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  • richardmitnick 10:10 am on December 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Dr Omar Cedillos-Barraza, Hafnium carbide, ICL-Imperial College London, New record set for world's most heat resistant material   

    From ICL: “New record set for world’s most heat resistant material” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    22 December 2016
    Caroline Brogan

    1
    Discovery paves the way for new types of heat shields
    (image: NASA)

    Researchers have discovered that tantalum carbide and hafnium carbide materials can withstand scorching temperatures of nearly 4000 degrees Celsius.

    In particular, the team from Imperial College London discovered that the melting point of hafnium carbide is the highest ever recorded for a material. Being able to withstand temperatures of nearly 4000°C could pave the way for both materials to be used in ever more extreme environments, such as in heat resistant shielding for the next generation of hypersonic space vehicles.

    Tantalum carbide (TaC) and hafnium carbide (HfC) are refractory ceramics, meaning they are extraordinarily resistant to heat. Their ability to withstand extremely harsh environments means that refractory ceramics could be used in thermal protection systems on high-speed vehicles and as fuel cladding in the super-heated environments of nuclear reactors. However, there hasn’t been the technology available to test the melting point of TaC and HfC in the lab to determine how truly extreme an environment they could function in.

    The researchers of the study, which is published in the journal Scientific Reports, developed a new extreme heating technique using lasers to test the heat tolerance of TaC and HfC. They used the laser-heating techniques to find the point at which TaC and HfC melted, both separately and as mixed compositions of both.

    They found that the mixed compound (Ta0.8Hf0.20C) was consistent with previous research, melting at 3905°C, but the two compounds on their own exceeded previous recorded melting points. The compound TaC melted at 3768°C and HfC melted at 3958°C.

    Space race

    The researchers say the new findings could pave the way for the next generation of hypersonic vehicles, meaning spacecraft could become faster than ever.

    Dr Omar Cedillos-Barraza, who is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Texas – El Paso, carried out the study while doing his PhD at Imperial’s Department of Materials.

    Dr Cedillos-Barraza said: “The friction involved when travelling above Mach 5 – hypersonic speeds – creates very high temperatures. So far, TaC and HfC have not been potential candidates for hypersonic aircraft, but our new findings show that they can withstand even more heat than we previously thought – more than any other compound known to man. This means that they could be useful materials for new types of spacecraft that can fly through the atmosphere like a plane, before reaching hypersonic speeds to shoot out into space. These materials may enable spacecraft to withstand the extreme heat generated from leaving and re-entering the atmosphere.”

    Examples of potential uses for TaC and HfC could be in nose caps for spacecraft, and as the edges of external instruments that have to withstand the most friction during flight.

    Currently, vehicles going over Mach 5 speeds do not carry people, but Dr Cedillos-Barraza suggests it may be possible in the future.

    Dr Cedillos-Barraza added: “Our tests demonstrate that these materials show real promise in the engineering of space vehicles of the future. Being able to withstand such extreme temperatures means that missions involving hypersonic spacecraft may one day be manned missions. For example, a flight from London to Sydney may take about 50 minutes at Mach 5, which could open a new world of commercial opportunities for countries around the world.”

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:47 am on October 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Dr Michel Della Negra, Dr Peter Jenni, ICL-Imperial College London, Sir Tejinder (Jim) Virdee, W.K.H. Panofsky Prize   

    From ICL: “Fathers of Higgs boson detectors awarded particle physics prize” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    17 October 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    Professor Sir Tejinder Virdee (L) and Dr Michel DellaNegra (R)

    2
    Dr Peter Jenni

    Two Imperial physicists share in a prize for experimental physics for their work masterminding the CMS and ATLAS experiments

    The W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics, awarded by the American Physical Society, has this year been given to three scientists, “For distinguished leadership in the conception, design, and construction of the ATLAS and CMS detectors, which were instrumental in the discovery of the Higgs boson.”

    Receiving the honours are Professor Sir Tejinder (Jim) Virdee FRS from the Department of Physics at Imperial, Dr Michel Della Negra from CERN, who is also a Distinguished Research Fellow at Imperial, and Dr Peter Jenni from CERN and Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg.

    In July 2012, scientists using the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS) experiments operating at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs boson.

    CERN/CMS Detector
    CERN/CMS Detector

    CERN CMS Higgs Event
    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN/ATLAS detector
    CERN/ATLAS detector

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event
    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    This new particle, whose associated field gives mass to the fundamental particles, is the last missing link of the Standard Model of particle physics.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth

    Professor Jordan Nash, head of the Department of Physics at Imperial, said: “I’m delighted to see that Jim and Michel have been awarded this year’s Panofsky prize. Their dedication for more than two decades to the design, construction, and operation of the CMS detector has been essential to enabling the wonderful science and discoveries we have seen at the LHC.”

    Hayley Dunning talked to Professor Virdee about his latest award, chasing the Higgs and the future of the Large Hadron Collider.

    You’ve won a few prizes for your work – how does it feel to win the W.K.H. Panofsky Prize?

    It is a great honour to receive this prize and it is particularly pleasing to get this recognition from our peers. Even though the past 25 years have been long and not without many difficulties, it has nevertheless led to a fantastic result for all of us at the LHC – the discovery of the Higgs boson.

    This award is also acknowledgement of the huge experimental effort that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson. This wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world. On a personal note, I have enjoyed the enormous support of my exceptional colleagues at Imperial as well as the many others in the CMS Collaboration.

    What attracted you to particle physics and big experiments like the LHC?

    Particle physics is a modern-day name for the centuries-old effort to understand the fundamental laws of nature. I was intrigued to find out more: how nature really works at the most fundamental level, and I’ve always felt that this has to be one of the most exciting of human endeavours.

    Particle physicists didn’t really set out to do ‘big’ experiments. I, like my colleagues, were not attracted by the magnitude of the experiment, but by the magnitude and importance of the questions for which we were searching answers. CMS has the size it has due to the huge power of its ‘microscope’ to examine physics at the smallest distance scales offered for study by the highest accelerator energy so far achieved.

    And this can be seen in the history of this endeavour: twenty-five years ago, we started CMS with a handful of physicists and engineers. The enormity of the detectors that were necessary to answer these enormous questions meant that the collective talents and resources of a worldwide effort would be necessary. Now, CMS has over 3,000 scientists and engineers and involves 40 countries.

    Did you always believe you would be able to find the Higgs boson with CMS and ATLAS?

    In retrospect, and not overlooking the open mind that we all physicists have to have, I did believe, that if the Higgs boson were a true constituent particle of nature, we would find it sooner or later at the LHC. It has to be remembered that mass is a fundamental attribute of fundamental particles and is what gives our universe substance.

    At the time of conception of the CMS detector, a few of us paid particular attention to conjectures that suggested the mass of the Higgs boson could lie in the range where, years later, in 2012, it was eventually found. In this range the electromagnetic calorimeter, which I pioneered, played a vital role. Similarly, other parts of CMS were conceived, designed and constructed so as to ensure that the Higgs boson would be found if it were at other masses.

    Luckily, it turned out that the Higgs boson is a choice of nature. What was less of a stroke of luck is that we found it – given that it is a real element of nature.

    What are you working on now, and what do you hope for the future of the LHC experiments?

    My current work involves the in-depth study of the properties of the newly found Higgs boson, the search for widely anticipated physics beyond the Standard Model, and the design of the upgrades to the CMS detector for very high luminosity (implying very high proton-proton interaction rate) LHC running, due to start in the mid-2020s.

    In the context of this upgrade, a year or so ago I began another exciting project to develop a novel technique to replace a part of CMS. The goal is to increase the physics reach of the next phase of the LHC and take us into the 2030s. In 2015 I was awarded an EU-ERC Advanced grant to carry out the research, development and prototyping of this novel project.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:30 am on September 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Huntington's disease, ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “Activity of Huntington’s disease gene curbed for six months in mice” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    09 September 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    Healthy brain (L) and Huntington’s brain (R). No image credit.

    A single injection of a new treatment has reduced the activity of the gene responsible for Huntington’s disease for several months in a trial in mice.

    Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that affects around 1 in every 10,000 people and damages nerve cells in the brain. This causes neurological symptoms affecting movement, cognition and behaviour.

    Huntington’s usually only begins to show symptoms in adulthood. There is currently no cure and no way to slow the progression of the disease. Symptoms typically progress over 10-25 years until the person eventually dies.

    Now, the EU-funded FINGERS4CURE project team led by researchers at Imperial College London have engineered a therapeutic protein called a ‘zinc finger’.

    Huntington’s disease is caused by a mutant form of a single gene called Huntingtin. The zinc finger protein works by targeting the mutant copies of the Huntingtin gene, repressing its ability to express and create harmful proteins.

    In the new study involving mice, published in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration, the injection of zinc finger repressed the mutant copies of the gene for at least six months.

    In a previous study in mice, the team had curbed the mutant gene’s activity for just a couple of weeks. By tweaking the ingredients of the zinc finger in the new study they were able to extend its effects to several months, repressing the disease gene over that period without seeing any harmful side effects. This involved making the zinc finger as invisible to the immune system as possible.

    A lot of promise

    Project lead Dr Mark Isalan from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial said: “We are extremely excited by our latest results, which show a lot of promise for treating Huntington’s disease.

    “However, while these encouraging results in mice mean that the zinc finger looks like a good candidate to take forward to human trials, we still need to do a lot of work first to answer important questions around the safety of the intervention, whether repeat treatments are effective, whether there might be longer-term side effects, and whether we can extend and increase the benefits beyond six months.

    “In this study we weren’t looking at how repressing the gene activity affected the symptoms of the disease and this is obviously a critical question as well. However, we have reason to be confident from our previous studies that repressing the gene does in fact significantly reduce symptoms.

    “If all goes well and we have further positive results, we would aim to start clinical trials within five years to see whether the treatment could be safe and effective in humans. We are urgently looking for industry partners and funding to achieve this.”

    Cut off at the source

    The mutant Huntingtin gene is thought to cause toxic levels of protein to aggregate in the brain. Preventing the activity of this gene could theoretically halt the disease, but this has been difficult to achieve.

    The gene is present in many different cell types in the brain, making it difficult to target, and every patient also has a non-mutant copy of the gene, which scientists need to avoid targeting with any intervention in order to prevent unwanted side effects.

    The zinc finger protein sticks to the DNA of the mutant Huntingtin gene and turns off the gene’s expression. “We don’t know exactly how the mutant Huntingtin gene causes the disease, so the idea is that targeting the gene expression cuts off the problem at its source – preventing it from ever having the potential to act,” said Dr Isalan.

    By targeting the fundamental DNA of the gene, the zinc finger therapy also has the advantage over other potential Huntington’s therapies of needing less frequent treatments.

    Lengthening effect

    In the study, the researchers gave a single injection of zinc finger to 12 mice with Huntingdon’s disease. They examined the brains of the mice at different intervals after the initial injection and found that on average, 77 per cent of the ‘bad’ gene expression was repressed in mouse brains three weeks after injection of the zinc finger, 61 per cent repressed at six weeks, and 48 per cent repressed at 12 weeks.

    By 24 weeks after the initial injections, there was still 23 per cent repression, which is thought to still be useful therapeutically. The team are now working on ways to lengthen the repression period even further.

    The study was funded by a European Research Council Proof-of-Concept Award (ERC-2014-PoC 641232 FINGERS4CURE) and involved researchers from Imperial College London, Centre for Genomi Regulation (CRG) in Spain, and Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:26 am on September 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “New tool can calculate renewable energy output anywhere in the world” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    06 September 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    No image caption. No image credit.

    Researchers have created an interactive web tool to estimate the amount of energy that could be generated by wind or solar farms at any location.

    The tool, called Renewables.ninja, aims to make the task of predicting renewable output easier for both academics and industry.

    The creators, from Imperial College London and ETH Zürich, have already used it to estimate current Europe-wide solar and wind output, and companies such as the German electrical supplier RWE are using it to test their own models of output.

    To test the model, Dr Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, and Dr Stefan Pfenninger, who is now at ETH Zürich, have used Renewables.ninja to estimate the productivity of all wind farms planned or under construction in Europe for the next 20 years. Their results are published today in the journal Energy.

    They found that wind farms in Europe current have an average ‘capacity factor’ of around 24 per cent, which means they produce around a quarter of the energy that they could if the wind blew solidly all day every day.

    This number is a factor of how much wind is available to each turbine. The study found that because new farms are being built using taller turbines placed further out to sea, where wind speeds are higher, the average capacity factor for Europe should rise by nearly a third to around 31 percent.

    This would allow three times as much energy to be produced by wind power in Europe compared to today, not only because there are more farms, but because those farms can take advantage of better wind conditions.

    Super sunny days

    In another research paper also published today in Energy, the pair modelled the hourly output of solar panels across Europe. They found that even though Britain is not the sunniest country, on the best summer days solar power now produces more energy than nuclear power. However, the pattern of this solar output through the year substantially changes how the rest of the power system will have to operate.

    Wind and solar energies have a strong dependence on weather conditions, and these can be difficult to integrate into national power systems that requires consistency. If there is excess power generated by all energy sources, then some supplies have to be turned off.

    Currently, wind and solar power generators are the easiest to switch on and off, so they are often the first to go, meaning the power they generate can be wasted.

    Making use of a larger capacity for solar energy generation relies on changes to the national energy system, such as adding new types of electricity storage or small and flexible generators to balance the variable output from solar panels.

    Making models faster

    Renewables.ninja uses 30 years of observed and modelled weather data from organisations such as NASA to predict the wind speed likely to influence turbines and the sunlight likely to strike solar panels at any point on the Earth during the year.

    These figures are combined with manufacturer’s specifications for wind turbines and solar panels to give an estimate of the power output that could be generated by a farm placed at any location.

    Dr Staffell said he spent two years crunching the data for his own research and thought that creating this tool would make it quicker for others to answer important questions: “Modelling wind and solar power is very difficult because they depend on complex weather systems. Getting data, building a model and checking that it works well takes a lot of time and effort.

    “If every researcher has to create their own model when they start to investigate a question about renewable energy, a lot of time is wasted. So we built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online, allowing them to answer their questions faster, and hopefully to start asking new ones.”

    He and Dr Pfenninger have been beta testing Renewables.ninja for six months and now have users from 54 institutions across 22 countries, including the European Commission and the International Energy Agency.

    Dr Pfenninger said: “Renewables.ninja has already allowed us to answer important questions about the current and future renewable energy infrastructure across Europe and in the UK, and we hope others will use it to further examine the opportunities and challenges for renewables in the future.”

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:59 am on September 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “Dengue vaccine may increase risk of severe disease in low infection rate areas” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    01 September 2016
    Kate Wighton

    1
    Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes. No image credit.

    The world’s only licensed vaccine for dengue may worsen subsequent dengue infections if used in areas with low rates of dengue infection.

    These infections are also more likely to need hospitalisation, suggests the study, by scientists from Imperial College London, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Florida.

    The research, published in the journal Science, analysed all publicly available clinical trial data for the vaccine. The results suggest that in people who have never been exposed to dengue before, the vaccine primes the immune system so that if they are subsequently infected, the infection is more severe.

    However in people who are have been exposed to the virus before vaccination, the vaccine reduces the severity of future infections.

    The researchers recommend testing people before they receive the vaccine, to establish if they have previously been exposed to the dengue virus. This would help avoid triggering an increase in serious cases of the disease.

    Dengue is a viral infection that causes just under 400 million cases per year. According to the latest estimates, around half of the world’s population are thought to be at risk. The virus is spread by mosquitoes, and causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pain. In some cases, it can lead to a life-threatening condition called haemorrhagic fever which is a leading cause of death and serious illness among children in some Asian and Latin American countries.

    Unlike most infectious diseases, the second time a person is infected with dengue is usually far more serious than the first. This may be why the vaccine appears to amplify the illness in some individuals, particularly young children.

    Normally, when a person is infected with a virus their immune system builds defences against it. This means when they are infected a second time, the virus is destroyed before triggering symptoms. However, with dengue, the virus primes the immune system to work against the body. So when a person is infected a second time, a component of the immune system – called antibodies – help the virus infect the cells, leading to a more severe infection.

    This has serious implications for the vaccine, explains Professor Neil Ferguson, co-lead author, who is the Director of the MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London: “If someone has never been exposed to dengue, the vaccine seems to act like a silent infection. The initial exposure to the virus from the vaccine primes the immune system, so when they are infected again, the symptoms are more likely to be severe.”

    The vaccine, produced by the company Sanofi-Pasteur, is available in six countries and has been trialled on around 30,000 people from ten countries.

    After analysing the data, the research team formulated a computer model to predict the effectiveness of the vaccine if used more widely.

    Professor Neil Ferguson said: “Having a licensed dengue vaccine available is a significant step forward for dengue control. However, we should be careful in considering where and how to use this vaccine as there is still uncertainty about the impact.”

    The team stress the vaccine stills holds benefits – but only if used in areas heavily affected by dengue, where individuals being vaccinated are likely to have encountered the virus before.

    Derek Cummings, Professor of Biology at the University of Florida and co-author of the study added: “In places with high transmission intensity, most people have been already exposed to dengue at the time of vaccination, and the vaccine has higher efficacy on average. However, in places with lower transmission intensity, were individuals haven’t been previously exposed, the vaccine can place people at risk of severe disease and overall, increase the number of hospitalized cases.”

    Dr Isabel Rodriguez-Barraquer, joint first author of the research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained: “Our results indicate that screening potential vaccine recipients could maximize the benefits and minimise the risk of negative outcomes.”

    The World Health Organization recommends that countries consider introduction of the dengue vaccine only in geographic settings (national or subnational) where data suggests a high burden of disease.

    Professor Ferguson added: “Our model refines estimates of which places would see a decline in dengue incidence with large scale vaccination programmes, and which places should not implement programmes at this point in time. These results present the first published, independent predictions of the potential impact of vaccination that take account of recent data showing that the vaccine can increase the risk of severe dengue disease in young children.”

    The authors hope their analysis can help inform policy-makers in evaluating this and other candidate dengue vaccines.

    The work was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the NIHR UK National Institute of Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance under the Health Protection Research Unit initiative, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH) under the MIDAS initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:43 am on September 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “A new way to create synthetic proteins could lead to more flexible designs” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    1
    Structure of a designed protein

    Building up proteins from scratch, rather than piecing together fragments of existing proteins, could make designing new nanomaterials easier.

    Proteins perform a myriad of functions essential for life. They also make up important and useful biological materials, for example spider silk, which is exceptionally strong but still flexible.

    The ability to design completely new proteins would help scientists create nanomaterials that, like spider silk, have a specific microstructure that confers useful properties.

    Until now, new proteins have usually been designed by piecing together fragments of existing proteins in order to simplify the design process.

    Now, a team led by researchers from Imperial College London has used a synthetic repeating protein scaffold as a base and shown that it is possible to add individual computationally designed modules, which can be chosen for their ability to perform a specific function. This gives biological engineers the possibility of designing new molecules from scratch.

    The base scaffold is a new artificial repeating helix to which functional modules can be added. The team designed the structure on a computer, created it using synthetic genes, and then used a technique called X-ray crystallography to confirm they had built what they set out to.

    Building complexity

    Study leader Dr James Murray from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial said: “Our system would allow designers to create proteins with atoms in specific places and build up complexity module by module, rather than designing the protein all at once.”

    Dr James MacDonald from Imperial’s Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation added: “We have developed a new method for computationally designing brand new proteins that is potentially more flexible than taking sections from known proteins.”

    The team’s first experimental results, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, added just one module to a helical scaffold as a proof that the system could work. Next, they want to add more loops to build up new functionality, and then test whether the synthetic proteins perform as expected.

    Professor Paul Freemont, co-founder and co-director of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial, said: “Being able to construct proteins at the atomic level has a lot of potential and exciting applications, including synthetic enzymes and new nanomaterials.

    These could include improved nanowire batteries, where viruses are programmed to produce thin wires that increase the surface area and performance of batteries.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:34 am on August 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ICL-Imperial College London, Mapping signal paths in proteins could reveal new direction for drug development,   

    From ICL: “Mapping signal paths in proteins could reveal new direction for drug development” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    26 August 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    Using math previously applied to traffic jams and electrical grids, researchers have developed a new method to map signal propagation in proteins. No image credit

    Proteins are molecules found within every cell in the human body that carry out a wide range of functions essential for life. Many proteins have an ‘active site’ to which other molecules bind, enabling them to perform different functions, such as catalysing biochemical reactions or regulating gene expression.

    Active sites are often targeted by drugs designed to combat a host of diseases caused by malfunctioning proteins.

    However, some proteins also have additional sites to which other molecules bind, causing the protein to shift its shape and altering the functionality of the main active site.

    For example, a protein can be ‘activated’ or ‘deactivated’ through this additional binding. This process is known as ‘allostery’, and these additional allosteric sites are often far away from the main active site in the structure of the protein.

    Many proteins are known to have allosteric sites, and these are crucial to biological function. However, the big mystery has been how to predict if and where such allosteric sites exist, and how signals travel across the protein from allosteric sites to the active site.

    Now, researchers at Imperial College London have used sophisticated mathematical methods to accurately trace the allosteric signals through proteins. Their method, published today in Nature Communications, not only allows them to track the signal by identifying the chemical bonds involved, but also predict new allosteric sites.

    New drug targets

    Allosteric sites are a potentially exciting new target for drugs, since they allow greater flexibility than active sites. The structure of active sites may be shared across several proteins, meaning any drugs targeting that particular structure could have side effects, whereas allosteric sites are more specialised and targetting them could minimise unwanted interferences.

    Study co-author, Professor Mauricio Barahona from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial has been working on the underlying mathematical tools, and has already applied them to the study of traffic jams and cascading failures in electrical grids.

    He said: “The concept is the same in all these cases: we look at how a signal travels within the graph structure, whether that’s cars in the road network of a city, electricity in the power grid, or fluctuations in the chemicals bonds in the structure of a protein.

    “When a line is tripped in a power grid, it can have its largest effect on a distant part of the network. The same principle is at play in allostery.”

    Professor Sophia Yaliraki from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, who has been working on the underlying chemical theory, added: “The purpose of modelling in each case is to figure out how to interfere with the signal – either to enhance it or disrupt it. Disrupting the signal in proteins could inhibit their function, effectively targeting diseases where proteins are malfunctioning.

    “This depends both on the specific atomic-scale structure of the protein, as well as its overall three-dimensional shape.”

    Mapping influencers

    The mathematical models work by mapping influencers – in this case which chemical bonds influence other bonds in response to a propagating signal from the active site. Despite the large amount of information required, the computational method is “incredibly efficient” according to Professor Yaliraki, allowing signal pathways in large complex proteins to be mapped in minutes.

    The researchers have applied the model to many known allosteric sites, and found they were able to accurately predict their existence and position. Now, they are applying the methodology to proteins that are not yet known for allostery in the hope of identifying new targets for drug development.

    The work is a collaboration between researchers in the Departments of Chemistry and Mathematics, enabled by the EPSRC-funded cross-disciplinary Institute for Chemical Biology at Imperial.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on August 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Breast milk sugar may protect babies against deadly infection, Group B streptococcus, ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “Breast milk sugar may protect babies against deadly infection” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    26 August 2016
    Kate Wighton

    1
    A type of sugar found in some women’s breast milk may protect babies from a potentially life threatening bacterium called Group B streptococcus.

    These bacteria are a common cause of meningitis in newborns and the leading cause of infection in the first three months of life in the UK and globally.

    The new research, on 183 women in The Gambia and published in the journal Clinical and Translational Immunology, suggests a sugar found in some women’s breast milk protect babies against the bacteria.

    The bug is carried naturally in the vagina and bowels by up to one in three women and can be transferred to the baby during childbirth or in breast milk. In the UK pregnant women deemed high risk are offered a test for the bacteria, or women can pay privately. This test consists of a swab a few weeks before a woman’s due date. However there is still a chance of a woman picking up the bacteria in her gut at some point between the test and giving birth (once the bug gets into the gut of the mother or baby it can trigger an infection).

    However, the new research, from the Centre for International Child Health at Imperial, found that naturally-occurring sugars in a woman’s breast milk may have protective effects against Group B streptococcus.

    Each woman’s breast milk contains a mixture of many different types of sugar, called human milk oligosaccharides. These are not digested in the baby’s tummy and act as food for the ‘friendly bacteria’ in a baby’s intestine.

    The type of sugars a woman produces in her breast milk are partly dictated by her genetic make-up. A type of genetic system in particular, called the Lewis antigen system (which is involved in making the ABO blood group), plays an important role in determining breast milk sugars.

    In the study, the team tested all the mothers’ breast milk for the sugars that are known to be controlled by these Lewis genes. They also tested women and their babies for Group B streptococcus at birth, six days later, and then between 60 and 89 days after birth.

    The team found women who produced breast milk sugars linked to the Lewis gene were less likely to have the bacteria in their gut, and their babies were also less likely to get the bacteria from their mothers at birth.

    In addition, among the babies who had the bacteria in their guts at birth, the infants whose mothers produced a specific sugar in their breast milk, called lacto-n-difucohexaose I, were more likely to have cleared the bacteria from their body by 60-89 days after birth. This suggests this breast milk sugar, which is linked to the Lewis gene, may have a protective effect.

    The researchers then went on to show in the laboratory that breast milk containing this particular sugar – lacto-n-difucohexaose I – was better at killing the Group B streptococcus bacteria compared to breast milk without this specific sugar.

    Around half of all women in the world are thought to produce the sugar lacto-N-difucohexaose I.

    Dr Nicholas Andreas, lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial said: “Although this is early-stage research it demonstrates the complexity of breast milk, and the benefits it may have for the baby. Increasingly, research is suggesting these breast milk sugars (human milk oligosaccharides) may protect against infections in the newborn, such as rotavirus and Group B streptococcus, as well as boosting a child’s “friendly” gut bacteria.”

    He added the presence of these sugars allows “friendly” bacteria to flourish and out-compete any harmful bacteria that may be in the youngster’s gut, such as Group B streptococcus.

    The sugars are also thought to act as decoys, and fool the bacteria into thinking the sugar is a type of human cell that can be invaded. The bacteria latch onto the sugar and is then excreted by the body. This may help protect the baby from infection until their own immune system is more mature to fight off the “bad bugs” at around six months of age.

    The team hope their findings might lead to new treatments to protect mothers and babies from infections. The researchers raise the possibility of giving specific breast milk sugar supplements to pregnant and breast-feeding women who do not carry the active Lewis gene. This may help prevent harmful bacteria getting into the baby’s gut at birth and in the first weeks of life.

    Some companies are already exploring adding such sugars to formula milk, but Dr Andreas cautioned it would be difficult to replicate the mix of sugars found in breast milk: “These experimental formulas only contain a couple of these compounds, whereas human breast milk contains dozens of different types. Furthermore, the quantity of sugars produced by the mother changes as the baby ages so that a newborn baby will receive a higher amount of sugars in the breast milk compared to a six-month-old.”

    Dr Andreas, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for International Child Health at Imperial, also suggested that testing new mothers’ blood for the Lewis gene may be beneficial: “If we know whether a mother is colonised with Group B streptococcus and know if she carries an active copy of the Lewis gene, it may give us an indication of how likely she is to pass the bacteria on to her baby, and more personalised preventive measures could be applied.”

    The work was supported by the Medical Research Council at the MRC Unit The Gambia, the Wellcome Trust, and the Thrasher Research Fund.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:56 pm on August 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ICL-Imperial College London, , ,   

    From ICL: “Evidence mounts that neutrinos are the key to the universe’s existence” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    06 August 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    T2K Experiment
    T2K map
    T2K Experiment; T2K map

    1
    The T2K near detector. No image credit

    New experimental results show a difference in the way neutrinos and antineutrinos behave, which could explain why matter persists over antimatter.

    The results, from the T2K experiment in Japan, show that the degree to which neutrinos change their type differs from their antineutrino counterparts. This is important because if all types of matter and antimatter behave the same way, they should have obliterated each other shortly after the Big Bang.

    So far, when scientists have looked at matter-antimatter pairs of particles, no differences have been large enough to explain why the universe is made up of matter – and exists – rather than being annihilated by antimatter.

    Neutrinos and antineutrinos are one of the last matter-antimatter pairs to be investigated since they are difficult to produce and measure, but their strange behaviour hints that they could be the key to the mystery.

    Flavour change

    Neutrinos (and antineutrinos) come in three ‘flavours’ of tau, muon and electron, each of which can spontaneously change into the other as the neutrinos travel over long distances.

    The latest results, announced today by a team of researchers including physicists from Imperial College London, show more muon neutrinos changing into electron neutrinos than muon antineutrinos changing into electron antineutrinos.

    This difference in muon-to-electron changing behaviour between neutrinos and antineutrinos means they would have different properties, which could have prevented them from destroying each other and allow the universe to exist.

    To explore the (anti)neutrino flavour changes, known as osciallations, the T2K experiment fires a beam of (anti)neutrinos from the J-PARC laboratory at Tokai Village on the eastern coast of Japan.

    It then detects them at the Super-Kamiokande detector, 295 km away in the mountains of the north-western part of the country. Here, the scientists look to see if the (anti)neutrinos at the end of the beam matched those emitted at the start.

    Very intriguing

    The latest results were concluded from relatively few data points, meaning there is still a one in 20 chance that the results are due to random chance, rather than a true difference in behaviour. However, the result is still exciting for the scientists involved.

    Dr Morgan Wascko, international co-spokesperson for the T2K experiment from the Department of Physics at Imperial said: “This is an important first step towards potentially solving one of the biggest mysteries in science.

    “T2K is the first experiment that is able to study neutrino and antineutrino oscillation under the same conditions, and the disparity we have observed is, while not yet statistically significant, very intriguing.”

    Dr Yoshi Uchida, also from the Department of Physics at Imperial and a principal investigator at T2K, added: “More data is needed to prove conclusively that neutrinos and antineutrinos behave differently, but this result is an indication that neutrinos will continue to provide breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe.

    Upgrades to the equipment that produces (anti)neutrinos, as well as to the detector that measures them, are expected to add more data within the next decade, and determine whether the difference is in fact real.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:37 am on August 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ICL-Imperial College London,   

    From ICL: “Scientists discover light could exist in a previously unknown form” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    05 August 2016
    Hayley Dunning

    1
    Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. No image credit.

    New research suggests that it is possible to create a new form of light by binding light to a single electron, combining the properties of both.

    According to the scientists behind the study, from Imperial College London, the coupled light and electron would have properties that could lead to circuits that work with packages of light – photons – instead of electrons.

    It would also allow researchers to study quantum physical phenomena, which govern particles smaller than atoms, on a visible scale.

    In normal materials, light interacts with a whole host of electrons present on the surface and within the material. But by using theoretical physics to model the behaviour of light and a recently-discovered class of materials known as topological insulators, Imperial researchers have found that it could interact with just one electron on the surface.

    This would create a coupling that merges some of the properties of the light and the electron. Normally, light travels in a straight line, but when bound to the electron it would instead follow its path, tracing the surface of the material.

    Improved electronics

    In the study, published today in Nature Communications, Dr Vincenzo Giannini and colleagues modelled this interaction around a nanoparticle – a small sphere below 0.00000001 metres in diameter – made of a topological insulator.

    Their models showed that as well as the light taking the property of the electron and circulating the particle, the electron would also take on some of the properties of the light.

    Normally, as electrons are travelling along materials, such as electrical circuits, they will stop when faced with a defect. However, Dr Giannini’s team discovered that even if there were imperfections in the surface of the nanoparticle, the electron would still be able to travel onwards with the aid of the light.

    If this could be adapted into photonic circuits, they would be more robust and less vulnerable to disruption and physical imperfections.

    Quantum experiments

    Dr Giannini said: “The results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light. Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade, but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics.”

    Dr Giannini added that it should be possible to observe the phenomena he has modelled in experiments using current technology, and the team is working with experimental physicists to make this a reality.

    He believes that the process that leads to the creation of this new form of light could be scaled up so that the phenomena could observed much more easily.

    Currently, quantum phenomena can only be seen when looking at very small objects or objects that have been super-cooled, but this could allow scientists to study these kinds of behaviour at room temperature.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

     
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