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Science News

Unusual Material Expands Dramatically Under Pressure

This is a representation of zinc dicyanoaurate showing a spring-like gold helix embedded in a flexible honeycomb-like framework. (Gray balls are carbon atoms, purple is nitrogen, and teal is zinc.) (Credit: Image courtesy of Andrew Goodwin, University of Oxford.)American Crystallographic Association (ACA)

July 18, 2013 — If you squeeze a normal object in all directions, it shrinks in all directions. But a few strange materials will actually grow in one dimension when compressed. A team of chemists has now discovered a structure that takes this property to a new level, expanding more dramatically under pressure than any other known material. The finding could lead to new kinds of pressure sensors and artificial muscles.

Andrew Cairns, a graduate student at the University of Oxford and a member of the research team, will discuss the new material and its applications at the American Crystallographic Association meeting held July 20-24 in Honolulu.

Negative linear compression, or NLC, has existed for millions of years; in fact, biologists believe octopi and squid use the phenomenon to make their muscles contract. Only in recent decades, however, have scientists learned to design materials with this property. Until a few years ago, none of these humanmade structures had been found to expand more than a fraction of a percent under compression, making them of limited use in engineering. But researchers are now learning how to design materials that expand far more than those previously known. The trick, say the scientists presenting this latest work, is to look for structures that can respond to pressure by rearranging their atoms in space without collapsing.


Chimpanzees and orangutans remember distant past events

Young chimpanzeePsychology & Sociology

We humans can remember events in our lives that happened years ago, with those memories often surfacing unexpectedly in response to sensory triggers: perhaps a unique flavor or scent. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on July 18 have evidence to suggest that chimpanzees and orangutans have similar capacities. In laboratory tests, both primate species were clearly able to recollect a tool-finding event that they had experienced just four times three years earlier and a singular event from two weeks before, the researchers show. It seems we have more in common with our primate cousins than we thought, specifically when it comes to our autobiographical memories, the researchers say.

"Our data and other emerging evidence keep challenging the idea of non-human animals being stuck in time," says Gema Martin-Ordas of Aarhus University in Denmark. "We show not only that chimpanzees and orangutans remember events that happened two weeks or three years ago, but also that they can remember them even when they are not expecting to have to recall those events at a later time."



Technology News

Teardown: What's inside Google Glass?

Editor’s note: Google Glass is not only difficult to come by but requires tremendous skill to teardown. Scott Torborg  and Star Simpson, in cooperation with SparkFun, took a look inside the sought-after device. They then graciously agreed to share the teardown as a way to “give back” to the engineering community. What follows is their look inside Google Glass.
It's surprisingly simple.Scott Torborg and Star Simpson

Google's latest and hottest gadget needs little introduction. Since its public unveiling in April 2012, the tiny head-mounted Android computer has been collecting controversy and sociological analysis. It is currently available in limited beta to eminent members of the tech community and to a selection of "Glass Explorers." As members of the latter program, we are delighted to be able to explore Glass.

Growing up on a rich diet of dystopian tech fiction, we were filled with both intrigue and concern about Glass and decided to take our model apart to bring you a detailed view into the electronics guts of the device.

Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society.

—Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson


Watch: Autonomous Robots Self-Assemble and Take Flight as One

Quadcopters seem like a relic from Kittyhawk when compared to the Distributed Flight Array's asymmetrical decacopter. Image: Dr. Raymond OungBy Joseph Flaherty

The wonky discipline known as “distributed computation algorithms” can be a bit … dry. So instead of teaching the subject with problem sets and lengthy exams, the faculty of the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich decided to educate students by having them develop a robotics platform that embodies the principles. The result, called the Distributed Flight Array (DFA), is a proto-Transformer that allows multiple autonomous robots to connect with each other and take flight while acting as an awesome platform for experimentation.

The DFA bots are small, but there is more than meets the eye packed into their 3-D printed chassis. The system is designed around a central propeller which provides thrust for the structure. Surrounding it are three omni-directional wheels that let the bots get into position with each other on the ground while magnets embedded in the frame provide a connection. A gyroscope provides positional information to an on-board microprocessor while an infrared sensor feeds information about altitude to the system. Pins allow the collected bots to communicate this real-time data between each other and adjust their individual thrusts to keep the combined unit stable. Despite the sensitive nature of the electronics, when a flight is over, the bots disengage midair and fall safely to the ground where the process can begin anew.



Environmental News

Why Predicting Sea Ice Cover Is So Difficult

It's hard to pinpoint when the Arctic will be sea ice free in the summer.
Meltwater streams from ice near Svalbard, Norway.Jane J. Lee

Predicting Mother Nature is never an exact science. Weather forecasters can get it wrong, leaving people dressed for a rainy day high and dry. And the further out researchers try to predict things like air temperature or sea ice cover, the more uncertainty there is.

But knowing how Earth's climate will react to natural and human-induced changes is important for governments and industry. (Related: "As Arctic Ice Melts, Rush Is on for Shipping Lanes, More.")

Perhaps nowhere are the stakes as high as in the Arctic. The mineral, gas, and biological bounties are powerful economic attractions, drawing countries into a modern-age gold rush fueled by disappearing sea ice. (Related: "Russia Plants Underwater Flag, Claims Arctic Seafloor.")

Predicting when the Arctic will be sea ice free in the summer months has occupied researchers for years. Estimates under high greenhouse gas emissions range from the year 2011 to 2098.


Wildfires Will Worsen, And Further Strain The Forest Service

This aerial photo from July 3 shows Yarnell, Ariz., after the Yarnell Hill Fire burned through and claimed the lives of 19 members of an elite firefighting crew.by Christopher Joyce

The deaths of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, Ariz., this summer have focused a lot of attention on just how bad wildfire has become in the West. And research predicts the situation is going to get worse.

Over the past decade, the region has seen some of the worst fire seasons on record. In addition to lives lost, the fires have cost billions in terms of lost property and in taxpayer money spent fighting the blazes.

Ray Rasker, an economist who lives in the fire country of southwestern Montana, tracks fire records the way other economists study business cycles or commodity prices. He's seen a disturbing trend.

First, he says, "the fires are twice as large, they're burning twice as long, and the season is starting earlier and ending later." Second: More homes are being built right next to national forests, and when those forests burn, firefighters have to defend those homes.



Medical News

Immunity: A Secret to Making Macrophages

Blood progenitor cells differentiating in culture. The brightness of green indicates the amount of the regulatory protein PU.1 present. These images are from a time-lapse movie taken over the course of differentiation. (Credit: Hao Yuan Kueh, Michael Elowitz and Ellen Rothenberg/Caltech)California Institute of Technology

July 18, 2013 — Biologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have worked out the details of a mechanism that leads undifferentiated blood stem cells to become macrophages -- immune cells that attack bacteria and other foreign pathogens. The process involves an unexpected cycle in which cell division slows, leading to an increased accumulation of a particular regulatory protein that in turn slows cell division further. The finding provides new insight into how stem cells are guided to generate one cell type as opposed to another.

Previous research has shown that different levels of a key regulatory protein called PU.1, which is involved in the new cycle, are important for the production of at least four different kinds of differentiated blood cells. For example, levels of PU.1 need to increase in order for macrophages to form, but must decrease during the development of another type of white blood cell known as the B cell. Precisely how such PU.1-level changes occur and are maintained in the cells has been unclear. But by observing differentiation in both macrophages and B cells, the Caltech team discovered something unusual in the feedback loop that produces macrophages. Their findings appear in the current issue of Science Express.


Good Vibrations: Mediating Mood Through Brain Ultrasound

Stuart Hameroff, professor emeritus in the UA's departments of anesthesiology and psychology, is lead author on the first clinical study showing that transcranial ultrasound affects mood. (Credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Hameroff)University of Arizona

July 18, 2013 — Ultrasound vibrations applied to the brain may affect mood, UA researchers have discovered. The finding potentially could lead to new treatments for psychological and psychiatric disorders.

University of Arizona researchers have found in a recent study that ultrasound waves applied to specific areas of the brain appear able to alter patients' moods. The discovery has led the scientists to conduct further investigations with the hope that this technique could one day be used to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Dr. Stuart Hameroff, professor emeritus of the UA's departments of anesthesiology and psychology and director of the UA's Center for Consciousness Studies, is lead author on the first clinical study of brain ultrasound, which was published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

Hameroff became interested in applying ultrasound to the human brain when he read about a study by colleague Jamie Tyler at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, who found physiological and behavioral effects in animals of ultrasound applied to the scalp, with the waves passing through the skull.



Space News

How Mars' Atmosphere Got So Thin: Reports Detail Curiosity Clues to Atmosphere's Past

This picture shows a lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, an instrument that is part of the Sample Analysis at Mars investigation on NASA's Curiosity rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)NASA

July 18, 2013 — A pair of new papers report measurements of the Martian atmosphere's composition by NASA's Curiosity rover, providing evidence about loss of much of Mars' original atmosphere.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of laboratory instruments inside the rover has measured the abundances of different gases and different isotopes in several samples of Martian atmosphere. Isotopes are variants of the same chemical element with different atomic weights due to having different numbers of neutrons, such as the most common carbon isotope, carbon-12, and a heavier stable isotope, carbon-13.

SAM checked ratios of heavier to lighter isotopes of carbon and oxygen in the carbon dioxide that makes up most of the planet's atmosphere. Heavy isotopes of carbon and oxygen are both enriched in today's thin Martian atmosphere compared with the proportions in the raw material that formed Mars, as deduced from proportions in the sun and other parts of the solar system. This provides not only supportive evidence for the loss of much of the planet's original atmosphere, but also a clue to how the loss occurred.


NASA's Hubble shows link between stars' ages and their orbits

NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey (DSS; STScI/AURA/UKSTU/AAO), H. Richer and J. Heyl (University of British Columbia), and J. Anderson and J. Kalirai (STScI)Astronomy & Space

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have determined the orbital motion of two distinct populations of stars in an ancient globular star cluster, offering proof they formed at different times and providing a rare look back into the Milky Way galaxy's early days. Researchers led by Harvey Richer of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver combined recent Hubble observations with eight years' worth of data from the telescope's archive to determine the motions of the stars in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, which is located about 16,700 light-years away in the southern constellation Tucana.

The analysis enabled researchers, for the first time, to link the movement of stars within the cluster with the stars' ages. The two populations in 47 Tucanae differ in age by less than 100 million years.



Odd News

“Stubborn” Corpse Flower Still Hasn’t Bloomed

Representatives have said “to heck with” trying to predict the flower’s opening.
Visitors look on in anticipation of the blossoming corpse flower at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington.Lara Sorokanich

The U.S. Botanic Garden's corpse flower is proving to be a real stinker—and not in the way you'd expect.

The flower, named Titan arum, was expected to bloom last weekend but remains "stubbornly" closed up almost a week later.

"We're really concerned about it, because it hasn't lived up to the predictions," said Holly Shimizu, the executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. "I'm sort of distressed about it!"

But those extra days haven't detracted from the public's interest in the flower. Each day, tourists and botanists alike continue to flock to the atrium, hoping to catch a glimpse—or whiff—of the petulant plant.

What's the Big Deal?

The corpse flower is not your average daisy. For one, it towers over most other blooms, reaching heights as tall as an NBA basketball hoop. It rarely blooms, only once every six to ten years, and when it does, it is a force to be reckoned with.

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 09:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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