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Science News

Water squishes into stable shapes, no container required

Nanoparticles lock together to hold water in place for more than a month
WARPED WATER  A tiny ball of water holds its football shape for days because nanoparticles coating it lock together to trap Beth Mole

Distorted droplets of water can hold their elongated shapes for weeks when surrounded by a thin layer of nanoparticles.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst plunged water droplets loaded with plastic nanoparticles into a mix of oil and silicone polymer. Submerged in the slimy solution, the water’s nanoparticles floated to the edges of the droplets and interacted with the silicone polymer to form a detergent, which coated each ball of water. The researchers then flipped on an electrical current, which stretched the water droplets and their detergent layers into a football shape.

When researchers switched off the electricity, a water droplet without the coating would reform into a ball. But the nanoparticles in the detergent layer jammed together and kept the water trapped in place for over a month, the researchers report in the Oct. 25 Science. Caged droplets could one day encapsulate tiny chemical reactions or deliver drugs.

Four atoms make a material

Physicists have shown that as few as four lithium atoms can act like a chunk of the material.
Guest post by Gabriel Popkin

Physicists know how to describe single atoms, and they know how to describe a large collection of particles, like air. But they don’t always know when to switch from one description to the other.

As few as four atoms could signal the switch, scientists now report October 24 in Science.

Andre Wenz of the University of Heidelberg and colleagues added extremely cold lithium atoms one by one to an atom trap. They then changed the internal state of one of the atoms and measured how it interacted with the others.

When only two atoms were in the trap, modeling them like individual particles best described their interaction. But when the number of atoms increased to five, the physicists found that describing the four unchanged atoms as a bulk material worked best.

Technology News

Spying on the spies, a roundup of NSA news

State Department insider says German chancellor's reaction to phone tap may be an act; an enterprising tweeter works some spycraft on the NSA; Snowden speaks out; and more.
by Edward Moyer

The NSA's bulk collection of what sometimes seems to be just about anything about anybody generates so much news that it requires a bulk approach to keep up with it all. Here's a brief rundown of some recent surveillance-related tidbits.

Spying on bigwigs is apparently no biggie

Christian Whiton, a former senior adviser at the US State Department, says Germany's and France's supposed outrage over NSA spying may well be for show. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly "livid" about the possibility that her cell phone was tapped by the US, but perhaps that was just to please her public. Whiton tells CNN:

I think especially with Germany and France, of course, they are very familiar with U.S. signals intelligence, which is the technical term for eavesdropping...We use a lot of signals intelligence, we share it with our allies. And they spy on us too. France is one of the most aggressive collectors of intelligence. So what you are seeing is a bit of kabuki theater that will probably blow over before too long.

You Could Soon Be Riding Utah’s Gloriously Wireless Electric Bus

Photo: USUBy Keith Barry

Researchers at Utah State University have successfully developed and tested an electric bus that charges wirelessly through induction. Now a Utah-based startup has plans to roll it out to transit fleets across the country.

Designed by Utah State University’s Wireless Power Transfer Team and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative’s Advanced Transportation Institute, the battery-powered bus recharges every time it drives over a charge plate. Conveniently, those charge plates can safely be placed underneath bus stops. The frequent top-offs mean that electric buses can run on lighter, cheaper batteries, with no wires or downtime required.

We first told you about the prototype electric bus last year. The technology is now being commercialized by Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification (WAVE), a startup that was spun out of USU.

WAVE recently told VentureBeat that it raised an additional $1.4 million round of venture funding. That’s in addition to an existing $7.8 million. Development of the first prototype bus was funded by USU and a $2.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Environmental News

Gold Nanoparticles Give an Edge in Recycling Carbon Dioxide

Less is more ... to a point Gold nanoparticles make better catalysts for CO2 recycling than bulk gold metal. Size is crucial though, since edges produce more desired results than corners (red points, above). Nanoparticles of 8 nm appear to have a better edge-to-corner ratio than 4 nm, 6 nm, or 10 nm nanoparticles. (Credit: Sun lab/Brown University)Brown University

Oct. 24, 2013 — It's a 21st-century alchemist's dream: turning Earth's superabundance of carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas -- into fuel or useful industrial chemicals. Researchers from Brown have shown that finely tuned gold nanoparticles can do the job. The key is maximizing the particles' long edges, which are the active sites for the reaction.

By tuning gold nanoparticles to just the right size, researchers from Brown University have developed a catalyst that selectively converts carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO), an active carbon molecule that can be used to make alternative fuels and commodity chemicals.

"Our study shows potential of carefully designed gold nanoparticles to recycle CO2 into useful forms of carbon," said Shouheng Sun, professor of chemistry and one of the study's senior authors. "The work we've done here is preliminary, but we think there's great potential for this technology to be scaled up for commercial applications."

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Delegates To Debate Watered-Down Plan For Antarctic Marine Preserve

A lone emperor penguin makes his rounds, at the edge of an iceberg drift in the Antarctic's Ross Sea in Richard Harris

Less than 1 percent of the world's oceans are set aside as protected areas, but diplomats meeting now in Australia could substantially increase that figure.

Delegates from 24 nations and the European Union have convened to consider proposals to create vast new marine protected areas around Antarctica.

This same group met over the summer and didn't reach consensus, so it's now considering a scaled-back proposal.

exists principally to regulate fishing around Antarctica. But some members — including the United States — have been pushing the organization to create vast new marine protected areas. One proposed region would shield swaths of the Ross Sea. A second would apply to the waters off East Antarctica. The potential protected areas are getting a push from conservationists like at WWF-New Zealand.

"Last year I sailed through the Ross Sea," Zuur said at a news conference Wednesday in Hobart, Australia. "I saw dozens of whales, hundreds of seals and albatrosses and thousands of penguins. And that was just the wildlife on top of the water. The wildlife on the seafloor rivals that of the tropics. This area is really the Serengeti of the southern seas."

Medical News

New definition of 'full term' narrows on-time arrival window

Shutterstockby Laura Sanders

To the chagrin of pregnant women terrified of giving birth on a dingy Metro platform, due dates are far from certain. Due dates are also weird: They are calculated as 280 days (or 40 weeks) from the day of a woman’s last menstrual period, rendering a woman officially “pregnant” before she’s even ovulated. The odds of a little bundle of joy arriving precisely on his or her due date are actually pretty low. But thankfully, doctors are pretty good at ballparking the big day.

Until now, babies born at any time during a wide five-week window (three weeks before a due date and two weeks after) were considered fully cooked. Now, a panel of clinicians says otherwise.

In an October 22 announcement and an opinion piece in the November Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine narrowed the definition of “full term” by shaving off two weeks at the beginning and one at the end. Instead of a luxurious five-week window, babies now have a two-week window to hit. Under the new definition, babies born during weeks 37 and 38 of pregnancy are “early term,” babies who hit weeks 39 and 40 are “full term,” those who arrive during week 41 are “late term,” and babies born beyond week 42 are “post term.”

Grasshopper Mice Are Numb to the Pain of the Bark Scorpion Sting

A grasshopper mouse (O. torridus) attacks a bark scorpion (C. sculpturatus). (Credit: Ashlee Rowe, Michigan State University)University of Texas at Austin

Oct. 24, 2013 — The painful, potentially deadly stings of bark scorpions are nothing more than a slight nuisance to grasshopper mice, which voraciously kill and consume their prey with ease. When stung, the mice briefly lick their paws and move in again for the kill.

The grasshopper mice are essentially numb to the pain, scientists have found, because the scorpion toxin acts as an analgesic rather than a pain stimulant.

The scientists published their research this week in Science.

Ashlee Rowe, lead author of the paper, previously discovered that grasshopper mice, which are native to the southwestern United States, are generally resistant to the bark scorpion toxin, which can kill other animals.

It is still unknown why the toxin is not lethal to the mice.

Space News

A grander canyon on Mars

Hebes Chasma reflects Red Planet’s active past
New images of Hebes Chasma (shown) from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft suggest that massive landslides may have shaped the huge Sarah Zielinski

Hebes Chasma, a huge trough on Mars, reflects the Red Planet’s tumultuous and varied past. During the planet’s first billion years, the nearby Tharsis Region bulged with magma, then burst apart, forming enormous chasms such as Hebes (a majority of its 315-kilometer length shown above). More than four times as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon, Hebes may have once been filled with water; some areas have minerals that could have formed only in water’s presence. New images from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft show that massive landslides may have shaped and widened the trench since its violent birth.

UC Riverside astronomers help discover the most distant known galaxy

Distant galaxy Astronomy & Space

University of California, Riverside astronomers Bahram Mobasher and Naveen Reddy are members of a team that has discovered the most distant galaxy ever found. The galaxy is seen as it was just 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years. Results appears in the Oct. 24 issue of the journal Nature.

In collaboration with astronomers at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A & M University, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, Mobasher and Reddy identified a very distant galaxy candidate using deep optical and infrared images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Follow-up observations of this galaxy by the Keck Telescope in Hawai'i confirmed its distance.

In searching for distant galaxies, the team selected several candidates, based on their colors, from the approximately 100,000 galaxies identified in the Hubble Space Telescope images taken as a part of the CANDELS survey, the largest project ever performed by the Hubble Space Telescope, with a total allocated time of roughly 900 hours. However, using colors to sort galaxies is tricky because some nearby objects can masquerade as distant galaxies.

Odd News

Top 10 scientific supers

Supernova remnant SN 1572, which sits about 9,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia, was first discovered by Tycho Brahe and hinted to astronomers that stars weren’t as static as originally Tom Siegfried

10. Supersonic: Ernst Mach, 1887
Apparently, supersonic was originally used to denote sound at frequencies too high for human ears to hear, but today that term is ultrasonic. So that complicates the history of the word. But the seminal scientific study of projectiles traveling faster than the speed of sound in a given medium — today’s definition of supersonic — came from Mach and a collaborator named Peter Salcher. Hence the term “Mach number,” proposed in 1929 to describe, for example, the ratio of a fast airplane’s speed to the speed of sound in air.

9. Superego: Sigmund Freud, early 20th century
Seriously? Well, I needed 10. Originally superego referred to something like a conscience, the part of you that controlled your monsters from the id, which suggests that Walter Pidgeon was deficient in this area. Nowadays superego is more commonly used to describe LeBron James.

8. Supersymmetry: Evgeny Likhtman and Yuri Golfand, c. 1970; Julius Wess and Bruno Zumino, 1973
It’s a complicated history, but the first ideas of a new symmetry relating matter to force came from Likhtman and Golfand in the Soviet Union. Wess and Zumino’s paper got a lot more attention, though. The first actual use of the term supersymmetry was probably in a 1974 paper by Abdus Salam and John Strathdee.

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