Forever Young

Marine animals could hold the key to looking young

Sea urchins could hold the key to youth

Sea urchins could hold the key to youth

Sea cucumbers and sea urchins are able to change the elasticity of collagen within their bodies, and could hold the key to maintaining a youthful appearance, according to scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.

The researchers investigated the genes of marine creatures such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers, known as echinoderms. They found the genes for “messenger molecules” known as peptides, which are released by cells and tell other cells in their bodies what to do.

The study was published online in the journals PLOS One and General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Project leader Professor Maurice Elphick, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Probably the most exciting discovery from our research was finding genes encoding peptides that cause rapid stiffening or softening of collagen in the body wall of sea cucumbers.

“Although sea urchins and sea cucumbers may not look much like us, we are actually quite closely related to them. As we get older, changes in collagen cause wrinkling of our skin, so if we can find out how peptides cause the body wall of a sea cucumber to quickly become stiff or soft then our research might lead to new ways to keeping skin looking young and healthy.”

The scientists analyzed the DNA sequences of thousands of genes in the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the edible sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus and specifically searched for genes encoding peptide messenger molecules. Rapid advances in technology used to sequence genes made the research possible.

“When the human genome was sequenced over a decade ago it cost millions of pounds – now all of the genes in an animal can be sequenced for just a few thousand pounds,” Professor Elphick said.

“We also found that sea urchins have a peptide that is very similar to calcitonin, a hormone that regulates our bones to make sure that they remain strong,” Professor Elphick said.

“So it will be fascinating to find out if calcitonin-type peptides have a similar sort of role in spiny-skinned creatures like sea urchins.”

“These types of advances in basic science are fascinating in their own right but they are also important because they underpin the medical breakthroughs that lead to improvement in the quality of people’s lives.”

Attribution: Real Clear Science

Mystery Solved

The mighty drone of 600 bombers filled the night air as they flew the length of eastern England. As planes thundered overhead, people peeped through their blackout curtains to see if they could  glimpse what was then one of the largest bombing forces ever assembled.

On board the Lancasters, Stirlings, Halifaxes and Wellingtons were more than 4,000 airmen — and all knew they stood a very  good chance of not returning to base the following morning.

Among that awesome mass of metal pounding  through the dark sky was a Lancaster bomber with the marking  ED427.

Fallen hero: Pilot F O Alec Bone
Fallen hero: Sergeant Norman Foster
Fallen heroes: Respected Flying Officer Alec Bone, upper,  piloted the plane which had seven crew members including flight engineer  Sergeant Norman Foster, lower
Target: The men in the Lancaster Bomber were attacking factories in the Czech brewing town Pilsen

Target: The men in the Lancaster Bomber were attacking  factories in the Czech brewing town Pilsen

As part of 49 Squadron, the bomber and its  seven crew had taken off at precisely 21.14 on the evening of April 16, 1943,  from Fiskerton airfield five miles east of Lincoln. It was the second time the  plane’s crew had flown together, and they were hoping this raid would go as  successfully as their bombing of Stuttgart two nights before.

The Lancaster was piloted by Flying Officer  Alexander ‘Alec’ Bone, who, at 31, was by far the oldest and most experienced of  the crew.

An instructor who had taught many Battle of Britain pilots to fly, Bone was one of the most respected and able pilots in all of Bomber Command. A champion fencer, tall and charming, Bone was what we would  today call an alpha male.

The rest of the seven-strong crew — flight  engineer Norman Foster, navigator Cyril Yelland, wireless operator Raymond  White, bomb aimer Raymond Rooney, air gunner Ronald Cope and air gunner Bruce  Watt were aged 19 to 23, and all looked up to Bone.

One of six brothers, his father described him  as ‘the pick of the bunch’, and he was well qualified to command of a bomber  crew.

As he sat at the controls, Bone’s mind might  well have wandered temporarily from the mission to his own recent tragedy. Just  four months earlier, he had lost his wife, Menna, 22, to tuberculosis. He had  received the news of her illness when stationed in Canada, but by the time he  had returned, Menna was already dead and buried.

On board: Sergeant Ronald Cope
Sergeant Cyril Yelland
On board: Air gunner Sergeant Ronald Cope, pictured  upper, and navigator Sergeant Cyril Yelland, lower

The planes that night had two targets. Fewer  than half the aircraft were heading for various factories in and around Mannheim  some 40 miles south of Frankfurt. Bone’s Lancaster, however, was part of the  larger element heading more than 200 miles further east to the Czech brewing  town of Pilsen, where they were to attack the massive Skoda works that produced  armaments for the Nazis.

After a flight of nearly 800 miles, in which Bone successfully outwitted night fighters and dodged numerous flak batteries,  ED427 safely arrived over what he presumed was the target at around 1.30am on April 17.

Below was a hellish inferno, and Bone would  have felt confident he was dropping his two 1,000lb bombs and one 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ bomb — made of a thin steel casing to carry more explosives, and  devastating in its impact — in the right place.

However, unknown to him, the leading Pathfinder aircraft had dropped their flares which indicated the target in the wrong place: they fell on the harmless village of Dobrany five miles to the south-west of Pilsen.

To make matters more tragic, a nearby psychiatric hospital had been mistaken for the Skoda works, and it took the  brunt of the raid. According to a German casualty report, some 300 patients were killed, and some 1,000 German soldiers and 250 civilians were killed or wounded.

Unfortunately for the Allies, the Skoda works were untouched, and the entire raid — called Operation Frothblower in  recognition of Pilsen’s brewing history — was one of Bomber Command’s biggest  failures.

The men were part of a 600 strong squadron of RAF Lancaster bombers - at that time, one of the largest bombing forces ever assembled

The men were part of a 600 strong squadron of RAF  bombers – at that time, one of the largest bombing forces ever assembled
Air gunner Bruce Watt
Wireless operator Raymond Charles White, aged 21
Lost: Air gunner Bruce Watt, upper, and Wireless operator  Raymond Charles White, aged 21, lower

This would of course have been unknown to Bone and his crew, who had dropped their payload and were now bearing west for the five-hour flight home.

They were looking forward to breakfast and some sleep, as well as Easter the following weekend. However,  the men of ED427 were never to enjoy another breakfast.

At some point during the flight something went badly wrong, and the Lancaster failed to return. In  the squadron’s operations records book, the bald statement was simply typed: ‘Missing without trace.’

Until last week, nearly 70 years after the raid, the fate of ED427 was still a mystery. But now, thanks to an archaeological excavation in Germany, the truth of what happened can finally be told.

The story that emerges from the German soil is a heart-wrenching tale not only of tragedy, but of incompetence and an unforgiveable bureaucratic slip-up which kept the families of the crew in the dark for decades.

A week after the raid, Wing Commander Johnson of 49 Squadron wrote to Bone’s mother, telling her ‘so far we have received no news of any kind, but you can be sure that as soon as any is received, it will be passed to you immediately’.

No concrete news was ever to come. According  to Bone’s brother, Arthur ‘Alf’ Bone, 91, their mother suspected the worst. ‘I  think she knew he had gone in her mind,’ he says, ‘and I think I did,  too.’

Pieces of history: The team sorted the fragments they found into boxes at the site

Pieces of history: Sixty-nine years after their burning  plane plunged to the ground after being shot by German anti-aircraft fire the  remains of most of the Lancaster bomber crewmen have been recovered.The team  sorted the fragments they found into boxes at the site
Burnt out: The remains of a scorched parachute

Burnt out: The remains of a scorched parachute. The site  was discovered by a British military historian and a team of German  archaeologists who spent hours digging a muddy field looking for the RAF crew  after an eye-witness who saw the plane crash guided them to the precise  spot.
Damage: The crater made by the impact of the engineDamage: The crater made by the impact of the engine. A  Rolls Royce engine and landing gear of the World War Two aircraft was found  followed by ‘hundreds’ of fragments of human bones in what would have been the  cockpit

Alf was an RAF pilot as well, and heard  about his brother when he was about to take a Wellington up in a  practice  flight. A telegram was delivered to the cockpit a few minutes  before take off. ‘For the first time, I felt a panic attack,’ Alf  recalls. ‘Alec was so dear to  me. Normally I liked the smell of the  inside of a Wellington, but on that  occasion I just smelled death.’

Alf  idolized Alec. The last time he saw him was in Canada in 1941. ‘I was stationed  at an airfield called Swift’s Current,’ Alf says. ‘One day Alec flew his  two-seater Harvard 120 miles from Moosejaw to pay me a surprise visit.’ Alec told Alf to put on a parachute, and took his brother up in the training  aircraft. ‘We did lots of acrobatics,’ Alf remembers. ‘We dived, climbed, looped  the loop — you name it. I loved it.’

In October 1943, the family received a letter  informing them the Air Council had determined that ‘they must regretfully  conclude that he has lost his life’, and that Alec’s death was presumed to have  occurred on April 17.

For the rest of her life, Alec’s mother lived  in what Alf described as ‘a vacuum’, in which she was never to know what had  happened to her son. Officials of every stripe simply told the families of the crew they had no idea what had happened to ED427.

However, it now emerges the RAF did know what  had happened to the plane and the bodies of its crew but, disgracefully, the families were never told. In October 1946, Squadron-Leader Philip  Laughton-Bramley of the RAF’s Missing Research and Enquiry Unit was investigating the fates of crashed aircraft in the Mannheim area.

Fatal flight: A graphic of the site in Laumersheim, Germany, where the Lancaster crashed 69 years ago

Fatal flight: A graphic of the site in Laumersheim,  Germany, where the Lancaster crashed 69 years ago
Birds eye view: An aerial Luftwaffe picture showing the crash site at Laumersheim, GermanyBirds eye view: An aerial Luftwaffe picture showing the  crash site at Laumersheim, Germany

His research took him to the village of  Laumersheim, 14 miles west of Mannheim, where a former police constable told him that on April 16-17 a ‘four-engined aircraft crashed in flames  200 yards  east of the village and exploded on contact with the ground’.

According to the German, the trunk of one body was  found, along with the remains of some six or seven men. The body parts were  removed, but nobody could remember where they had been taken. Laughton-Bramley was persistent, and continued to hunt.

Eventually, he found two graves in the military section of the Mannheim cemetery, whose inscriptions stated that they  contained the bodies of ‘Unknown British flyers shot down in  Laumersheim  17.4.43’, and who were buried on 24 April — the same day Wing Commander Johnson  had written to Mrs Bone.

One can only imagine the terrifying last  moments of ED427. It was almost certainly hit by the flak battery at Frankenthal, five miles from the  crash site. Flying at around 200 miles per  hour, and at a height of  perhaps 10,000 feet, it may well have taken over two minutes to have plummeted to the ground.

Alec Bone, if he had survived the impact of  the flak, would have used all  his considerable skill to try to keep the plane  steady enough to allow the crew to bail out. If anybody could have done it,  Bone could. But clearly the flak battery had done its work too well. Death  would have been instantaneous as the plane ploughed five metres deep into the  soft  earth.

Volunteers dig within the crater, exhuming the fateful planes remains

Excavation: Volunteers dig within the crater, exhuming  the fateful planes remains. The team dug five metres deep in a 100 square metre  area and found sections of the fuselage, cockpit, landing gear, a tyre, a burnt  parachute, tools and ammunition
Commemoration: A minutes silence was held in respect by the volunteers. Members of the Bundeswehr reserve, part of the German army, are in uniform

Commemoration: A minutes silence was held in respect by  the volunteers. Members of the Bundeswehr reserve, part of the German army, are  in uniform
It is thought the remains of the men will be buried in the same coffin in a single grave at a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Germany.

Respect: A poppy memorial was erected as a mark of  remembrance. It is thought the remains of the men will be buried in the same  coffin in a single grave at a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Germany

On May 15, 1947, Laughton-Bramley filed his  report to the Air Ministry in London, in  which he concluded that the bodies  were the crew of ED427, and that the  plane had been shot down by flak. For some inexplicable reason —perhaps  simply an oversight — the information was never passed on to the families as it should have been. And so the crew’s poor relatives remained in ignorance.

Light was only shed on the case when, in  2006, military historian Peter  Cunliffe found a copy of the report in  the  Canadian Archives while  researching the raid for his book. A Shaky Do, in the  file of Pilot  Officer Bruce Watt, a Canadian member of ED427’s crew.

Cunliffe made a copy of  Laughton-Bramley’s report, and passed it to the German archaeologist Uwe Benkel, who had been investigating the fate of ED427. It jibed with  the story told by Peter Menges, now 83, who was a child in the next village when the plane was shot down.

‘Peter saw the plane coming down on fire,’ says Mr Benkel, ‘and saw the explosion. His parents didn’t allow him to go and see the plane that night. He went the next morning and the German military were there. From what he saw the majority of the body parts were on the surface and taken away.’

Last week, Benkel and his team unearthed the  remains of Lancaster ED427. Contrary  to Bramley-Laughton’s report, which suggested all the bodies had been  recovered by the Germans in the war, Benkel  says that there were still  body parts in the cockpit. Benkel concludes that they were those of Alec Bone.

For Alf, this finally ends the mystery of what happened to his beloved brother. ‘You  have closed the missing page of our memory book,’ he told Uwe Benkel.

Sacrifice: 53,573 members of Bomber Command were killed during the Second World WarSacrifice: 53,573 members of Bomber Command were killed  during the Second World War
Momentous: The men of Bomber Command were witness to events that have shaped our historyMomentous: The men of Bomber Command were witness to  events that have shaped our history

‘My mother would have been so relieved that we at last know something,’ he says.

‘I now want to go and pay my last respects on behalf of the family. My brother was a real professional — we were all amateurs.  He was a gentleman and a gentle man.’

Families of other crew members share that sense of a chapter finally being closed. ‘It is a great relief to know what did happen,’ says Hazel Snedker, 72, the daughter of Sergeant Norman Foster, the plane’s Flight Engineer.

‘At least he will now have a grave with a  headstone.’

The plan is for the remains of all the crew  to be buried together. ‘They flew together and died together,’ says Mr Benkel. ‘It is only right that they should stay together.’

Attribution: Mail Online

Hold it Properly

It’s a familiar sight seen in dozens of  Hollywood gangster films: the gangster aiming down the side of his pistol before pumping a volley of bullets into his victim.

But with most people knowing that the aiming sights are found on the top of a gun barrel, it’s also a counter-intuitive way  to accurately fire a weapon.

So why is it that gangsters are always shown  using their guns in this way? According to Jon Davis, a former marksmanship  instructor with the U.S. Marine Corp, there is a good reason, at least in theory.

Which is best? researchers have analysed the reason gangsters often hold their gun sideways - and say it can actually help aimWhich is best? researchers have analysed the reason  gangsters often hold their gun sideways – and say it can actually help aim

As a specialist in pistol marksmanship and a veteran of the war in Iraq, Mr Davis has fired these kinds of weapons thousands of times.

He explains that when aiming a handgun in the conventional, barrel-up manner, the rear sites must line up with the front sight in the horizontal and vertical planes to make sure the bullet travels a straight line.

This important technique, known as ‘building the castle’ since the gunman has to line up the three ‘turrets’ into an even position, ensures that the barrel of the gun is aligned perfectly along the trajectory he wants the bullet to travel.

The problem with ‘building the castle’ each time you want to fire your gun is that it takes time. Time you might not have in a combat situation – or alternatively when you want to quickly execute your victim and make a fast getaway.

'Building the castle': This graphic shows the conventional way to line a target up using the sites on the top of a handgun‘Building the castle’: This graphic shows the  conventional way to line a target up using the sites on the top of a handgun

Instead, gangsters – albeit unkowingly – use another method to get what’s called a ‘flash sight picture’ by quickly aiming down the side of the gun barrel without perfectly lining it up with the target.

The ‘flash sight picture’ is a way to quickly get an aim that’s good enough for combat but without worrying too much about  being totally precise with your aim.

Marines do it too, Mr Davis says, but they hold their guns the right way up.

'Flash sighting' - gangster style: Mr Davis explains that this method is a much faster way of aiming a weapon, but it is much less effective for aiming accurately‘Flash sighting’ – gangster style: Mr Davis explains  that this method is a much faster way of aiming a weapon, but it is much less  effective for aiming accurately

In answer to a question on Mr Davis explains: ‘The problem with tilt style shooting is that it is almost impossible to acquire a reliable sight alignment. The alignment in tilt style is achieved by making the weapon flat and aiming down the side.

‘In theory this works, but in practice you  can’t accurately measure movement left or right and you have absolutely no way  of knowing if the weapon is tilted down below your field of vision from the back  of the weapon.

‘This means that you never actually take the same shot twice since you are never actually aiming the same way.’

This, Mr Davis adds, shows that there is in fact a rational method behind why gangsters aim their weapon side on. However,  it’s not a particularly good method – and they probably don’t realize that there’s method to it at all.

The research sheds new light on why holding a gun sideways can help aim under pressureThe research sheds new light on why holding a gun  sideways can help aim under pressureAttribution: Damien Gayle

Molotov Cocktail

‘Don’t do this yourself… you would be an  idiot.’

With that friendly warning, the ‘Slow Mo’  team launches a Molotov Cocktail at the side of a typical house in  suburbia.

And thanks to their super slow motion capture – which can take a staggering 2,500 frames a second – we can see every moment of  this explosive and destructive attack in the kind of detail normally reserved  for Hollywood action films.

Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy, AKA the Slow Mo  team, have a track record for this sort of thing , having previously smashed  watermelons, popped popcorn, and dropped water balloons, all in the name of  science and fun.

This time, it is the side of a house which  falls victim to their destructive ways.

Scroll  down for video:

Get ready for the explosion: The Molotov flies through the air - in super-slow motion - as the Slo Mo team take great glee in educating their viewers

Get ready for the explosion: The Molotov flies through  the air – in super-slow motion – as the Slo Mo team take great glee in educating  their viewers
As the molotov cocktail hits the wall, the glass shatteers and the fuel begins to spread

As the molotov cocktail hits the wall, the glass  shatteers and the fuel begins to spread
It's time to burn! As the flames spread out, more and more fuel catches alight, leading to a blossoming flame

It’s time to burn! As the flames spread out, more and  more fuel catches alight, leading to a blossoming flame
The flames spread across the brick wall - luckily this was not thrown in anger as the ferocity of the flame is obvious

The flames spread across the brick wall – luckily this  was not thrown in anger as the ferocity of the flame is obvious
The burning liquid spreads down the side of the house - on slow-motion is looks spectacular, if savage

The burning liquid spreads down the side of the house –  on slow-motion is looks spectacular, if savage
As the liquid drops down, the flames lick across the floor, burning the pool of fire

As the liquid drops down, the flames lick across the  floor, burning as it goes

The flames 'drip' down the wall as the liquid burns. This whole sequence has lasted around a second, with the bottle not even landing by the time of this final image

The flames ‘drip’ down the wall as the liquid burns.  This whole sequence has lasted around a second, with the bottle not even landing  by the time of this final image

The Slow Mo team have millions of subscribers  to their YouTube channel and more than 60,000 Twitter followers.

Hollywood director Michael Bay – known and  lampooned for his high-octane super-slow-motion scenes in action films such as  Transformers – may well end up jealous of the pair’s camera.

They used a Phantom Flex camera to record the  action, which provided them with high-definition footage to keep for  posterity.

The video is part of a series of slow-motion  videos, more than 60 in total, posted by the pair on their YouTube  video.

What did we just do? Gavin Free (left) and Daniel Gruchy (right) enjoy blowing things up in the name of scienceWhat did we just do? Gavin Free (left) and Daniel Gruchy  (right) enjoy blowing things up in the name of science

Previously they have tackled a  computer with  a sledgehammer, played golf with an apple, and exploded  ‘bottle-bombs’,  capturing each moment at a fraction of the pace of real  life.

The pair do not go to lengths to  explain  their motivations or what the audience is witnessing. Instead they seem to enjoy nothing more than watching everyday objects explode in super slow motion.

But that is part of the beauty of  science –  sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason, other than watching life from a new perspective.

Power of Kawaii

One thing the internet has  shown us, it is that few  people can resist looking at images of cute animals.

Now new research has  revealed that looking at cute images of baby animals doesn’t just make you feel  warm and fuzzy inside, but can actually improve your work performance and help  you concentrate.

The study comes from  researchers at Hiroshima University. In Japanese, the word ‘kawaii’ means cute,  and so the report is rather appropriately entitled ‘Power of Kawaii’.

The subjects were told the  pictures, which they viewed during a ‘break’ in the tasks, were for a separate  experiment.

In the Operation  experiment, the participants who were shown images of puppies and kittens  performed their tasks better after the break than those who looked at cats and  dogs. Performance scores improved by 44%. They also took their time. The time it  took to complete the task increased by 12%.

‘This finding suggests that  viewing cute images makes participants behave more deliberately and perform  tasks with greater time and care,’ said the researchers, according to the  published paper.

Similar jumps in  performance were seen in the numbers experiment, suggesting that looking at cute  images increases attentiveness even when the task at hand is unlikely to raise  feelings of empathy.

The group that saw kitten  and puppies were more accurate, improving their scores by about 16%. They were  also faster, increasing the number of random numerical sequences they got  through by about 13%. There was no change among groups that saw cats and dogs,  and food images.

‘Kawaii things not only  make us happier, but also affect our behavior,’ wrote the researchers, led by  cognitive psychologist Hiroshi Nittono. ‘This study shows that viewing cute  things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral  carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional  focus.’

The study’s authors write  that in the future cute objects could be used as a way to trigger emotions ‘to  induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and  office work.’

Melts in Your Mouth or in Your Hand

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass.–Tiny, fully biocompatible electronic devices that are able to dissolve harmlessly into their surroundings after functioning for a precise amount of time have been created by a research team led by biomedical engineers at Tufts University in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dubbed “transient electronics,” the new class of silk-silicon devices promises a generation of medical implants that never need surgical removal, as well as environmental monitors and consumer electronics that can become compost rather than trash.

“These devices are the polar opposite of conventional electronics whose integrated circuits are designed for long-term physical and electronic stability,” says Fiorenzo Omenetto, professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts School of Engineering and a senior and corresponding author on the paper “A Physically Transient Form of Silicon Electronics” published in the September 28, 2012, issue of Science.

“Transient electronics offer robust performance comparable to current devices but they will fully resorb into their environment at a prescribed time—ranging from minutes to years, depending on the application,” Omenetto explains. “Imagine the environmental benefits if cell phones, for example, could just dissolve instead of languishing in landfills for years.”

The futuristic devices incorporate the stuff of conventional integrated circuits — silicon and magnesium — but in an ultrathin form that is then encapsulated in silk protein.

“While silicon may appear to be impermeable, eventually it dissolves in water,” says Omenetto. The challenge, he notes, is to make the electrical components dissolve in minutes rather than eons.

Researchers led by UIUC’s John Rogers — the other senior and corresponding author — are pioneers in the engineering of ultrathin flexible electronic components.   Only a few tens of nanometers thick, these tiny circuits, from transistors to interconnects, readily dissolve in a small amount of water, or body fluid, and are harmlessly resorbed, or assimilated. Controlling materials at these scales makes it possible to fine-tune how long it takes the devices to dissolve.

Device dissolution is further controlled by sheets of silk protein in which the electronics are supported and encapsulated.   Extracted from silkworm cocoons, silk protein is one of the strongest, most robust materials known. It’s also fully biodegradable and biofriendly and is already used for some medical applications.   Omenetto and his Tufts colleagues have discovered how to adjust the properties of silk so that it degrades at a wide range of intervals.

The researchers successfully demonstrated the new platform by testing a thermal device designed to monitor and prevent post-surgical infection (demonstrated in a rat model) and also created a 64 pixel digital camera.

Collaborating with Omenetto from Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering were Hu Tao, research assistant professor and co-first author on the paper; Mark A. Brenckle, doctoral student; Bruce Panilaitis, program administrator; Miaomiao Yang, doctoral student; and David L. Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering and department chair. In addition to Tufts and UIUC, co-authors on the paper also came from Seoul National University, Northwestern University, Dalian University of Technology (China), Nano Terra (Boston), and the University of Arizona.

In the future, the researchers envision more complex devices that could be adjustable in real time or responsive to changes in their environment, such as chemistry, light or pressure.

The work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Multi University Research Initiative program, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under award EB002520 and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Attribution: Real Clear Science

New Supercar

Peugeot has unveiled a sinister looking supercar concept that will be debuting this month at the 2012 Paris Auto Show.

The vehicle has been built using materials that have been processed as little as possible. They include aluminum, carbon fiber, PMMA (PolyMethyl MethAcrylate), copper and even felt.

The chassis is a carbon fiber monocoque and weighs just 220 pounds. It’s one of the main reasons the total weight of the Onyx is only 2,425 pounds.

Power comes from a mid-mounted 3.7-liter V-8 turbodiesel, developed with the help of Peugeot’s motorsport arm, Peugeot Sport. Cooled by ducts which begin at the roof via NACA take-offs, the V-8 transmits its 600 horsepower to the rear wheels via a six-speed sequential gearbox.

For added performance, Peugeot designers have also added their company’s HYbrid4 system. The latest version of the system uses a kinetic energy recovery system to charge up an array of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are used to power an electric motor that sends an additional 80 horsepower to the front wheels, coming online automatically when the Onyx is accelerating.

One of the Onyx’s most distinguishing features is its interior. Made of felt, compressed and stretched, the cabin is formed as a one-piece pod, with no stitching or joints.

It creates a real cocoon around the occupants and is fitted into the carbon structure, visible in places, it replaces a number of elements found in regular cars: soundproofing, floors, dashboards, roofs, and even seats.

To make the seats, for example, designers simply inserted foam padding under the felt. The best part is that felt is not only quite flexible to use, it’s completely renewable as it’s made from wool. The dash, meanwhile, is made from old newspapers that have been compressed to form a hard material that, believe it or not, resembles wood. If you take a close look at the dash, Peugeot says you’ll even notice some of the original newspaper print.

Sadly, Peugeot stresses that the Onyx is simply to showcase the talents of its design team and preview new materials and construction techniques that could be making their way into future cars. In other words, you can’t purchase one.

A Slice of Water

You’ve likely heard of or seen swordsmen who can expertly and accurately slice through all kinds of objects, but scientists are now taking precision-cutting to the next level of awesome.

Researchers at Arizona State University, in cooperation with colleagues at Youngstown State University, have perfected the subtle science of slicing water droplets in half. They detailed their exploits in a study just published in the online open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The scientists accomplished the feat using superhydrophobic (extremely water-resistant) knives and cutting surfaces. The knives were composed of polyethylene and zinc and dipped in solutions of silver nitrate and another superhydrophobic solution abbreviated HDFT (its systematic name is far too long to fit on one line). Cutting surfaces were simply composed of Teflon.

Even with their water-resistant knives and cutting boards, the researchers had to be incredibly meticulous when actually slicing the H2O. They delicately cut through water droplets ranging in size from 15 to 70 µL, utilizing wire loops to keep the droplets stationary. Their meticulous efforts produced no satellite drops, nor did they result in any “catastrophic rupture” of the water droplets.

The researchers envision their knives and methods potentially being employed in biomolecular research settings where scientists have to efficiently separate proteins or other components in very small liquid samples.

Attribution: Real Clear Science, The New Scientist

Remember When?

Researchers discover technique to erase newly formed memories

Erasing memories has long been a staple of sci-fi films, but researchers now believe they have made a breakthrough in making the process reality.

The groundbreaking research at Uppsala University in Sweden could lead to radical new treatments for sufferers of anxiety and post traumatic stress disorders.

It shows for the first time that newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain.

Men in Black famously used memory erasing gadgets - now scientists believe they can actually erase short term memories.

Men in Black famously used memory erasing gadgets – now scientists believe they can actually erase short term memories.

This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study now being published by the academic journal Science.

‘These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks,’ says Thomas Ågren, who led the study.

When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins in the brain.

When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process.

‘In other words, it can be said that we are not remembering what originally happened, but rather what we remembered the last time we thought about what happened,’ the researchers say.

By disrupting the reconsolidation process, the team found they can change what was remembered.

In the study the researchers showed subjects a neutral picture and simultaneously administered an electric shock.

In this way the picture came to elicit fear in the subjects which meant a fear memory had been formed.

In order to activate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without any accompanying shock.

For one experimental group the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture.

For a control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.

In subjects that were not allowed to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated, and the memory was rendered neutral.

At the same time, using a MR-scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories, the nuclear group of amygdala in the temporal lobe.

Attribution: Daily Mail


Genetically modified foods: Why does California insist on finding a problem where nobody else does?

by: Erika Johnsen

On the state’s ballot in November, Californians will be voting on Proposition 37 — an initiative that would require all foods produced with or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to carry mandatory warning labels. Oh, sure, it all sounds well and good and simple enough, except that such a measure would impose significant expenses on (often small) businesses; would cost the way-past-completely-broke California government up to over a million dollars to regulate the practice; and, oh yeah — is completely pointless because there is not a single documented case of “adverse health consequences” due to genetically engineered foods.

For a group of people who subscribe to the supposed “party of science,” progressives and environmentalists have waged a strange and steady campaign against the very idea of genetically modified foods. These “frankenfoods,” as they’re sometimes dubbed, are supposedly bad for us because they don’t occur by themselves in nature. But, here’s a news flash, greenies: Human beings have been ‘modifying’ foods with agricultural techniques for centuries. We didn’t just stumble upon corn as we know it today, and we make new apple hybrids all the time. Many medicines, I might also point out, are man-made, but we know that medicines can save lives. Tylenol doesn’t grow on trees, you know. From Forbes:

Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another – often as a result of seeds being irradiated or genes being moved from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature. But because genetic engineering is more precise and predictable, the technology is at least as safe as – and often safer than – the modification of food products in cruder, “conventional” ways. This superior technology is the target of Prop. 37.

The safety record of genetically engineered plants and foods derived from them is extraordinary. Even after the cultivation worldwide of more than 3 billion acres of genetically engineered crops (by more than 14 million farmers) and the consumption of more than 3 trillion servings of food by inhabitants of North America alone, there has not been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.

The advantages are also remarkable. Every year, farmers planting genetically engineered varieties spray millions fewer gallons of chemical pesticides and substantially reduce topsoil erosion. In addition, many of these varieties are less susceptible to mold infection and have lower levels of fungal toxins, making them safer for consumers and livestock.

Not only would requiring these types of foods to carry mandatory labels impose costs on producers and raise prices for everybody, including consumers, they would imply to consumers that they need to be wary of undefined dangers, which in turn limits their choices unnecessarily. Maybe part of the idea is that consumers are supposed to spring for the organic foods as an alternative (which no state has any business doing anyway), except that recent studies have suggested organic food might not actually be all that it’s cracked up to be:

…Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out — and concluded there’s little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics.

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children — but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers reported Monday.

Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious.

Even the federal Food and Drug Administration, normally inclined towards being more meddlesome over less, has declined to require all foods in the U.S.A. to carry GMO labels. Imposing such a mandate in California would create a whole new level of regulation-and-litigation bureaucracy that no Californian food-business or individual consumer could avoid paying for. (For more resources, here’s a great piece from the Volokh Conspiracy on why this whole labeling idea is a possibly unconstitutional farce, and an op-ed from the LA Times on why California’s entire ballot-initiative procedure is a hot mess.)

The hubris of ignorant environmentalist groups never ceases to amaze. Have they ever paused to consider that genetically modified foods can, perhaps, save lives and help lift human beings out of poverty? Maybe? I know I’ve posted this video from Penn & Teller before, but it is great, and well worth the watch (warning: some brief foul language).