Laser-made tissue scaffold tested in vivo

Published in MPW, 22 Apr 2015

An interdisciplinary group of scientists in Lithuania has tested a complex tissue scaffold made by direct laser writing in vivo for the first time. The scaffold has exhibited high performance and biocompatibility, paving the way for a clinical trial of the desirable tissue-engineering technique.

Direct laser writing (DLW) is an advanced way of structuring materials with light, without the use of a mask. Instead, a tightly focused laser beam scans a photosensitive material, creating a structure directly from a computer model. In this way it is like a 3D printer – but one with unmatched spatial resolution and material choice.

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Success for preclinical PET-MRI system

Published in MPW, 10 Apr 2015

Tests of a system that combines the benefits of both PET and MRI have been successful, according to a group of researchers in Germany and the UK. The system is currently in the pre-clinical phase, but promises to improve diagnosis by offering simultaneous insight into a subject’s anatomy and metabolic processes (Phys. Med. Biol. 60 2231).

PET is a technique for imaging metabolic processes in the body that requires a positron-emitting tracer to be introduced into the body. The emitted positrons interact with electrons in tissue, generating a pair of gamma rays that can be recorded on a detector – in turn revealing the exact position of the tracer. […]

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Photo finish

Published in New Scientist, 1 Apr 2015

The race is on to reinvent the photo. Will cameras last the distance, asks Jon Cartwright

LIKE a lot of professionals, Laura Pannack isn’t crazy about modern cameras. Granted, the London-based photographer keeps an iPhone in her pocket for the occasional snapshot, but really she likes nothing more than to take out her well-worn Hasselblad and hear the satisfying pah-clunk of a mechanical shutter. “As an artist and a photographer, I do believe in embracing new mediums,” she says. “But, to be honest, I use old technology more than new.”

With cameras, though, what counts as old is relative. Pannack’s camera phone and Hasselblad may be separated by several decades of innovation, but they have more in common than most gadgets spanning this timescale. Both focus light into an image using a series of glass lenses, like every other camera on the market. Whether that image is then captured on film or on the latest smartphone’s digital sensor, it is the result of a technique invented in the 1830s.

Photography has been the medium of the modern age, recording everything from momentous events like Neil Armstrong on the moon and the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square, to Marilyn Monroe on a subway grating and that selfie you took on New Year’s Eve, dressed as an orangutan and with a banana squashed in your friend’s ear. But all that could be just the start, because the way we take photographs and what we do with them afterwards is changing dramatically. The job performed by finely ground slivers of glass is being eclipsed by the work of finely crafted algorithms. As they take the lead, the 180-year reign of the lens might be over. It is a fundamental reimagining of photography and, like an ageing Polaroid, the camera as we know it is fading from existence. […]

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Recycling electric-car batteries: what’s greenest and cheapest?

Published in ERW, 30 Mar 2015

Researchers in the US have revealed the most economic and environmentally friendly way to recycle electric-car batteries in California, the country’s biggest adopter of electric vehicles. The study found that pyrometallurgical material recovery, two or fewer in-state dismantling facilities, and rail transport were all beneficial, and could serve as the basis for recycling assessments in other parts of the world.

The adoption of electric cars has risen quickly in the US, with a doubling of sales between 2012 and 2013, and a further 30% increase projected for last year. According to a 2013 report by the US National Research Council, by 2050, electric cars will account for 80% of new car sales. That’s seen as good news for the environment, because recharging an electric-car battery generates less emissions than burning fuel in a combustion engine, particularly as centralized electricity generation is likely to be made less carbon-intensive over time. […]

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Zooplankton recovered swiftly from Deepwater Horizon

Published in ERW, 11 Mar 2015

Marine scientists in the US and Oman investigating changes to zooplankton populations before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have found that the organisms returned to pre-spill numbers in a matter of months. Although long-term changes have yet to be investigated, the scientists say that there is “cause for optimism” regarding a sustained recovery.

Zooplankton provide a vital link in the marine food chain. If their population falls, or if their relative numbers drastically change, larger marine species will struggle to survive.

The oil spill produced by an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 posed a big threat to surrounding zooplankton. Laboratory studies have shown that zooplankton suffer increased mortality when exposed to oil and dispersants, and the Deepwater Horizon well released a record-breaking 780,000 cubic metres of oil, according to US government agencies. On the other hand, zooplankton populations are known to fluctuate naturally due to factors such as temperature, salinity and tidal currents. […]

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Mopping up oil slicks the easy way

Published in Horizon, 10 Mar 2015

Engineers have successfully demonstrated a new technology to clean up oil spills, which could reduce the environmental danger of drilling for oil in cold, rough seas, such as those in the Arctic.

Many people remember vividly the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, when nearly five billion barrels of oil were emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. That disaster highlighted the inherent risk of drilling for oil, especially in deep wells and other difficult locations.

But while oil drilling has been finding new frontiers, the technology required to clean up spills has not. Today the most basic method is a primitive one: at least two boats cordon off an area of spillage with long booms, while a third boat moves inside to scoop the oil off the surface. […]

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Climate models underestimate temperature variability

Published in ERW, 3 Mar 2015

Future surface temperatures on Earth could be far more variable than currently predicted, according to researchers in Norway. The scientists believe the problem could be solved by improving the description in computer models of the atmospheric boundary layer under conditions of “stable stratification”.

The atmospheric boundary layer lies next to Earth and experiences the effects of the Earth’s surface. Stable stratification occurs when the ground is much colder than the air above – a discrepancy that reduces turbulence and traps heat at surface level. The result is a region that is very sensitive to changes in forcing, so that just a small addition of greenhouse gases can produce a big rise in temperature. […]

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Natural gas vs coal: the verdict

Published in ERW, 2 Mar 2015

Natural gas is often touted by politicians as a “bridge” to help overcome our addiction to fossil fuels. Meanwhile, scientists argue over its impact on the environment. But now researchers in the US claim to have performed a simplified analysis of the pros and cons of natural-gas and coal-fired power stations that will allow people to make up their own minds.

The study shows that, in general, natural gas produces less short-term climate change than coal only if there is little methane leakage associated with its extraction and if the efficiency of generating the electricity is high. It also shows that natural gas cannot deliver the depth of cut in emissions that’s needed to avoid a big contribution to global warming, unless carbon-capture is employed. […]

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Let there be light

Published in Physics World, 1 Mar 2015

For most of us, life does not stop after a hard day’s work. Some people like to sit down with a good book. Others might want to study or catch up on some household chores. Often the desire is even simpler: a chance to relax and spend time with friends and family.

Such options are always open to about five and a half billion of us. However, for the remaining one and a half billion – some 20% of the world’s population – the choices are rather more limited. These are the people in the developing world who do not have access to on-grid lighting, a feature of modern life that the rest of us take for granted. “If you’re not connected to an electricity grid,” says Beth Taylor, “then at 6 p.m. when the Sun goes down, either life stops or you’re dependent on a smoky, dangerous kerosene lamp.”

Taylor is one of many individuals – others being charity workers, businesspeople, engineers and indeed former physicists – who want to improve access to alternative off-grid lighting. She is chair of the UK National Committee for the International Year of Light, and has been championing the UK effort in Study After Sunset – an initiative that is intended to bring safe off-grid lighting to school-age children in particular. Although the initiative has only just begun, and the number of affected people is huge, Taylor hopes that by the end of 2015 she and her colleagues will have been able to make a difference. “Our aim is to leave a real legacy at the end of the year,” she says. […]

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Build your own

Published in New Scientist, 26 Feb 2015

JAMIE EDWARDS is every bit the nuclear scientist – curious, diligent and passionate about unlocking the energy stored inside atoms. Last year, having scoured the web for parts and blueprints, he built his first working fusion reactor. The project would have been a tremendous feat for anyone, but in Jamie’s case there was an additional wow factor: he was just 13.

Jamie found himself propelled to global stardom by his achievement. The media were abuzz with excitement that the same process that makes the sun shine had been harnessed in Penwortham, a small town in northern England. The US television host David Letterman invited Jamie on to his chat show to discuss what prompted him to set about fusing hydrogen nuclei in a school laboratory. “I guess it was just the curiosity – I found it fascinating,” says Jamie, who has also been invited to talk about fusion to scientists several times his age. […]

The rest of this article is available here.