Tuesday, October 26, 2021

This device could usher in GPS-free navigation

A compact device designed and built at Sandia National Laboratories could become a pivotal component of next-generation navigation systems.
(Photo by Bret Latter)

Don’t let the titanium metal walls or the sapphire windows fool you. It’s what’s on the inside of this small, curious device that could someday kick off a new era of navigation.

For over a year, the avocado-sized vacuum chamber has contained a cloud of atoms at the right conditions for precise navigational measurements. It is the first device that is small, energy-efficient and reliable enough to potentially move quantum sensors — sensors that use quantum mechanics to outperform conventional technologies — from the lab into commercial use, said Sandia National Laboratories scientist Peter Schwindt.

Sandia developed the chamber as a core technology for future navigation systems that don’t rely on GPS satellites, he said. It was described earlier this year in the journal AVS Quantum Science.

Countless devices around the world use GPS for wayfinding. It’s possible because atomic clocks, which are known for extremely accurate timekeeping, hold the network of satellites perfectly in sync.

But GPS signals can be jammed or spoofed, potentially disabling navigation systems on commercial and military vehicles alike, Schwindt said.

So instead of relying on satellites, Schwindt said future vehicles might keep track of their own position. They could do that with on-board devices as accurate as atomic clocks, but that measure acceleration and rotation by shining lasers into small clouds of rubidium gas like the one Sandia has contained.

When spacecraft explode, this engineer looks for answers in the debris left behind

Carolin Frueh, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics,
enjoys solving math problems that just keep getting harder the
more that she discovers about how space junk behaves.
(Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)
Much of the space junk orbiting Earth won’t clean up itself – or tell you how it got there.

Purdue University’s Carolin Frueh and her team are investigating what causes spacecraft to become space junk. Their findings are revealing ways to prevent spacecraft from breaking apart into thousands of pieces of debris that pose a threat to space stations and satellites.

Since 1957, there have been more than 570 incidents of spacecraft fragmenting in Earth’s orbit because they exploded, detonated or collided with each other.

Companies have begun testing technology that may help clean up the mess, but it’s not often clear how spacecraft fragment in the first place. Frueh’s team has undertaken the extremely complicated math needed to get answers.

“I like harsh, challenging problems that don’t have obvious solutions,” said Frueh, an associate professor in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Because space objects are too far away to easily do experiments on or with them, we just observe these objects with a telescope. But even then, we don’t have much data on the objects, as they are not always visible or they’re too small to detect. The question is, ‘What can I still find out about this object with the little data that I can collect?’”

Unraveling the mystery behind a spacecraft’s explosion

Some of the biggest culprits of space debris resulting from fragmentation are upper stages of rockets. The upper stage, which burns last in a mission, tends to stay in space after propelling satellites into orbit. U.S. spacecraft are recommended to deorbit within 25 years of end-of-mission, but not all comply.

A spacecraft can shatter into hundreds of pieces – many the size of a quarter inch or smaller. At altitudes of about 22,000 miles above Earth, Frueh and her collaborators track fragmentation pieces larger than six inches. The problem is speed: Space debris tends to travel faster than a bullet out of a gun (upwards of 15,000 mph). This speed makes even smaller pieces more harmful when they collide with other objects.

Oral hookworm vaccine could save millions around the world

An artist's impression of hookworm
 inside a human intestine.
There’s been a significant breakthrough in the development of a vaccine to prevent hookworm infection – a parasite which causes serious disease in tens of millions of people globally.

Trials of the vaccine candidate in mice, led by researchers at The University of Queensland, indicate that it is more than twice as effective than existing alternatives and marks a leap forward in the battle against the highly contagious parasite.

Professor Istvan Toth from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biology said the ease with which the vaccine could be administered – via tablet, liquid or powder – would be a gamechanger for developing countries.

“Our vaccine candidate can be orally self-administered, bypassing the need for trained medical staff, and means there’s no requirement for special storage, enabling it to reach large, isolated populations,” Professor Toth said.

“Vaccination can be carried out at a significantly reduced cost, which not only improves the health of those affected and at high risk, but also helps improve economic growth in disease-endemic areas.”

Hookworm currently infects around half a billion people globally and lives within the human intestine, using the host’s blood as its source of nourishment, digested through a special set of enzymes.

It’s often found in regions with poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene – greatly impacting on the physical and cognitive development of children and increasing the risk of mortality and miscarriage.

New research identifies who should be offered testing for coeliac disease

Targeted testing of individuals with a range of signs and symptoms could improve diagnosis of coeliac disease, a new National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded study led by the University of Bristol and published in PLOS ONE has found. Signs and symptoms include family history of coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis and chronic liver disease.

The researchers, based at the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) West, the University of Bristol, University of Southampton, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, University College London and York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, undertook an analysis of the results from 191 studies, reporting on 26 signs, symptoms and risk factors to inform their findings.

Around one in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, where a person’s immune response to gluten attacks the tissues in their digestive system. Diagnosing the disease can be difficult. Some patients may not have symptoms, while others have non-specific symptoms such as indigestion or bloating. It’s thought only one in three people with coeliac disease are actually diagnosed. The only treatment available is a gluten free diet.

Guidelines recommend that adults and children “at high risk” of coeliac disease should be offered testing. However, it has not been clear until now which groups are at high enough risk to justify routine testing or which symptoms should lead to testing.

Dark-field X-ray technology

PD Dr. med. Andreas Sauter evaluating the X-ray images. Image: A. Heddergott / TUM

Dark-field X-ray technology improves diagnosis of pulmonary ailments New X-ray technology first used with patients

For the first time, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have successfully used a new X-ray method for respiratory diagnostics with patients. Dark-field X-rays visualize early changes in the alveolar structure caused by the lung disease COPD and require only one fiftieth of the radiation dose typically applied in X-ray computed tomography. This permits broad medical application in early detection and treatment follow-up of respiratory ailments.

There are millions of cases in which serious respiratory system illnesses place limitations on quality of life. Every year more than four million people die of serious respiratory ailments worldwide. Partially destroyed alveoli and an over-inflation of the lungs (emphysema) are typical of the life-threatening ailment Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

However, the fine distinctions between healthy and diseased tissue are barely visible on conventional chest X-rays. Detailed diagnostic information is only available using three-dimensional computed tomography approaches, in which the computer assembles many individual images. Until now there has been no fast and cost-effective option for early detection and follow-up examinations with a low radiation exposure as used in plain chest X-rays.

A procedure developed at the Technical University of Munich could now fill this gap: dark-field chest X-rays. In the current issue of "Lancet Digital Health" a research team led by Franz Pfeiffer, Professor for Biomedical Physics and Director of the Munich Institute of Biomedical Engineering at TUM, is now presenting the results of an initial clinical patient study, which used the new X-ray technology for the diagnosis of the lung disease COPD.

Researchers discover a way to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics

A multi-disciplinary project driven by EMBL Australia researchers at Monash University and Harvard University has found a way to make antibiotics more effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria - also known as ‘superbugs.

Antimicrobial resistance to superbugs has been evolving and is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity, according to the World Health Organization.

This new research will provide a pathway to increasing the effectiveness of antibiotics, without clinicians having to resort to risky strategies of giving patients higher doses or relying on the discovery of new types of antibiotics.

During a bacterial infection, the body uses molecules called chemoattractants to recruit neutrophils to the site of the infection. Neutrophils are immune cells with the ability to encapsulate and kill dangerous bacteria, critical to the immune response. Researchers attached a chemoattractant to an antibiotic, enabling them to enhance the recruitment of immune cells and improve their killing ability.

The findings have now been published in Nature Communications.

What is drawing humpback whale super-groups to the African coast?

Super-groups of up to 200 humpback whales appearing off the coast of South Africa are following changing ocean currents and phytoplankton blooms, a new study has found.

Researchers at Griffith University were part of an international team led by the University of Cape Town (UTC) which combined satellite observations and a physical ocean model to intricately map the ocean circulation and productivity using chlorophyll levels in the region over the past 10 years in order to understand environmental drivers of these behavioral changes in feeding humpbacks.

“While humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere are known for annual migrations between the summer high-latitude Southern Ocean feeding grounds and the winter mating and calving grounds in subtropical coastal waters, feeding in such dense packs is unprecedented,” said Dr. Olaf Meynecke, a whale researcher and Manager of the Griffith Whales and Climate Program.

Dr. Subhra Prakash Dey from the Department of Oceanography UCT said the formation of whale super-groups in recent years suggested a potential change in oceanographic or ecological characteristics which provide the conditions for this new feeding strategy.

“Through the development of fine scale ocean models our team was able to reveal these oceanographic and ecological changes in the area, the Southern Benguela Upwelling System (SBUS) off South Africa, that had previously remained hidden,” Dr. Meynecke said.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Urgent action needed to reduce uncertainty on CO2 storage prospects

(From left to right)
Dr Chris Greig, Dr Joe Lane and Professor Andrew Garnett
An urgent increase in policy support and investment would be needed for carbon capture and storage (CCS) to achieve the scale needed to meet global decarbonization goals, according to University of Queensland and Princeton University researchers.

The study’s lead author, Dr Joe Lane, said CCS was regarded as a key technology for reducing energy and industrial sector emissions and for achieving negative emissions when coupled with bioenergy or direct air capture of carbon dioxide.

“Most scenarios for deep decarbonization of the global economy rely on massive scale CCS to be compliant with the Paris Agreement - which means between three and 20 gigatons of CO2 per year being captured and stored, world-wide by 2050,” Dr Lane said.

“Even the lower targets imply an extremely challenging pace and scale of CCS deployment across all major economies.”

UQ Centre for Natural Gas Director Professor Andrew Garnett said more information is needed globally to support such high expectations.

“Those scenarios typically assume that there is more than enough storage volume available in porous geological reservoirs around the world,” Professor Garnett said

“But the essence of our abatement challenge is not the volume of storage available, it’s the rate at which CO2 can be safely injected and permanently contained that counts.

Clues from the ancient past can help predict abrupt climate change

Climate ‘tipping points’ can be better understood and predicted using climate change data taken from the ancient past, new research led by scientists from the universities of Birmingham and Bristol shows.

Current understanding of tipping points, in which the climate system exceeds a threshold beyond which large and often irreversible changes occur, is limited. This is because such an event has not occurred in recent times and certainly not since scientists started to record climate data.

Earth System models, routinely used to estimate and predict climate, are taken from our understanding of the physical, chemical and biological processes that work together to shape our planet.

Scientists know that these models do not provide a complete picture, however, because they fail to simulate known climate events from the past.

In a new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol demonstrate how knowledge of climate reconstructions from thousands of years ago can be used to fine-tune Earth System models to provide a more accurate understanding of climate system thresholds.

Senior author, Dr Peter Hopcroft, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “Climate modelling is the only way we have to predict future climate change, but when models are developed, they are only evaluated with weather observations from the past 150 years or so.

Erie researchers identify new threat to American chestnut trees

Emily Dobry, a graduate student conducting research at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center, has identified a new fungal threat to the American chestnut tree. 
Image Credit: Penn State Behrend

For lumber companies, the American chestnut was a nearly perfect tree — tall, straight, rot-resistant and easy to split. It also was prolific, sending up new shoots that grew quickly.

In the early 1900s, the species made up a substantial portion of eastern hardwood forests. There were nearly four billion American chestnut trees in the United States, each growing up to 100 feet, with trunks four to seven feet thick. Healthy trees lived for 400 to 600 years, producing several bushels of nuts every year.

Today, however, it can be difficult to find a healthy American chestnut. A fungal pathogen on trees imported from Japan and China wiped the species out in less than 40 years. That loss is considered to be the greatest ecological disaster to ever strike the world’s forests.

“The pathogen is native to Chinese and Japanese chestnuts, so the two co-evolved,” said Emily Dobry, a Penn State Behrend graduate now in Penn State’s plant sciences horticulture master’s-degree program. She is doing research work at the University’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC) in North East. “The American chestnut had never been exposed to it before, however, so it had little natural resistance. Think of it as smallpox for trees.”

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