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May 6, 2007, 4:47 PM CT

Fuel from fiber

Fuel from fiber
"Put a tree in your tank." Fuel companies aren't touting that slogan. At least not yet.

But thanks to research done in part by Bruce Dale, Michigan State University professor of chemical engineering and materials science, making fuels from poplar trees and corn stalks is becoming more efficient and cost-effective.

Dale is internationally known for his 30 years of research on making ethanol from plant biomass the stems, leaves, stalks and trunks of plants and trees commonly discarded as waste after a crop is harvested. He's developed a patented pretreatment process for biomass, ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX), which makes the breakdown of cellulose the most difficult part of making ethanol from plant biomass more efficient.

Dale and other members of the Biomass Refining Consortium for Applied Fundamentals and Innovation will discuss AFEX and other biomass pretreatment technologies during a presentation today at BIO2007, the annual international convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The consortium is a group of researchers studying biomass refining.

"In time, we can expect to completely replace gasoline and diesel with cellulose-derived biofuels that are cheaper, better for the environment and much better for national security than petroleum-derived fuels," Dale said.........

Posted by: John      Read more         Source

April 25, 2007, 9:33 PM CT

New Materials for Making "Spintronic" Devices

New Materials for Making L to R: Alexei Tsvelik, Dmitri Kharzeev, Igor Zaliznyak
An interdisciplinary group of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory has devised methods to make a new class of electronic devices based on a property of electrons known as "spin," rather than merely their electric charge. This approach, dubbed spintronics, could open the way to increasing dramatically the productivity of electronic devices operating at the nanoscale - on the order of billionths of a meter. The Brookhaven researchers have filed a U.S. provisional patent application for their invention, which is now available for licensing.

"This development can open the way for the use of spintronics in practical room temperature devices, an exciting prospect," said DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach. "The interplay between outstanding facilities and laboratory scientists is a root cause for this achievement, and a direct consequence of the collaborative transformational research that takes place in our DOE laboratories."

In the field of electronics, devices based on manipulating electronic charges have been rapidly shrinking and, therefore, getting more efficient, ever since they were first developed in the middle of the last century. "But progress in miniaturization and increasing efficiency is approaching a fundamental technological limit imposed by the atomic structure of matter," said physicist Igor Zaliznyak, lead author on the Brookhaven Lab patent application. Once you've made circuits that approach the size of a few atoms or a single atom, you simply cannot make them any smaller.........

Posted by: John      Read more         Source

April 25, 2007, 9:24 PM CT

Length of Latest Carbon Nanotube Arrays

Length of Latest Carbon Nanotube Arrays
UC engineering scientists have developed a novel composite catalyst and optimal synthesis conditions for oriented growth of multi-wall CNT arrays. And right now they lead the world in synthesis of extremely long aligned carbon nanotube arrays.

UC's carbon nanotube arrays stack up.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are of great interest because of their outstanding mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Intense research has been undertaken to synthesize long aligned CNTs because of their potential applications in nanomedicine, aerospace, electronics and a number of other areas.

Particularly important is that long CNT arrays can be spun into fibers that are - in theory - significantly stronger and lighter than any existing fibers and are electrically conductive. Nanotube fibers are expected to engender revolutionary advances in the development of lightweight, high-strength materials and could potentially replace copper wire.

Years of effort by UC scientists Vesselin Shanov and Mark Schulz, co-directors of the University of Cincinnati Smart Materials Nanotechnology Laboratory, along with Yun YeoHeung and students, led to the invention of the method for growing long nanotube arrays. Employing this invention, the UC scientists (in conjunction with First Nano, a division of CVD Equipment Corporation of Ronkonkoma, New York) have produced extremely long CNT arrays (18 mm) on their EasyTube System using a Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) process.........

Posted by: John      Read more         Source

April 25, 2007, 9:20 PM CT

Antarctic ice is focus of multinational workshop

Antarctic ice is focus of multinational workshop Credit: Courtesy of the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility at FSU
As the national repository for geological material from the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility at Florida State University houses the premier collection of Antarctic sediment cores -- and a hot new acquisition will offer an international team of researchers meeting there May 1-4 its best look yet at the impact of global warming on oceans worldwide.

The remarkable new core was extracted during the recent Antarctic summer from record-setting drilling depths 4,214 feet below the sea floor beneath Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, the Earth's largest floating ice body. Laced with sediment dating from the present day to about 10 million years ago, the core provides a geologic record of the ice shelf's history in unprecedented detail.

In fact, a polar research news feature in the March 2007 edition of the journal Nature called the sediment core "a frozen time capsule from Earth's icy past."

Greenish rock layered throughout the "time capsule" indicates periods of open-water conditions, suggesting that the Ross ice shelf retreated and advanced perhaps as a number of as 50 times over the last 5 million years in response to climate changes, says FSU AMGRF Head Curator Matthew Olney. He notes that signs of fluctuations such as these are critical because the Ross Sea ice is a floating extension of the even bigger West Antarctic Ice Sheet -- an area of the southernmost continent so unstable that researchers foresee its collapse in a world overheated by global warming.........

Posted by: Nora      Read more         Source

April 24, 2007, 10:59 PM CT

Supercomputer to Target Cellulose Bottleneck

Supercomputer to Target Cellulose Bottleneck
Termites and fungi already know how to digest cellulose, but the human process of producing ethanol from cellulose remains slow and expensive. The central bottleneck is the sluggish rate at which the cellulose enzyme complex breaks down tightly bound cellulose into sugars, which are then fermented into ethanol.

To help unlock the cellulose bottleneck, a team of researchers has conducted molecular simulations at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), based at UC San Diego. By using "virtual molecules," they have discovered key steps in the intricate dance in which the enzyme acts as a molecular machine -- attaching to bundles of cellulose, pulling up a single strand of sugar, and putting it onto a molecular conveyor belt where it is chopped into smaller sugar pieces.

"By learning how the cellulase enzyme complex breaks down cellulose we can develop protein engineering strategies to speed up this key reaction," said Mike Cleary, who is coordinating SDSC's role in the project. "This is important in making ethanol from plant biomass a realistic 'carbon neutral' alternative to the fossil petroleum used today for transportation fuels".

The results were published in the April 12 online edition of the Protein Engineering, Design and Selection journal, which also featured visualizations of the results on the cover.........

Posted by: John      Read more         Source

April 24, 2007, 10:54 PM CT

Ceiling Height Can Affect How A Person Thinks

Ceiling Height Can Affect How A Person Thinks
For years contractors, real estate agents and event planners have said that whether building, buying or planning an event, a higher or vaulted ceiling is always better. Are they right? Until now there has been no real evidence that ceiling height has any influence or advantage with consumers. But recent research by Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, suggests that the way people think and act is affected by ceiling height.

Meyers-Levy and co-author Rui (Juliet) Zhu, assistant professor of marketing at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia and a Carlson doctoral alum, observed that, depending on the situation, ceiling height will benefit or impair consumer responses. The paper "The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing People Use," would be reported in the recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

"When a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly," said Meyers-Levy. "They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics".

The research demonstrates that variations in ceiling height can evoke concepts that, in turn, affect how consumers process information. The authors theorized that when reasonably salient, a higher versus a lower ceiling can stimulate the concepts of freedom versus confinement, respectively. This causes people to engage in either more free-form, abstract thinking or more detail-specific thought. Thus, depending on what the task at hand requires, the consequences of the ceiling could be positive or negative.........

Posted by: Edwin      Read more         Source

April 24, 2007, 10:40 PM CT

Back to the Moon

Back to the Moon
Of the two luminaries that dominate our sky, it is the moon that is of particular interest to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) project. The LRO will travel to the moon in late fall 2008, mapping the surface to help pave the way for humans to return. It will help prepare us for extended surface exploration on the moon and for subsequent missions to Mars and other distant destinations. Lunar surface exploration will help us to practice living, working, and gathering science data before we venture into riskier territory.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will take the first strides in researching a complex habitat -- a hostile environment without atmosphere or clouds, with daytime temperatures reaching as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius) and as low as minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit (233 degrees Celsius), and sunlight lasting two weeks. The spacecraft will identify the volatile terrain so we can land safely. It should also be able to identify water on the surface, if it sees it.

The spacecraft being built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will include six instruments and a technology demonstration. The objective is to collect the highest resolution and most comprehensive data set ever returned from the moon, or gathered by any planetary mission, to help achieve NASA's goal of returning human explorers safely to the moon. The data gathered by instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will provide more information than all six Apollo surface missions managed to produce. While the Apollo missions focused on gaining science from the band around the moon's equator, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will circle the poles. It will spend at least one year in low, polar orbit, with all the instruments working simultaneously to collect detailed information about the lunar environment. Data sets will be deposited in the publicly accessible Planetary Data System within six months of its primary mission completion.........

Posted by: Edwin      Read more         Source

April 24, 2007, 10:37 PM CT

Avalanche Behavior Of Superfluid Helium

Avalanche Behavior Of Superfluid Helium
By utilizing ideas developed in disparate fields, from earthquake dynamics to random-field magnets, researchers at the University of Illinois have constructed a model that describes the avalanche-like, phase-slip cascades in the superflow of helium.

Just as superconductors have no electrical resistance, superfluids have no viscosity, and can flow freely. Like superconductors, which can be used to measure extremely tiny magnetic fields, superfluids could create a new class of ultra-sensitive rotation sensors for use in precision guidance systems and other applications.

But, before new sensors can be built, scientists and engineers must first acquire a better understanding of the odd quirks of superfluids arising in these devices.

In the April 23 issue of Physical Review Letters, U. of I. physicist Paul Goldbart, graduate student David Pekker and postdoctoral research associate Roman Barankov describe a model they developed to explain some of those quirks, which were found in recent experiments conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the Berkeley experiments, physicist Richard Packard and his students Yuki Sato and Emile Hoskinson explored the behavior of superfluid helium when forced to flow from one reservoir to another through an array of several thousand nano-apertures. Their intent was to amplify the feeble whistling sound of phase-slips associated with superfluid helium passing through a single nano-aperture by collecting the sound produced by all of the apertures acting in concert.........

Posted by: Nora      Read more         Source

April 23, 2007, 10:39 PM CT

Nanotechnology for treating spinal cord injuries

Nanotechnology for treating spinal cord injuries
Imagine a world where damaged organs in your bodykidneys, liver, heartcan be stimulated to heal themselves. Envision people tragically paralyzed whose injured spinal cords can be repaired. Think about individuals suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinsons or Alzheimers relieved of their symptoms completely and permanently.

Dr. Samuel I. Stupp, director of the Institute of BioNanotechnology in Medicine at Northwestern University, is one of a new breed of researchers combining nanotechnology and biology to enable the body to heal itself -- and who are achieving amazing early results. Dr. Stupps work suggests that nanotechnology can be used to mobilize the bodys own healing abilities to repair or regenerate damaged cells.

In a dramatic demonstration of what nanotechnology might achieve in regenerative medicine, paralyzed lab mice with spinal cord injuries have regained the ability to walk using their hind limbs six weeks after a simple injection of a purpose-designed nanomaterial.

A video of Dr. Stupp discussing his groundbreaking research with collaborator John Kessler is available on April 24 at

"By injecting molecules that were designed to self-assemble into nanostructures in the spinal tissue, we have been able to rescue and regrow rapidly damaged neurons," said Dr. Stupp at an April 23 session hosted by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. "The nanofibers thousands of times thinner than a human hair are the key to not only preventing the formation of harmful scar tissue which inhibits spinal cord healing, but to stimulating the body into regenerating lost or damaged cells".........

Posted by: John      Read more         Source

April 23, 2007, 10:28 PM CT

How Individual Molecules Recognise Each Other?

How Individual Molecules Recognise Each Other? Image: Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research
If one thinks that there are thousands of times more molecules forming our body than stars in the universe it is astonishing how all these molecules can work together in such an organised and efficient way. How can our muscles contract to make us walk? How can food be metabolised every day? How can we use specific drugs to relieve pain?

To work as a perfect machine, our body ultimately relies on the capability of each little part (molecule) to know a specific function and location out of countless possibilities. To do this, molecules carry information in different ways. An international team at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, in collaboration with scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg and the King's College London are seeking to find out how the information can be passed on at the very first steps: from the single molecule level to structures of increasing complexity and functionality.

The key to understanding all biological processes is recognition. Each molecule has a unique composition and shape that allows it to interact with other molecules. The interactions between molecules let us - as well as bacteria, animals, plants and other living systems - move, sense, reproduce and accomplish the processes that keep all living creatures alive.........

Posted by: Nora      Read more         Source

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