Sci/tech

Research Accelerates Quest for Quicker, Longer-lasting Electronics
June 23, 2017 04:38 PM - University of California – Riverside

In the world of electronics, where the quest is always for smaller and faster units with infinite battery life, topological insulators (TI) have tantalizing potential.

In a paper published today in “Science Advances,” Jing Shi, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Arizona State University report they have created a TI film just 25 atoms thick that adheres to an insulating magnetic film, creating a “heterostructure.” This heterostructure makes TI surfaces magnetic at room temperatures and higher, to above 400 Kelvin or more than 720 degrees Fahrenheit.

New 3D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
June 23, 2017 03:59 PM - Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

As farmers survey their fields this summer, several questions come to mind: How many plants germinated per acre? How does altering row spacing affect my yields? Does it make a difference if I plant my rows north to south or east to west? Now a computer model can answer these questions by comparing billions of virtual fields with different planting densities, row spacings, and orientations.

Genes, Ozone, and Autism: Increased risk for autism when genetic variation and air pollution meet
June 23, 2017 03:53 PM - Penn State

A new analysis shows that individuals with high levels of genetic variation and elevated exposure to ozone in the environment are at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected by adding the two risk factors together. The study is the first to look at the combined effects of genome-wide genetic change and environmental risk factors for autism, and the first to identify an interaction between genes and environment that leads to an emergent increase in risk that would not be found by studying these factors independently. A paper describing the research appears online in the journal Autism Research.

“Autism, like most human diseases, is complex,” said Scott B. Selleck, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and one of the leaders of the research team. “There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of genes involved and up until now -- with very few exceptions -- these have been studied independently of the environmental contributors to autism, which are real. Our team of researchers represents a merger of people with genetic expertise and environmental epidemiologists, allowing us for the first time to answer questions about how genetic and environmental risk factors for autism interact.”

NIST/CU Team Launches 'Comb and Copter' System to Map Atmospheric Gases
June 23, 2017 01:49 PM - National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder have demonstrated a new mobile, ground-based system that could scan and map atmospheric gas plumes over kilometer distances.

The system uses an eye-safe laser instrument to send light that “combs” the air to a flying multi-copter and analyzes the colors of light absorbed along the way to identify gas signatures in near-real time.

The “comb and copter” system may be useful to scan for leaks in oil and gas fields, study the mixing of auto emissions and other gases in the boundary between the Earth’s surface and the next layer of the atmosphere, or, with planned upgrades, detect pollutants or chemical threats and their sources.

Crops' sweet bribes for ants help them bear fruit
June 23, 2017 11:24 AM - University of Edinburgh

Flowering crops such as beans and cotton offer their sweetest nectar to recruit colonising ants.

This strategy balances their need for defence and to reproduce, research suggests.  

So-called ant-plants carefully manage the amount and sweetness of nectar produced on their flowers and leaves, a study shows.

This enables them to attract ants – which aggressively deter herbivores – while also luring insects that will spread pollen.

Cut U.S. commercial building energy use 29% with widespread controls
June 23, 2017 10:47 AM - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Like driving a car despite a glowing check-engine light, large buildings often chug along without maintenance being performed on the building controls designed to keep them running smoothly.

And sometimes those controls aren't used to their full potential, similar to a car at high speed in first gear. Instead of an expensive visit to the mechanic, the result for a commercial building is a high power bill.

A new report finds that if commercial buildings fully used controls nationwide, the U.S. could slash its energy consumption by the equivalent of what is currently used by 12 to 15 million Americans.

Measuring biological dust in the wind
June 23, 2017 09:28 AM - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In the popular children’s story “Horton Hears a Who!” author Dr. Seuss tells of a gentle and protective elephant who stumbles upon a speck of dust that harbors a community of microscopic creatures called the Whos living the equally tiny town of Whoville. Throughout their journey together, Horton argues for the existence of the Whos traveling around in the air on a dust speck, while doubters dispute the finding. Ultimately, through observation, evidence for the organisms emerges, but regardless of the outcome, this speck altered a world greater than its own.

While this tale is a work of fiction, climate and atmospheric scientists have considered a real-life Whoville scenario — biological particles and inorganic material riding around in the atmosphere affecting the climate. Previous research has shown that some aerosols are very good at nucleating ice, which could form clouds in the troposphere. But due to complex atmospheric chemistries and a lack of data, scientists aren’t sure what percentage of these ice active particles are biological in nature and abundant enough in the troposphere to have an impact on climate. Furthermore, chemically parsing the metaphorical Whos from their speck has proved difficult — until now.

Oral Plague Vaccine Helps Reduce Outbreaks in Prairie Dog Colonies
June 23, 2017 07:42 AM - USGS

Prairie dogs in the wild are less likely to succumb to plague after they ingest peanut-butter-flavored bait that contains a vaccine against the disease, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study published today in the journal EcoHealth. 

In an effort to increase populations of endangered black-footed ferrets and conserve the prairie dogs they rely on for survival, it is essential for land managers to control outbreaks of the bacterial disease also known as sylvatic plague. The plague affects numerous wild animal species, and domestic animals and humans are susceptible as well.

Can animal diet mitigate greenhouse emissions?
June 22, 2017 03:39 PM - Technical University of Madrid (UPM)

A research of UPM and UPV has shown that the inclusion of agroindustrial by-products in pig feed can reduce the nitrous oxide emissions (N2O) of the slurry used as manures up to 65%.

The aim of this study carried out by UPM researchers with the collaboration of Institute for Animal Science and Technology of UPV was to influence the ingredients of pig diet to modify the composition of slurry used as manures and to assess the possible variations on N2O emissions.

Satellite data to map endangered monkey populations on Earth
June 22, 2017 03:27 PM - University of Leicester

A team of scientists led by the Universities of Leicester and East Anglia are leading research to protect wildlife by using satellite data to identify monkey populations that have declined through hunting.

In a new article in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, a working group chaired by Professor Heiko Balzter, from the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Leicester, has looked at ways in which an array of technologies could be used to identify how many species are alive in an area and the risks they may be exposed to.

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