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Optical Technique Could Spot Early Cancer

EVANSTON, Ill., Oct. 5 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say an optical scanning technology could detect early signs of lung cancer by examining cheek cells in human beings.

Researchers from Northwestern University say the pioneering “biophotonics” technology shows potential for pre-screening patients at his risk for the disease, a Northwestern release said.

“By examining the lining of the cheek with this optical technology, we have the potential to pre-screen patients at high risk for lung cancer, such as those who smoke, and identify the individuals who would likely benefit from more invasive and expensive tests versus those who don’t need additional tests,” said Dr. Hemant K. Roy, director of gastroenterology research at NorthShore HealthSystem, a partner with Northwestern in the research.

Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied science, developed the technique, called partial wave spectroscopic microscopy.

PWS can detect cell features as small as 20 nanometers, uncovering differences in cells not apparent using standard microscopy techniques, researchers say.

“Despite the fact that these cells appear to be normal using standard microscopy … there are actually profound changes in the nanoscale architecture of the cell,” Backman said. “PWS measures the disorder strength of the nanoscale organization of the cell, which we have determined to be one of the earliest signs of carcinogenesis and a strong marker for the presence of cancer in the organ.”

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Aluminum 'nanometal' is Strong As Steel

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 8 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve learned how make an aluminum alloy — a mixture of aluminum and other elements — that’s as strong as steel.

North Carolina State University scientists say the search for ever lighter yet stronger materials is important for everything from more fuel-efficient cars to safer airplanes.

Yuntian Zhu, professor of materials science at NC State, says nanoscale architecture within the new aluminum alloys give them unprecedented strength but also reasonable plasticity to stretch and not break under stress, a university release reports.

The new aluminum alloys have unique structural elements called “grains,” each a tiny crystal less than 100 nanometers in size, that make them super-strong and ductile, Zhu says.

Bigger is not better in materials, he says, as smaller grains result in stronger materials.

The technique of creating these nanostructures can be used on many different types of metals, Zhu says.

He says he is working on strengthening magnesium, a metal even lighter than aluminum, and is working with the Department of Defense to make magnesium alloys strong enough to be used as body armor for soldiers.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Ancient 'terror Bird' Lived Up to Name

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 18 (UPI) — An extinct 5-foot-tall South American bird nicknamed “terror bird” deserved the name, scientists say, for the way it attacked and killed its prey.

From the size and shape of the beak, researchers have always known Andalgalornis was a predator, but now they know exactly how the bird killed — by wielding its huge skull and hooked beak like a pick axe to chop at its prey until it died, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The 90-pound Andalgalornis steulleti, with a skull almost twice as big as a human’s, went extinct millions of years ago, but researchers have been using CT scans and biomechanical reconstructions to deduce how the flightless predators killed.

Andalgalornis lived in northwestern Argentina about 6 million years ago, one of a species known as phorusrhacids, but popularly called “terror birds” because of their size and fearsome skull.

Modern birds have light skulls with considerable internal flexibility, Vertebrate paleontologist Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University says.

But the terror birds had heavier, much more rigid structures, “really changing the architecture of the skull,” he said. “It was more rigid than anything we had anticipated.”

Computerized simulations of the skull showed it wouldn’t withstand the stress of grasping prey and shaking it from side to side, like a dog does a rabbit, he said.

The bird probably jabbed straight down with the skull to use its beak like a pickax, repeatedly driving the bill tip into the prey.

“It was using its powerful neck like the handle of a pickax,” Witmer said. The bird could then use its beak to pull meat off the carcass.

Considering all the strengths and weaknesses of the skull, he concluded, “this is the only strategy this animal could adopt.”

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Students Design Inflatable Space Habitats

WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it’s challenging the nation’s college students to design concepts for inflatable habitat lofts to be used by space explorers.

“The X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is a university-level challenge designed to encourage further studies in spaceflight-related engineering and architecture disciplines,” NASA said. “This design competition requires undergraduate students to explore NASA’s work to develop space habitats while also helping the agency gather new and innovative ideas to complement its current research and development. The winning concepts may be applied to the exploration habitats of the future.”

The space agency said students will design, manufacture and assemble an inflatable loft that will be integrated into NASA’s operational hard-shell prototype lab unit. The competition winner will participate in a demonstration of the submitted design during the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies, or a similar field test next summer.

Information about competition registration and requirements is available at http://www.spacegrant.org/xhab.

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Political Party Choice Steeped in Biology

TORONTO, June 11 (UPI) — Political preferences do not emerge from a simple rational consideration of issues, they are steeped in biology, University of Toronto researchers say.

Lead author Jacob Hirsh, a postdoctoral psychology student at the University of Toronto, and colleagues asked more than 600 Canadian and U.S. students to classify their politics as either small-L liberal or small-C conservative instead of a particular political party.

The study subjects were then given a personality test.

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found psychological concern for compassion and equality is associated with a liberal mindset, while concern for order and respect of social norms is associated with a conservative mindset.

“Conservatives tend to be higher in a personality trait called orderliness and lower in openness. This means that they’re more concerned about a sense of order and tradition, expressing a deep psychological motive to preserve the current social structure,” Hirsh said in a statement. “While everybody has the same basic motivational architecture, the relative strength of the underlying systems varies from one person to the next. If concerns for order and equality are relatively balanced, the individual is likely to be politically moderate; as either motive grows stronger than the other, political preferences move further to either end of the spectrum.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Nanotech Thin-film Advance Reported

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., June 7 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve developed a “nanocoax” technology that can support a highly efficient thin-film solar cell that provides outstanding efficiency.

Boston College researchers said their nano-scale solar cell — inspired by the coaxial cable — offers greater efficiency than any previously designed nanotech thin-film solar cell. It does that, they said, by resolving the “thick and thin” challenge inherent to capturing light and extracting current for solar power.

The quest for high power conversion efficiency in most thin-film solar cells has been hampered by competing optical and electronic constraints — a cell must be thick enough to collect a sufficient amount of light, yet it needs to be thin enough to extract current.

Boston College physicists said they resolved that challenge through a nanoscale solar architecture based on the coaxial cable — a technology that dates to the mid 1800s.

“Many groups around the world are working on nanowire-type solar cells, most using crystalline semiconductors,” Professor Michael Naughton, a co-author of the study, said. “This nanocoax cell architecture, on the other hand, does not require crystalline materials, and therefore offers promise for lower-cost solar power with ultrathin absorbers. With continued optimization, efficiencies beyond anything achieved in conventional planar architectures may be possible, while using smaller quantities of less costly material.”

The research appears in the early online edition of the journal Physica Status Solidi.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Space Technology Used to Study the Maya

ORLANDO, Fla., May 18 (UPI) — University of Central Florida scientists say they have used laser technology to collect 25 years worth of archaeological data on the Maya in four days.

The researchers said a flyover of Belize’s thick jungles using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment has revolutionized archaeology, illustrating the complex urban centers developed by one of the most-studied ancient civilizations — the Maya.

Aboard a Cessna 337, the scientists used LiDAR to bounce laser beams to sensors on the ground, penetrating the thick tree canopy and producing images of the ancient settlement and environmental modifications made by the inhabitants of the Maya city of Caracol.

The researchers said the technology detected thousands of new structures, 11 new causeways, tens of thousands of agricultural terraces and many hidden caves.

“It’s very exciting,” said UCF anthropology Professor Arlen Chase. “The images not only reveal topography and built features, but also demonstrate the integration of residential groups, monumental architecture, roadways and agricultural terraces, vividly illustrating a complete communication, transportation and subsistence system.”

UCF Biology Professor John Weishampel, who designed the unique LiDAR approach, said it was the first time the specific technology fully recorded an archaeological ruin under a tropical rainforest.

“Further applications of airborne LiDAR undoubtedly will … effectively render obsolete traditional methods of surveying,” Chase said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: The Human Brain May Not Be Special

CAMBRIDGE, England, April 27 (UPI) — A British-led study has found striking similarities among the human brain, the nervous system of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and computer chips.

A team of U.K., U.S. and German neuroscientists and computer experts led by University of Cambridge Professor Edward Bullmore compared the way the systems are organized and found all three have the same networking principles.

The researchers said they found all three share two basic properties: All have the same architecture, with the same patterns repeating at different scales; and all show what’s known as Rentian scaling — a rule used to describe the relationship between the number of elements in a given area and the number of links between them.

“These striking similarities can probably be explained because they represent the most efficient way of wiring a complex network in a confined physical space — be that a three-dimensional human brain or a two-dimensional computer chip,” Bullmore said.

He said the findings, aside from expanding the understanding of the human brain’s evolution, show humans can learn important lessons about evolution by studying the way in which technology has developed and by looking to very simple organisms such as the nematode.

“This challenges the commonly held belief that the human brain is special,” Bullmore said. “In fact, it actually has much in common with simple organisms such as the worm and with other animal species.”

The paper appears in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

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Ancient Ruin Reminiscent of Ikea Furniture

TORRE SATRIANO, Italy, April 22 (UPI) — Archaeologists in Italy unearthed the remains of what they say may be an ancient temple with components inscribed with instructions for assembly.

The archaeologists are likening the possibly 6th-century temple discovery in Torre Satriano, Italy, to Ikea furniture, the inexpensive home furnishings the purchaser assembles at home, the British Daily Telegraph and the Times of London reported Thursday.

The head of archaeology at Basilica University, Professor Massimo Osanna, said that the team working at what was once Magna Graecia had found a sloping roof with red and black decorations, with “masculine” and “feminine” pieces inscribed with instructions on how to slot them together.

The director of the British School at Rome, Professor Christopher Smith, told The Times the discovery was “the clearest example yet found of mason’s marks of the time. It looks as if someone was instructing others how to mass-produce components and put them together in this way.”

Osanna said that a taste for the Grecian style among the indigenous population must have caused an industrious builder to create inexpensive do-it-yourself components similar to classical Greek architecture.

The roof was designed to filter rainwater down the decorative panels, known as cymatiums, with projections to protect the lower wall.

“So far around a hundred inscribed fragments have been recovered, with masculine ordinal numbers on the cymatiums and feminine ones on the friezes,” Osanna said, adding that the result was “a kind of instruction booklet.”

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Joint Fluid May Have Regenerative Effect

GOETTINGEN, Germany, March 31 (UPI) — German scientists say concentrations of the hormones testosterone in men and estrogen in women might have a positive effect on cartilage tissue regeneration.

The study, led by Dr. Nicolai Miosge from August University in Goettingen, Germany, suggests hormone replacement in the joint fluid of men and women might be beneficial in treating late stages of human osteoarthritis by regenerating damaged tissue.

The scientists said free moving joints, such as the knee and hip, produce smooth and painless limb movement when there is adequate transmission of forces between the bones and joint cartilage. But disturbances in joint architecture due to trauma, abnormal loads, endocrine diseases or inflammatory conditions may result in osteoarthritis.

Miosge and his team said they examined the regenerative potential of chondrogenic progenitor cells present during the late stages of osteoarthritis. The scientists hypothesized the progenitor cells might be influenced by sex steroids, and therefore hormone replacement therapy directed to the joint fluid could be beneficial in restoring damaged tissue. They discovered their hypothesis was correct.

The study, which included researcher Sebastian Koelling, appears in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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