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Submission + - Forensic Evidence Shows The Nazis Weren't Close To The Bomb (

carmendrahl writes: Tomes upon tomes have been written about the history of Germany's nuclear program in the 1940s (see Heisenberg's War, or The Making of the Atomic Bomb). Now, an international team has conducted nuclear forensic analysis of three WWII-era uranium samples from Germany. The results strongly suggest that in their wartime experiments, Germany's researchers never achieved a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction-- the chemical underpinning of atomic weaponry. The study appears in the journal Angewandte Chemie . Led by Maria Wallenius of the European Commission's in-house science service, researchers examined samples of uranium from two "Heisenberg cubes"- named for Werner Heisenberg, and a "Wirtz plate"-- named for Karl Wirtz. The team measured ratios of isotopes of the elements uranium, strontium, plutonium, and thorium. They also measured abundances of certain rare earth elements. They verified the samples as authentic, dating them to the early 1940s, and localizing the area where the uranium ore was mined to the Czech Republic (which was under Nazi control at the time). They also demonstrated that the isotopes of uranium-236 and plutonium-239 occur in levels matching what would be expected naturally. ”This suggests that the uranium samples have not been exposed to a significant neutron fluence," Wallenius said in a statement.

Submission + - Pantry Pests Harbor Plastic-Chomping Bacteria (

MTorrice writes: In the U.S. alone, consumers discard over 32 million tons of plastic each year, only 9% of which is recycled. Polyethylene is one of the most popular and, unfortunately, persistent types of plastics. Bags, bottles, and packaging made from the polymer accumulate in landfills and oceans across the globe. Scientists have lamented that the material isn't biodegradable because microbes can’t chew up the plastic to render it harmless. However, a new study reports the first definitive molecular evidence that two species of bacteria, found in the guts of a common pantry pest, can thrive on polyethylene and break it apart.

Submission + - Researchers Direct Growth Of Neurons With Silicon Nitride Microtubes (

MTorrice writes: Bioengineers want to connect electronics and neurons to make devices such as new cochlear implants or prosthetic limbs with a seemingly natural sense of touch. They also could build synthetic neural circuitry to use to study how the brain processes information or what goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases.

As a step toward these applications, a team of researchers has developed a way to direct the growth of axons, the connection-forming arms of neurons. They use transparent silicon nitride microtubes on glass slides to encourage the cells’ axons to grow in specific directions. The cultured nerve cells grow aimlessly until they bump into one of the tubes. The axon then enters the tube, and its growth is accelerated 20-fold.

Silicon nitride already is used in some orthopedic devices, and could serve as a substrate for electronics to interface with the growing neurons.


Submission + - The Narcotic That May Not Grow on Trees, After All (

carmendrahl writes: Tramadol is a painkiller that's been on the market since the 1970's (it was recently reclassified as a Schedule IV controlled substance). It was designed to contain the essential structural elements of morphine but it was produced entirely synthetically. Last year, researchers reported finding tramadol in the roots of the pincushion tree (Nauclea latifolia), a plant used in traditional medicine in Africa. But last week, a different team published their own findings: they report that the tramadol in the pincushion tree is a contamination. Farmers in the region feed cattle tramadol, and then the cattle excrete it near the trees. Experts who weren't involved in either study are leaning toward contamination being the real story, but they're holding out for a few more types of studies before committing to a side.

Submission + - Tackling Athletes' Brain Trauma Before It Kills (

carmendrahl writes: In 2007, pro wrestler Chris (The Canadian Crippler) Benoit killed his son, his wife, and himself. Benoit's autopsy showed he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive, brain-damaging disorder. He's far from the only athlete to be affected. The signatures of the disease have shown up in autopsies of ice hockey players, boxers, and NFL retirees. Researchers want to detect brain trauma while athletes are still alive. They're zeroing in on features like aggregates of the protein tau. Among the diagnostic hopefuls are positron emission tomography (PET) imaging; diffusion tensor imaging, which is a type of MRI; and cerebrospinal fluid sampling.

Submission + - Botched Executions Put Lethal Injections Under New Scrutiny (

carmendrahl writes: Lethal injections are typically regarded as far more humane methods for execution compared to predecessors such as hanging and firing squads.

But the truth about the procedure's humane-ness is unclear. Major medical associations have declared involvement of their member physicians in executions to be unethical, so that means that relatively inexperienced people administer the injections. Mounting supply challenges for the lethal drug cocktails involved are forcing execution teams to change procedures on the fly. This and other problems have contributed to recent crises in Oklahoma and Missouri.

As a new story and interactive graphic explains, states are turning to a number of compound cocktails to get around the supply problems.

Submission + - Device Mines Precious Phosphorus From Sewage (

ckwu writes: Scientists predict that the scarcity of phosphorus will increase over the next few decades as the growing demand for agricultural fertilizer depletes geologic reserves of the element. Meanwhile, phosphates released from wastewater into natural waterways can cause harmful algal blooms and low-oxygen conditions that can threaten to kill fish. Now a team of researchers has designed a system that could help solve both of these problems. It captures phosphorus from sewage waste and delivers clean water using a combined osmosis-distillation process. The system improves upon current methods by reducing the amounts of chemicals needed to precipitate a phosphorus mineral from the wastewater, thus bringing down the cost of the recovery process.

Submission + - This is what it's like inside a generic drugmaker in India (

carmendrahl writes: India produces a significant chunk of the generic medications used worldwide. Yet the country has had some problems as of late – product recalls, bans, and fines to companies with plant problems. The country is also under pressure to make its patent system more Western. Cipla is one of India's largest generic drugmakers. It rarely lets cameras inside its manufacturing facility outside Mumbai. Here is a rare look inside the plant and a very basic explainer of current Good Manufacturing Practices, the FDA standard plants such as Cipla's must follow.

Submission + - Using Nanotechnology to Build Thinner, Stronger Condoms

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Discovery Magazine reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has granted $100,000 to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) to develop a nanoparticle coating for condoms that will make them more comfortable and stronger while simultaneously keeping them thin to preserve – and increase – sensation in order to make them more appealing to use. According to the Gates Foundation, in the time that condoms have been in use, not much has changed: "[Condoms] have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality-control measures, which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade, yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth." The nanotechnology that the Boston doctors intend to use for their improved condoms will be superhydrophillic nanoparticles that coat the condom and trap water to make them more resilient and easier to use. "We believe that by altering the mechanical forces experienced by the condom, we may ultimately be able to make a thinner condom which reduces friction, thereby reducing discomfort associated with friction increases pleasure, thereby increasing condom use and decreases rates of unwanted pregnancy and infection transmission."

Submission + - Chefs Preview Edible Prototypes of Surface Tension-based Cocktail Garnishes (

carmendrahl writes: Last fall, MIT researchers made news for developing two bioinspired cocktail toppers-- a moving cocktail boat and a floral pipette-- in collaboration with James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés. Both the boat and floral pipette operate by taking advantage of surface tension-- either to propel the boat forward or to keep small drops of liquid inside the flower's petals. Some of those early garnishes were nominally edible. But to make them worthy of a restaurant debut requires balancing of flavors, temperature, density, and alcohol content, among other factors. A story and video go inside Andrés' company ThinkFoodGroup to see how the project is coming along. The toppers aren't available to the public just yet.

Submission + - Windows 9 Already? Apparently, Yes. (

Nerval's Lobster writes: A little over a year after Microsoft released Windows 8, and a mere three months after it pushed out a major update with Windows 8.1, rumors abound that Windows 9 is already on its way. According to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows, Microsoft will begin discussing the next version of Windows (codenamed “Threshold,” at least for the moment) at April’s BUILD conference. “Threshold is more important than any specific updates,” he wrote. “Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment.” Microsoft intends Threshold to clean up at least a portion of Windows 8’s mess. Development on the latest operating system will supposedly begin in late April, which means developers who attend BUILD won’t have access to an early alpha release—in fact, it could be quite some time before Microsoft locks down any new features, although it might double down on Windows 8’s controversial “Modern” (previously known as “Metro”) design interface. Yet if Thurrott’s reporting proves correct, Microsoft isn’t abandoning the new Windows interface that earned such a lackluster response—it’s betting that the format, once tweaked, will somehow revive the operating system’s fortunes. With Ballmer leaving the company and a major reorganization underway, it’ll be the next Microsoft CEO’s task to make sure that Windows 9 is a hit; in fact, considering that rumored 2015 release date, shepherding the OS could become that executive’s first major test.

Submission + - Government Lab Uses Smartphones to Measure Radiation Exposure (

KentuckyFC writes: Back in 2008, Slashdot reported that researchers were developing ways of turning cellphones into radiation detectors. Since then a few apps have even appeared that claim to do this. However, convincing evidence that they work as advertised is hard to come by. Now government researchers at Idaho National Labs have created their own app that uses an ordinary smartphone as a gamma ray detector, put it through its paces in the lab and published the results. The pixels in smartphone cameras can detect gamma rays in the same way as they pick up visible light. So when the lens is covered, the image should reveal evidence of gamma ray exposure once other noise has been removed, such as that from heat and current leakage. These guys have tested several types of Android smartphone with a variety of gamma ray sources at various different doses. The researchers say the phones give a reasonable measure of radiation dose, can detect the direction of source (by comparing the measurements from the front and back cameras) and can even measure the energy of the gamma rays by measuring the length of the tracks that appear in the image. While the results do not match the quality of bespoke detectors, that may not matter since in many circumstances cellphones are likely to be the only sensors that are available. That could be useful for emergency services, air travelers wanting to monitor their extra radiation dose on routes over the arctic and people who live in areas with a higher than average background radiation level.

Submission + - How Heroin Addicts Helped Scientists Link Pesticides and Parkinson's (

carmendrahl writes: Exposure to certain pesticides, including rotenone and paraquat, has been associated with a higher incidence of Parkinson's disease in population studies. But how did scientists come to think of a link between Parkinson's disease and pesticides in the first place? The answer involves the 1980s drug underworld, where criminals were synthesizing modified versions of illegal drugs such as heroin to stay one step ahead of the law. One molecule in some designer heroin cocktails, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), breaks down in the human body into 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), a nerve cell killer. Heroin addicts exposed to this molecule got Parkinson's-like symptoms. As for the connection to pesticides, MPP+ is a weed killer that was used in the 70s. It also closely resembles the structure of the pesticide paraquat. The saga, therefore, put scientists on high alert to the possibility that pesticides might play a role in developing Parkinson's.

Submission + - A One-Two Therapeutic Punch For Hard-To-Treat Breast Cancer (

laurenkwolf writes: Women with triple-negative breast cancer, a rare but aggressive form of the disease, often find that it is difficult to treat. An early diagnosis allows more treatment options, but women with this type of cancer generally have a lower survival rate than those with other types of breast cancers. To tackle the disease, a team of researchers has developed a nanoparticle that delivers both a gene silencer and cancer drug to weaken the tumors' defenses and kill the malignant lumps.

Submission + - New tests don't prove "Into the Wild"'s Chris McCandless died from poison (

carmendrahl writes: In 1992, 24-year-old Christopher McCandless died alone in the Alaska wilderness. His tale was immortalized in the book "Into the Wild". Last month in a New Yorker blog post, author Jon Krakauer cited a new chemical analysis supporting the idea that McCandless ate wild potato seeds that contain a neurotoxic amino acid called beta-ODAP. But the new data doesn't support his claim, chemists say. Krakauer contracted a lab that used HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography), a technique that has been used previously to separate a seed extract into the individual amino acids and other components that make it up. However, the data show that the potato seed extract was barely separated at all, so it's impossible to tell what the seeds contain. Chemists say the current data is not conclusive in any way, but that the beta-ODAP theory is worth follow-up tests, including a better HPLC separation with mass spectrometry.

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