Science & Technology


What is the fourth phase of water?

University of Washington Bioengineering Professor Gerald Pollack answers this question, and intrigues us to consider the implications of this finding. Not all water is H2O, a radical departure from what you may have learned from textbooks.

Dr. Gerald Pollack, University of Washington professor of bioengineering, has developed a theory of water that has been called revolutionary. He has spent the past decade convincing worldwide audiences that water is not actually a liquid.

Dr. Pollack received his PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He then joined the University of Washington faculty and is now professor of bioengineering. For years, Dr. Pollack had researched muscles and how they contract. It struck him as odd that the most common ideas about muscle contraction did not involve water, despite the fact muscle tissue consists of 99 percent water molecules.

Water Research happens at Pollack Laboratories, which states, "Our orientation is rather fundamental -- we are oriented toward uncovering some of nature's most deeply held secrets, although applications interest us as well."

Uncovering nature's secrets involving water is what Dr. Pollack, his staff and students do best.

In his 2001 book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life, Dr. Pollack explains how the cell functions. Research suggests that much of the cell biology may be governed by a single unifying mechanism - the phase transition. Water is absolutely central to every function of the cell - whether it's muscle contraction, cells dividing, or nerves conducting, etc.

This extraordinary book challenges many of the concepts that have been accepted in contemporary cell biology. The underlying premise of this book is that a cell's cytoplasm is gel-like rather than an ordinary aqueous solution.


Cluster of stars found forming at edge of Milky Way

If alien life existed on the planets orbiting these stars, they would have views of a portion, or all, of the galactic disk.
A cluster of stars forming at the edge of our very own Milky Way galaxy has been discovered by a team of Brazilian astronomers using data collected from the NASA Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the US space agency announced on Friday.

These stars live on the edge

"A stellar nursery in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is quite surprising," said Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for the WISE mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. "But surprises turn up when you look everywhere, as the WISE survey did."

The team of astronomers responsible for the discovery, led by Denilso Camargo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, have published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The Milky Way has a barred spiral shape, with arms of stars, dust and gas emerging from a central bar, the researchers explained. When it is viewed from the side, the galaxy appears to be relatively flat, with the majority of the material in a disk and in the central area.

Stars form within dense clumps of gas in what are known as giant molecular clouds (GMCs). These GMCs are primarily located in the inner part of the galactic disk, and with many clumps within each of these clouds, the majority of stars are born together in clusters.


So long transistor, hello memristor: How this could revolutionize electronics

In 1971, a physicist conceptualized the existence of a fourth fundamental element in the electronic circuit, besides the three that were already in use at the time.

His name was Leon Chua and he believed -- for reasons of symmetry -- that an extra component could one day be constructed to join the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor.

He called it "memristor", a portmanteau of the words memory and resistor.

It took 37 years for our engineering abilities to catch up with that idea: the first memristor was built by Hewlett Packard in 2008.

And today, many researchers believe it could spark a revolution in computing.


Dark energy camera takes accidental gigantic, magnificent picture of Comet Lovejoy

© Fermilab’s Marty Murphy, Nikolay Kuropatkin, Huan Lin and Brian Yanny.
Comet 2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), on December 27, 2014, as seen by the Dark Energy Survey.
Oops! In a happy accident, Comet Lovejoy just happened to be in the field of view of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, the world's most powerful digital camera. One member of the observing team said it was a "shock" to see Comet Lovejoy pop up on the display in the control room.

"It reminds us that before we can look out beyond our Galaxy to the far reaches of the Universe, we need to watch out for celestial objects that are much closer to home!" wrote the team on the Dark Energy Detectives blog.

On December 27, 2014, while the Dark Energy Survey was scanning the southern sky, C2014 Q2 entered the camera's view. Each of the rectangular shapes above represents one of the 62 individual fields of the camera.

Comment: The icy snowball comet theory is really a hypothesis which is completely outdated:


Gone with the wind: Wind-powered freighters

© Lade AS
To make ships more eco-efficient, engineers have been working with alternative fuels. A Norwegian engineer is currently pursuing a new approach: With VindskipTM, he has designed a cargo ship that is powered by wind and gas. Software developed by Fraunhofer researchers will ensure an optimum use of the available wind energy at any time.

International shipping is transporting 90 percent of all goods on earth. Running on heavy fuel oil freighters contribute to pollution. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to reduce the environmental impact of ocean liners. One of the measures: Starting from 2020, ships will only be allowed to use fuel containing maximum 0.1 percent sulfur in their fuel in certain areas. However, the higher-quality fuel with less sulfur is more expensive than the heavy fuel oil which is currently used. Shipping companies are thus facing a major challenge in reducing their fuel costs while complying with the emission guidelines.

A new way of reducing fuel consumption, emissions and bunker expenses is being pursued by the Norwegian engineer Terje Lade, managing director of the company Lade AS: With VindskipTM he has designed a type of ship that does not use heavy fuel oil but utilizes wind for propulsion. The highlight: The hull of the freighter serves as a wing sail. On the high seas, VindskipTM will benefit from free-blowing wind making it very energy efficient. For low-wind passages, in order to maneuver the ship on the open sea while also maintaining a constant speed, it is equipped with an environmentally friendly and cost-effective propulsion machinery running on liquefied natural gas (LNG). With the combination of wind and liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel to heavy fuel oil, the fuel consumption is estimated to be only 60 percent of a reference ship on average. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 80 percent, according to calculations by the Norwegian company.


Astronomers discover extremely elusive 'intermediate-mass' black hole

© X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/M.Mezcua et al & NASA/CXC/INAF/A.Wolter et al; Optical: NASA/STScI and DSS; Inset: Radio: EVN/VLBI
This is a composite image of the galaxy NGC 2276, with X-rays from Chandra (pink) and optical data (red, green, and blue). The inset zooms into just NGC 2276-3c, an intermediate-mass black hole and reveals its emission in radio waves, including a jet produced by the black hole that appears to be snuffing out star formation.
Astronomers have detected a black hole embedded in the spiral arm of a galaxy 100 million light-years from Earth — but this isn't any old black hole, it belongs to an extremely elusive class that may be the 'missing link' in black hole evolution.

Using observational data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network, which detects radio waves from energetic sources in the cosmos, the researchers, led by Mar Mezcua of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, were able to also deduce that this particular 'intermediate-mass black hole' (IMBH) is creating a 'dead zone' inside its host galaxy, NGC 2276.

"In paleontology, the discovery of certain fossils can help scientists fill in the evolutionary gaps between different dinosaurs," said Mezcua. "We do the same thing in astronomy, but we often have to 'dig' up our discoveries in galaxies that are millions of light years away."

Black holes are known to come in two main classes: stellar-mass black holes, which are spawned by supernovae and are around 5-30 times the mass of the sun, and supermassive black holes, which occupy the cores of most galaxies and have solar masses of millions to billions. But to understand how black holes grow, there must be some black holes that have masses between the stellar and the supermassive. After all, logic dictates that if all black holes start small and grow over time, there must be some intermediate mass black holes out there with girths that range between a few hundred to a few hundred thousand solar masses.


Rats are pretty remarkable - recognize kindness, repay favors

© RIA Novosti / Yakov Andreev
Humans have long used the behavior of rats to personify the worst qualities in their fellow man. When it comes to acts of kindness, however, it turns out the much maligned creature is willing to repay favors to its fellow rodents.

The study, published this week in the journal Biology Letters, was set up to observe an ever elusive concept in the animal kingdom - the principle of direct reciprocity.

According to Michael Taborsky, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland who helped carry out the experiment, the practice is in fact so rare that this is the first time it has ever been scientifically observed in non-humans.

Along with his Swiss colleague Vassilissa Dolivo, the team brought together 20 female wild-type Norwegian rats. During the experiment, the team used pieces of banana as attractive awards, and pieces of carrots as less attractive rewards.

Comment: Rats! Another human misconception about the animal world bites the dust. If humans were a bit more perceptive of the animals around them, calling someone a "dog" or "rat" might be a compliment - and "ratting someone out" a kind acknowledgment of their reciprocity of kindness.

Eye 1

Bionic eye lets blind man see again

© Mayo Clinic/YouTube screen shot
A blind man was recently able to see again after having a bionic eye implant.
A bionic eye implant is now allowing a blind man to see the outlines of his wife after 10 years in darkness.

The implant, called a retinal prosthesis, consists of a small electronic chip that is placed at the back of the eye to send visual signals directly into the optic nerve. This bypasses the damaged cells in the man's retina.

The bionic eye doesn't have enough electrodes to recreate the details of human faces, but for the first time since he lost his vision, the man can make out the outlines of people and things, and walk without a cane.


Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they've been talking about us

© CC BY 2.0 chadh
You might not think it to look at them, but prairie dogs and humans actually share an important commonality -- and it's not just their complex social structures, or their habit of standing up on two feet (aww, like people). As it turns out, prairie dogs actually have one of the most sophisticated forms of vocal communication in the natural world, really not so unlike our own.

After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that praire dogs aren't only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.

According to Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who turned his vocalization analysis on the Gunnison's prairie dog of Arizona and New Mexico, the chirps these animals use as 'alert calls' are actually word-like packages of information to share with the rest of the colony. Amazingly, these unique sounds were found to both identify specific threats by species, such as hawks and coyotes, and to point out descriptive information about their appearance.

And, when they're talking about humans, that might not always be flattering.


Gray wolves, once decimated by eradication campaign, rebound in Oregon

© Reuters/Oregon Fish & Wildlife/Handout
A wolf roaming the same area as OR 7 is seen in this undated Oregon Fish & Wildlife handout photo taken with a remote camera.
Oregon's once decimated gray wolf population has rebounded to at least 77 animals, and the wolves are now pairing off and breeding across a wide region, state officials with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife said on Wednesday.

Gray wolves, native to Oregon but wiped out in the state by an eradication campaign in the early 20th century, first returned there in 2008 and have now spread out to multiple parts of the Pacific Northwest state.

"The wolf population continues to grow and expand, and for the first time we've had wolf reproduction in southern Oregon," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the state wildlife department. "And we had eight breeding pairs last year. We also documented six new pairs of wolves, and 26 pups."

Comment: The age old battle of man versus nature.