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The Discovery Files

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:00am
Sticky solution to the places on the body that are difficult to bandage up

A cheaper, easier way to test for Malaria

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:00am
A cheaper, easier way to test for Malaria

What do Uranus's cloud tops have in common with rotten eggs?

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:00am

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Hydrogen sulfide, the gas that gives rotten eggs their distinctive odor, permeates the upper atmosphere of the planet Uranus -- as has been long debated, but never definitively proven. Based on sensitive spectroscopic observations with the Gemini North telescope, astronomers uncovered the noxious gas swirling high in the giant planet's cloud tops. This result resolves a stubborn, long-standing mystery of one of our neighbors in space. Even after decades of observations, and a visit by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, Uranus held on to one critical secret, the composition of its clouds. Now, one of the key components of the planet's clouds has finally been verified. Global collaborators spectroscopically dissected the infrared light from Uranus captured by the 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Hawaii's Maunakea. The Gemini data, obtained with the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer, sampled reflected sunlight from a region immediately above the main visible cloud layer in Uranus's atmosphere. Astronomers have long debated the composition of Uranus's clouds and whether hydrogen sulfide or ammonia dominate the cloud deck, but lacked definitive evidence either way.

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Face recognition for galaxies

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:00am

New control strategy helps reap maximum power from wind farms

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:00am

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Every two and a half hours, a new wind turbine rises in the U.S. In 2016, wind provided 5.6 percent of all electricity produced, more than double the amount generated by wind in 2010, but still a far cry from its potential. A team of researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas has developed a new way to extract more power from the wind. This approach has the potential to increase wind power generation significantly with a consequent increase in revenue. Numerical simulations performed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center indicate potential increases of up to six to seven percent. According to the researchers, a one percent improvement applied to all wind farms in the nation would generate the equivalent of $100 million in value. This new method, therefore, has the potential to generate $600 million in added wind power nationwide. In the branch of physics known as fluid dynamics, a common way to model turbulence is through large eddy simulations. Several years ago, the research team created models that can integrate physical behavior across a wide range of length scales -- from turbine rotors 100 meters long, to centimeters-thick tips of a blades -- and predict wind power with accuracy using supercomputers. The growing power of computers allows the researchers to accurately model the wind field on a wind farm and the power production of each single turbine.

Image credit: Christian Santoni Kenneth Carrasquillo Isnardo Arenas-Navarro and Stefano Leonardi/University of Texas at Dallas

The Academic Minute

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:00am
NSF-funded Laird Kramer transforms the undergraduate physics experience

Fight, flight or freeze

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:00am

Novel approach advances home and health sensors

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:00am
Novel approach advances home and health sensors

Microbes in underground aquifers beneath deep-sea Mid-Atlantic Ridge 'chow down' on carbon

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:00am

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All life on Earth -- from blue whales to microbes -- uses carbon in one form or another. But all carbon is not created equal. In the oceans, some carbon-containing compounds, such as sugars and proteins, are quickly gobbled up by microorganisms, while others -- such as the chitin found in fish scales -- are much harder to consume. Scientists have long believed that relatively little of the latter, called "refractory carbon," is degraded in the ocean. Much of it falls to the ocean floor and helps make up deep-water sediment, or so the thinking has been. Now, a research team led by ecologists Sunita Shah Walter of the University of Delaware and Peter Girguis of Harvard University has shown that underground aquifers near the undersea Mid-Atlantic Ridge act like natural biological reactors, pulling in cold, oxygenated seawater, and allowing microbes to consume more -- perhaps much more -- refractory carbon than scientists believed.

Image credit: National Science Foundation

Creating a buzz: Future wearables could tell us how we power human movement

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 3:00am

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For athletes and weekend warriors alike, returning from a tendon injury too soon often ensures a trip right back to physical therapy. However, a new technology developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers could one day help tell whether your tendons are ready for action. A team of researchers has devised a new approach for noninvasively measuring tendon tension while a person is engaging in activities like walking or running. This advance could provide new insights into the motor control and mechanics of human movement. It also could apply to fields ranging from orthopedics, rehabilitation, ergonomics and sports. Muscles generate movement at joints by pulling on tendons, which are bands of tissue that connect muscles to the skeleton. But assessing the forces transmitted by tendons inside the body of a living person is tricky. The UW-Madison engineers' device for measuring tendon tension is placed over a person's Achilles tendon. This advance could provide new insights into the motor control and mechanics of human movement.

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Image credit: Renee Meiller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Engineering Out Loud

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 3:00am
Using 3D modeling and simulations to target tumors

Unprecedented wave of large-mammal extinctions linked to ancient humans

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 3:00am

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Elephant-dwarfing wooly mammoths, elephant-sized ground sloths and various saber-toothed cats highlighted the array of massive mammals roaming Earth between 2.6 million and 12,000 years ago. Prior research suggested that such large mammals began disappearing faster than their smaller counterparts -- a phenomenon known as size-biased extinction -- in Australia around 35,000 years ago. With the help of emerging data from older fossil and geologic records, the new study estimated that this size-biased extinction started at least 125,000 years ago in Africa. By that point, the average African mammal was already 50 percent smaller than those on other continents, the study reported, despite the fact that larger landmasses can typically support larger mammals.

Image credit: Troy Fedderson/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Wood formation model to fuel progress in bioenergy, paper, new applications

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 3:00am

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A new systems biology model that mimics the process of wood formation allows scientists to predict the effects of switching on and off 21 pathway genes involved in producing lignin, a primary component of wood. The model, built on more than three decades of research, will speed the process of engineering trees for specific needs in timber, biofuel, pulp, paper and green chemistry applications. Lignin, which forms in the plant cell wall, is an essential component for tree growth that imparts strength and density to timber. But lignin must be removed from wood during biofuel, paper and pulp production through costly treatments that require high heat and harsh chemicals. The new model could serve as a foundation for future work, and could expand to incorporate new components and processes.

Image credit: Jack Wang/Hao-Chuan Huang/North Carolina State University