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Thu, 25 Aug 2016
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Beaker

Researchers create see-through wood stronger than glass

© University of Maryland Energy Research Center
Wood is a strong and versatile building material, but it rots, gets eaten by bugs, and blocks light.

Plain sheets of glass aren't much better. They shatter easily and let a lot of energy leak into or out of a building.

But engineers have recently figured out how to find the best of both worlds by making see-through wood.

The team, led by materials scientist Liangbing Hu at the University of Maryland, developed a patented process to turn wood translucent, make it more durable, and lend it incredible strength.

Cell Phone

New technology could link smartphones to contact lenses, brain implants and credit cards

© Shutterstock
"Eye" phone?
Apps allow you to link your smartphone to anything from your shoes, to your jewelry, to your doorbell — and soon, you may be able to add your contact lenses to that list.

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed an innovative way of communicating that would allow medical aids such as contact lenses and brain implants to send signals to smartphones.

The new tech, called "interscatter communication," works by converting Bluetooth signals into Wi-Fi signals, the engineers wrote in a paper that will be presented Aug. 22 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communication conference in Brazil.

"Instead of generating Wi-Fi signals on your own, our technology creates Wi-Fi by using Bluetooth transmissions from nearby mobile devices such as smartwatches," study co-author Vamsi Talla, a research associate in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, said in a statement.

Interscatter communication is based on an existing method of communication called backscatter, which lets devices exchange information by reflecting back existing signals. "Interscatter" works essentially the same way, but the difference is that it allows for inter-technology communication — in other words, it allows Bluetooth signals and Wi-Fi signals to talk to each other.

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Bizarro Earth

Discovery of 'live' iron-60 in Pacific ocean sediment linked with 2.7 million year old Type II supernova event

© NASA
The Crab Nebula, shown here in this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, is the expanding cloud of gas and dust left after a massive star exploded as a supernova in 1054. Supernovae propel a star’s innards back into space while creating new radioactive isotopes such as iron-60. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll
Outer space touches us in so many ways. Meteors from ancient asteroid collisions and dust spalled from comets slam into our atmosphere every day, most of it unseen. Cosmic rays ionize the atoms in our upper air, while the solar wind finds crafty ways to invade the planetary magnetosphere and set the sky afire with aurora. We can't even walk outside on a sunny summer day without concern for the Sun's ultraviolet light burning out skin.

So perhaps you wouldn't be surprised that over the course of Earth's history, our planet has also been affected by one of the most cataclysmic events the universe has to offer: the explosion of a supergiant star in a Type II supernova event. After the collapse of the star's core, the outgoing shock wave blows the star to pieces, both releasing and creating a host of elements. One of those is iron-60. While most of the iron in the universe is iron-56, a stable atom made up of 26 protons and 30 neutrons, iron-60 has four additional neutrons that make it an unstable radioactive isotope.

If a supernova occurs sufficiently close to our Solar System, it's possible for some of the ejecta to make its way all the way to Earth. How might we detect these stellar shards? One way would be to look for traces of unique isotopes that could only have been produced by the explosion. A team of German scientists did just that. In a paper published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report the detection of iron-60 in biologically produced nanocrystals of magnetite in two sediment cores drilled from the Pacific Ocean.

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Satellite

Star wars: US 'anti-space mine' launch signals new phase in celestial arms race

© NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center
International law dictates that countries should engage in the peaceful exploration of space, but the second launch of specialized US satellites last week has all but confirmed that an arms race is brewing outside earth's atmosphere.

The Outer Space Treaty is the product of mankind's bid to reach the stars. Enacted in 1967, the UN resolution set the standard for conduct in space, essentially warning nations to never claim sovereignty over the Moon or stockpile nuclear weapons on future space stations.

"States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner," Article IV of the treaty reads.

Headphones

Maternal language influences the tone of babies' cries

© Kenishirotie / Fotolia
The crying of neonates exhibits characteristic melodic patterns influenced typically by their mothers' language.
The very first cry of neonates is marked by their maternal language. This seems to be especially apparent in tonal languages, where pitch and pitch fluctuation determine the meaning of words. Chinese and German scientists under leadership of the University of Würzburg have demonstrated this phenomenon for the first time by with newborn babies from China and Cameroon.

Tonal languages sound rather strange to European ears: in contrast to German, French or English, their meaning is also determined by the pitch at which syllables or words are pronounced. A seemingly identical sound can mean completely different things -- depending on whether it is pronounced with high pitch, low pitch or a specific pitch fluctuation.

Hearts

Researchers find identical twins, especially males, live longer

© tverdohlib / Fotolia
Twins live longer than singletons. The results suggest a significant health benefit for close social connections.
Twins not only have a bestie from birth -- they also live longer than singletons. And those two factors may be related, according to new University of Washington research.

While twins have been subjects in countless studies that try to separate the effects of nature from nurture, a recent study in PLOS ONE is the first to actually look at what being a twin means for life expectancy. Analysis shows that twins have lower mortality rates for both sexes throughout their lifetimes.

"We find that at nearly every age, identical twins survive at higher proportions than fraternal twins, and fraternal twins are a little higher than the general population," said lead author David Sharrow, a UW postdoctoral researcher in aquatic and fishery sciences.

The results suggest a significant health benefit for close social connections.

Info

China opens world's highest and longest glass bridge

© FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
The world's highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge is seen above a valley in Zhangjiajie in China's Hunan Province

The 430 metre long, six metre wide structure cost 22.5m yuan to build


The world's "highest and longest" glass bottomed bridge has opened to the public in central China.

The 430 metre long, six metre wide structure connects two mountains in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.

It cost 22.5 million yuan (£2.5million) to build, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan, visitors are able to peer down 300 metres to the ground through the transparent floor. Ninety nine panes make up the three layers of glass, which were smashed by men with sledgehammers in a publicity stunt to demonstrate their strength prior to the opening.


Microscope 2

Mother Nature's bio-superlens: Scientists achieve world first by using spider silk to view previously 'invisible' structures

© Bangor University/ University of Oxford
(a) Nephila edulis spider in its web. (b) Schematic drawing of reflection mode silk biosuperlens imaging. The spider silk was placed directly on top of the sample surface by using a soft tape, which magnify underlying nano objects 2-3 times (c) SEM image of Blu-ray disk with 200/100 nm groove and lines (d) Clear magnified image (2.1x) of Blu-ray disk under spider silk superlens.
Scientists at the UK's Bangor and Oxford universities have achieved a world first: using spider-silk as a superlens to increase the microscope's potential.

Extending the limit of classical microscope's resolution has been the 'El Dorado' or 'Holy Grail' of microscopy for over a century. Physical laws of light make it impossible to view objects smaller than 200 nm - the smallest size of bacteria, using a normal microscope alone. However, superlenses which enable us to see beyond the current magnification have been the goal since the turn of the millennium.

Hot on the heels of a paper (Sci. Adv. 2 e1600901,2016) revealing that a team at Bangor University's School of Electronic Engineering has used a nanobead-derived superlens to break the perceived resolution barrier, the same team has achieved another world first.

Now the team, led by Dr Zengbo Wang and in colloboration with Prof. Fritz Vollrath's silk group at Oxford University's Department of Zoology, has used a naturally occurring material - dragline silk of the golden web spider, as an additional superlens, applied to the surface of the material to be viewed, to provide an additional 2-3 times magnification.

This is the first time that a naturally occurring biological material has been used as a superlens.

Satellite

China receives first data batch from unique 'hack-proof' quantum satellite

© Stringer / AFP
Chinese scientists have announced that they have received the first batch of data from the recently-launched Micius satellite, which is designed for quantum physics research with the aim of potentially establishing "hack-proof" communication links.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the Remote Sensing Satellite Ground Station (RSGS) in Miyun, on the outskirts of Beijing, has established a link with the newly-launched satellite, Xinhua reported.

The first batch which was transmitted on Wednesday included 202 megabytes of data and was received in "good quality," according to the publication. The data was transferred to China's National Space Science Center for further analysis.

No Entry

First long-term study confirms that neonic-treated crops are responsible for mass honeybee deaths

© Dr Bill Hughes
The rise of industrial agriculture — led by companies such as Monsanto that push monoculture, chemical-based farming and patented life forms — has brought a flood of pesticides that wreak havoc on natural ecosystems.

Insects and animals that eat insects fall victim to the millions of gallons of pesticides dumped on cropland, which run off into waterways, drift to nearby habitats and are picked up as residue by visiting pollinators.

In the 1980s, Bayer developed a potent new class of pesticide called neonicotinoids (neonics), which rapidly came to dominate industrial agriculture. In 2008, they represented 24 percent of the global market for insecticides, with Imidacloprid becoming the most widely used insecticide in the world.

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