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  • richardmitnick 11:05 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Dealing with Autism, Multiple Languages May Be a Boon,   

    From SA: “Multiple Languages May Be a Boon” Dealing With Autism 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    July 26, 2016
    Ann Grisold

    Most children who learn more than one language gain valuable skills, and researchers say this may also be true for children with autism.

    Credit: Illustration by Jun Cen

    Oscar, 6, sits at the family dinner table and endures the loneliest hour of his day. The room bustles with activity: Oscar’s sister passes plates and doles out broccoli florets. His father and uncle exchange playful banter. Oscar’s mother emerges from the kitchen carrying a platter of carved meat; a cousin pulls up an empty chair.

    “Chi fan le!” shouts Oscar’s older sister, in Mandarin Chinese. Time for dinner!

    “Hao,” her grandfather responds from the other room. Okay.

    Family members tell stories and rehash the day, all in animated Chinese. But when they turn to Oscar, who has autism, they speak in English.

    “Eat rice,” Oscar’s father says. “Sit nice.”

    Except there is no rice on the table. In Chinese, ‘eat rice’ can refer to any meal, but its meaning is lost in translation.

    Pediatricians, educators and speech therapists have long advised multilingual families to speak one language — the predominant one where they live — to children with autism or other developmental delays. The reasoning is simple: These children often struggle to learn language, so they’re better off focusing on a single one.

    However, there are no data to support this notion. In fact, a handful of studies show that children with autism can learn two languages as well as they learn one, and might even thrive in multilingual environments.

    Lost in translation:

    It’s not just children with autism who miss out when parents speak only English at home — their families, too, may experience frustrating miscommunications. Important instructions, offhand remarks and words of affection are often lost in translation when families swap their heritage language for English, says Betty Yu, associate professor of special education and communicative disorders at San Francisco State University.

    Yu, who is fluent in both English and Chinese, detailed Oscar’s experience in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders earlier this year. (The details of dinner and other interactions from Oscar’s everyday life described in this article are from Yu’s case report.) The report hits home for researchers who study bilingual families of children with autism.

    “One mother said to me, ‘Italian is the language of my heart and my home.’ She was obviously very sad that she couldn’t share that aspect of her identity with her daughter,” says Sue Fletcher-Watson, chancellor’s fellow in developmental psychology at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom.

    The advice to stick with a language that the family doesn’t speak well only intensifies the alienation experienced by these children, Fletcher-Watson and others say. “You’re taking a child who is already socially isolated and you’re making them even more isolated,” she says.

    The kids are all right:

    The science — what little exists — in fact suggests that these children should embrace multilingualism.

    “There are few studies on bilingualism in children with developmental disorders, and even fewer with appropriate control groups,” says Napoleon Katsos, lecturer in linguistics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

    In typical children, learning a second or third language hones critical thinking and executive function — a set of skills that includes attention, self-control and mental flexibility. It also gives them an edge in reading and writing.

    Children with developmental delays might reap those same benefits. Bilingual children with autism have language skills on par with monolingual childrenwith the condition, and they acquire social and cognitive skills at the same rate. But these children are twice as likely as monolingual children with autism to use gestures such as pointing when they communicate, according to a 2012 study. This finding suggests that they have a strong command of joint attention and are adept at nonverbal communication.

    The standard tools for evaluating a child’s social and communication skills are in English, and may underestimate the skills of bilingual children with autism, says Kruti Acharya, assistant professor of disability and human development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    At the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore, Acharya’s team presented preliminary results showing that a picture book a child narrates in his native language can more accurately assess his communication skills.

    This approach could be particularly useful for autism clinicians in Europe, where dozens of languages are spoken, says Fletcher-Watson.

    “There are some good reasons to be optimistic about the potential benefits of bilingualism,” Fletcher-Watson says. “There’s a big overlap between the areas that we think are helped by bilingual exposure and the areas where children with autism struggle.”

    Things left unsaid:

    Oscar, now 7, was born in California a few years after his family emigrated from China. At the time, the other members of his household, like more than 24 million other children and adults in the United States, spoke little English at home.

    But when Oscar was diagnosed with autism at age 2, pediatricians, speech therapists, neighbors and friends all advised his family to pick a single language to communicate with him. And that language, they all agreed, should be English.

    English is the ticket to success in school, Oscar’s teachers said. A prerequisite to participating in state-funded therapies, his therapists said. The predominant language of Oscar’s suburban neighborhood and of the children who play there, his neighbors said.

    By the time Oscar turned 3, his family had committed to interacting with him only in English. Yet they sometimes seemed to be at a loss when trying to communicate with him. “There were things that the family didn’t know how to say very smoothly or at all in English, so they had to talk around the issue or just drop it,” Yu says.

    The better scenario would have been to speak to Oscar in Chinese and let him learn English from the outside world, says Johanne Paradis, professor of linguistics at the University of Alberta in Canada. Retaining strong cultural and family ties will only help parents connect with their children later on, she says.

    “It’s easy to say when a child is diagnosed with autism at age 3 that the family should switch to English at home,” Paradis says. “But when that child is 12, they’re going to have more complex ideas to express and the parent won’t be able to talk with them freely.”

    After dinner, Oscar and his grandfather are seated a couple of feet apart on the living room floor, playing with a train set. But they might as well be separated by 2 miles, for all that they can say to each other.

    It’s 8 o’clock — time to decide which family member will sleep in Oscar’s room and make sure he is safe.

    The grandfather leans in and shakes Oscar’s hands, waiting for the boy to look up. “Oscar, with who sleep?” he asks.

    Oscar pauses; glances down at the trains. “Oscar sleep,” the boy echoes, as he does when he struggles to understand.

    The grandfather tries again. “You want with who sleep?”

    “With Daddy,” Oscar says, finally.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:40 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , the PARIS REVIEW   

    From the PARIS REVIEW: “Dark Was the Night” 



    July 20, 2016
    Alison Kinney

    On the Voyager Mission.

    NASA/Voyager 1
    NASA/Voyager 1

    If the inhabitants of other stars should spot the Voyager 1 interstellar probe zooming past—if they capture it and assemble its onboard audio player—and if they have ears to hear, they might puzzle over this message from the Queen of the Night (translated here from German):

    The vengeance of hell boils in my heart,
    Death and despair blaze around me!

    Perhaps these German-speaking aliens will visit Earth to eradicate the threat posed by Mozart’s 1791 aria. Or maybe they’ll thrill to the prospect of subscribing to the Bavarian State Opera, only to discover that the soprano Edda Moser, who performed the recording they’d heard, had retired five billion years earlier, in 1999.

    Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the first human-made object to depart our solar system, bearing the Voyager Interstellar Message (better known as the Golden Record), a gold-plated disk containing music, pictures, and greetings in fifty-five languages. One project consultant said, “There is only an infinitesimal chance that the plaque will ever be seen by a single extraterrestrial, but it will certainly be seen by billions of terrestrials. Its real function, therefore, is to appeal to and expand the human spirit.”

    In making their selections, the Interstellar Message team tried to accentuate the positive—but art and culture, even NASA-approved art and culture, tend toward revelations in excess of their creators’ intentions. Though the team opted not to mention the nuclear arms race, Auschwitz, the Khmer Rouge, transatlantic enslavement, and the genocide of Native peoples, it was clear, as the team’s creative director, Ann Druyan, said, “how much of what we tried to hide was more obvious than we realized.… The lies we tell have a very short shelf life.” One of the greeters, for example—UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim—was later accused of Nazi war crimes.

    And the approved music carries its own messages about conflict. The artist and team member Jon Lomberg, a fan of Mozart, Rossini, and baroque opera and oratorio, told me he ranks Mozart’s music “with sex, sunsets, and sushi as among life’s greatest pleasures.” Lomberg gave Carl Sagan a tape of an aria from Mozart’s ethereal, antic fantasy The Magic Flute. (“A wish-list project is to design a stage production of Magic Flute,” he told me. “I could do some interesting things visually with the Queen of the Night!”)

    Druyan wasn’t an opera fan, but she was “absolutely thrilled” by the recording; she extolled the mastery and emotional range of Moser’s voice. “It’s like a little mechanism for touching all the parts of you, when you hear it. It’s so exciting, and of course, that wonderful passage where she seems to defy gravity, and she goes higher and higher and higher … She’s the Queen of the Night, and you imagine these two Voyagers, moving around forty thousand miles per hour through the night, for all the nights of a thousand million years,” Druyan said. “The idea that she retains her dominance of the night, from Mozart’s brain to the cosmos, is the closest thing we get to eternity.”

    Flying board Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical “golden” records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12 inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and man-made sounds from Earth. They also contain electronic information that an advanced technological civilization could convert into diagrams and photographs. NASA

    But the Queen’s dominance isn’t just artistic. The Voyager aria, “Der Hölle Rache,” is about assassination, violent coercion, and parental abuse. As Lomberg said, Mozart is “the genius of musical contradiction and reconciliation of opposites.” The crystalline, stratospheric perfection of Moser’s voice rings with power: both murderous political absolutism and virtuosic mastery. Sometimes the loveliest music exhorts you to kill. Among the disk’s other songs about violence, the Bulgarian folk song “Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin,” performed by Valya Balkanska, stars a rebel warrior, warning the authorities not to convert his aunts to Islam—or else.

    The team might have confined themselves to wedding songs, nonverbal music, or the whale’s song, but Druyan said she saw the recording as both a conceptual artwork and an act of atonement. The disk also includes a recording of her brain waves, during which, she said, “I was trying to be honest in my meditation about the real state of the world, the history of the world … as well as the plight that we found ourselves in, in 1977—fifty to sixty thousand nuclear weapons, and at least one-fifth of the whole population of Earth couldn’t find potable water, get enough to eat, find shelter. So I tried to be honest about our worst.” The reckoning with violence, war, and responsibility, indivisible from beauty, is Voyager’s most profound message to the universe.

    There’s no reason to expect an extraterrestrial to understand. Musicologists debunk the supposedly universal communicative potential of music even among different peoples of our own planet. When not everybody understands German—when happy and sad songs don’t cross cultures—when even a bel-canto fan might profess not to get Verdi, much less Schönberg—no aria can universally connote beauty, much less understanding, self-revelation, or ethical standards. But the Voyager message also suggests, tacitly, the desire not to be wholly understood, by either extraterrestrials or future earthlings. If our music and chatter turn out to be unintelligible to them, than we might earnestly hope that murder, genocide, and deprivation will be, too.

    We can still marvel that this fragment of opera, and the Navajo “Night Chant,” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” hurtle through the vast nighttime of space. We can also fantasize that one of Lomberg’s alternate musical suggestions might have gone aboard Voyager: the tender, charming “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, a youth’s amazement at the mysteries of love. May all opera fans’ minds be blown by the concept of Cherubino in space! May we all sing of love, of nothing making sense to us, and of yearning to understand the world a little bit better.

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  • richardmitnick 6:26 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, First American to Receive Double Hand Transplant Reveals It Was Unsuccessful, ,   

    From GIZMODO: “First American to Receive Double Hand Transplant Reveals It Was Unsuccessful” 

    GIZMODO bloc


    Eve Peyser

    Image: AP

    Jeff Kepner, the first American to receive a double hand transplant, wishes they could be removed.

    In an interview with TIME published today he revealed that the transplant was unsuccessful and he has never been able to utilize his hands.

    “I sit in my chair all day and wear my TV out,” he said.

    Kepner had his hands amputated in 1999 after his strep throat infection caused sepsis. Before he received the hand transplant in 2009, he used prosthetics which allowed him to not only hold down a job, but even drive a car.

    Kepner figured if the transplant was unsuccessful, he could simply get them removed and go back to prosthetics. The doctor who oversees Kepner’s case, Vijay Gorantla, told TIME that “it’s uncertain if Kepner would be able to use prosthetics if the hands were removed, and that rigorous physical therapy would be required.”

    While his life might improve if they were to partially amputate the transplanted hands, Kepner is tired of the relentless surgeries. “I am not going through all those operations again,” he said.

    Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, the surgeon who performed the transplant, said that Kepner’s case is unusual. “The other three patients have had significant functional return in their hands and have been able to resume completely independent living, including driving, working, and going to school,” he explained.

    Since Kepner’s 2009 transplant has rendered him “0% functional,” his wife—who cares for him full-time—has set up a GoFundMe page to cover the years of medical bills.

    See the full article here .

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    “We come from the future.”

    GIZMOGO pictorial

  • richardmitnick 6:17 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From ANU: “ANU scientists exploit malaria’s Achilles’ heel” 

    ANU Australian National University Bloc

    Australian National University

    25 July 2016
    Will Wright
    +61 2 6125 7979

    Malaria is transmitted via mosquitoes.

    Malaria researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have found one of the malaria parasite’s best weapons against drug treatments turns out to be an Achilles’ heel, which could be exploited to cure the deadly disease.

    The findings could prolong the use of several anti-malarial drugs, including the former wonder drug chloroquine, to treat the mosquito-borne disease which kills 600,000 people around the world each year.

    Lead researchers Dr Rowena Martin and PhD student Sashika Richards, from the ANU Research School of Biology, said changes in the protein that enable the parasite to evade several anti-malarial drugs – including chloroquine – make the parasite super-sensitive to other therapies.

    “Malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world, particularly for young children and pregnant women in Africa and the Pacific, and our research could help save countless lives in some of the world’s poorest countries,” Dr Martin said.

    Dr Martin said the interactions of the modified protein with certain drugs were so intense that it was unable to effectively perform its normal role, which was essential to the parasite’s survival.

    “We also found that the changes that allow the protein to move chloroquine away from its anti-malarial target simultaneously enable the protein to deliver other drugs to their anti-malarial targets,” she said.

    “The other important phenomenon we found is when the protein adapts itself to fend off one of these drugs, it is no longer able to deal with chloroquine and hence the parasite is re-sensitised to chloroquine.

    “Essentially, the parasite can’t have its cake and eat it too. So if chloroquine or a related drug is paired with a drug that is super-active against the modified protein, no matter what the parasite tries to do it’s checkmate for malaria.”

    Dr Martin said the super-sensitivity phenomenon also occurred in other drug-resistant pathogens, such as bacteria, and in cancer cells.

    Ms Richards said the findings would improve the cure rates for people with malaria, and could help stop the emergence and spread of drug-resistant malaria.

    “Health authorities could use our research to find ways to prolong the lifespan of anti-malarial drugs,” Ms Richards said.

    She said prolonging the use of existing drugs was crucial, as it would give scientists time to find the next anti-malarial drug.

    “The current frontline anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, is already failing in Asia and we don’t have anything to replace it,” she said.

    “It will be at least five years before the next new drug makes it to market. The low-hanging fruit is gone, and it’s now very costly and time consuming to develop new treatments for malaria.”

    The study was supported by National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

    It was published in the latest PLOS Pathogens journal.

    See the full article here .

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    ANU Campus

    ANU is a world-leading university in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Our location points to our unique history, ties to the Australian Government and special standing as a resource for the Australian people.

    Our focus on research as an asset, and an approach to education, ensures our graduates are in demand the world-over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to addressing complex contemporary challenges.

  • richardmitnick 5:45 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , Washington State U, Watching a material change its crystal structure in real time   

    From phys.org: “Researchers ‘watch’ crystal structure change in real time” 


    July 25, 2016
    Eric Sorensen

    Washington State University researchers have met the long-standing scientific challenge of watching a material change its crystal structure in real time.

    Configuration for the time-resolved, x-ray diffraction measurements in silicon subjected to impact loading. A PC projectile traveling at ∼5.1  km/s impacted the Si samples. Pulsed x rays (∼23.5  keV energy, ∼100  ps duration, 153.4 ns period) passed through the PC projectile, the silicon sample, and the PC window. Diffracted x rays from individual ∼100  ps x-ray pulses were detected on a framing area detector with a 75 mm diameter field of view. Photon Doppler velocimetry (PDV) was used to record the velocity history of the Si/PC interface

    X-ray diffraction results for shocked polycrystalline silicon. (a) Ambient cd phase Si diffraction image. (b)–(e) Time-resolved diffraction images with listed times relative to impact time. The images show the temporal transition from cd phase Si to sh phase Si as the shock wave travels through the material. (f) Measured and simulated (solid line) sh diffraction peaks 406 ns after impact. The broad inner ring labeled PC is from the polycarbonate window and projectile.

    While exposing a sample of silicon to intense pressure—due to the impact of a nearly 12,000 mph plastic projectile—they documented the transformation from its common cubic diamond structure to a simple hexagonal structure. At one point, they could see both structures as the shock wave traveled through the sample in less than half a millionth of a second.

    Their discovery is a dramatic proof of concept for a new way of discerning the makeups of various materials, from impacted meteors to body armor to iron in the center of the Earth.

    Until now, researchers have had to rely on computer simulations to follow the atomic-level changes of a structural transformation under pressure, said Yogendra Gupta, Regents professor and director of the WSU Institute of Shock Physics. The new method provides a way to actually measure the physical changes and to see if the simulations are valid.

    “For the first time, we can determine the structure,” Gupta said. “We’ve been assuming some things but we had never measured it.”

    Writing in Physical Review Letters, one of the leading physics journals, the researchers say their findings already suggest that several long-standing assumptions about the pathways of silicon’s transformation “need to be reexamined.”

    The discovery was made possible by a new facility, the Dynamic Compression Sector at the Advanced Photon Source located at the Argonne National Laboratory. Designed and developed by WSU, the sector is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, whose national security research mission includes fundamental dynamic compression science.The Advanced Photon Source synchrotron, funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, provided high-brilliance x-ray beams that pass through the test material and create diffraction patterns that the researchers use to decode a crystal changing its structure in as little as five billionths of a second.

    “We’re making movies,” said Gupta. “We’re watching them in real time. We’re making nanosecond movies.”

    Stefan Turneaure, lead author of the Physical Review Letters paper and a senior scientist at the WSU Institute for Shock Physics, said the researchers exposed silicon to 19 gigapascals, nearly 200,000 times atmospheric pressure. The researchers accomplished this by firing a half-inch plastic projectile into a thin piece of silicon on a Lexan backing. While x-rays hit the sample in pulses, a detector captured images of the diffracted rays every 153.4 nanoseconds—the equivalent of a camera shutter speed of a few millionths of a second.

    “People haven’t used x-rays like this before,” said Turneaure. “Getting these multiple snapshots in a single impact experiment is new.”

    “What I’m very excited about is we are showing how the crystal lattice, how this diamond structure that silicon starts out with, is related to this ending structure, this hexagonal structure,” said Gupta. “We can see which crystal direction becomes which crystal direction. Stefan has done a great job. He’s mastered that. We were able to show how the two structures are linked in real time.”

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 5:25 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , Spider silk, Spiders spin unique phononic material   

    From Rice: “Spiders spin unique phononic material” 

    Rice U bloc

    Rice University

    July 25, 2016
    Mike Williams

    Researchers at Rice University, in Europe and in Singapore discover band gaps in spider silk

    Scientists at Rice University and in Europe and Singapore studied the microstructure of spider silk to see how it transmits phonons, quanta of sound that also have thermal properties. They suggested what they learned could be useful to create strong synthetic fibers with silk-like properties. Click on the image for a larger version. Illustration by Dirk Schneider

    New discoveries about spider silk could inspire novel materials to manipulate sound and heat in the same way semiconducting circuits manipulate electrons, according to scientists at Rice University, in Europe and in Singapore.

    A paper in Nature Materials looks at the microscopic structure of spider silk and reveals unique characteristics in the way it transmits phonons, quasiparticles of sound.

    The research shows for the first time that spider silk has a phonon band gap. That means it can block phonon waves in certain frequencies in the same way an electronic band gap – the basic property of semiconducting materials – allows some electrons to pass and stops others.

    The researchers wrote that their observation is the first discovery of a “hypersonic phononic band gap in a biological material.”

    How the spider uses this property remains to be understood, but there are clear implications for materials, according to materials scientist and Rice Engineering Dean Edwin Thomas, who co-authored the paper. He suggested that the crystalline microstructure of spider silk might be replicated in other polymers. That could enable tunable, dynamic metamaterials like phonon waveguides and novel sound or thermal insulation, since heat propagates through solids via phonons.

    “Phonons are mechanical waves,” Thomas said, “and if a material has regions of different elastic modulus and density, then the waves sense that and do what waves do: They scatter. The details of the scattering depend on the arrangement and mechanical couplings of the different regions within the material that they’re scattering from.”

    Spiders are adept at sending and reading vibrations in a web, using them to locate defects and to know when “food” comes calling. Accordingly, the silk has the ability to transmit a wide range of sounds that scientists think the spider can interpret in various ways. But the researchers found silk also has the ability to dampen some sound.

    “(Spider) silk has a lot of different, interesting microstructures, and our group found we could control the position of the band gap by changing the strain in the silk fiber,” Thomas said. “There’s a range of frequencies that are not allowed to propagate. If you broadcast sound at a particular frequency, it won’t go into the material.”

    In 2005, Thomas teamed with George Fytas, a materials scientist at the University of Crete and the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, Greece, on a project to define the properties of hypersonic phononic crystals. In that work, the researchers measured phonon propagation and detected band gaps in synthetic polymer crystals aligned at regular intervals.

    “Phononic crystals give you the ability to manipulate sound waves, and if you get sound small enough and at high enough frequencies, you’re talking about heat,” Thomas said. “Being able to make heat flow this way and not that way, or make it so it can’t flow at all, means you’re turning a material into a thermal insulator that wasn’t one before.”

    Fytas and Thomas decided to take a more detailed look at dragline silk, which spiders use to construct a web’s outer rim and spokes and as a lifeline. (A spider suspended in midair is clinging to a dragline.) Though silk has been studied for thousands of years, it has only recently been analyzed for its acoustic properties.

    Silk is a hierarchical structure comprised of a protein, which folds into sheets and forms crystals. These hard protein crystals are interconnected by softer, amorphous chains, Thomas said. Stretching or relaxing the interconnecting chains changes the silk’s acoustic properties by adjusting the mechanical coupling between the crystals.

    Fytas’ team at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, performed Brillouin light scattering experiments to test silk placed under varying degrees of stress. “That was George’s genius,” Thomas said. “With Brillouin scattering, you use light to create phonons as well as absorb them from the sample. BLS allows you to see how the phonons move around inside any object, depending on the temperature and the material’s microstructure.”

    They found that when silk was “super contracted,” the velocity of phonons decreased by 15 percent while the bandwidth of frequencies it could block increased by 31 percent. Conversely, when strained, the velocity increased by about 27 percent, while the bandwidth decreased by 33 percent. They first observed a band gap in native (uncontracted) silk at about 14.8 gigahertz, with a width of about 5.2 gigahertz.

    Just as interesting to the team was the “unique region of negative group velocity” they witnessed. At these conditions, even though phonon waves moved forward, the phase velocity moved backward, Thomas said. They suggested the effect may allow for the focusing of hypersonic phonons.

    “Right now, we don’t know how to do any of this in other macromolecular fiber materials,” Thomas said. “There’s been a fair amount of investigation on synthetic polymers like nylon, but nobody’s ever found a band gap.”

    Co-authors of the paper are Dirk Schneider of ebeam Technologies, Bern, Switzerland, and Nikolaos Gomopoulos of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, both formerly of the Max Planck Institute; Cheong Koh of DSO National Laboratories, Singapore; Periklis Papadopoulos of the Planck Institute and the University of Ioannina, Greece; and Friedrich Kremer of the Institute of Experimental Physics at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Fytas is a professor at the University of Crete and has an appointment at the Planck Institute. Thomas is the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, a professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

    The Aristeia Alliance of the Mediterranean Institute for Scientific Research, the European Research Council, the Sonderforschungsbereich/Transregio (Collaborative Research Center) and the Deutsch Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) supported the research.

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    Rice U campus

    In his 1912 inaugural address, Rice University president Edgar Odell Lovett set forth an ambitious vision for a great research university in Houston, Texas; one dedicated to excellence across the range of human endeavor. With this bold beginning in mind, and with Rice’s centennial approaching, it is time to ask again what we aspire to in a dynamic and shrinking world in which education and the production of knowledge will play an even greater role. What shall our vision be for Rice as we prepare for its second century, and how ought we to advance over the next decade?

    This was the fundamental question posed in the Call to Conversation, a document released to the Rice community in summer 2005. The Call to Conversation asked us to reexamine many aspects of our enterprise, from our fundamental mission and aspirations to the manner in which we define and achieve excellence. It identified the pressures of a constantly changing and increasingly competitive landscape; it asked us to assess honestly Rice’s comparative strengths and weaknesses; and it called on us to define strategic priorities for the future, an effort that will be a focus of the next phase of this process.

  • richardmitnick 4:59 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , New remote-controlled microrobots for medical operations, Robots   

    From EPFL: “New remote-controlled microrobots for medical operations” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    Laure-Anne Pessina

    © reconfigurable microrobots/2016 EPFL/ ETHZ

    For the past few years, scientists around the world have been studying ways to use miniature robots to better treat a variety of diseases. The robots are designed to enter the human body, where they can deliver drugs at specific locations or perform precise operations like clearing clogged-up arteries. By replacing invasive, often complicated surgery, they could optimize medicine.

    EPFL scientist Selman Sakar teamed up with Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson at ETHZ to develop a simple and versatile method for building such bio-inspired robots and equipping them with advanced features. They also created a platform for testing several robot designs and studying different modes of locomotion. Their work, published in Nature Communications, produced complex reconfigurable microrobots that can be manufactured with high throughput. They built an integrated manipulation platform that can remotely control the robots’ mobility with electromagnetic fields, and cause them to shape-shift using heat.

    A robot that looks and moves like a bacterium

    Unlike conventional robots, these microrobots are soft, flexible, and motor-less. They are made of a biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles have two functions. They give the microrobots their shape during the manufacturing process, and make them move and swim when an electromagnetic field is applied.

    Building one of these microrobots involves several steps. First, the nanoparticles are placed inside layers of a biocompatible hydrogel. Then an electromagnetic field is applied to orientate the nanoparticles at different parts of the robot, followed by a polymerization step to “solidify” the hydrogel. After this, the robot is placed in water where it folds in specific ways depending on the orientation of the nanoparticles inside the gel, to form the final overall 3D architecture of the microrobot.

    Once the final shape is achieved, an electromagnetic field is used to make the robot swim. Then, when heated, the robot changes shape and “unfolds”. This fabrication approach allowed the researchers to build microrobots that mimic the bacterium that causes African trypanosomiasis, otherwise known as sleeping sickness. This particular bacterium uses a flagellum for propulsion, but hides it away once inside a person’s bloodstream as a survival mechanism.

    The researchers tested different microrobot designs to come up with one that imitates this behavior. The prototype robot presented in this work has a bacterium-like flagellum that enables it to swim. When heated with a laser, the flagellum wraps around the robot’s body and is “hidden”.

    A better understanding of how bacteria behave

    “We show that both a bacterium’s body and its flagellum play an important role in its movement,” said Sakar. “Our new production method lets us test an array of shapes and combinations to obtain the best motion capability for a given task. Our research also provides valuable insight into how bacteria move inside the human body and adapt to changes in their microenvironment.”

    For now, the microrobots are still in development. “There are many factors we have to take into account,” says Sakar. “For instance, we have to make sure that the microrobots won’t cause any side-effects in patients.”

    The other scientists involved in this work are Andrew Petruska and Salvador Pane.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 4:46 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Asthma, ,   

    From U Southampton: “Stop the rogue ADAM gene and you stop asthma” 

    U Southampton bloc

    University of Southampton

    22 July 2016
    No writer credit found

    Scientists at the University of Southampton have discovered a potential and novel way of preventing asthma at the origin of the disease, a finding that could challenge the current understanding of the condition.

    Professor Hans Michael Haitchi

    The research, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) Insight, analysed the impact of the gene ADAM33, which is associated with the development of asthma.

    ADAM33 makes an enzyme, which is attached to cells in the airway muscles. When the enzyme loses its anchor to the cell surface, it is prone to going rogue around the lung causing poorer lung function in people who have asthma.

    The studies in human tissue samples and mice, led by Hans Michel Haitchi, Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton, suggests that if you switch off ADAM33 or prevent it from going rouge, the features of asthma – airway remodelling (more muscle and blood vessels around the airways), twitchiness and inflammation – will be reduced.

    “This finding radically alters our understanding of the field, to say the least,” says Professor Haitchi. “For years we have thought that airway remodelling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, but our research tells us otherwise.”

    The first study showed that rogue human ADAM33 causes airway remodelling resulting in more muscle and blood vessels around the airways of developing lungs but it did not cause inflammation. When a house dust mite allergen was introduced, which is a common human allergen, both, airway remodelling and allergic airway inflammation were more significantly enhanced.

    In another study, remodelling of the airway was shown in mice that had ADAM33 switched on from in utero. The gene was then switched off and the airway remodelling was completely reversed.

    Furthermore they studied the impact of house dust mite allergen on asthma features in mice that had the ADAM33 gene removed. Airway remodelling and twitchiness as well as airway inflammation rates were significantly reduced by 50 per cent and respectively 35 per cent in mice that did not have the rogue gene.

    These findings identify ADAM33 as a novel target for disease modifying therapy in asthma.

    Professor Haitchi, whose research was primarily funded by a Medical Research Council Clinician Scientist Fellowship said: “Our studies have challenged the common paradigm that airway remodelling in asthma is a consequence of inflammation. Instead, we have shown that rogue human ADAM33 initiates airway remodelling that promotes allergic inflammation and twitchiness of the airways in the presence of allergen.”

    “More importantly, we believe that if you block ADAM33 from going rogue or you stop its activity if it does go rogue, asthma could be prevented. ADAM33 initiated airway remodelling reduces the ability of the lungs to function normally, which is not prevented by current anti-inflammatory steroid therapy. Therefore, stopping this ADAM33 induced process would prevent a harmful effect that promotes the development of allergic asthma for many of the 5.4 million people in the UK with the condition.”

    See the full article here .

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    The University of Southampton is a world-class university built on the quality and diversity of our community. Our staff place a high value on excellence and creativity, supporting independence of thought, and the freedom to challenge existing knowledge and beliefs through critical research and scholarship. Through our education and research we transform people’s lives and change the world for the better.

    Vision 2020 is the basis of our strategy.

    Since publication of the previous University Strategy in 2010 we have achieved much of what we set out to do against a backdrop of a major economic downturn and radical change in higher education in the UK.

    Vision 2020 builds on these foundations, describing our future ambition and priorities. It presents a vision of the University as a confident, growing, outwardly-focused institution that has global impact. It describes a connected institution equally committed to education and research, providing a distinctive educational experience for its students, and confident in its place as a leading international research university, achieving world-wide impact.

  • richardmitnick 4:23 am on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Structural causal model", Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From UCLA: “Solving big data’s ‘fusion’ problem” 

    UCLA bloc


    July 22, 2016
    Matthew Chin

    As the field of “big data” has emerged as a tool for solving all sorts of scientific and societal questions, one of the main challenges that remains is whether, and how, multiple sets of data from various sources could be combined to determine cause-and-effect relationships in new and untested situations. Now, computer scientists from UCLA and Purdue University have devised a theoretical solution to that problem.

    Their research, which was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help improve scientists’ ability to understand health care, economics, the environment and other areas of study, and to glean much more pertinent insight from data.

    The study’s authors are Judea Pearl, a distinguished professor of computer science at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Elias Bareinboim, an assistant professor of computer science at Purdue University who earned his doctorate at UCLA.

    Big data involves using mountains and mountains of information to uncover trends and patterns. But when multiple sets of big data are combined, particularly when they come from studies of diverse environments or are collected under different sets of conditions, problems can arise because certain aspects of the data won’t match up. (The challenge, Pearl explained, is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle using pieces that were produced by different manufacturers.)

    Bareinboim and Pearl discovered how to estimate the effect of one variable, X, on another, Y, when data come from disparate sources that differ in another variable, Z. Judea Pearl and Elias Bareinboim

    For example, researchers might be interested to combine data about people’s health habits from several unrelated studies — say, a survey of Texas residents; an experiment involving young adults in Kenya; and research focusing on the homeless in the Northeast U.S. If the researchers wanted to use the combined data to answer a specific question — for example, “How does soft drink consumption affect obesity rates in Los Angeles?” — a common approach today would be to use statistical techniques that average out differences among the various sets of information.

    The new study claims that these statistical methods blur distinctions in the data, rather than exploiting them for more insightful analyses.

    “It’s like testing apples and oranges to guess the properties of bananas,” said Pearl, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and a recipient of the Turing Award, the highest honor in computing. “How can someone apply insights from multiple sets of data, to figure out cause-and-effect relationships in a completely new situation?”

    To address this, Bareinboim and Pearl developed a mathematical tool called a structural causal model, which essentially decides how information from one source should be combined with data from other sources. This enables researchers to establish properties of yet another source — for example, the population of another state. Structural causal models diagram similarities and differences between the sources and process them using a new mathematical tool called causal calculus.

    The analysis also had another important result — deciding whether the findings from a given study can be generalized to apply to other situations, a century-old problem called external validity.

    For example, medical researchers might conduct a clinical trial involving a distinct group of people, say, college students. The method devised by Bareinboim and Pearl will allow them to predict what would happen if the treatment they were testing were given to an intended population of people in the real world.

    “A problem that every scientist in every field faces is having observations from surveys, laboratory experiments, randomized trials, field studies and more, but not knowing whether we can learn from those observations about cause-and-effect relationships in the real world,” Pearl said. “With structural causal models, they can ask first if it’s possible, and then, if that’s true, how.”

    See the full article here.

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    For nearly 100 years, UCLA has been a pioneer, persevering through impossibility, turning the futile into the attainable.

    We doubt the critics, reject the status quo and see opportunity in dissatisfaction. Our campus, faculty and students are driven by optimism. It is not naïve; it is essential. And it has fueled every accomplishment, allowing us to redefine what’s possible, time after time.

    This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

  • richardmitnick 7:28 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , Polar ice reveals new secrets of Earth’s climate   

    From CSIRO: “Polar ice reveals new secrets of Earth’s climate” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    26 July 2016
    Chris Gerbing


    A team of scientists have used air bubbles in polar ice from pre-industrial times to measure the sensitivity of the Earth’s land biosphere to changes in temperature.

    The paper published today in Nature Geoscience has verified and quantified the relationship for the first time and shown how it impacts the cycles of carbon between land, ocean and the atmosphere.

    About half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities since 1850 has been taken out of the atmosphere by the land biosphere and the ocean.

    How these sinks will behave in the future has been a significant source of uncertainty in climate projections.

    The paper led by Dr Mauro Rubino of CSIRO and the Seconda Universita di Napoli has revealed that the Earth’s land biosphere takes up less carbon in a warmer climate.

    “Until now it has only been assumed that as the Earth’s surface warms the ability of land-based plants to store carbon is reduced,” paper co-author and CSIRO senior scientist Dr David Etheridge said.

    “In this study we were able to quantify the relationship.

    “Reduced storage of carbon by the biosphere leads to higher atmospheric CO2.

    “This increases the Earth’s surface temperature, which leads to even less carbon stored by the biosphere, causing a positive feedback,” Dr Etheridge said.

    The research team measured air trapped in ice core samples from the Australian Antarctic Program’s unique Law Dome site where past atmospheric composition is preserved in fine detail, together with ice cores from the British Antarctic Survey.

    “The very high detail preserved in Law Dome ice cores has been a key to unlocking this information,” Dr Mark Curran, co-author from the Australian Antarctic Division said.

    The study focused on CO2 changes preserved in ice before, during, and after a naturally-cool period known as the Little Ice Age (1500 to 1750 AD).

    This period is well suited to focus specifically on the relationship between CO2 and temperature because it occurred just before the growth of industry and agriculture affected CO2 concentrations and the deposition of pollutants and nutrients.

    “Changes in the carbon-13 isotope ratio, which is a signature of carbon from land plants, show that the CO2 changes during the Little Ice Age originated from the land biosphere,” Dr Etheridge said.

    Previously published measurements of another natural ice-based tracer of the carbon cycle, a gas called carbonyl sulfide (COS), were used to rule out the possibility that early land-use changes could have contributed to the CO2 change seen through the study period.

    This confirmed that the CO2 changes can be related to variations in land surface temperature, which are known from paleoclimate proxies such as tree rings.

    The study shows that for every degree celsius of global temperature rise, the equivalent of 20 parts per million less CO2 is stored by the land biosphere.

    “How plants and soils respond to warming is one of the big unknowns in climate projections so it’s great for modellers to have some independent numbers to compare against rather than just comparing models with each other,” paper co-author Dr Peter Rayner from the University of Melbourne said.

    Dr Etheridge explains that this result is relevant to coming decades, because it shows how the biosphere responds to temperature changes that are comparable in magnitude and duration to the likely future warming.

    Previous ecosystem carbon cycle and climate studies have had limited geographical extent and duration.

    “This finding, and feedback quantification, will need to be taken into account for models of the Earth system to project future climates under various scenarios of human greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS),” Dr Etheridge said.

    The paper is a result of a collaboration between CSIRO, the Seconda Universita di Napoli, University of Melbourne, British Antarctic Survey, University of East Anglia, Australian Antarctic Division, University of Tasmania and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

    Section of an ice core from Law Dome, 2008. © Vin Morgan/Australian Antarctic Division Sample of ice showing air from pre-industrial times enclosed in polar ice.

    See the full article here .

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    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

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