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How Much U.S. Shale Gas Is There, Really? PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011 02:38

A new estimate suggests there's 80 percent less gas than previously thought. That may still be plenty.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) raised eyebrows last week when it released its latest estimate of the amount of "undiscovered technically recoverable" natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, a rock formation that reaches through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia. The estimated volume, around 84 trillion cubic feet (TCF), is 80 percent smaller than an estimate published earlier this year by the Energy Information Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.

Smart Phones Help Manage Chronic Illness PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011 02:30

Apps that connect to medical monitors have been shown to improve the health of people with diabetes and hypertension—and could ease the burden on the health-care system.

App stores are exploding with programs designed to help people monitor their health using a smart phone. But the majority of these apps merely make it easier for patients to record health measures, such as weight or blood pressure. It's unclear if they actually significantly improve health behavior.

The First Fully Stretchable OLED PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2011 18:24

UCLA device is a step toward video displays and phones that could swell or shrink.

Stretchable electronics promise video displays that could be rolled up and tucked into a shirt pocket, or cell phones that could swell or shrink. Electronic sheets that could be draped like cloth would be a boon for robotic skin and embedded medical devices.

Now engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have taken a step toward these handy electronics by creating the first fully stretchable organic light-emitting diode (OLED). Previously, researchers had only been able to create devices that are bendable but can't stretch, or stretchable pieces that connect smaller, rigid LEDs.

Power-Scavenging Batteries PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 September 2011 08:06

Inexpensive chips harvest mechanical energy to charge batteries for wireless sensors.

MicroGen Systems, a startup based in Ithaca, New York, is developing energy-harvesting chips designed to power wireless sensors like those used to monitor tire pressure and environmental conditions. The chips convert the energy from environmental vibrations into electricity that's then used to charge a small battery. The chips could eliminate the need to replace batteries in these devices, which today requires a trip to a mechanic or, for networks of sensors that are widely distributed, a lot of legwork.

Engineered Viruses Selectively Kill Cancer Cells PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 September 2011 08:01

The experimental therapy could ultimately serve as a seek-and-destroy treatment for metastatic cancer.

A single injection of a virus that has been genetically engineered to kill cancer cells can reliably infect tumors and leave healthy tissue unharmed, according to an early stage trial of 23 patients with metastatic cancers. The findings help lay the groundwork for a new type of cancer medicine using cancer-killing viruses.

Researchers injected different doses of the virus into patients with different types of metastatic cancers. After eight to 10 days, they biopsied tumor tissue from each patient and found that the virus was replicating itself in the tumors of seven of the eight patients who had received the highest dose, with no serious side effects.

An RNA Switch for Stem Cells PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 02:31

A new study reveals the influence of large RNA molecules in controlling stem cells.

RNA molecules have long been known for their role in translating genes to proteins inside a cell, but more recently, scientists have found large numbers of RNA molecules that don't code for proteins but seem to have other cellular roles. Most research in mammals has focused on tiny RNA molecules called microRNAs, but a new study, published this week in Nature, describes the far-reaching effects of much larger and relatively unstudied RNA molecules called lincRNAs (short for large intergenic noncoding RNAs). The study identifies lincRNAs that play a role in the function of embryonic stem cells, and suggests trying to use lincRNAs to manipulate these cells to spawn other cell types.

The Petri Dish Gets a Makeover PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 August 2011 02:26

A nanopore membrane creates faster, surer cultures for everything from hospital diagnostics to water-quality checks.

A new type of diagnostic could let hospital laboratories identify the presence of dangerous bacteria up to five times faster than conventional methods. The test could reduce unnecessary antibiotic use and provide more reliable water-quality test results. The key to the process is a membrane with nanosized pores, which enable rapid growth and identification of live organisms.

Light Control PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 August 2011 02:20

Scientists use light to direct gene expression in mice.

Results: Researchers have developed a way to control gene expression with light. In cultured cells, the timing and intensity of light controlled both how much protein the target gene produced and when the production took place. When light-controlled cells were implanted in diabetic mice, researchers were able to manipulate the animals' insulin levels.

Advanced Electrodes for Better Li-Ion Batteries PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 05:27

Nanotube anodes could lead to higher-energy, faster-charging batteries for cell phones and notebooks.

Lithium-ion batteries could last longer if their electrodes stored more charge. Korean researchers have now made a new type of anode that holds three times more charge than the conventional graphite anodes used in batteries.

The new anode is made of germanium nanotubes. It charges and discharges five times faster than previously reported silicon anodes, lasts through twice as many charging cycles, and is easier to fabricate.

Energy-Harvesting Displays PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 August 2011 21:54

Adding solar cells to screens could prolong the battery life of many electronic gadgets.

Adding solar cells to liquid-crystal displays could help recover a significant amount of energy that's ordinarily wasted in powering them. Two research groups have created light filters that double as photovoltaic cells, a trick that could boost the battery life of phones and laptops.

Over 90 percent of the displays sold this year will use liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology. LCDs are, however, tremendously inefficient, converting only about 5 percent of the light produced by a backlight into a viewable image. The LCD in a notebook computer consumes one-third of its power.

Gel Lets Doctors Fix Ruptured Blood Vessels without Sutures PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011 02:33

The new technique could make some delicate surgical procedures quicker and safer.

A synthetic, temperature-sensitive gel could help surgeons reconnect blood vessels more quickly, safely, and easily. The new gel, successfully tested in rats, could also enable more complex robotic surgery as well as minimally invasive surgery. 

There have been few advances in the art of reconnecting blood vessels since French surgeon Alexis Carrel received the Nobel Prize in 1912 for his method of sewing them together.

High-Tech Demand Sparks Return of Cobalt Mines PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2011 18:29

Cobalt hasn't been mined in the U.S. in 30 years, but the blue metal's crucial role in energy and communications technologies is changing that.

In a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last year, there was mention of a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The document revealed that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considered this mine so vital that its "incapacitation or destruction ... would have a debilitating impact" on U.S. security or the national economy. That's because the U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cobalt, but mines none of it.

Stem-Cell Engineering Offers a Lifeline to Endangered Species PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2011 18:19

A technology used to develop new medical treatments might one day revive endangered or extinct species.

In 1972, a group of forward-thinking conservationists in San Diego began freezing skin samples from endangered species. The hope was that science would eventually find a way to use the cells to help revive these fragile populations.

Jeanne Loring and collaborators at Scripps Research Institute have taken a key step toward fulfilling that hope by creating stem cells from frozen skin cells of two such species—the silver-maned drill monkey and the northern white rhinoceros.

Old Blood Impairs Young Brains PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 September 2011 08:04

A study suggests that age-related chemical signals in blood impair the growth of new neurons, but young blood can refresh old brains.

It's a cliché of vampire tales that young blood is preferable to old, but a new study suggests there's some truth to it.

A paper published today in Nature finds that when younger mice are exposed to the blood of older mice, their brain cells behave more like those found in aging brains, and vice versa. The researchers who carried out the work also uncovered chemical signals in aged blood that can dampen the growth of new brain cells, suggesting that the decline in brain function with age could be caused in part by blood-borne factors rather than an intrinsic failure of brain cells.

Speeding Up Materials Design PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 02:34

A new computer program accurately predicts the behavior of proposed materials, which means faster development of new electronics and solar cells.

A chemical compound designed with the aid of a Harvard-created computer program has turned out to be one of the best organic electronic materials to date. This new material, an organic semiconductor, could be used to make new electronics such as colorful displays that roll up. It's an important proof of principle for using computers to aid materials design.

Organic semiconductors could enable less expensive, lightweight electronics that can take new forms, such as flexible displays and printed solar cells.

Hologram Method Used to Study Neurons PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 August 2011 02:21

The approach could ultimately be used to rapidly screen new drugs designed to protect brain cells.

Scientists in Switzerland have developed a novel way to monitor a neuron's electrical activity by bathing it in laser light. The technique, called holographic microscopy, doesn't require the invasive electrodes or dyes typically used to measure cell activity. Researchers say the approach could be used to rapidly screen new drugs designed to protect brain cells.

Holographic microscopy shines laser light on an object and computationally reconstructs the object's form based on how the light waves are deformed.

Growing Heart Cells Just for You PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 August 2011 02:23

Peering through a microscope in Madison, Wisconsin, I watched my heart cells beat in a petri dish. Looking like glowing red shrimp without tails, they pulsated and moved very slowly toward one another. Left for several hours, I was told, these cardiomyocytes would coalesce into blobs trying to form a heart. Flanking me were scientists who had conducted experiments that they hoped would reveal whether my heart cells are healthy, whether they're unusually sensitive to drugs, and whether they get overly stressed when I'm bounding up a flight of stairs.

Venture Capitalists Back Away from Clean Energy PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 05:37

Their shift toward low-risk projects could strand innovative renewable-energy technology in the lab.

As governments around the world are scaling back support for renewable energy, venture capitalists are shifting their clean technology investment strategy. They're focusing less on high-risk technologies and more on ideas that could have a faster payoff but a smaller impact, such as technologies for improving energy efficiency. The shift is raising concerns about how innovative energy technologies will  be commercialized.

IBM's New Chips Compute More Like We Do PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 05:19

Researchers hope a microchip that mimics the basic functioning of the brain could perform complex calculations while using little power.

A microchip with about as much brain power as a garden worm might not seem very impressive, compared with the blindingly fast chips in modern personal computers. But a new microchip made by researchers at IBM represents a landmark. Unlike an ordinary chip, it mimics the functioning of a biological brain—a feat that could open new possibilities in computation.

Watching the Protein Tango PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 August 2011 21:50

A new technique helps researchers visualize molecules moving in close to real time.

A new microscope has allowed researchers to watch molecules move within a cell on a millisecond-by-millisecond time scale for the first time. The novel method, which combines two preëxisting microscopic techniques, opens a window onto cellular processes that had previously been undetectable, unveiling molecular activity within a cell at a much finer level than ever before possible.

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