamphetamine, report
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How Surgeons Are Learning From The Hands Rodin Sculpted
Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor, spent a lot of time observing the human anatomy, which helped him to convey emotions in his artwork. “Every part of the human figure is expressive,” he said.A hundred years later, Dr.
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How It Works: A Private Moon Lander 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
How It Works: A Private Moon Lander
Next year, robots will land on the moon, competing for the Google Lunar XPrize. The contest offers $40 million in rewards, including a $20 million grand prize. Winning is fairly straightforward: Safely land a privately funded
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Designed Like We Give A Dam: New Proposals To Protect New York Coastal Communities
Click here to enter the gallery. Ten proposals are vying for funding to prepare the New York metro region for disasters like Superstorm Sandy and make recovery from such events easier, cheaper, and faster. Organized by a
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Father’s obesity linked to autism in children
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager A father's unhealthily high body mass index may influence the risk of his child developing autism, a new study suggests. Bill Branson/National Cancer Institute
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Surgery museum holds wonders for the brave 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Surgery museum holds wonders for the brave
BODY WORK  Anatomical displays sit alongside art depicting medical history at the International Museum of Surgical Science. You would expect a place called the International Museum of Surgical Science to display a lot of
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Tiny minerals may have shaped Earth's first plate boundaries
 Weakened rock may explain the origin of plate tectonics, a simulation finds CRACKING EARTH’S SKIN  Intermittent weakening of corridors of crust on early Earth could have created plate boundaries through
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If your kid hates broccoli, try, try again 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
If your kid hates broccoli, try, try again
DO NOT WANT  Food pickiness tends to peak in kids between ages 2 and 6. Studies suggest that overcoming an aversion to a particular food takes six to 14 tries — more than many parents are willing to try. CarbonNYC/Flickr
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Meet Big Bird, highest-energy neutrino ever detected
 Your daily roundup of research news Ashley Yeager This figure illustrates the detection of the record-setting high-energy neutrino named Big Bird. The red region represents the initial flash of light triggered by
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Ancient crustacean had elaborate heart 08 April 2014, 02.16 Science
Ancient crustacean had elaborate heart
The early ancestors of insects, centipedes and crustaceans had big hearts. A fossil from 520 million years ago shows that the now-extinct Fuxianhuia protensa had a broad spindly heart that extended into a complex system of
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Scientists crack oyster's secret of strength 08 April 2014, 02.15 Science
Scientists crack oyster's secret of strength
A series of nanoscale mechanisms that make a transparent oyster shell resistant to the piercing teeth of predators has been revealed by researchers in the US. The discovery could lead to better transparent protective
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Tiny mechanical resonator made from just four molecules
Researchers in Austria have made the smallest ever man-made nanomechanical resonator from just four molecules. The oscillating cantilever is not only of interest for fundamental studies in quantum physics, but could also be
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Interferometry tips the scales on antimatter 08 April 2014, 02.15 Science
Interferometry tips the scales on antimatter
A new technique for measuring how antimatter falls under gravity has been proposed by researchers in the US. The team says that its device – based on cooling atoms of antimatter and making them interfere – could also help
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Europe launches first Sentinel satellite 08 April 2014, 02.15 Science
Europe launches first Sentinel satellite
The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched the first satellite belonging to a dedicated programme that will monitor the Earth in unprecedented detail. Launched yesterday on a Soyuz rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou
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Carbonaceous 'cosmic barometer' reveals universe's history
Certain carbon-based molecules could be used to trace extreme pressure and temperature environments in the universe that are caused by supernovae or colliding planets, thanks to new research carried out by scientists in the
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Saliva-powered microbial fuel cell built 08 April 2014, 02.15 Science
Saliva-powered microbial fuel cell built
A micron-sized microbial fuel cell that contains multilayer graphene and works using saliva or other waste liquids has been created by researchers in Saudi Arabia and the US. The device, which is capable of producing nearly
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What does physics reveal about the sizes of sports fields?
(Phys.org) —From ping pong tables to golf courses, the sizes of sports fields vary widely. Although the sizes of sports fields were originally defined empirically—that is, by simply playing the sport rather than
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Color pixels made of nanowires offer new paradigm for digital cameras
(Phys.org) —Most of today's digital cameras achieve color by using red, green, and blue Bayer color filters through which light passes on its way to the camera's image sensors, which then convert the light into
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Econophysics: Can antimoney prevent the next financial crisis?
(Phys.org) —Borrowing and lending money are essential interactions in a thriving economy, yet they come with their own set of risks. For instance, the credit money that is often involved in lending is thought to play a
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A cure for clashing qubits: Researchers successfully entangle different-color photons
(Phys.org) —While two-photon interference is an important way of entangling independent identical photons, it does not handle different-color photons with the same aplomb. Recently, scientists at the University of
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Earth News Reports

Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Tommy Hilfiger Adds Eyewear to Philanthropic “Millennium Promise” Line Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution by Helen Morgan , 04/14/14   filed under: Eco-Fashion
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Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: First Fair-Trade-, Fair-Labor-Certified Clothing Arrives in the U.S. Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses by Amy DuFault , 04/14/14   filed under: Features,
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Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial)
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Recycle a Necktie Into a Camera Strap (DIY Tutorial) DIY Nation Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial) by Blair Wilson, Textile Arts Center , 04/14/14   filed
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The Awesome Reason You’ll Never See a UPS Truck Take a Left Turn in the U.S.
Share on TumblrEmail Email and text messages may have replaced snail mail, but there are some things that you just can’t send electronically. While the Internet may have killed the handwritten letter, all
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Hybrid Skylys Flying Car is an Electric Vehicle, Helicopter and Plane Rolled Into One
Share on TumblrEmail The dream of flying cars dates back to the 1960s when the animated series “The Jetsons” envisioned a future where these airborne vehicles dominate the sky. In the past few years the
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Glow-in-the-Dark ‘Smart Highways’ Replace Street Lights in the Netherlands
Share on TumblrEmail Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced standard street lighting on a 500 meter stretch of highway in The Netherlands. This project is the first stage of a concept
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WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014
WordPress has become a tool used by millions of designers for much more than creating blogs. Each week we take a look at what’s new with WordPress. For more regular news, tutorials and tricks, check out our blog about
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Whimsical lighting collection 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Whimsical lighting collection
Ingo Maurer‘s nickname is “The poet of light”. I’m pretty sure you will understand why by taking a look at the images in this post. Via Beautiful Life. The post Whimsical lighting collection appeared
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Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design
Today’s consumers are spending more and more of their time on their mobile devices. From browsing the Internet to catching up on current events, mobile devices have become an essential part of daily life. When it comes to
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Urban fabric rugs 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Urban fabric rugs
Urban fabrics is a series of area rugs inspired by the man made patterns inscribed upon the Earth’s surface through the development of our agriculture, infrastructure and architecture. The post Urban fabric rugs appeared
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
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Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
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Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Mechanobiology: Enzyme micropump autonomously delivers insulin in response to glucose levels PDF Print E-mail

(Phys.org) —For next-generation smart devices, autonomy is key. These devices will be able to power themselves, independently respond to stimuli, and perform different kinds of work, all without human intervention. With these abilities, smart devices could potentially have very wide-reaching implications.

In a recent study published in Nature Chemistry, Samudra Sengupta, et al., from The Pennsylvania State University, the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, have designed and demonstrated a self-powered micropump that autonomously delivers small molecules and proteins in response to specific chemical stimuli.

"We demonstrate that surface-anchored enzymes can act as pumps in the presence of their respective substrates, pumping fluid and particles in a directional manner," coauthor Ayusman Sen, Professor of Chemistry at Penn State, told Phys.org. "This discovery enables the design of non-mechanical, self-powered nano/microscale pumps that precisely control flow rate and turn on in response to specific stimuli. One example described in the paper is the release of insulin from a reservoir at a rate proportional to ambient glucose concentration."

As a proof-of-principle, the researchers demonstrated how an enzyme micropump can be used to pump out insulin in response to the glucose concentration in the surrounding solution. A similar process occurs in the pancreas of healthy individuals, and afterwards the increased insulin stimulates muscle and fat cells to absorb the increased amounts of glucose from the blood.

However, in individuals with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. By autonomously releasing insulin in response to glucose concentration, the enzyme micropump essentially fulfills this role of the pancreas.

Demonstration of the fluid flow produced by a urease enzyme micropump in response to the presence of urea. Credit: Sengupta, et al. ©2014 Nature

The pump itself is relatively simple, consisting of a group of enzymes that are immobilized on a substrate. If the enzymes were not immobilized, the forces that they generate by releasing fluid would cause them to move around.

The researchers built enzyme micropumps using four kinds of enzymes (catalase, lipase, urease, and glucose oxidase), each of which responds to different chemical stimuli. For each case, the researchers observed that the pumping velocity is directly dependent on the stimulus concentration, enabling controllable delivery with no external power source.

"In living systems, the motors and pumps are powered by enzymes that convert ATP to ADP," Sen explained. "What we show is that one need not be tied to this one specific reaction, and that other enzymatic reactions can also generate a mechanical force for pumping. Our results open up a new area of mechanobiology: intrinsic force generation by non-ATP-dependent enzymes and their role in fluid transport in and outside biological systems."

For the case of the insulin-producing enzyme micropump, the researchers used a highly flexible hydrogel as a scaffold to serve two purposes: immobilize the enzymes, and trap and store the insulin molecules that will later be pumped out.

Although previous research has demonstrated passive insulin pumps that release insulin through scaffold decomposition, the active enzyme micropump has the advantages of releasing insulin at a rate proportional to the glucose concentration, as well as offering the possibility for being rechargeable. In addition, these self-powered pumps can remain viable and be capable of 'turning on' even after prolonged storage.

"Obviously, much more work and testing needs to be done to make the micropumps useful in diabetes therapy," Sen said. "I suppose that the hydrogel could be implanted in the body and they could be recharged by injecting more insulin into the gel reservoir. We have not yet completely worked all this out. The gel will also need to be tested for biocompatibility."

In addition to pumping , enzyme micropumps could have many other applications. As one example, the pumps can be used to reduce the concentration of toxic substances. As the researchers explain, a pump can be triggered by a toxic substance, such as a nerve agent, that will then be drawn toward the pump and be consumed.

"The enzyme pump might use nerve agents as fuel and release an antidote in return," Sen said.

Currently, the researchers are working on expanding the enzyme micropump concept to involve multienzyme cascades, which could lead to microfluidic logic gates. Still other applications include inexpensive sensors (tracers or dyes in the fluid can be used to monitor fluid speed, which indicates the concentration of a biomarker or toxin), as well as particle assembly/disassembly.

"Since the enzyme pumps can pump particles suspended in a fluid, it should now be possible to form particle assemblies in specific locations by directional pumping," Sen said. "Furthermore, pumping can also be employed to disassemble such structures by directed transport of materials to specific places."

Explore further: Reducing diabetics' hypoglycaemic events

More information: Samudra Sengupta, et al. "Self-powered enzyme micropumps." Nature Chemistry. DOI: 10.1038/NCHEM.1895

© 2014 Phys.org



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Easter Lilies Kill Cats, FDA Warns PDF Print E-mail

a cat and flowers
Lilies are poisonous to cats.
Credit: via Shutterstock

Easter lilies are a popular decoration around this time of year, but it might be best to avoid having them in your house if you have a curious cat, the Food and Drug Administration warns.

These white, trumpet-shaped flowers are toxic to feline friends who might nibble at the plants' petals and leaves. Related flowers, such as tiger, Asiatic, day-, and Japanese Show lilies, are also poisonous to cats.

If you suspect that your cat has eaten any part of a lily or its pollen, call your veterinarian immediately, or take your cat to an emergency veterinary clinic, said Melanie McLean, a veterinarian at FDA.

Even eating just a couple of leaves or licking a few pollen grains off their fur can cause cats to suffer acute kidney failure, she said. All parts of these plants, which are members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera, are considered poisonous. [The 10 Most Common Poisonous Plants]

The first symptom of lily toxicity in cats is vomiting, McLean said in a statement. If you have lilies in your home, checking for missing petals or chewed leaves can tell you whether your cat has found the flowers, she said.

Over the next 12 to 24 hours, the cat may start to urinate frequently, but then urinating might stop altogether, which is a sign of kidney failure. If not brought to a veterinarian, the cat will die within four to seven days. Other signs to watch for include drooling, loss of appetite and decreased activity. The vet will give the cat intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and save the kidneys, McLean said.

Lilies are usually not as toxic to dogs, but may cause some gastrointestinal distress. However there's one similar flower, Lily of the Valley, which you should keep away from your dog, because this plant is highly dangerous for canines, too.

Making sure these plants are not among those your pets like to play with is an important part of pet-proofing your home this season, according to the FDA. Other plants that are toxic to your pets include Aloe vera, Daphne, Kalanchoe, foxglove and yew bushes, according to the FDA.

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Unusual Bacteria Gobbles Up Carbon in the Ocean PDF Print E-mail

Debris in the Pacific Ocean, ocean currents
Underneath the floating debris in the Pacific Ocean.
Credit: NOAA - Marine Debris Program.

A single strain of marine bacteria called Alteromonas may consume as much dissolved carbon in the ocean as an entire, diverse bacterial community, according to a new study.

The finding may help researchers better understand how carbon cycling works in marine ecosystems.

"We found that an individual bacterial strain was capable of consuming the same amount of carbon in the ocean as diverse [bacterial] communities," said study author Byron E. Pedler at the University of California, San Diego.

The researchers found the results surprising because of the immense diversity of molecules that constitute dissolved carbon in one form or another in the ocean, Pedler told Live Science.

Those molecules include both "young" carbon recently produced by phytoplankton — the tiny organisms that are the foundation of the marine food web, and really old carbon that is hundreds of years old. Some of this carbon consists of carbohydrates, but a significant portion of it "is simply uncharacterizable, in that even modern chemical techniques cannot determine what it is," Pedler said.

Prior to conducting the study, the researchers thought that a broad diversity of bacteria would be needed to consume a certain amount of carbon, as bacteria tend to specialize in the process of breaking down the carbon material, whose chemical structure can be very complex. For instance, "some bacteria may specialize in breaking down carbohydrates, whereas others may specialize in breaking down proteins, and working together they would increase the total amount that ends up being broken down," he said.

As a global reservoir, the ocean acts as both a source of carbon in the atmosphere and a "sink" for carbon, Pedler said.

Phytoplankton in the ocean use carbon dioxide located in the air. Then the phytoplankton produce molecules that are consumed primarily by bacteria, he said.

"So understanding how bacteria regulate this pool of carbon is really essential to understanding how the ecosystem functions on a daily basis," Pedler said.

The researchers will next test the ability of other bacterial strains to consume dissolved carbon in the ocean, he said.

"Is there something unique about this particular bacterial strain that allows it to be so good at consuming a broad diversity of molecules, or is this a feature that is common to lots of individual bacteria?" Pedler said.

The findings are published today (April 14) in the journal PNAS.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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What You Post On Yelp Says More About You Than About The Food PDF Print E-mail

"Like meth, but in a good way." "Seriously, the Bacon Maple is like heroin." "These cupcakes are like crack." 

When people review cheap restaurants in particular on Yelp, they often use drug metaphors, and speak in the language of addiction. This is but one of the interesting findings of a linguistic study of 900,000 restaurant reviews on Yelp.com. The researchers found that these reviews offered a unique look into the human psyche... and how much people love references to drugs and sex (representatives for the sadly snubbed rock 'n roll couldn't be reached for comment). Here are some of the other patterns found, as described by Stanford University

  • Positive reviews of expensive restaurants tended to use metaphors of sex and sensual pleasure, such as "orgasmic pastry" or "seductively seared foie gras." And the words used in those reviews were longer and fancier.
  • Negative reviews were frequently associated with the language of personal trauma and poor customer service: "We waited 10 min. before we even got her attention to order."
  • Women were more likely than men to use drug metaphors to describe their attitudes toward food.
  • The foods most likely to be described using drug metaphors were pizza, burgers, sweets and sushi.

The more expensive the restaurant, the more people's language focused on sex. Words that poppped up with increasing frequency as the price sky-rocketed include erotic, naughty, pornographic, seductive, sinful, and voluptuous. The less expensive the food, the more drug references. With words like addiction, craving, chocoholic, jonesing, and binging. Is everybody deep down just a horny drug addict? That's a rhetorical question. 

But Yelp reviews have a darker side. The most surprising thing to study co-author and Stanford researcher Dan Jurafsky "was how strongly the language of negative Yelp reviews resembled the language of people who have been traumatized by tragedies or the deaths of loved ones."

"Negative reviews, especially in expensive restaurants," the researchers wrote, "were more likely to use features previously associated with narratives of trauma: negative emotional vocabulary, a focus on the past actions of third person actors such as waiters, and increased use of references to 'we' and 'us', suggesting that negative reviews function as a means of coping with service–related trauma." 

Well, there you have it. In the case of bad service, it's us vs. them. Unless they are bringing us some lascivious lobster frittatas, amirite?

The study was published this week in the online journal First Monday

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Alzheimer's Gene Has Greater Effect on Women PDF Print E-mail

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Credit: Artem Chernyshevych | Stock Xchng

Women with a certain gene are more likely than men with the same gene to develop Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

In the study, healthy older women with the gene, called ApoE4, were 81 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's diseaseor mild cognitive impairment (a condition that can lead to Alzheimer's) over a four-year period, compared with women who didn't have the gene.

On the other hand, older men in the study with the ApoE4 gene had only a marginal increase in their risk of Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment (a 27 percent increase), compared with men without the gene, the researchers said. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]

The ApoE4 gene is known to increase the risk of Alzheimer's: People with one copy of the gene have a 2- to 4-fold increased risk of Alzheimer's, and those with two copies of the gene have a 10-fold increased risk. But few studies have looked at whether that risk differs between men and women, and doctors today generally view men and women with the ApoE4 gene as having equal risk for Alzheimer's, the researchers said.

The new findings suggest that doctors may need to change how they interpret the finding of an ApoE4 gene in people, depending on whether the patient is a man or a woman, the researchers said.

Figuring out the reason for this sex difference may help researchers better understand what causes Alzheimer's disease, and may reveal potential new ways to treat the condition, said study researcher Andre Altmann, of Stanford University School of Medicine.

In the study, the researchers examined information from more than 5,000 healthy older adults in the United States, most in their 60s and 70s, who did not have Alzheimer's or other types of cognitive problems, and about 2,200 people with mild cognitive impairment.

During the study period, about 950 healthy older adults progressed to developing Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment.

Women who had a single copy of the ApoE4 gene had a 1.8-fold increase in their risk of Alzheimer's disease, compared with women who carried the most common form of this gene, called ApoE3. But men with a single copy of the ApoE4 gene had no increase in their risk for Alzheimer's when compared to those with the ApoE3 gene.

The researchers noted that some participants may have dropped out of the study due to cognitive problems, and this may have affected the results.

The study is published today (April 14) in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. FollowLive Science @livescience, Facebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Explore The Deep Ocean While You Eat Lunch PDF Print E-mail

Visit shipwrecks, coral reefs, canyons, and more with NOAA researchers as they livestream an expedition from the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Okeanos Explorer.

By Posted 04.14.2014 at 10:39 am
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The ship Okeanos Explorer set out last Thursday across the Gulf of Mexico for a three-week, deep-sea expedition… and you can follow along! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is livestreaming the whole trip. So far, the expedition has explored some gas seeps on the ocean floor and snapped a photo of an underwater brine pool. In the coming weeks, Okeanos' crew will send out remotely-operated vehicles to examine coral beds, deep-sea canyons and 200-year-old shipwrecks. You can watch the expeditions three streams right here. The streams should show feed from the remotely operated vehicle's camera when it's underwater, views of Okeanos' deck when the expedition is not making a dive, and one view of the real-time data scientists are seeing streamed to their command center on dry land.

As of this writing, Okeanos' science crew just dropped its remotely operated vehicle in to see some coral! Missed the coral bed dive? You can check what the expedition plans to do next under the "Latest Status Updates" section of the Okeanos site. Okeanos will make dives in the Gulf of Mexico until April 30.

The Okeanos crew uses a remotely operated vehicle named Deep Explorer that's able to descend 6,000 meters under the sea. Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a similar expedition with remotely-operated vehicles that explored a series of extinct underwater volcanoes off the New England coast.

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What is Anthropology? PDF Print E-mail

anthropology, what is anthropology, forensic anthropology, cultural anthropology, anthropology jobs, biological anthropology
Physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of human beings and hominids to investigate human disease, diet, genetics and lifestyle.
Credit: Photobank gallery | Shutterstock

Anthropology is the study of humans, early hominids and primates, such as chimpanzees.

Anthropologists study human language, culture, societies, biological and material remains, the biology and behavior of primates, and even our own buying habits. It’s a broad discipline that constantly incorporates new technologies and ideas. As technologies are developed that allow exoplanets to be detected and studied in greater detail, anthropology may eventually expand to include the study of non-human civilizations.

“Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics,” writes the American Anthropological Association on its website. “Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.”

To an anthropologist, “anything is available to inspection, including the most ordinary, mundane items and events such as a McDonald’s hamburger, a pair of blue jeans, a cell phone, a birthday or New Year’s Eve, and so forth,” writes Carol Delaney, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, in her book “An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). “Each of them provides a window into a much larger set of beliefs, power relations, and values,” she writes.

In thinking about ordinary things from our culture, we can help understand those of others. “For example what would you make of a community that celebrates death days rather than birthdays? How might that fact relate to other facets of that society? What other kinds of questions would you need to ask to begin to understand not just that practice but also the culture in which it occurs?”

Sociocultural anthropology

“Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning,” writes the American Anthropological Association.

It’s a broad discipline that explores human behavior in all its diversity, from hunter-gatherer societies to the habits of shopping mall visitors.

For instance, Richard Lee, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, is known for his studies of the !Kung people that live in several countries in southern Africa (the ! represents a sound). The !Kung are one of a small number of modern-day societies that live as hunter-gatherers, providing a window into how ancient hunter-gatherers lived.

On the other side of the coin is the growing field of business anthropology where anthropologists study consumer behavior, including how people act in shopping malls. It’s something that can help companies produce and market products to meet their needs and desires.

“Business anthropologists have influenced market research by pointing out that, to be successful, marketers must understand people — what they do and how they live,” writes Shirley Fedorak, of the University of Saskatchewan, in her book “Anthropology Matters” (University of Toronto Press, 2013).

Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of humanity through the materials — the stuff — we leave behind. This can be in the distant past, such as the pyramids at Giza, or very recent times, such as a 21st-century marriage proposal carved near a closed quarantine station

Many archaeologists do not call themselves anthropologists, and archaeology’s relationship to anthropology is a matter of debate. Archaeologists examine past societies using some of the methods and theories that sociocultural anthropologists work with. Additionally, physical anthropologists work closely with archaeologists to investigate human remains.

Physical anthropology

Physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of human beings and hominids using a variety of techniques to investigate human disease, diet, genetics and lifestyle.

Some, such as Jane Goodall, specialize in the study of primates, such as chimpanzees. By studying these creatures, which are closely related to us, we can learn much about ourselves and how we came to be.

Another important sub-branch is forensic anthropology, which tends to focus on helping authorities solve crimes and identify human remains found at crime and disaster scenes.

A 2008 article published in the magazine Chico Statements tells the story of Ben Figura, who “worked in the foul waters of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in Thailand in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami that killed some 230,000 people.” He also led “a small team of experts from New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner working to put names to the thousands of human remains still being found at Ground Zero. Most of the remains at this stage are bone fragments, some very small.”

It’s a tough field to work in. “Working at the site of a historic tragedy and in such intimate contact with its victims, as well as its survivors — Figura often calls family members when his team identifies remains — can be emotionally wrenching,” the article notes.

Linguistic anthropology

In some ways, linguistic anthropology can be the hardest branch of anthropology to identify.

The American Anthropological Association states that it “is the comparative study of ways in which language reflects and influences social life. It explores the many ways in which language practices define patterns of communication, formulate categories of social identity and group membership, organize large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and, in conjunction with other forms of meaning-making, equip people with common cultural representations of their natural and social worlds.”

Linguistic anthropologists can be found analyzing languages, both verbal and non-verbal, around the world. They do things like study American presidential debates to determine how candidates use non-verbal hand gestures to communicate with voters. They can also be found analyzing the books and movies read by young teenagers (the "Twilight" series, for instance) to determine how they affect the teenage mind.

By studying the usage of language, these anthropologists can determine what cultures value.

“The everyday language of North Americans, for example, includes a number of slang words, such as dough, greenback, dust, loot, cash, bucks, change and bread, to identify what an indigenous native of Papua-New Guinea would recognize only as money,” writes William Haviland, a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, in his book “Anthropology” (Harcourt College Publishers, 2000).

“Such phenomena help identify things that are considered of special importance to a culture.”

How do you become an anthropologist?

Anthropologists tend to have either a master’s or doctoral degree. There are many universities in the United States, Canada and Europe that teach the discipline. Often those studying anthropology will specialize in a specific area.  Fieldwork is often required to complete a degree.

Where do anthropologists work?

Anthropologists can be found working for a wide variety of employers. These include museums, police departments, marketing companies, cultural resource management firms, government agencies and research institutes.

How much do anthropologists earn?

It is hard to give a salary range for anthropologists. A junior anthropologist doing fieldwork on contract may earn a low amount of money, perhaps not much more than minimum wage. On the higher end, a tenured professor at a large university may earn over $100,000, while those in senior positions at large private companies may earn considerably more.

How did anthropology get its start?

In some ways anthropology is in itself an ancient discipline. Writers in the ancient world often analyzed the cultures of various peoples in an attempt to understand their practices.

For instance, in A.D. 43, the writer Pomponius Mela examined the Druid religious beliefs of the Gauls and noted how it prepared them for the many wars they fought. “And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids. These men claim to know the size and shape of the Earth and of the universe, the movements of the sky and of the stars, and what the gods intend…” he wrote. “One of the precepts they teach — obviously to make them better for war — has [become] common knowledge, namely that their souls are eternal and there is a second life for the dead.” (Translation by E.F Romer)

As the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution spawned new technologies and ideas, anthropology grew as a discipline. For example, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution paved the way for the skeletal remains of hominids to be better understood, allowing for a new understanding of how humans came into existence.

Owen Jarus

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LIGO Lasers Could Help Reveal Aftermath of Black Hole Crashes PDF Print E-mail

Binary Stars Coalescing
A still frame from a computer animation shows two binary neutron stars coalescing into a black hole. Taken from the video, "LIGO, A Passion for Understanding," by Kai Staats.
Credit: Kai Staats

A powerful scientific tool set to come online in 2015 could help scientists spot gravitational waves: ripples in space-time born from violent cosmic crashes light-years from Earth.

The instrument, called LIGO (short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories), uses lasers to hunt for the gravitational aftermath created by two massive objects — like a neutron star and a black hole — colliding. Scientists theorize that, like a rock dropping into a pool of water, the fabric of space and time can ripple, sending out these gravitational waves across the universe at the speed of light. Understanding those waves could help scientists learn more about black holes.

The $205 million LIGO can potentially detect these gravitational waves from Earth. The interconnected LIGO observatories in Washington State and Louisiana make use of two 2.5-mile (4 kilometers) arms. A laser beam is split down the arms that are equipped with specifically placed mirrors. In theory, if a gravitational wave comes into contact with the instrument, it would change the length of one beam in relation to the other. 

"The actual change in the relative arm lengths of the interferometer [LIGO] due to the passage of a gravitational wave is incredibly small," Michael Landry, LIGO lead scientist said during an interview for "LIGO, A Passion for Understanding," a new documentary about LIGO premiering on Space.com Tuesday (April 15) at noon. "It's just 10 to the minus 19 meters difference in one arm relative to the other, that's one ten-thousandth the size of a proton.

"If you were trying to measure the distance between here and the nearest star Proxima Centauri, it would be like watching it change by the width of a human hair," Landry added.

The cataclysmic events that produce gravitational waves are also rare. Two neutron stars collide and form a black hole only once every 10,000 years in the Milky Way, according to Gabriela Gonzalez, a professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University and a researcher with LIGO. [Photos: Hunting Gravitational Waves with LIGO]

An earlier iteration of LIGO collected data between 2004 and 2010, but the newly improved observatory, expected to begin its run next year, will be even more sensitive than the last version of the instrument.

"The plan is to take data for the first time in 2015," Gonzalez told Space.com. "We know that they will not be at the best sensitivity they could have, but our estimate is that they will be at least two, perhaps three times better than initial LIGO detectors were. It will be worth taking at least a few months of data, we estimate three months … It's not likely we will see something."

LIGO's sensitivity will just keep getting better after the instrument's new three-month run.  

In the next couple of years, Gonzalez thinks that the instrument's reach could extend 300 million light-years into the universe. While it still isn't likely that the scientists will detect any gravitational waves, it's definitely possible at those distances. Scientists want to probe deep into the cosmos in order to have a robust sample of galaxies where the cosmic mergers could be occurring.

"By 2017, we think we will be at … almost 500 million light-years for the average distance," Gonzalez said. "In fact, if the system is well aligned, we can see at least two times farther. At that point, we'll be taking data for about a year, perhaps longer. I'm betting that we will see things earlier, but it would be a very safe bet for everybody that we would see things in that [2017] science run."

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Software Shows What Children Will Look Like In 70 Years, With Unprecedented Accuracy PDF Print E-mail

Look at a kid under the age of five, and it's hard to imagine what he'll look like in 70 years. But this new piece of software does just that. Check out this series of photos, which compares actual photos of a boy as he grows up (photos on the right) with photos generated by the new aging software, using only the three-year-old picture as a reference (photos on the left):

Of course, many computer scientists have tried to make face-aging software before. The umbrella field of getting computers to recognize human faces is a hot topic of research; Facebook recently published some work on getting its "DeepFace" software to recognize people from the side, given only head-on pictures. This new work is based on the largest-yet database of photos for aging software—40,000 pictures of people ages 0 through 100. The new software is also unusual in its ability to create accurate results from photos of very young children.

Software like this would be especially helpful to missing children searches, Seattle TV station KOMO News reports. Right now, expert artists try to help with searches by making drawings of missing kids at their current age. The artists use a combination of photos of the kids, the looks of the kids' older family members, and current knowledge about how faces age. (Scientists already know, for example, that people's faces and noses lengthen as they get older.) The craft of interpolating how a person will have aged is "part art, part science and a little intuition," as one firm describes it.

This new software boosts the science part of that a bit. It's based on measurements of about 1,500 people for every age group, including very narrow age groups for kids, who can change drastically from year to year. The photos came from, well, the internet. In a paper, the software's creators—three researchers from the University of Washington and Google—described how they searched for photos to analyze:

To analyze aging effects we created a large dataset of people at different ages, using Google image search queries like 'Age 25', '1st grade portrait,' and so forth. We additionally drew from science competitions, soccer teams, beauty contests, and other websites that included age/grade information.

Aha, so that's who's been looking at those old photos of you competing in Math Olympiad.

The team wrote algorithms that calculate, based on its database of photos, what's different between photos of people at age X versus photos of people at age Y.  How do face shapes develop between those two ages? How do skin textures change? The algorithms also deal with things like funny facial expressions and weird lighting that might show up in a reference photo. All the software needs is one photo of a child to create a series of images for ages up to 80.

One of the software's creators, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, told KOMO News she contacted the Center for Missing and Exploited Children about her work. But the software isn't ready for crime-fighting yet. The team wants to try to add other things to make it more accurate, including hair color changes and ethnicity-specific data, if that's relevant. (To my untrained eye, the algorithm already appears to work well for people of a few different ethnicities.)

You can see many more age series like the one above in Kemelmacher-Shlizerman and her colleagues' website and paper. They will present the paper at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference in June.

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Japan Company To Give Maglev Tech To U.S. For Free PDF Print E-mail

The Japanese rail operator JR Tokai said it would not charge the US to license its proprietary "maglev" technology, which allows trains to hover about 4 inches (10 centimeters) above tracks and travel at speeds of 310 mph (500 kph), according to Nikkei. It is hoping the US will use its train for a proposed high-speed rail line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. 

The magnetic-levitation technology works by creating magnetic fields with onboard superconducting magnets, which interact with ground coils in the rail, allowing the whole train to "float" just above the ground. And go really fast.

On Saturday (April 12), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy took a ride on a maglev train in Yamanashi Prefecture, according to the Japan Times. "The government is making arrangements so that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can offer the technological assistance when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Tokyo on April 24," the Times added.

One group, known as Northeast Maglev, is hoping to bring just such technology to the US, to build a train from New York to Washington. Here's how Slate describes that idea

The promise: New York to D.C. in an hour flat. That would be an hour and 40 minutes faster than today’s 150-mph Amtrak Acela trains, which are (rather pathetically) the fastest in the United States. In most cases, it would also be significantly faster than flying.

This doesn't have the best chance of happening in the near future, given (in part) the difficulty of funding rail projects in the US. But perhaps Japan's offer will change things. As Nikkei reported, "the Japanese government intends to finance half of the estimated construction cost of 1 trillion yen ($9.75 billion) through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation."

[Nikkei]

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Cherry Trees That Flew To Space Bloom Six Years Early PDF Print E-mail

Japanese astronauts took hundreds of cherry tree seeds with them to the International Space Station in 2008-2009, after which they were planted in several locations throughout Japan. About 265 seeds were taken from a celebrated old tree outside a Buddhist temple in Gifu, in central Japan, that is thought to be 1,250 years old. One of the space seeds was sprouted near the temple, but oddly, shot up more quickly then other cherry trees of its variety (that weren't taken to space). And now the tree is blooming, at four years of age -- about six years ahead of schedule. "We are amazed to see how fast it has grown," Masahiro Kajita, chief priest at the Ganjoji temple, told AFP. The seeds were planted at a total of 14 locations, and blooms have already developed in four locations. 

Flowers from the Ganjoji "space tree" also look a bit different, containing five petals, as opposed to about 30 like their parent trees. 

The precocious pips have baffled the Buddhist monks and scientists alike. The project was not primarily a scientific one, rather "an educational and cultural project to let children gather the stones and learn how they grow into trees and live on after returning from space," said Miho Tomioka, a spokeswoman for the project's organizer, Japan Manned Space Systems (JAMSS). For that reason no "control" seeds were planted to contrast with the space-flown ones--although this cherry variety usually doesn't bloom until the age of 10.

The reason for the early flowering is a mystery. One guess is that "exposure to stronger cosmic rays accelerated the process of sprouting and overall growth," said Kaori Tomita-Yokotani, a plant physiologist at the University of Tsukuba who took part in the project. But "from a scientific point of view, we can only say we don't know why," Tomita-Yokotani added. 

[AFP]

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Varicose Veins & Spider Veins: Causes & Treatment PDF Print E-mail

By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer   |   April 15, 2014 01:16am ET

vericose veins, health
Varicose veins are usually harmless, but in some people, they can lead to serious problems.
Credit: schankz | Shutterstock

Varicose veins are spidery, swollen veins that bump out from beneath the skin. They are usually red or blue and typically appear on the legs, but can also be found in other parts of the body. Smaller varicose veins are called spider veins.

Having varicose veins is common, and women develop them more often than men. They are usually harmless, but in some people, they can lead to serious problems, such as leg swelling and pain, blood clots and skin changes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Causes

In healthy veins, one-way valves keep blood flowing toward the heart. Varicose veins have faulty valves that cause blood to back up and start pooling in the vessels.

The NIH lists these factors that affect the risk of developing varicose veins:

  • older age
  • being female
  • congenital valve defects
  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • history of blood clots in the legs
  • standing or sitting for long periods
  • family history of varicose veins

Hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause, as well as birth control or hormone replacement, can also increase the risk.

varicose veins

Varicose veins form when faulty valves cause blood to back up and start pooling in the blood vessels.
Credit: Designua | Shutterstock

Symptoms

Symptoms of varicose veins include feelings of fullness, heaviness or aching in the legs, visibly swollen veins, mild swelling of the ankles or feet, and itching. In severe cases, symptoms may include leg swelling, leg pain after long periods of sitting or standing, changes in skin color of the legs or ankles, dry and scaly or cracked skin, skin ulcers that don't heal, or thickening and hardening of skin on the legs or ankles.

Tests

Those who suspect they may have varicose veins should consult a doctor, who can look for swelling, changes in skin color or sores on the legs. A doctor may also check venous blood flow and check for other problems, such as blood clots.

Treatment

According to the NIH, doctors may recommend the following self-care measures for managing varicose veins:

  • wearing compression stockings to reduce swelling
  • avoiding sitting or standing for long periods
  • raising your legs above your heart for 15 minutes three to four times per day
  • treating any open sores or infections
  • losing weight if you're overweight
  • getting more exercise (such as walking or swimming)
  • moisturizing dry or cracked skin (but consult a doctor first)

For more severe cases, doctors may recommend: laser therapy, sclerotherapy, ablation, vein stripping, valve repair, bypass surgery, or angioplasty and stenting.

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Trolls In Their Natural Habitats: An Analysis Of Comments On TED Talks PDF Print E-mail

Think of it as a study of the natural behaviors of the troll. A team of information science researchers recently analyzed the comments people make on recorded TED talks. Actually, the researchers found that the majority of comments related to the content of the talks (progress!). But they also found that about six percent of YouTube comments on TED talks are insults and that female TED presenters are more likely to have commenters assess their appearance and style than male presenters (not progress).

TED is a nonprofit dedicated to putting on conferences with short lectures. It also posts its lectures online. This analysis of TED comments comes at a time when news and science media are still trying to figure out what to do about commenters. This weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times announced it's temporarily shutting off comments while it puts in a new system designed to "encourage increased quality of the commentary." Here at Popular Science, where we have a small staff for the website, we decided to remove comments from our homepage about seven months ago. You can still reach us via email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and snail mail.

TED talks are supposed to be fun and good for you, kind of like chocolate-chip granola bars.

In a paper they published in the journal PLOS ONE, the TED-analyzing researchers said they were hoping to gather some insight for science communicators. TED talks are 18-minute lectures about intellectual ideas, aimed at non-experts. They're supposed to be fun and good for you. Kind of like chocolate-chip granola bars? Anyway, the largest portion of the talks are about science and technology. As of November 2013, the researchers counted 917 science and technology TED talks, compared to 313 talks about design and 265 talks about entertainment. So the researchers, a team from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, looked at TED talks as a proxy for, How do people respond to popular science media? They restricted their analysis to comments on science and technology talks only.

One of their big findings was that the website people use matters. TED talks are posted both on ted.com and YouTube, but comment trends differed a bit on the two platforms. After analyzing comments for the same set of 595 talks, the research team found that people were more likely to talk about the content of the video—rather than, say, about the speaker's looks or themselves—on the TED website than on YouTube. That said, the ted.com comments weren't always that deep. Many comments just reiterated points from the talk, the researchers noted. And the majority of YouTube comments, 57 percent, still referred to the content of the TED talk. It's just that an even larger portion of ted.com comments were on topic, 72 percent.

People were more likely to throw around personal insults on YouTube (5.7 percent of comments) than on ted.com (less than one percent of comments). YouTube did have one advantage. YouTubers were more likely to engage with one another than ted.com commenters. But if they're just insulting each other, maybe that's not so helpful.

Commenters were more likely to discuss female presenters' looks than male presenters' looks. 

Another major finding was that commenters react differently to male and female TED presenters. Commenters were more likely to discuss female presenters' looks (15 percent of comments) than male presenters' looks (10 percent of comments). Female presenters were also more likely to elicit both positive and negative comments about themselves than male presenters. People react really emotionally to lady TED talkers, I guess. Male and female TED presenters didn't have any statistically significant differences in the positive and negative comments they received about the content of their talks.

So it sounds like TED-talk comments aren't necessarily super intellectual, but they aren't a cesspool, either. Yay? In addition, perhaps TED should keep a sharper eye out for off-topic or hateful comments about its female speakers. It might help if the organization had more talks led by women in general. Another analysis, published about a year ago, found that women give less than a quarter of TED talks. 

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Have galactic 'radio loops' been mistaken for B-mode polarization? PDF Print E-mail

"Radio loop" emissions, rather than signatures of the early universe, could account for the observation of B-mode polarization announced by the BICEP2 collaboration earlier this year. That is the claim of a trio of cosmologists that has found evidence that local structures in our galaxy generate a polarized signal that was previously unknown to astronomers studying the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The new foreground, which can be detected in the radio and microwave frequencies, is present at high galactic latitudes and could potentially be misinterpreted as a B-mode polarization signal caused by primordial gravitational waves, thus casting doubt on the BICEP2 finding.

There are two important sources of electromagnetic emissions in our galaxy that researchers need to account for while carrying out large-scale surveys of the CMB. They are synchrotron radiation from electrons moving in the galactic magnetic field and polarized emission from dust, with the latter being particularly poorly understood. Surveys of our galaxy carried out as early as 1971 also found evidence of "radio loops" or diffuse radio emission, which stood out against the galactic radio background. These loops are now thought to be caused by ancient supernova remnants that have grown to colossal sizes of 100 to 300 parsecs, after continually expanding for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. These expanding shells of gas and dust were accelerated by the supernova's shock waves or by stellar winds.

Supernova shells

Subir Sarkar of the Particle Theory Group at Oxford University, who has been studying these radio loops since the 1980s, wondered whether the supernova shells also trapped dust, in which case they might constitute an important foreground in experiments studying the CMB. Sarkar, along with colleagues in Denmark and the US, used data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and found that the radio-loop foreground has indeed evaded the usual "cleaning" methods employed by both the WMAP and Planck experiments.

It is fairly well known that the radio loops produce some sort of synchrotron emission, thanks to charged particles from cosmic rays gyrating inside the magnetic field of the shells. What is new is the suggestion that dust grains, which are enriched with metallic iron or ferrimagnetic molecules, might produce shorter-wavelength radiation that is polarized because of the alignment of the grains with the galactic magnetic field. Surprisingly, Sarkar and colleagues found evidence for this radiation not only at radio frequencies, but also at microwave frequencies. This might result in a significant contamination of the B-mode signal apparently detected by BICEP2, especially as the region of the sky studied by the telescope is crossed by one of these loops.

Sarkar says that if the BICEP2 experiment has seen B-mode polarization, "they do not know if this is cosmological in origin, with momentous implications for gravitational waves from inflation or just foreground". The BICEP2 researchers discount the latter option by cross-correlating what they see with the best available models of the galactic foreground. "However, these models do not include the new source of foreground we have identified. [BICEP2] have not made their sky maps public so we cannot check if what they have seen correlates with these foreground structures – one of which crosses the very region of the sky they looked at," says Sarkar. It remains to be seen whether Sarkar's findings will nullify BICEP2's claim of having seen primordial gravitational waves, or if the foreground ultimately does not affect the finding.

More frequencies needed

"My greatest worry about the BICEP2 results is that the measurement is made at a single frequency, 150 GHz. In order to be convinced that the signal is cosmological, rather than arising from a foreground source, I would need to see it confirmed by other measurements at different frequencies," says Peter Coles, a physicist at the University of Sussex who was not involved in the new work. He explains that a truly cosmological signal would look the same irrespective of frequency, while a foreground emission would be frequency-dependent. "The question should be asked whether the radiation pattern in the part of the sky observed by BICEP2 correlates with measurements at different frequencies, such as those observed by Planck. If the answer to this is 'yes', then that is more evidence that BICEP2 may have measured polarized emission from galactic dust rather than from the Big Bang."

David Spergel of Princeton University in the US, who was also not involved with Sarkar's research, says that the radio-loop emission is weak enough to not be a "significant contaminant" in the WMAP and Planck temperature maps. "However, since the polarization signal is less than 100th of the temperature signal, these subtle effects are much more important for analysis of the polarization data," he says.

Essential cross-checks

While Sarkar's recent paper on the work only considers WMAP data, he told physicsworld.com that the same structures are also seen in the public Planck maps. "In my view, the community has been rather uncritical in accepting [BICEP2's] claim without waiting for the essential cross-checks, such as whether the same signal is seen at several different frequencies, and independent confirmation by Planck," says Sarkar.

Fortunately, Sarkar, Coles and Spergel all agree that all eyes are now on the upcoming polarization data from the Planck satellite, which should clarify the situation within the year. "Planck has polarization measurements across the whole sky at multiple frequencies, so it will provide both a detailed characterization of galactic emission and should hopefully also confirm the BICEP2 results and show convincingly that the emission is cosmological," says Spergel.

The research is described in a preprint on the arXiv server.

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Atom-thin sheets are transferred with ease PDF Print E-mail

Picking up a tiny flake of material just one atom thick and placing it with precision onto a substrate is no easy task. But now it has become a bit easier, thanks to researchers at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in the Netherlands who have come up with the first all-dry technique for transferring 2D materials such as graphene and molybdenum sulphide.

The new method is said to be quick, efficient and clean, and makes use of viscoelastic stamps. As well as being much simpler than traditional wet-transfer techniques, it could also be used to fabricate freely suspended 2D structures because the samples are not subject to any capillary forces during the process.

2D materials are creating a flurry of interest in labs around the world because they have dramatically different electronic and mechanical properties from their 3D counterparts. This means that they could find use in a host of practical devices such as low-power electronics circuits, low-cost or flexible displays, sensors and even flexible electronics that can be coated onto a variety of surfaces.

Contamination and collapse

The two most famous 2D materials are graphene – a sheet of carbon just one atom thick – and the transition metal dichalcogenides, which include molybdenum sulphide (MoS2). For real-world applications, such materials need to be transferred onto substrates to make "heterostructures" based on the stacking of 2D layers. Most techniques involve wet chemistry, and the chemicals employed often contaminate the 2D materials and adversely affect their pristine electronic and physical properties. Moreover, the capillary forces between the chemicals and the material being transferred can cause the 2D structure to simply collapse.

An all-dry technique could be a solution to these problems, and now a team led by Herre van der Zant and Gary Steele has created just that. The process begins by using the famous "Scotch tape technique", whereby 2D flakes are peeled off a parent 3D crystal using adhesive film. These layers are then attached to a thin layer of a commercially available viscoelastic material called Gelfilm, which acts as a stamp.

"As the stamp is transparent, we can see the sample through it and can align the flake wherever we want on a 2D substrate surface with sub-micron resolution," explains team member Andres Castellanos-Gomez. "To transfer the flake, we press the stamp against the sample surface and peel it off very slowly." The whole process takes just 15 minutes or less.

Climbing toys

The transfer process works thanks to Gelfilm's viscoelasticity: the material behaves like an elastic solid over short time periods but can flow like a viscous fluid over longer timescales. Such materials are also used to make toys that "climb" down smooth surfaces such as a window by releasing their grip and then re-attaching at a lower point.

The team has already shown that the technique works by transferring graphene flakes onto hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) – which is a 2D material that is a good substrate for graphene. Using an optical microscope, the researchers were able to confirm that nearly half of the graphene flakes lie flat on the boron nitride without any bubbles or wrinkles.

"Our technique could be applied to any kind of exfoliated layered crystal, so allowing for an infinite combination of material heterostructures," says Castellanos-Gomez. "For example, as well as depositing graphene on h-BN, we have also already managed to 'sandwich' a MoS2 bilayer between two h-BN flakes."

Beating drumheads

The Kavli team has also succeeded in transferring a single-layer MoS2 crystal onto a silicon oxide/silicon substrate pre-patterned with holes of different diameters. The single-layer MoS2 is freely suspended over the holes, forming "drumheads" – which might be used in mechanical-resonator applications. Indeed, the technique might also be employed to transfer 2D crystals onto pre-fabricated devices with trenches and electrodes.

And that is not all. Since the stamping technique is so gentle, it can be used to deposit 2D crystals onto even the most fragile of substrates. For example, the team says that it has succeeded in transferring few-layer MoS2 crystals onto the cantilever of an atomic force microscope without damaging the cantilever. "We have also transferred 2D materials onto silicon-nitride membranes and holey carbon films, which are typically employed in transmission electron microscopy," says Castellanos-Gomez.

Details of the new stamping technique can be found in 2D Materials, a new journal from IOP Publishing that publishes its first papers this month.

  • There is much more about how to make graphene in this video filmed at the University of Manchester:

This article first appeared on nanotechweb.org.

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Single-atom gates open the door to quantum computing PDF Print E-mail

A quantum-information analogue of the transistor has been unveiled by two independent groups in Germany and the US. Both devices comprise a single atom that can switch the quantum state of a single photon. The results are a major step towards the development of practical quantum computers.

Unlike conventional computers, which store bits of information in definite values of 0 or 1, quantum computers store information in qubits, which are a superposition of both values. When qubits are entangled, any change in one immediately affects changes in the others. Qubits can therefore work in unison to solve certain complex problems much faster than their classical counterparts.

Qubits can be created from either light or matter, but many researchers believe that the practical quantum computers of the future will have to rely on interactions between both. Unfortunately, light tends only to interact with matter when the light is very intense and the matter is very dense. To make a single photon and a single atom interact is a challenge because the two are much more likely to pass straight through each other.

Chambers of light

In 2004 physicists Jeff Kimble of the California Institute of Technology and Luming Duan of the University of Michigan proposed a scheme to make it work. Their idea was to place an atom inside an optical cavity – a tiny mirrored chamber in which the walls are separated at a distance similar to the wavelength of light. If a photon incident on the cavity has just the right wavelength to make the cavity resonate, it will be absorbed, reflect off one of the mirrors and come back out again. In this process, the waveform of the departing photon gets shifted along a little – it experiences a "phase shift".

The trick is that the resonance of the cavity depends on the state of the atom. If the atom is in a different state, the cavity does not resonate with the incident photon, and the photon simply bounces off without ever receiving a phase shift. In this way, the state of the atom controls the phase-state of the transmitted photon. This is like a computer transistor, in which a gate voltage controls the flow of electric current.

A decade on, Stephan Ritter and colleagues at the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching have implemented Kimble and Duan's proposal using an optical "Fabry–Perót" cavity, consisting of two curved mirrors roughly half a millimetre apart. Meanwhile at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mikhail Lukin and colleagues have implemented the proposal on a silicon chip with a cavity measuring just a few microns in size, which further enhances the photon–atom interaction. In both demonstrations, it is the spin of the trapped atom – which can be up or down – that controls the resonance of the cavity.

Superposition and entanglement achieved

Both groups have shown that they can prepare the atom in a superposition of up and down spins, therefore allowing – in principle, at least – quantum logic operations to be performed. Ritter and colleagues went one step further by demonstrating that their gate generates entanglement between the atom and photon, so that qubits of information can be transferred from one to the other.

The optical quantum computer is not yet round the corner. But these experiments at least give a direction
Klemens Hammerer, Leibniz University

Klemens Hammerer of Leibniz University in Germany believes that both experiments present a "breakthrough", but warns that they are, as yet, only proofs of principle. "The set-up involved – simple as it sounds – comes with a large technical overhead: the experiments typically fill an entire laboratory," he says. "For real-life applications of optical quantum-information processing, one would require a large number of photons, which can be brought to interaction one by one", says Hammerer. "The optical quantum computer is not yet round the corner. But these experiments at least give a direction."

Both groups are now attempting to link several atoms in optical cavities to build a prototype quantum network, or a prototype quantum computer. "As a first step, we are currently working on positioning two atoms inside the same optical cavity, with the goal of using light in the cavity to perform a quantum gate operation between the two atoms," says Jeff Thompson of Lukin's group.

The research is published in separate papers in Nature.

  • There is much more about the benefits and challenges of quantum computing in this podcast
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Acoustic metamaterial can be reconfigured in a jiffy PDF Print E-mail

A metamaterial with acoustic properties that can be reconfigured in less than one tenth of a second has been made by researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK. Created by Mihai Caleap and Bruce Drinkwater, the device comprises tiny polystyrene spheres suspended in water. The spheres arrange themselves in a cubic lattice that is defined by criss-crossing acoustic standing waves. The lattice blocks sound at certain frequencies that depend on the spacing between the spheres and, with further development, it could be used to create lenses that focus sound or even acoustic cloaks.

Caleap and Drinkwater's work builds on the experience physicists have gained over the last few decades in making "optical lattices" by shining criss-crossing laser beams through a dilute gas of ultracold atoms. Depending on the wavelength of the light and the type of atom, the atoms are drawn to regions of either high or low light intensity formed by standing waves of light. The result is a crystalline lattice with one atom per maxima or minima that physicists can then use to study fundamental quantum phenomena.

A sound idea

The Bristol duo has now essentially done the same thing with standing waves of sound at ultrasonic frequencies. Using piezoelectric loudspeakers, they set up standing waves in the x, y and z directions in a finger-tip-sized sample of water. This creates a 3D square lattice of regions of high and low density that is analogous to the bright and dark regions of an optical lattice.

When tiny polystyrene balls about 90 µm in diameter are placed in the water, they settle in the nodes of the standing waves, creating a 3D square lattice. The lattice spacing is related to the wavelength of the standing waves. For a 3.75 MHz ultrasound signal, for example, the spacing is about 279 µm.

Unique and useful

To demonstrate that the system works as an acoustic metamaterial, the researchers measured its ability to transmit ultrasound waves between 2 and 12 MHz. For randomly arranged spheres, the transmission fell as expected at about 6 MHz and did not recover at higher frequencies. In the case of a square lattice of the same density, however, the transmission spectrum was very different. The researchers studied square lattices with three different spacings and found peaks and troughs in the spectra between 6 and 12 MHz.

This behaviour is indicative of a "phononic crystal", in which sound at some frequencies passes freely through the material, whereas signals at other frequencies are reflected back. It is the same effect that occurs to electrons in crystalline materials – giving rise to electronic band structure – and also to light in photonic crystals.

Rapid reconfiguration

Although phononic crystals have been made before, Caleap and Drinkwater say that theirs is unique because it can be reconfigured in about 0.05 seconds by changing the frequency of applied sound waves. It could therefore be used to make a reconfigurable ultrasound filter for medical applications.

Although their photonic crystals have wavelengths in the 100 µm range, the technique could be extended a wider range of lattice spacings of even up to metres. Drinkwater says that the method will work on "nearly all" solid-fluid combinations and will enable "almost any geometry to be assembled", while being in addition cheap and easy to integrate with other systems. In fact, the metamaterial is also expected to work on electromagnetic radiation at terahertz frequencies. This suggests that the technology could be used in filters and beam deflectors for security scanners that use this notoriously difficult-to-handle part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Ultrasonic superlenses

The team is currently working on acoustic lenses that can be reconfigured in real time and that are capable of "super-resolution" imaging, which means it could be part of a system that uses ultrasound to resolve features much smaller than the wavelength of the sound. To create such superlenses, Caleap and Drinkwater are using larger arrays of piezoelectric transducers that create standing waves over a wide range of frequencies. Such arrangements can create acoustic lattices with parameters that vary in space and therefore have the desired lensing properties.

The researchers have also found evidence that their suspensions of tiny balls share an important property with some metamaterials used to create electromagnetic invisibility cloaks: a negative index of refraction. This occurs because of a resonant interaction between the sound waves and individual spheres in the suspension.

The research is described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Plasmonic waveguide stops light in its tracks PDF Print E-mail

A simple, solid-state waveguide that can "stop" light has been proposed by physicists in the UK. The researchers say that their device – which has yet to be built in the lab – would be straightforward to create and could be used as an interface between electronic and optical circuits. The waveguide could also lead to the development of new lasers and molecular-imaging systems.

Unlike the phase velocity of light, which is the speed at which individual wavefronts move, photons travel at the group velocity of light waves. This is the speed at which each wavepacket advances as the individual wavefronts pass through it. If you want to hold a pulse of light still, therefore, you need to reduce this group velocity to zero. In principle, this can be achieved in photonic crystals, which are synthetic materials comprising periodic regions of high and low refractive index. However, unavoidable inhomogeneities in these structures have prevented light from being completely stopped in these materials.

An ingenious alternative is electromagnetically induced transparency, in which two laser beams suppress an electronic transition excited by light at a certain frequency, making the material transparent to that particular light. If one of the lasers is suddenly turned off, light can be trapped inside the material and stored for up to a minute within coherent spin excitations of the material's electrons, before being released when the laser is turned back on. However, this must be done at temperatures near to absolute zero in order to preserve the coherence of the spin excitations. Furthermore, it does not truly store photons, instead preserving the information of the photons in another form.

Complex frequencies

Now, Ortwin Hess and colleagues at Imperial College in London have unveiled a simpler scheme. They calculate that a 290-nm-thick silicon slab clad in 500 nm layers of indium tin oxide (ITO) would support optical modes with frequencies that are complex numbers. Furthermore, one of these modes would have a group velocity of exactly zero.

A practical question is how these modes could be excited, given that one cannot send light down a waveguide at zero velocity. The Imperial team argues that the solution lies in the fact that the zero-velocity mode is a leaky mode, which means that light in the silicon waveguide can escape through the ITO cladding as a type of non-propagating wave called an evanescent wave. This would be a disadvantage in an ordinary waveguide, but the researchers have now turned it to their advantage.

"In the same way that you can radiate out, you can also use that trick to radiate in," explains Hess. The team calculates that near-infrared light shone on the waveguide at a specific angle would excite an evanescent wave in the ITO. This would then excite the desired zero-velocity mode in the silicon slab. Intriguingly, the wavepacket in the slab has almost no dispersion, which means that not only would it not move forwards, but the different wavelengths would also not spread out. This could be useful for boosting the number of optical data that could be transmitted down a waveguide.

Going to California

The researchers calculate that the effect should survive realistic levels of imperfection in the surfaces of the ITO and silicon, and experimentalists in California are planning to realize the set-up. If successful, Hess believes that the work could lead to several applications. The group is currently working on a tiny "stopped-light laser", in which a stationary pulse of light can be pumped and amplified with no need for a cavity or mirrors. Beyond this, holding light in one place would massively increase the probability of it interacting with matter. This could have applications in optical computing, high-efficiency solar cells and even biomolecular imaging. It might also be useful for creating an optical quantum memory.

Nicholas Fang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology applauds the work. "This is a unique approach to squeeze light into deep sub-wavelength features," he says. "This is probably the smallest optical fibre that one can engineer right now." He is particularly impressed by the fact that the design does not need any exotic materials. "The core is a standard silicon material and the waveguide traps light using a conducting oxide that is very often used in the display business, so both materials are fairly familiar to the photonics industry."

The research has been accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters.

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