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Scientists Watch Atom’s Electrons Moving in Real Time

For the first time ever, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. have been able to watch an atom’s electrons move around in the atom’s outer shell. This marks a breakthrough that has the potential to shape and direct our current understanding of chemical processes towards a much better understanding.

The team of scientists were able to time the slight oscillations between the quantum states of valence electrons by using very short flashes of laser light in a process called attosecond absorption spectroscopy. By watching how electrons move, scientists can begin to understand the mechanics of these tiny particles in order to learn how they bond and laws that govern how they bond to make up everything around us. Until now, this has been impossible due to the tremendous speed of electrons.

“With a simple system of krypton atoms, we demonstrated, for the first time, that we can measure transient absorption dynamics with attosecond pulses,” says Stephen Leone of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, who is also a professor of chemistry and physics at UC Berkeley. “This revealed details of a type of electronic motion – coherent superposition – that can control properties in many systems.”

Bottom line is that this is a huge breakthrough in the study of the properties of the particles that make up everything we see around us. By understanding the mechanics of atoms, we may be able to learn more about the four major forces, and possibly, in time, learn how to bend them.

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Study Shows Women Attracted to Men in Red

What could be as alluring as a lady in red? A gentleman in red, finds a multicultural study published Aug. 2 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Simply wearing the color red or being bordered by the rosy hue makes a man more attractive and sexually desirable to women, according to a series of studies by researchers at the University of Rochester and other institutions. And women are unaware of this arousing effect.

For another way to attract women, or at least grab some attention, you’ll need a  Game Pad.

The cherry color’s charm ultimately lies in its ability to make men appear more powerful, says lead author Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “We found that women view men in red as higher in status, more likely to make money and more likely to climb the social ladder. And it’s this high-status judgment that leads to the attraction,” Elliot says.

Why does red signal rank? The authors see both culture and biology at work. In human societies across the globe, red traditionally has been part of the regalia of the rich and powerful. Ancient China, Japan and sub-Saharan Africa all used the vibrant tint to convey prosperity and elevated status, and Ancient Rome’s most powerful citizens were literally called “the ones who wear red.” Even today, the authors note, businessmen wear a red tie to indicate confidence, and celebrities and dignitaries are feted by “rolling out the red carpet.”

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last update: December 20, 2014

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Brown Dwarf Found Orbiting Young Sun-like Star

A new discovery sheds light on the early stages of solar system formation as astronomers image a young brown dwarf in a close orbit with a nearby sun-like star. A team of astronomers and graduate students made the rare discovery using the NICI (Near-Infrared Coronagraphic Imager) and the 8-meter Gemini-South Telescope in Chile.

The distance between the sun-like star and its brown dwarf companion is what makes this discovery exciting. The 36 Jupiter-mass brown dwarf (PZ Tel B) and the sun-like star (PZ Tel A) are only 18 AUs (Astronomical Units) apart, similar to the distance between our sun and the planet Uranus.

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Researchers Have Created Room-Temperature Ice

Earth’s climate is strongly influenced by the presence of particles of different shapes and origins — in the form of dust, ice and pollutants — that find their way into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere. There, water adsorbed on the surface of these particles can freeze at higher temperatures than pure water droplets, triggering rain and snow.

Researchers at Spain’s Centre d’Investigació en Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have studied the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere and found a way to make artificial materials to control water condensation and trigger ice formation at room temperature. Described in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, their work may lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.

“Several decades ago, scientists predicted that materials with crystal faces exhibiting a structure similar to that of hexagonal ice, the form of all natural snow and ice on Earth, would be an ideal agent to induce freezing and trigger rain,” explains Dr. Albert Verdaguer. “This explanation has since proven to be insufficient.”

The research team chose to study barium fluoride (BaF2), a naturally occurring mineral, also known as “Frankdicksonite,” as an option. They examined water adsorption on BaF2 (111) surfaces under ambient conditions using different scanning force microscopy modes and optical microscopy to zoom in on the role atomic steps play in the structure of water films, which can affect the stabilization of water bilayers and, ultimately, condensation.

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Potentially Hazardous Asteroid to Collide With Earth in 2182

Scientists have been monitoring and calculating the likelihood of a potentially disastrous asteroid collision with the Earth in the year 2182. The asteroid, (101955) 1999 RQ36, is only estimated to be a one-in-a-thousand chance that it will collide with the Earth, but as scientists have calculated the potential impacts through the year 2200, over half of the calculations point to the year 2182 for a collision.

The mathematics behind the calculations come by using two different models, the Monte Carlo Method and line of variations sampling. Using these models, VIs (Virtual Impactors) have been searched. VIs are sets of uncertainties that would lead to collisions with the Earth, two of which appear in 2182 with over half the chance of an impact.

The asteroid is part of a group of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), which all have the possibility of colliding with the Earth and causing damage because of the proximity of their orbits. The asteroid in question was discovered in 1999 and has roughly 560 meters in diameter.

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Toxic Trio Identified as the Basis of Celiac Disease

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists have identified the three protein fragments that make gluten – the main protein in wheat, rye and barley – toxic to people with coeliac (spelled Celiac in North America) disease.

Their discovery opens the way for a new generation of diagnostics, treatments, prevention strategies and food tests for the millions of people worldwide with coeliac disease.

When people with coeliac disease eat products containing gluten their body’s immune response is switched on and the lining of the small intestine is damaged, hampering their ability to absorb nutrients. The disease is currently treated by permanently removing gluten from the patient’s diet.

Dr Bob Anderson, head of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s coeliac disease research laboratory, said it had been 60 years since gluten was discovered to be the environmental cause of coeliac disease.

“In the years since, the holy grail in coeliac disease research has been to identify the toxic peptide components of gluten; and that’s what we’ve done,” Dr Anderson said.

The research, done in collaboration with Dr Jason Tye-Din, Dr James Dromey, Dr Stuart Mannering, Dr Jessica Stewart and Dr Tim Beissbarth from the institute as well as Professor Jamie Rossjohn at Monash University and Professor Jim McCluskey at the University of Melbourne, is published in today’s issue of the international journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Pitt Team Designs Artificial Cells that Communicate Like Biological Cells

Inspired by the social interactions of ants and slime molds, University of Pittsburgh engineers have designed artificial cells capable of self-organizing into independent groups that can communicate and cooperate. Recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is a significant step toward producing synthetic cells that behave like natural organisms and could perform important, microscale functions in fields ranging from the chemical industry to medicine.

The team presents in the PNAS paper computational models that provide a blueprint for developing artificial cells—or microcapsules—that can communicate, move independently, and transport “cargo” such as chemicals needed for reactions. Most importantly, the “biologically inspired” devices function entirely through simple physical and chemical processes, behaving like complex natural organisms but without the complicated internal biochemistry, said corresponding author Anna Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

The Pitt group’s microcapsules interact by secreting nanoparticles in a way similar to that used by biological cells signal to communicate and assemble into groups. And with a nod to ants, the cells leave chemical trails as they travel, prompting fellow microcapsules to follow. Balazs worked with lead author German Kolmakov and Victor Yashin, both postdoctoral researchers in Pitt’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, who produced the cell models; and with Pitt professor of electrical and computer engineering Steven Levitan, who devised the ant-like trailing ability.

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Researchers in Brazil Innovate Offshore Oil Spill Cleanup Method

Researchers in Brazil, a global frontier in deepwater oil exploration, have developed a method for cleaning up offshore oil spills that avoids the use of chemical dispersants and hazardous burn-offs.

Scientists say they can use glycerin, a chemical often used in soap and cosmetics, to collect oil in offshore spills and recover it for later use.

That technology may come in handy for Brazil, which is driving forward with its campaign to tap billions of barrels of deepwater crude despite concern over offshore operations sparked by the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The process converts glycerin into a powder that when thrown on top of an oil spill turns into a plastic-like substance that absorbs oil.

“It’s a natural phenomenon that takes place to absorb the oil, because both substances are equally hydrophobic so they both flee the water at the same time,” said Fernando Gomes de Souza, a chemistry professor at the Institute of Macromolecules at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

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