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sábado, 20 de dezembro de 2014

Chip-Making Tools Produce Ultra-Efficient Solar Cells


Equipment for making microchips has led to solar cells that are twice as efficient as conventional ones.

By Kevin Bullis on December 16, 2014

a wafer bearing 500 tiny solar cells

A wafer bearing 500 tiny solar cells, made by Soitec, has produced a new world record.

Soitec, a French manufacturing company, says it has used techniques designed for making microprocessors to produce solar cells with a record-setting efficiency of 46 percent, converting more than twice as much sunlight into electricity as conventional cells.

Although the cells are more complicated to produce, using established manufacturing techniques promises to keep production costs down.

Ordinary solar cells use one semiconductor to convert sunlight into electricity. The cells made by Soitec have four semiconductors, each designed to target a different part of the solar spectrum. Soitec produced its first four-semiconductor cell about a year ago. Since then, it’s been improving efficiencies rapidly, and it looks on track to be the first company to hit the long-awaited milestone of 50 percent efficiency.

Over the last several years, the costs of solar power have come down by over 80 percent, mostly because companies have found cheaper ways to manufacture conventional silicon solar cells. But solar power is still more expensive than fossil fuels in most places.

Soitec is one of several companies attempting to lower costs by making solar cells more efficient, so fewer are needed to generate the same amount of power. That cuts installation costs, which can account for more than half the cost of solar power (see “Solar Panels That Configure Themselves”). The challenge is achieving high efficiencies without significantly increasing the cost of making the cells.

Combining multiple semiconductors in a solar cell is an old idea that’s hard to execute in practice. It is possible to grow the semiconductor materials separately and then bond them together, but that requires multiple crystalline templates, which is expensive, and it can result in imperfect bonds.

To make its four-semiconductor solar cells, Soitec starts by growing two atomically compatible semiconductor materials on one template and two different compatible semiconductors on another. One of the templates is then removed so it can be reused (the structure of the final solar cell makes it difficult to remove the other one). Finally, the two pairs of semiconductors are stacked together. Soitec has already used the process of reusing the template and bonding the semiconductors for years to make components for microprocessors and other electronics.

The company plans to begin high-volume manufacturing of its four-semiconductor cells in 2016. Some questions remain about how cheap its process will be, though. The company isn’t providing specific estimates for the cost per kilowatt of solar power using its technology, saying the numbers depend on location.

Other companies are vying to be the first to reach 50 percent efficiency. This year the startup Semprius demonstrated four-semiconductor cells that were 44.1 percent efficient, and the company says it’s on track to break the world record next year.

source : MIT Technology Review

sexta-feira, 19 de dezembro de 2014

Genetic ancestry of different ethnic groups varies across the United States


December 18, 2014

Cell Press

The United States is a melting pot of different racial and ethnic groups, but it has not been clear how the genetic ancestry of these populations varies across different geographic regions. In a landmark study, researchers analyzed the genomes of more than 160,000 African-Americans, Latinos, and European-Americans, providing novel insights into the subtle differences in genetic ancestry across the United States.

This infographic shows the percentage of self-identified European (white) Americans who have one percent or more African ancestry

The United States is a melting pot of different racial and ethnic groups, but it has not been clear how the genetic ancestry of these populations varies across different geographic regions. In a landmark study published by Cell Press December 18th in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers analyzed the genomes of more than 160,000 African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans, providing novel insights into the subtle differences in genetic ancestry across the United States.

"Our study not only reveals the historical underpinnings of regional differences in genetic ancestry but also sheds light on the complex relationships between genetic ancestry and self-identified race and ethnicity," says lead study author Katarzyna Bryc of 23andMe and Harvard Medical School.

Over the past 500 years, North America has been the site of ongoing mixing of Native Americans, European settlers, and Africans. Although much of the world has been genetically characterized, the United States has received less attention from population geneticists because of its complex ancestry patterns. Moreover, the relationship between genetic ancestry and self-described racial and ethnic identities in each region of the United States has not been deeply characterized.

To address this gap in knowledge, Bryc and her collaborators analyzed DNA sequence variations called single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the genomes of 5,269 self-described African Americans, 8,663 Latinos, and 148,789 European Americans. These individuals actively participate in 23andMe research by submitting saliva samples, consenting for data to be used for research, and completing surveys. 23andMe is a personal genomics company that provides direct-to-consumer genetic testing and services that include the analysis of DNA samples to generate ancestry-related genetic reports.

The researchers found that regional ancestry differences reflect historical events such as waves of immigration. For example, Scandinavian ancestry is found in trace proportions in most states but comprises about 10% of ancestry in European Americans living in Minnesota and the Dakotas. They also found that individuals identify roughly with the majority of their genetic ancestry, contrary to expectations under a social "one-drop rule." Indeed, more than six million Americans who self-identify as European might carry African ancestry, and as many as five million self-described European Americans might have at least 1% Native American ancestry.

"These findings suggest that many individuals with partial African and Native American ancestry have 'passed' into the white community, thereby undermining the use of cultural labels that separate individuals into discrete, non-overlapping groups," Bryc says. "Taken together, our results suggest that genetic ancestry can be leveraged to augment historical records and inform cultural processes shaping modern populations."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Katarzyna Bryc, Eric Y. Durand, J. Michael Macpherson, David Reich, Joanna L. Mountain. The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States. American Journal of Human Genetics, 2014 DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.11.010


A clear, molecular view of how human color vision evolved


Mountain Gorilla - Bwindi Uganda. “Gorillas and chimpanzees have human color vision,” Yokoyama says. “Or perhaps we should say that humans have gorilla and chimpanzee vision.”

Many genetic mutations in visual pigments, spread over millions of years, were required for humans to evolve from a primitive mammal with a dim, shadowy view of the world into a greater ape able to see all the colors in a rainbow.

Now, after more than two decades of painstaking research, scientists have finished a detailed and complete picture of the evolution of human color vision. PLOS Genetics published the final pieces of this picture: The process for how humans switched from ultraviolet (UV) vision to violet vision, or the ability to see blue light.

"We have now traced all of the evolutionary pathways, going back 90 million years, that led to human color vision," says lead author Shozo Yokoyama, a biologist at Emory University. "We've clarified these molecular pathways at the chemical level, the genetic level and the functional level."

Co-authors of the PLOS Genetics paper include Emory biologists Jinyi Xing, Yang Liu and Davide Faggionato; Syracuse University biologist William Starmer; and Ahmet Altun, a chemist and former post-doc at Emory who is now at Fatih University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Yokoyama and various collaborators over the years have teased out secrets of the adaptive evolution of vision in humans and other vertebrates by studying ancestral molecules. The lengthy process involves first estimating and synthesizing ancestral proteins and pigments of a species, then conducting experiments on them. The technique combines microbiology with theoretical computation, biophysics, quantum chemistry and genetic engineering.

Five classes of opsin genes encode visual pigments for dim-light and color vision. Bits and pieces of the opsin genes change and vision adapts as the environment of a species changes.

Around 90 million years ago, our primitive mammalian ancestors were nocturnal and had UV-sensitive and red-sensitive color, giving them a bi-chromatic view of the world. By around 30 million years ago, our ancestors had evolved four classes of opsin genes, giving them the ability to see the full-color spectrum of visible light, except for UV.

"Gorillas and chimpanzees have human color vision," Yokoyama says. "Or perhaps we should say that humans have gorilla and chimpanzee vision."

For the PLOS Genetics paper, the researchers focused on the seven genetic mutations involved in losing UV vision and achieving the current function of a blue-sensitive pigment. They traced this progression from 90-to-30 million years ago.

The researchers identified 5,040 possible pathways for the amino acid changes required to bring about the genetic changes. "We did experiments for every one of these 5,040 possibilities," Yokoyama says. "We found that of the seven genetic changes required, each of them individually has no effect. It is only when several of the changes combine in a particular order that the evolutionary pathway can be completed."

In other words, just as an animal's external environment drives natural selection, so do changes in the animal's molecular environment.

In previous research, Yokoyama showed how the scabbardfish, which today spends much of its life at depths of 25 to 100 meters, needed just one genetic mutation to switch from UV to blue-light vision. Human ancestors, however, needed seven changes and these changes were spread over millions of years. "The evolution for our ancestors' vision was very slow, compared to this fish, probably because their environment changed much more slowly," Yokoyama says.

About 80 percent of the 5,040 pathways the researchers traced stopped in the middle, because a protein became non-functional. Chemist Ahmet Altun solved the mystery of why the protein got knocked out. It needs water to function, and if one mutation occurs before the other, it blocks the two water channels extending through the vision pigment's membrane.

"The remaining 20 percent of the pathways remained possible pathways, but our ancestors used only one," Yokoyama says. "We identified that path."

In 1990, Yokoyama identified the three specific amino acid changes that led to human ancestors developing a green-sensitive pigment. In 2008, he led an effort to construct the most extensive evolutionary tree for dim-light vision, including animals from eels to humans. At key branches of the tree, Yokoyama's lab engineered ancestral gene functions, in order to connect changes in the living environment to the molecular changes.

The PLOS Genetics paper completes the project for the evolution of human color vision. "We have no more ambiguities, down to the level of the expression of amino acids, for the mechanisms involved in this evolutionary pathway," Yokoyama says.

Poll: Americans skeptical of commercial drones


Fri, 12/19/2014 - 2:36pm

Joan Lowy and Jennifer Agiesta - Associated Press

I this March 12, 2014 file photo, a drone flown by Brian Wilson, prepares to land after flying over the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. Americans are deeply skeptical that the benefits of the heralded drone revolution will outweigh the risks to privacy and safety, although a majority approve of using small, unmanned aircraft in dangerous jobs or remote areas, according to a new Associated Press-GfK opinion poll. By a 2-to-1 margin, those polled said they oppose allowing use drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favor commercial use of drones, while 43 percent oppose it. Another 35 percent were in the middle. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A drone flown by Brian Wilson, prepares to land after flying over the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. Americans are deeply skeptical that the benefits of the heralded drone revolution will outweigh the risks to privacy and safety, although a majority approve of using small, unmanned aircraft in dangerous jobs or remote areas, according to a new Associated Press-GfK opinion poll. By a 2-to-1 margin, those polled said they oppose allowing use drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favor commercial use of drones, while 43 percent oppose it. Another 35 percent were in the middle. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Americans broadly back tight regulations on commercial drone operators, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, as concerns about privacy and safety override the potential benefits of the heralded drone revolution.

The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to flights under 400 feet high, forbid nighttime flights, and require drones be kept within sight of their operators.

It also may require drone operators to get pilot's licenses, which would be controversial. Critics say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone. But 64 percent support requiring the pilot's licenses, according to the poll, with more in favor of limiting drone flight altitude and requiring them to be kept within eyesight.

Eddy Dufault, 58, a machinist and part-time wildlife photographer in Marlborough, Massachusetts, who is considering buying a drone, said he agrees with most of the restrictions, but opposes licensing. It can cost would-be pilots $15,000 for the needed flight training and practice flights, he said, adding it would be more appropriate to require operators to attend a few classes and pass a drone flight test.

It may be two or three years before the rules take effect, but once they do thousands are expected to buzz U.S. skies. With a few narrow exceptions, the Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits commercial use of drones.

Congress may also step in next year to try to nudge the FAA to move faster. Drones are forecast to create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first 10 years they're allowed, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

By a 2-1 margin, the poll found, those who had an opinion opposed using drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favored commercial use of drones, compared with 43 percent opposed. Another 35 percent were in the middle.

Only 3 percent of people say they've operated small drones, which are essentially the same as remote-controlled model aircraft.

Support for using commercial drones was the weakest among women and seniors, while college graduates and wealthier people were more apt to favor it.

Elliot Farber, 26, said drones are just the latest technological advancement and he doesn't understand why anyone would oppose them.

"It's really wild to think about it," said Farber, who works in a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. "It's literally something you would see in a movie and now they're talking about it like it's a true possibility. I think it's inevitable it will happen. I think it's a great thing."

But Roberta Williams, 66, said she doesn't believe "the average person should be allowed to just go out and get one to do whatever they want to do with it." She worries people will put guns or other weapons on them and use them for sinister purposes.

The reliability of drones is another concern. "This is still a remote-control vehicle, and those things go amok," said Williams, a retired nonprofit organization manager who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Still, the survey showed many Americans see value in the use of drones for certain tasks, such as inspecting oil platforms and bridges. Majorities also said they favor using drones to help map terrain through aerial photography, and to monitor wildlife.

But - Amazon take note - only 1 in 4 thinks using drones to deliver small packages is a good idea. Thirty-nine percent were opposed, and 34 percent were neutral on that question. Nearly the same share opposed using drones to take photographs or videos at weddings and other private events. A third opposed allowing farmers to use drones to spray crops, while another third supported it. Only 23 percent said they favored the recreational use of small drones.

Ramona Jones, 65, said that if Amazon uses drones to deliver packages as it has proposed, delivery services like UPS, FedEx and the postal service won't be far behind. She envisions skies crowded with drones running into each other and raining debris on people below.

"It sounds futuristic, but how are they going to manage that?" said Jones, of Austin, Texas. "Just like we have cars on the highway ... somebody is still going to hit somebody else."

Robert Waters, 54, a history professor at Ohio Northern University, said he favors commercial use of drones but has misgivings.

"They could definitely improve people's lives," he said. "Of course, they could also make them miserable with the kind of spying that people could do on each other. It's a double-edged sword."

Nearly three-fifths of those polled said they were extremely or very concerned that private operators could use drones in a way that violates privacy.

"There are people who are going to abuse it no matter what you do," Dufault, the photographer, said, "but 99.9 percent of them won't."

The poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Source: Associated Press

Creating the fastest outdoor wireless internet connection


Fri, 12/19/2014

Source: Lancaster University 

Lancaster University

Lancaster University engineers are to head up a European team working on the world’s first W-band wireless system, heralding the arrival of cost effective, high speed internet everywhere, every time.

The ground-breaking £2.8 million TWEETHER project, funded by Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever, will set an important milestone in ‘millimeter wave technology’ for high speed wireless mobile and fixed point Internet.

Millimeter waves - extremely high frequency waves found in the spectrum between microwaves and infrared waves - are deemed to be the most promising and cost effective solution for the future.

The TWEETHER project will result in a powerful and compact transmission hub, based on a novel travelling wave tube power amplifier and an advanced chipset in a compact terminal, with performance far outweighing any other technology.                                                    

After three years of design and development, the system will be tested in a real operating environment.

The project has been sparked by the huge rise in demand for mobile data, which places unprecedented strains on networks to deliver more and more capacity.

Millions of users are now suffering a ‘digital divide’ because of the very limited availability of high data rate in most residential, sub urban or rural areas, where optical fibre, often slow and expensive to install, is not available.

“The enormous flux of data transferred via wireless networks, increasing at a super-high pace, makes today’s state-of-the-art networks quickly outdated, says Lancaster University’s Professor of Electronics Claudio Paoloni, who is also the Project Co-ordinator.

“The huge spread of portable smart phone, tablets and the increasing demand of services hungry for data, such as high definition TV, videoconferencing and online games, are posing formidable challenges with the congestion of the available spectrum and the limits of present technology.”

Professor Paoloni said the answer was the exploitation of unused portions of the spectrum but at higher frequencies.

The recent outstanding advancements in the field of vacuum electron devices and solid state electronics using millimetre wave frequencies opens the route for the breakthrough in wireless high speed data communications.

Source: Lancaster University

Sony prototype clips onto regular glasses, makes them smart



Sony's new concept wearable is one of the company's most interesting efforts in the sector...

Sony's new concept wearable is one of the company's most interesting efforts in the sector

Sony’s latest swing at wearables is one of its most interesting to date, taking the form of a smart headset module designed to clip onto just about any pair of glasses. The unnamed prototype hardware is capable of standalone functionality and incorporates a single, pixel dense OLED display.

In light of its dire financial situation, Sony has put a renewed focus on innovation of late. Just last month we saw its undercover E-Ink watch surface, and the company has now turned its attention to head-mounted wearables, encouraging developers to get on board with its new prototype module.

There are a couple of interesting things about the new hardware, the first of which is its apparent universal compatibility. Unlike most smart glasses we’ve seen up until now (including the company's own SmartEyeglass concept), Sony’s new prototype is designed to clip onto just about any eyewear, whether it be a pair of fashion glasses, sunglasses or goggles. It weighs just 40 g (1.4 oz), and consists of a pair of modules that sit above each ear, along with a single 0.23-inch display.

The headset packs in an ARM Cortex A7 processor and 400 mAh battery

That tiny screen is the second most compelling aspect of the prototype. Sony has worked to develop all new technology for the device’s OLED Microdisplay, achieving a contrast ratio in excess of 10,000:1 with 100 percent of the sRGB color space. It also developed new light shield tech, lowering pixel size, improving aperture ratio and outdoor readability.

Despite its diminutive size, the display packs a resolution of 640 x 400, and like Google Glass, it isn’t designed to dominate the user’s field of view. According to Sony, it’s equivalent to viewing a 16-inch screen from 2 m (6.6 ft) away.

Moving away from the display, Sony has packed a lot into the module, including an ARM Cortex A7 processor and a 400 mAh battery, as well as both 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity.

A range of concept applications for sport

Rather than shooting for an initial consumer release, the company intends to supply a limited number of units to developers, along with an SDK. Interestingly, developers could either choose to host an application on a connected smartphone, or load it directly onto the module itself, creating a standalone device.

Sony believes that the wearable can fit many use cases, but none more than sports. It suggests athletic uses like hands-free cycling data, augmenting a round of golf with live course maps, or pairing with a smartphone to provide live action cam feeds.

Source: Sony


Enzyme inhibitors suppress herpes simplex virus replication, study finds

December 18, 2014

Saint Louis University

A family of molecules known as NTS enzyme inhibitors are promising candidates for new herpes virus treatments, a new study shows. The findings could lead to new treatment options for herpes that patients can use in conjunction with or instead of currently approved anti-viral medications like Acyclovir. Researchers likened a combination of treatments for herpes to a cocktail of medications HIV patients take.

Saint Louis University research findings published in the December issue of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy report a family of molecules known as nucleotidyltransferase superfamily (NTS) enzyme inhibitors are promising candidates for new herpes virus treatments.

The findings could lead to new treatment options for herpes that patients can use in conjunction with or instead of currently approved anti-viral medications like Acyclovir. Researcher Lynda A. Morrison Ph.D., professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Saint Louis University, likened a combination of treatments for herpes to a cocktail of medications HIV patients take.

"Acyclovir does a good job in suppressing the virus," Morrison said. "But because NTS inhibitors work by a different mechanism than currently approved drugs, we have the potential to have a drug that would work in combination with drugs that are already available to completely suppress the virus."

Lead author John E. Tavis, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Saint Louis University, noted the findings, which first appeared online in September, have already received interest from pharmacology firms.

"Within a decade or so, we could have therapies that reasonably improve patient outcomes," Tavis said. "Improved outcomes could range from shorter duration of nuisance outbreaks (including cold sores) to a better treatment for herpetic encephalitis."

Herpes simplex virus (HSV)encephalitis is thought to occur from direct transmission of the virus to the brain via the nerves that transmit one's sense of sight or facial motor functions like chewing or biting.

The study's authors note that more than half of all Americans are impacted by cold sores (HSV-1) and 20 percent suffer from genital herpes (HSV-2). Herpes can be passed from mother to child during childbirth posing serious health risks to both the baby and the new mother. HSV-2 also increases the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) acquisition.

The research team at Saint Louis University investigated whether inhibitors of NTS enzymes would suppress replication of HSV-1 and HSV-2. The inhibitors suppressed accumulation of viral genomes and infectious particles and blocked events in the viral replication cycle before and during viral DNA replication. Five of six NTS inhibitors of the HSVs also blocked replication of another herpes virus pathogen, human cytomegalovirus.

Tavis added that the team is now focused on expanding their original small scale study to identify the exact mechanisms by which each inhibitor suppresses virus replication. He noted that one compound has already proven effective in animals and another is found in a topical antifungal already FDA approved for use.

Researchers will also look at the evolution of the virus as it interacts with the inhibitors identified in the study.

"The hope is that it evolves really slowly," Tavis said. "That gives us a better chance at something that can work for a long time without allowing the virus to mutate as rapidly as currently approved treatments do."

Current treatment of herpes infections relies primarily on nucleoside analog inhibitors of the viral DNA polymerase, according to the article. Several newer agents are in clinical development, but none of them have been shown to fully suppress herpes infections.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Saint Louis University.

Journal Reference:

  1. J. E. Tavis, H. Wang, A. E. Tollefson, B. Ying, M. Korom, X. Cheng, F. Cao, K. L. Davis, W. S. M. Wold, L. A. Morrison. Inhibitors of Nucleotidyltransferase Superfamily Enzymes Suppress Herpes Simplex Virus Replication. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 2014; 58 (12): 7451 DOI: 10.1128/AAC.03875-14

Ibuprofen leads to extended lifespan in several species, study shows


Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug worldwide, added to the healthy lifespan of yeast, worms and flies in a recent study.

A common over-the-counter drug that tackles pain and fever may also hold keys to a longer, healthier life, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.

Regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of multiple species, according to research published in the journal Public Library of Science, Genetics.

"We first used baker's yeast, which is an established aging model, and noticed that the yeast treated with ibuprofen lived longer," said Dr. Michael Polymenis, an AgriLife Research biochemist in College Station. "Then we tried the same process with worms and flies and saw the same extended lifespan. Plus, these organisms not only lived longer, but also appeared healthy."

He said the treatment, given at doses comparable to the recommended human dose, added about 15 percent more to the species lives. In humans, that would be equivalent to another dozen or so years of healthy living.

Polymenis, who also is a professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department at Texas A&M University, collaborated with Dr. Brian Kennedy, the president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, along with several researchers from Russia and the University of Washington.

Ibuprofen is a relatively safe drug that was created in the early 1960s in England. It was first made available by prescription and then, after widespread use, became available over-the-counter throughout the world in the 1980s. The World Health Organization includes ibuprofen on their "List of Essential Medications" needed in a basic health system. Ibuprofen is described as a"nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used for relieving pain, helping with fever and reducing inflammation."

Polymenis said the three-year project showed that ibuprofen interferes with the ability of yeast cells to pick up tryptophan, an amino acid found in every cell of every organism. Tryptophan is essential for humans, who get it from protein sources in the diet.

"We are not sure why this works, but it's worth exploring further. This study was a proof of principle to show that common, relatively safe drugs in humans can extend the lifespan of very diverse organisms. Therefore, it should be possible to find others like ibuprofen with even better ability to extend lifespan, with the aim of adding healthy years of life in people."

"Dr. Polymenis approached me with this idea of seeing how his cell cycle analysis corresponded with our aging studies," said Dr. Brian Kennedy, CEO at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California. "He had identified some drugs that had some really unique properties, and we wanted to know if they might affect aging, so we did those studies in our lab. We're beginning to find not just ibuprofen, but other drugs that affect aging, so we're really excited about it.

"Our institute is interested in finding out why people get sick when they get old. We think that by understanding those processes, we can intervene and find ways to extend human health span, keeping people healthier longer and slowing down aging. That's our ultimate goal."

Chong He, a postdoctoral fellow at Buck Institute and lead author on the paper, said looking deeper into the common drugs that target individual diseases might shed light on understanding the aging process.

"We have some preliminary data on worms that showed that this drug also extended the health span in worms," she said. "It made them live not just longer but also more healthy. You can measure the thrashing of the worms. If they're healthy, they do have a tendency to thrash a lot, and also we can measure the pumping as they swallow, because if they're healthy, the pumping is faster.

"Ibuprofen is something that people have been taking for years, and no one actually knew that it can have some benefits for longevity and health span."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.

Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. "Ibuprofen use leads to extended lifespan in several species, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2014. <>.

Time to lay off the doughnuts! Study reveals cops are the most obese workers in the States


By Tim Macfarlan For Mailonline

Published: 10:30 GMT, 17 December 2014

Their job is to protect and serve – but it seems some police officers interpret this as an excuse to enjoy too many extra servings at the lunch table.

A study has revealed US cops have the highest rates of obesity among any profession in the country.

Along with firefighters and security guards, nearly 41 per cent of boys in blue are obese, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Letting it all hang out: this NYPD officer is one of the nearly 41 per cent of his colleagues who are obese

Letting it all hang out: this NYPD officer is one of the nearly 41 per cent of his colleagues who are obese

Social workers, clergy and counsellors come in second, with 35.6 per cent having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more – the standard definition of obese used by the study.

Home health aides and massage therapists are third at 34.8 per cent.

Surprisingly sedentary professions such as truckers, bus drivers and crane operators, come in only fifth in a group with garbage collectors on nearly 32.8 per cent.

The slimmest workers are economists, scientists and psychologists, of whom 14.2 per cent are classed as obese.

Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Police officers, firefighters and security guards could do with taking it easy on the doughnuts, says the study

Other svelte professions at the bottom of the list are artists, actors, athletes and reporters.

The proportion of all American workers who are obese is 27.7 per cent, according to the 2014 study.

Roughly one-third of US adults are obese, which costs companies more than $73 billion a year in healthcare bills and lost working hours and productivity, according to researchers from Duke University.

Some firms have started trying to tackle the problem by paying for employees’ weight-loss surgery, providing them with wearable fitness trackers and competitions on social apps and offering counselling designed to get them to shed the pounds, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Last year, Americans spent $60.5 billion on efforts to lose weight, according to research firm Marketdata Enterprises.

BMI is a measure of relative weight based on a person’s mass and height.

A healthy range is from 18.5 to 25, with anything over that mark considered to be overweight.

If you are below 18.5 you are underweight and anyone below 15 is considered to be very severely underweight.

Malnutrition a hidden epidemic among elders


Health care systems and providers are not attuned to older adults' malnutrition risk, and ignoring malnutrition exacts a toll on hospitals, patients, and payers, according to the latest issue of the What's Hot newsletter from The Gerontological Society of America (GSA).

Under the title "Aging Policy: Preventing and Treating Malnutrition to Improve Health and Reduce Costs," the new installment points out that aging is a risk factor for malnutrition and highlights opportunities to improve nutrition awareness, interventions, and policy priorities.

Support for the publication was provided by Abbott. GSA member Connie Bales, PhD, RD, of the Duke University School of Medicine and Robert Blancato, MPA, of Matz, Blancato & Associates, Inc., served as faculty advisers.

"This issue of What's Hot points to a growing but still unaddressed epidemic of malnutrition -- especially among older adults," said Blancato, who heads the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs. "It makes a strong case for modest but important changes in current laws which can address malnutrition and achieve the dual desirable goals of improving health and reducing health care costs."

Bales, a convener of GSA's Nutrition Interest Group, said the new publication aligns with GSA's mission by expanding scientific knowledge in aging and fostering application of research in the development of public policy.

"The newsletter raises awareness of the nutritional challenges faced by older adults and advocates for applying the existing science to current and future policies that will help improve their nutritional status," she said.

The What's Hot states that malnutrition cuts across all weight categories, from underweight to obese. An estimated one-third to one-half of U.S. adults are malnourished or at risk for malnourishment upon admission to the hospital -- and longer hospital stays are associated with worsening nutritional status.

Additionally, about half of older adults in rehabilitation settings are malnourished. Yet only about one-quarter of U.S. medical schools provide at least 25 hours of nutrition instruction for medical students, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

But as the issue points out, there are a range of possible policy interventions that can help mitigate the problem -- enhancing the health and quality of life for older adults while simultaneously reducing healthcare costs. The upcoming reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, for example, could be a key opportunity to expand access to malnutrition services and support.

"Modest changes in current laws such as greater utilization of registered dietitians, nutrition screening, and counseling in the Older Americans Act; greater focus on nutrition in care transition grants under the Affordable Care Act; and coverage for oral nutrition supplements for at risk older adults should all be on the agenda for the new Congress," Blancato said. "GSA and its publication make the point that good nutrition throughout the lifespan is the personification of prevention."

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The above story is based on materials provided by The Gerontological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Instant-start computers possible with new breakthrough


A team at Cornell University led by postdoctoral associate John Heron, who works jointly with Darrell Schlom, professor of Industrial Chemistry in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Dan Ralph, professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, has made a breakthrough in that direction with a room-temperature magnetoelectric memory device. Equivalent to one computer bit, it exhibits the holy grail of next-generation nonvolatile memory: magnetic switchability, in two steps, with nothing but an electric field. Their results were published online Dec. 17 in Nature, along with an associated "News and Views" article.

"The advantage here is low energy consumption," Heron said. "It requires a low voltage, without current, to switch it. Devices that use currents consume more energy and dissipate a significant amount of that energy in the form of heat. That is what's heating up your computer and draining your batteries."

The researchers made their device out of a compound called bismuth ferrite, a favorite among materials mavens for a spectacularly rare trait: It's both magnetic -- like a fridge magnet, it has its own, permanent local magnetic field -- and also ferroelectric, meaning it's always electrically polarized, and that polarization can be switched by applying an electric field. Such so-called ferroic materials are typically one or the other, rarely both, as the mechanisms that drive the two phenomena usually fight each other.

This combination makes it a "multiferroic" material, a class of compounds that has enjoyed a buzz over the last decade or so. Paper co-author Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Heron's Ph.D. adviser at University of California, Berkeley, first showed in 2003 that bismuth ferrite can be grown as extremely thin films and can exhibit enhanced properties compared to bulk counterparts, igniting its relevance for next-generation electronics.

Because it's multiferroic, bismuth ferrite can be used for nonvolatile memory devices with relatively simple geometries. The best part is it works at room temperature; other scientists, including Schlom's group, have demonstrated similar results with competing materials, but at unimaginably cold temperatures, like 4 Kelvin (-452 Fahrenheit) -- not exactly primed for industry. "The physics has been exciting, but the practicality has been absent," Schlom said.

A key breakthrough by this team was theorizing, and experimentally realizing, the kinetics of the switching in the bismuth ferrite device. They found that the switching happens in two distinct steps. One-step switching wouldn't have worked, and for that reason theorists had previously thought what they have achieved was impossible, Schlom said. But since the switching occurs in two steps, bismuth ferrite is technologically relevant.

The multiferroic device also seems to require an order of magnitude lower energy than its chief competitor, a phenomenon called spin transfer torque, which Ralph also studies, and that harnesses different physics for magnetic switching. Spin transfer torque is already used commercially but in only limited applications. They have some work to do; for one thing they made just a single device, and computer memory involves billions of arrays of such devices. They need to ramp up its durability, too. But for now, proving the concept is a major leap in the right direction.

"Ever since multiferroics came back to life around 2000, achieving electrical control of magnetism at room temperature has been the goal," Schlom said.

Ability to balance on one leg may reflect brain health, stroke risk


"Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health," said Yasuharu Tabara, Ph.D., lead study author and associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan. "Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline."

The study consisted of 841 women and 546 men, average age of 67. To measure one-leg standing time, participants stood with their eyes open and raised one leg. The maximum time for keeping the leg raised was 60 seconds. Participants performed this examination twice and the better of the two times was used in the study analysis. Cerebral small vessel disease was evaluated using brain magnetic resonance imaging.

Researchers found that the inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with cerebral small vessel disease, namely small infarctions without symptoms such as lacunar infarction and microbleeds. They noted that:

  • 34.5 percent of those with more than two lacunar infarction lesions had trouble balancing.
  • 16 percent of those with one lacunar infarction lesion had trouble balancing.
  • 30 percent of those with more than two microbleed lesions had trouble balancing.
  • 15.3 percent one microbleed lesion had trouble balancing.

Overall, those with cerebral diseases were older, had high blood pressure and had thicker carotid arteries than those who did not have cerebral small vessel disease. However, after adjustment for these covariates, people with more microbleeds and lacunar infarctions in the brain had shorter one-legged standing times. Short one-legged standing times were also independently linked with lower cognitive scores.

Although previous studies have examined the connection between gait and physical abilities and the risk of stroke, this is among the first study to closely examine how long a person can stand on one leg as an indication of their overall brain health.

"One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities," said Tabara.

Small vessel disease occurs due to microangiopathy of arterioles in the brain, making these arteries less flexible, which can interfere with blood flow. Small vessel disease typically increases with age. Loss of motor coordination, including balance, as well as cognitive impairment has been suggested to represent subclinical brain damage. Tabara and colleagues also found a strong link between struggling to stand on one leg and increased age, with marked shorter one-leg standing time in patients age 60 and over.

Although the study did not assess participants' histories of falling or physical fitness issues, such as how fast they could walk or any gait abnormalities, Tabara said the one-leg standing test is an easy way to determine if there are early signs of being at risk for a stroke and cognitive impairment and whether these patients need additional evaluation.

Being humble: Research shows E.B. White was right in Charlotte's Web

Before Charlotte the spider spelled the word "humble" in her web to describe Wilbur the pig, she told Templeton the rat that the word meant "not proud."

That's probably what most people say if you put them on the spot. But if you give them time to think about it deeply, like a new study just did, other themes emerge that have a lot to do with learning.

And these intellectual dimensions of humility describe the spider as well or better than the pig.

"Wilbur has many of the dimensions of humility in general: regard for others, not thinking too highly of himself -- but highly enough," said Peter Samuelson, the lead study author. "Charlotte shows some of the unique aspects of intellectual humility: curiosity, love of learning, willingness to learn from others."

Samuelson is a psychologist at Fuller Theological Seminary who embarked on a new voyage for academia: a bottom-up exploration of what it really means to be humble. Samuelson teamed up with Brigham Young University psychologist Sam Hardy.

For his part, Hardy utilized a statistical technique called multi-dimensional scaling that made sense of open-ended responses from the 350 study participants recruited from Amazon's "Mechanical Turk."

"This is more of a bottom-up approach, what do real people think about humility, what are the lay conceptions out there in the real world and not just what comes from the ivory tower," Hardy said. "We're just using statistics to present it and give people a picture of that."

Hardy's analysis found two clusters of traits that people use to explain humility. Traits in the first cluster come from the social realm: Sincere, honest, unselfish, thoughtful, mature, etc. The second and more unique cluster surrounds the concept of learning: curious, bright, logical and aware.

Samuelson says the two clusters of humble traits -- the social and intellectual -- often come as a package deal for people who are "intellectually humble." Because they love learning, they spend time learning from other people.

"In many ways, this is the defining feature of intellectual humility and what makes it distinct from general humility," said Samuelson, who formerly served as a Lutheran pastor prior to his academic career.

The new study appears in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Fuller Theological Seminary is a multi-denominational evangelical institution with programs of study in theology, psychology and intercultural studies. Brigham Young University is a large, private university supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and offers a broad spectrum of academic programs.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Brigham Young University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Peter L. Samuelson, Matthew J. Jarvinen, Thomas B. Paulus, Ian M. Church, Sam A. Hardy, Justin L. Barrett. Implicit theories of intellectual virtues and vices: A focus on intellectual humility. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.967802


Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch


We reviewed Samsung's Gear 2 smartwatch when it launched in April, but we skipped its sibling, the Gear 2 Neo. With only minor differences between the two, we figured the one review could speak for both watches. Well, Samsung's smartwatch platform has grown in the last four months, so let's see how things have changed as Gizmag (finally) reviews the Samsung Gear 2 Neo.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is almost exactly the same watch as the Gear 2. The only differences? The Neo is missing a camera, has a plastic body (in place of stainless steel) and is US$100 cheaper.

When we reviewed the Gear 2, I thought it was a marked improvement over the Galaxy Gear, but had the same apps problem that plagued its predecessor. Namely, it had very few – and even fewer that mattered. With Android Wear (at the time) looming on the horizon, I wasn't sure if developers would give the Gear platform much love.

Four months later, has any of that changed? Well, though Samsung's Tizen platform for wearables (the software that runs on the Gear) hasn't exactly set the world on fire, it is in much better shape than it was in April.

The Fleksy keyboard messaging app is the Gear's killer app (Photo: Will Shanklin/

For starters, the Gear platform finally has a few killer apps. To me, the biggest game-changer is Fleksy (above). The keyboard app lets you type and send text messages right on your Gear, without pulling out your phone or using Samsung's slow and limited S Voice input. Typing isn't exactly ideal on a 1.63-in display, but Fleksy's unique error-correction works like a charm here.

With Fleksy, all you have to do is try to tap your fingers on the correct letters, and watch as Fleksy automatically corrects whatever gibberish you hammered out to the words you were trying to type. It isn't perfect, but, for me, it works most of the time. For such a tiny screen, that's no small feat.

Conversions+ is a simple, but nice, app that lets you perform common conversions on your w...

Developers have spawned a few other gems as well. Converter+ (above) lets you quickly make most common conversions (including distance, weight, cooking and much more) right on your wrist. Smart IR Remote gives us the advanced TV remote features that Samsung's WatchOn is missing. Hell, even weather nerds have a killer app, as Radar Watch shows you the latest Doppler radar map of your area right on your Gear.

Android Wear's app development has been active since it launched, but the Gear platform has been doing surprisingly well in its own right. Wear has much better voice input, and it also integrates more directly with Android smartphone apps. But in every other respect, I'd say the Gear's Tizen is doing at least as well, if not better. If nothing else, the platform is finally showing signs of life.

The Gear's app library may not exactly be booming, but it's doing much better than it was ...

I can't say I miss having a camera on the Gear 2 Neo. And it looks like Samsung has also realized that most people don't need a crappy 2 MP shooter on their wrists, as the company's upcoming Gear S smartwatch (yes, there's yet another new model on its way) is going to be missing a camera as well.

The Neo has an infrared (IR) blaster, so you can use it as a remote control (Photo: Will S...

The Neo's main body is made of plastic, rather than the Gear 2's stainless steel, but I don't see this as a big loss. It's a very solid (slightly rubbery-feeling) plastic, and I don't think it downgrades the premium aura of the watch. If anything, it should be more durable and less prone to scratches.

Like the Gear 2 (and several other recent Samsung products), the Neo is also water-resistant. Its IP67 rating means it can soak in 1 m (3.3 ft) of water for 30 minutes and keep on ticking.

Like all of Samsung's recent watches, the Gear 2 Neo has a heart rate sensor (Photo: Will ...

Though I'm enjoying the Gear 2 Neo more than I thought I would at this stage, I'm also not sure if this is a great time to buy it. If you're a fan of Samsung's watches, we're going to find out more about the company's forward-thinking Gear S in a few days. It has a standalone 3G connection (so it can work its mojo without a phone's help) and a spacious curved screen. If it ends up retailing for $200-300, it might be worth a look when it launches this October.

Of course we'll also be finding out more about Android Wear watches like the round-faced Moto 360 and LG G Watch R in the next week. And, oh yes, Apple is also rumored to have a little something up its sleeve on September 9. The smartwatch market is about to get a lot more interesting.

The Neo has a flat screen, but the upcoming Gear S will sport a 2-in curved display (Photo...

While the Gear 2 Neo isn't likely to be your best choice this holiday season, it does give me hope for Samsung's wearable platform. App development is better than I expected it to be and, with a few tweaks (most notably to its voice control), it could be a legit Android Wear rival.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is available now, still retailing for $200. For more detail on the watch, you can hit up our full Gear 2 review from back in April. And stay tuned to Gizmag this week, as we expect to spend some quality hands-on time with the upcoming Gear S.

Product page: Samsung


Vert wearable measures athletes' jumps



Vert is a wearable designed specifically for tracking jumps

Vert is a wearable designed specifically for tracking jumps

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While there are many fitness trackers designed to log metrics like heart rate and steps, the Vert Jump Rate Monitor sets itself apart by specifically targeting sports and workouts that require the athlete to jump.

The Vert can track motion in all directions, and is capable of recording jump-specific metrics including vertical height, average vertical over a session, highest vertical and total jump count. It provides the user with real-time stats via a built-in OLED display and is designed to be non-intrusive, supposedly allowing athletes to forget they’re wearing it.

The wearable pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0 and is smaller than a matchbox. It’s designed to be worn near the waist and can also be purchased with a "VertBelt" strap to help keep it in place. Right now the Vert is iOS only, but in the future the company plans to support Android. Vert also has plans to eventually let athletes link the device with Android Wear and Pebble smartwatches, as well as the Apple Watch.

VERT carries three high precision gyroscopes, alongside three high-rate accelerometers

Vert measures jumps with three high precision gyroscopes, alongside three high-rate accelerometers. There’s an ARM Cortex M3 inside to calculate directional movement, with a proprietary algorithm performing more than 50 simultaneous calculations to measure height with an accuracy of 96 percent.

Despite the fact that the device is only hitting store shelves now, it’s already been showcased in a nationally-televised NCAA volleyball match, and has been used to provide live jump stats on stadium Jumbotrons.

The jump tracker is available now for US$125. While the standard companion app is free, there’s also an optional ($100) VertCoach app that provides simultaneous analysis of a group of Vert-equipped athletes.

Source: Vert