Improved Telescope Sees Through

Atmosphere With Pinpoint Sharpness

ScienceDaily (June 28, 2010) — A sharp view of the starry sky is difficult, because the atmosphere constantly distorts the image. TU/e researcher Roger Hamelinck developed a new type of telescope mirror, which quickly corrects the image. His prototypes are required for future large telescopes, but also gives old telescopes a sharper view.

Contains ‘bubbles’ of hot and cold air, each with their own refractive index, which distort the image. As a result, the light reaching ground-based telescopes is distorted. Hamelinck’s system tackles this problem with a deformable mirror in the telescope. Under this ultrathin mirror there are actuators, which can wherever necessary quickly create bumps and dimples in the mirror. These bumps and dimples correct the continuously changing distortion created in the atmosphere. This is of crucial importance to the new generation of large telescopes in particular. Hamelinck: “In principle, larger telescopes also have a higher resolution, but attaining an optimal optical quality is hampered by the atmosphere. Therefore you absolutely need these corrections.”

The principle of the ‘adaptive deformable mirror’ has been known some fifty odd years, but was limited especially by the technology. Thus, the actuators of earlier systems generated much heat, which caused the systems themselves to become a source of distortion. “Contrary to the old systems, this new system has an ultrathin mirror, so that very little power is needed for its deformation ,” Hamelinck explains. “In combination with the efficient, electromagnetic reluctance actuators, this reduces the heat generation of the system to a very low level. Thanks to this, no active cooling is required.” Hamelinck’s working prototype has a five-centimeter diameter. Given that the design is scalable and expandable with modules, the system is suited for very large telescopes, such as the future 42-meter-big E-ELT (European Extra Large Telescope). The E-ELT is fitted inter alia with an adaptive mirror of 2.4 meters.

Research institute TNO is so enthusiastic about Hamelinck’s work, that the institute is going to market it. Not only so for new telescopes, but also for existing ones. “It can be built into any telescope in the world,” says Ben Braam, business developer Space & Science of TNO. “When you turn on the system, the image is suddenly enhanced. As if it is putting on new spectacles at long last.” Affordable spectacles, in Braam’s opinion. “I’m thinking in terms of fifty to one hundred thousand euro. Which is relatively cheap for that world.”

Admittedly, the system does not correct for everything. Clouds continue to be a problem, for example. Consequently the best places for telescopes are still locations where one can enjoy a clear, cloudless sky most of the time. That would exclude the Netherlands, then.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Hop, Jump and Stick;

Robots Designed With Insect Instincts

Science (June 28, 2010) — A swarm of flying robots soars into a blazing forest fire. With insect-like precision and agility, the machines land on tree trunks and bound over rough terrain before deploying crucial sensors and tools to track the inferno and its effects. This is a scenario that Mirko Kovac, from EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, thinks may not be so far off.

Swarm robotics is offering innovative solutions to real-world problems by creating a new form of artificial intelligence based on insect-like instincts. Mirko Kovac, from EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, is a young robotics engineer who has already made leaps forward in the field with his grasshopper-inspired jumping robot. He and his collaborators have created an innovative perching mechanism where the robot flies head first into the object, a tree for example — without being destroyed — and attaches to almost any type of surface using sharp prongs. It then detaches on command. The goal is to create robots that can travel in swarms over rough terrain to come to the aide of catastrophe victims.

“We are not blindly imitating nature, but using the same principles to possibly improve on it,” explains Kovac, who recently finished his doctoral studies as EPFL. “Simple behavioral laws such as jumping, flying and perching lead to complex control over movement without the need for high computational power.”

Jumping, gliding and perching allow for mobility over rocky territory or destroyed urban areas. This new form of AI takes its inspiration from the insect world, but is more as an abstract reflection on their instincts and design principles than merely imitating their morphology. This simplicity allows for greater mobility since the robots are not bogged down with heavy batteries. Kovac imagines swarms of his robots equipped with different sensors and small cameras that could be deployed over devastated areas to transmit essential information back to rescue command centers.

The labs most recent innovation, perching a robot, saves valuable energy by allowing the robot to rest like insects or birds do. Many previous perching mechanisms include a complicated swooping maneuver to decrease momentum and land on legs, often without the ability of detaching. The mechanism developed by Dr Kovac and Jürg Markus Germann, recently published in the Journal of Micro-Nano Mechatronics, avoids this problem by using two spring-loaded arms fitted with pins that dig into the surface, whether it is wood or concrete. The snapping of the arms creates a forward momentum, allowing for a soft deceleration of the glider and avoiding mechanical damage. A remotely controlled mini-motor then detracts the pins and allows the robot to continue on its way.

“I am fascinated by the creative process,” says Kovac, “and how it is possible to use the sophistication found in nature to create something completely new.” The perching mechanism can be easily adapted to other robots. His previous robot, a quarter-gram jumping robot that can achieve heights of up to four and a half feet, could now be fitted with the new perching mechanism as well as wings, thus creating a hybrid creature that gets around much like a flying grasshopper.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Physics of the ‘Bends’:

New Study Helps Explain

Decompression Sickness

Science(June 28, 2010) — As you go about your day-to-day activities, tiny bubbles of nitrogen come and go inside your tissues. This is not a problem unless you happen to experience large changes in ambient pressure, such as those encountered by scuba divers and astronauts. During large, fast pressure drops, these bubbles can grow and lead to decompression sickness, popularly known as “the bends.”

A study in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), may provide a physical basis for the existence of these bubbles, and could be useful in understanding decompression sickness.

A physiological model that accounts for these bubbles is needed both to protect against and to treat decompression sickness. There is a problem though. “These bubbles should not exist,” says author Saul Goldman of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Because they are believed to be composed mostly of nitrogen, while the surrounding atmosphere consists of both nitrogen and oxygen, the pressure of the bubbles should be less than that of the surrounding atmosphere. But if this were so, they would collapse.

“We need to account for their apparent continuous existence in tissues in spite of this putative pressure imbalance,” says Goldman.

If, as is widely believed, decompression sickness is the result of the growth of pre-existing gas bubbles in tissues, those bubbles must be sufficiently stable to have non-negligible half-lives. The proposed explanation involves modeling body tissues as soft elastic materials that have some degree of rigidity. Previous models have focused on bubble formation in simple liquids, which differ from elastic materials in having no rigidity.

Using the soft-elastic tissue model, Goldman finds pockets of reduced pressure in which nitrogen bubbles can form and have enough stability to account for a continuous presence of tiny bubbles that can expand when the ambient pressure drops. Tribonucleation, the phenomenon of formation of new gas bubbles when submerged surfaces separate rapidly, provides the physical mechanism for formation of new gas bubbles in solution. The rapid separation of adhering surfaces results in momentary negative pressures at the plane of separation. Therefore, while these tiny bubbles in elastic media are metastable, and do not last indefinitely, they are replaced periodically. According to this picture, tribonucleation is the source, and finite half-lives the sink, for the continuous generation and loss small gas bubbles in tissues.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood

Pressure, Research Finds

Science (June 28, 2010) — For people with hypertension, eating dark chocolate can significantly reduce blood pressure. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Medicine combined the results of 15 studies into the effects of flavanols, the compounds in chocolate which cause dilation of blood vessels, on blood pressure.

Dr Karin Ried worked with a team of researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia, to conduct the analysis. She said, “Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure. There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate. We’ve found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure.”

The pressure reduction seen in the combined results for people with hypertension, 5mm Hg systolic, may be clinically relevant — it is comparable to the known effects of 30 daily minutes of physical activity (4-9mm Hg) and could theoretically reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years.

The researchers are cautious, however, “The practicability of chocolate or cocoa drinks as long-term treatment is questionable,” said Dr Ried.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha

Cycad Pest Uses Small Size to Hide

from Predators:

Researchers Look for

Small Control Organism

Science (June 21, 2010) — One way to keep from getting eaten is to run. But recent research at the University of Guam’s Western Pacific Tropical Research Center shows that sometimes it’s better to just hide.

“The small size of an alien insect that feeds on a native tree from the western Pacific island of Guam allows it to hide in cracks and other locations that are out of reach for its only local natural enemy,” said UOG entomologist Aubrey Moore.

Moore has teamed up with UOG ecologist Thomas Marler to study the relationship between the native cycad tree, known as “fadang” in the Chamorro language, and a minute alien insect pest called cycad aulacaspis scale (CAS). The pest arrived on Guam in 2003, and then spread to Rota 50 miles north and Palau 800 miles southwest of Guam. The pest has killed 90% of Guam’s wild cycads. Findings about the ability of CAS to go undetected in secretive locations on cycad plants were published by Marler and Moore in the May issue of the journal HortScience.

The researchers have been interested in using biological control efforts to save the native fadang populations on Guam, Rota, and Palau. A predatory lady beetle that feeds on CAS was introduced to the three islands to control the pest. “Our initial Guam release was in early 2005 and the beetle established quickly and appeared to be doing a good job of controlling the scale insects by preying on them,” said Moore. But then a second epidemic outbreak of the scale pest occurred in late 2008 on Guam and early 2010 on Rota. Ecologists call this type of population behavior an “irruption” and it was this secondary increase in the pest population that caught the attention of the researchers.

“We wanted to know how the insect pest population could increase to such a serious threat level after the initial threat was brought under reasonable control by the predatory beetle,” said Marler. When some of the tiny insects find a hiding spot where they can feed and make babies without fear of being eaten by the beetle, all it takes for a sudden increase in the pest population is for the beetles to migrate away from the area after they run out of accessible scale insects.

The HortScience article also explains a more insidious outcome of this ability to hide. Cycads are valuable landscaping plants. Many species of cycads are susceptible to the pest, and the out-of-sight crannies on the plants can harbor a few undetectable scale insects. “We believe this is one of the reasons the insect has been so successful in spreading throughout many countries in recent years, as visual inspection of imported plants cannot detect the hiding insects,” said Marler.

Most programs for control of a pest that causes major agricultural or ecological damage do not rely on a single biological control organism. So the Guam team is making plans to introduce a second natural enemy of CAS. They contend that the findings about the secretive nature of the scale pest help inform what sort of natural enemy is needed on Guam and Rota. “Our work has shown that we need to find a biological control organism that is small enough to follow CAS into its tiny hiding places,” concluded Moore.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha

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Received & published by Henry Sapiecha

Ultra-Simple Method for Creating

Nanoscale Gold Coatings Developed

Researchers at Rensselaer have developed a new, ultra-simple method for making layers of gold that measure only billionths of a meter thick. As seen in the research image, drops of gold-infused toluene applied to a surface evaporate within a few minutes and leave behind a uniform layer of nanoscale gold. The process requires no sophisticated equipment, works on nearly any surface, takes only 10 minutes, and could have important implications for nanoelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing. (Credit: Image courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Gold plated porche.Munich show.

Science (June 21, 2010) — Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new, ultra-simple method for making layers of gold that measure only billionths of a meter thick. The process, which requires no sophisticated equipment and works on nearly any surface including silicon wafers, could have important implications for nanoelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing.

Sang-Kee Eah, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy at Rensselaer, and graduate student Matthew N. Martin infused liquid toluene — a common industrial solvent — with gold nanoparticles. The nanoparticles form a flat, closely packed layer of gold on the surface of the liquid where it meets air. By putting a droplet of this gold-infused liquid on a surface, and waiting for the toluene to evaporate, the researchers were able to successfully coat many different surfaces — including a 3-inch silicon wafer — with a monolayer of gold nanoparticles.

“There has been tremendous progress in recent years in the chemical syntheses of colloidal nanoparticles. However, fabricating a monolayer film of nanoparticles that is spatially uniform at all length scales — from nanometers to millimeters — still proves to be quite a challenge,” Eah said. “We hope our new ultra-simple method for creating monolayers will inspire the imagination of other scientists and engineers for ever-widening applications of gold nanoparticles.”

Results of the study, titled “Charged gold nanoparticles in non-polar solvents: 10-min synthesis and 2-D self-assembly,” were published recently in the journal Langmuir.

Whereas other synthesis methods take several hours, this new method chemically synthesizes gold nanoparticles in only 10 minutes without the need for any post-synthesis cleaning, Eah said. In addition, gold nanoparticles created this way have the special property of being charged on non-polar solvents for 2-D self-assembly.

Previously, the 2-D self-assembly of gold nanoparticles in a toluene droplet was reported with excess ligands, which slows down and complicates the self-assembly process. This required the non-volatile excess ligands to be removed in a vacuum. In contrast, Eah’s new method ensures that gold nanoparticles float to the surface of the toluene drop in less than one second, without the need for a vacuum. It then takes only a few minutes for the toluene droplet to evaporate and leave behind the gold monoloayer.

“The extension of this droplet 2-D self-assembly method to other kinds of nanoparticles, such as magnetic and semiconducting particles, is challenging but holds much potential,” Eah said. “Monolayer films of magnetic nanoparticles, for instance, are important for magnetic data storage applications. Our new method may be able to help inform new and exciting applications.”

Co-authors on the paper are former Rensselaer undergraduate researchers James I. Basham ’07, who is now a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, and Paul Chando ’09, who will begin graduate study in the fall at the City College of New York.

The research project was supported by Rensselaer, the Rensselaer Summer Undergraduate Research Program, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and the NSF’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Watch a video demonstration of this new fabrication process at:

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Hurricane winds can rupture undersea pipes

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve determined undersea forces produced by strong hurricanes are powerful enough to rupture underwater oil pipelines.

The scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said the pipelines could crack or rupture unless they are buried or their supporting foundations are built to withstand hurricane-induced currents.

“Major oil leaks from damaged pipelines could have irreversible impacts on the ocean environment,” the researchers said, noting a hurricane’s winds can raise waves 66 feet or more above the ocean surface.

Based on unique measurements taken during a powerful hurricane, the researchers said their study is the first to show hurricanes propel underwater currents with enough force to dig up the seabed, potentially creating underwater mudslides and damaging pipes or other equipment resting on the bottom.

They said they’re not sure what strengths of forces underwater oil pipelines are built to withstand. However, “Hurricane stress is quite large, so the oil industry better pay attention,” said Hemantha Wijesekera, who led the study.

The findings are to appear in the June10 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Sourced and published  by Henry Sapiecha

No More Dialysis

Immunologists Develop Method

To Decrease Rejections

Of Kidney Transplants

October 1, 2007 — A nephrologist has found that a specialized type of anti-rejection therapy using intravenous immunoglobulin can make kidney transplants possible for patients with high ‘anti-donor’ antibodies. 25 to 30 percent of patients on the kidney transplant list could benefit from this therapy. Tissue compatibility issues exist with any organ transplant, but the risk is greatly increased for those with high exposure to antigens received through blood transfusions, previous transplantation, or even pregnancy.

Seventy-thousand Americans are waiting for a kidney transplant. A third of them are parked on dialysis because their antibody levels are too high for a transplant. But that’s no longer a barrier for some people.

“I used to just sit around and throw up,” says former dialysis patient Soraya Kohanzadeh.

Dialysis is something Kohanzadeh would rather forget, but if telling her story saves lives, it’s worth it.

Kohanzadeh — like many kidney failure patients — developed high levels of “anti-donor” antibodies through blood transfusions. Her highly sensitized immune system would likely reject any donated kidney.

“Essentially, she would have a very short, sick life on dialysis,” says Joan Lando, Kohanzadeh’s mother.

But Kohanzadeh is no longer here, thanks to intravenous immunoglobulin therapy or IVIG. Here’s how it works: during dialysis, patients are given blood containing a mix of immunoglobulins, which “turn-off” the anti-donor antibodies’ attack response without suppressing the patient’s immune system.

“A significant other comes forward, donates an organ, and there’s an incompatibility there. We can treat the patient and remove those antibodies. Then the transplant can be done,” Stanley Jordan, M.D., director of nephrology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

More than a year after surgery, Lando’s kidney keeps her daughter alive.

“It was sort of shocking to think I wasn’t going to have to be sick forever,” Kohanzadeh says.

Through their website, this mother-daughter team works to spread the word of a little known therapy that could save thousands in need of a kidney. IVIG is covered by Medicare and can be used in both living and cadaver-donor transplants. Nearly 30 percent of patients on the kidney transplant list might benefit from this therapy.

To learn more go to



BACKGROUND: About one-third of kidney patients are often told they cannot have a transplant even if they have a donor with an otherwise perfectly matched tissue and blood type. Their anti-donor antibody levels are so high that any transplanted organ would be rejected by their highly sensitized immune system. Now there is a specialized type of anti-rejection therapy using intravenous immunoglobin (IVIG), which injects antibodies from healthy people into the blood supply, to modulate the immune system without suppressing it. This makes kidney transplant possible for as much as 25-30% of this group of patients, who would otherwise not be eligible for a transplant because of their high antibody levels.

DEALING WITH REJECTION: Tissue compatibility is an issue for all patients receiving organ transplants, but rejection risks are much higher for those with high exposure to human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) that are not produced by their own bodies. Exposure may be the result of blood transfusions, previous transplantation, or even pregnancy if the mother is exposed to the father’s antigens, which are then expressed in the cells of the developing fetus. The immune system is then ‘sensitized’ to those antigens — primed with antibodies that attack any foreign tissue, even if the antigens arrive in the form of a life-saving donated organ.

ABOUT IVIG: IVIG modulates the immune system without suppressing it. In fact, the therapy actually boosts the immune system because the antibodies found in IVIG help fend off infections — a common post-surgery complication. For the most highly sensitized patients, IVIG is combined with a new drug, Rituxan, which reduces treatment time from four months to one before transplantation. The therapy can be used in both living-donor and cadaver-donor transplants. In the late 1980s. Dr. Stanley C. Jordan pioneered the use of IVIG as a way to reduce organ rejection among highly sensitized patients. It is now a fully accepted, Medicare-approved therapy as of 2004, when it was found to be effective in a multi-center study partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

WHAT IS DIALYSIS? Hemodialysis is a treatment for end stage renal disease (ESRD), or kidney failure, in which blood is removed from the body, filtered through an artificial kidney and then the cleaned blood is returned to the body. In the US, hemodialysis is the most common treatment for people who have kidney failure. However, dialysis is also a painful, expensive procedure, and while it cleans the blood well enough to maintain existence, it does little to improve a patient’s overall quality of life. Also, data shows that if patients get a transplant before they get to the point of dialysis, they do better in the longer term.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 12th June 2010

Plastic Antibody Works in First Tests

in Living Animals

Science (June 11, 2010) — Scientists are reporting the first evidence that a plastic antibody — an artificial version of the proteins produced by the body’s immune system to recognize and fight infections and foreign substances — works in the bloodstream of a living animal.

The discovery, they suggest in a report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, is an advance toward medical use of simple plastic particles custom tailored to fight an array of troublesome “antigens.”

Those antigens include everything from disease-causing viruses and bacteria to the troublesome proteins that cause allergic reactions to plant pollen, house dust, certain foods, poison ivy, bee stings and other substances.

In the report, Kenneth Shea, Yu Hosino, and colleagues refer to previous research in which they developed a method for making plastic nanoparticles, barely 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, that mimic natural antibodies in their ability to latch onto an antigen. That antigen was melittin, the main toxin in bee venom. They make the antibody with molecular imprinting, a process similar to leaving a footprint in wet concrete. The scientists mixed melittin with small molecules called monomers, and then started a chemical reaction that links those building blocks into long chains, and makes them solidify. When the plastic dots hardened, the researchers leached the poison out. That left the nanoparticles with tiny toxin-shaped craters.

Their new research, together with Naoto Oku’s group of the University Shizuoka Japan, established that the plastic melittin antibodies worked like natural antibodies. The scientists gave lab mice lethal injections of melittin, which breaks open and kills cells. Animals that then immediately received an injection of the melittin-targeting plastic antibody showed a significantly higher survival rate than those that did not receive the nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles could be fabricated for a variety of targets, Shea says. “This opens the door to serious consideration for these nanoparticles in all applications where antibodies are used,” he adds.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 12th June 2010