Ring brings ancient Viking, Islamic civilizations closer together

More than a century after its discovery in a ninth century woman’s grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.

Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time), say biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues.

An inscription on the glass inset reads either “for Allah” or “to Allah” in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report February 23 in Scanning. Read more.

Perfume is decidedly not about two things: it isn’t about memory and it isn’t about sex. Perfume is about beauty and intellect. A perfume is a message in a bottle—not a smell—and the message is written by the perfumer and read by the person who smells it.
—  Biophysicist, writer, and fragrance industry legend Luca Turin
Lets acknowledge these great women scientists, who never got appreciated!

Today lets remember some unsung heroes or rather heroines who slogged hard all their life in laboratories and in the end faded into the oblivion, they even had to bear the frustration of seeing their male counterparts win Nobel Prize for the work which they actually did!

Here is my tribute to some of these great pioneers, I request you all to add to this list because we all know, there are many more such women innovators whose sweat and blood went unrecognized.

Esther Lederberg:

Esther was a microbiologist, conducted groundbreaking research in the field of genetics. She developed basic techniques that have gone a long way towards helping scientists understand how genes work.

Her work helped her husband, Joshua, win a Nobel prize in 1958, but she was not cited in the award. 

Rosalind Franklin:

This British biophysicist  was a pioneering X-ray crystallographer.

Her image of the DNA molecule was critical to deciphering its structure - one of the biggest and most important scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century - but it was James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins who received the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work.

Ida Tacke:

She found two new elements, rhenium and masurium, that Dmitri Mendeleev had predicted would form part of the periodic table.

She gets credit in the science books for the discovery of rhenium.

But masurium is now known as technetium, the discovery of which is attributed to Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segre.

Tacke’s evidence was ignored until Perrier and Segre artificially created the element in a laboratory.

Tacke is also credited with being the first person to open up the idea of nuclear fission.

Lise Meitner:

Her work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission - where atomic nuclei split in two.

This laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb.

After moving to Berlin in 1907, Meitner collaborated with chemist Otto Hahn over many decades.  

But Hahn published their findings without including Meitner as a co-author.

And Hahn went on to win the 1944 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to splitting the atom.

Chien-Shiung Wu:

She was one of the most important physicists of the 20th Century.

She participated in the development of the atom bomb, as part of the Manhattan Project. Yet few know her name today.

In the 1950s, two theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, asked Wu to help disprove what is known in physics as the law of parity.  Wu’s experiments turned this law on its head.  

This landmark moment in physics led to a 1957 Nobel Prize for Yang and Lee, but not for Wu, who was left out despite the key role she played.

Henrietta Leavitt:

She was an astronomer who potted a pattern between the brightness of a star and its distance from the Earth. This led her to uncover what is known as the period-luminosity relationship, allowing scientists to calculate how far away a star was from Earth based on its brightness. 


Synthetic Cells Move On Their Own

What look like animated illustrations that could easily spring from a child’s imagination are actually newly unveiled artificial cells under a microscope.

Biophysicists at Germany’s Technical University of Munich along with an international team developed simple self-propelled biomachines in a quest to create cell models that display biomechanical functions.

The researchers say their work represents the first time a movable cytoskeleton membrane has been fabricated.

Keep reading

Happy birthday to Britton Chance, born on this day (July 24) in 1913, who lived a very full 97 years.

Chance earned degrees in Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Biology and Physiology from the University of Pennsylvania and Cambridge University. During World War II, he worked in MIT’s Radiation Laboratory. He spent most of his career affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, lead the Johnson Foundation for over three decades, and built an international network of collaborators (including many former post-docs). Chance authored over a thousand papers. His early research concerned enzyme-substrate compounds; later work focused on medical diagnostics, including magnetic resonance spectroscopy. His interest in instrumentation was driven, in part, by an eagerness to see his work approved for clinical use.

In 1952, Chance won Olympic gold as a sailor on the Complex II (possibly the only Olympic vessel named after an enzyme compound). Yachting was a lifelong passion and source of inspiration: Chance’s first patent was for an automatic steering device. He raised a pack of children, famously biked to work, and continued pursuing the research he loved until the very end of his life.

CHF Archives/photo collections, 2016.533.001
Beam Me Up? Teleporting Is Real, Even If Trekkie Transport Isn't
Teleporting from one place to the next looks so fun on the big and little screen. But physicists who actually can do something like that with single atoms say teleporting people would be much messier.

“I have a hard time saying this with a straight face, but I will: You can teleport a single atom from one place to another,” says Chris Monroe, a biophysicist at the University of Maryland.
The Microbes That Eat Electricity
Energy-sucking bacteria on rocks beneath the planet’s surface may provide a blueprint for life on other worlds.
By Emily Singer

Last year, biophysicist Moh El-Naggar and his graduate student Yamini Jangir plunged beneath South Dakota’s Black Hills into an old gold mine that is now more famous as a home to a dark matter detector. Unlike most scientists who make pilgrimages to the Black Hills these days, El-Naggar and Jangir weren’t there to hunt for subatomic particles. They came in search of life.

In the darkness found a mile underground, the pair traversed the mine’s network of passages in search of a rusty metal pipe. They siphoned some of the pipe’s ancient water, directed it into a vessel, and inserted a variety of electrodes. They hoped the current would lure their prey, a little-studied microbe that can live off pure electricity.

Continue Reading.

Lab-Engineered Jellyfish

When Harvard biophysicist Kit Parker visited the New England Aquarium in 2007 and watched jellyfish pulse through the water, a strange realisation struck him: the way the jellyfish pulsed was similar to the human heart. He teamed up with bioengineer John Dabiri and graduate student Janna Nawroth of CalTech, and together they essentially built a jellyfish.

First, they mapped the cells of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) to understand how they swim: their bell-shaped bodies consist of fibres that are aligned around a central ring and along eight spokes, and electrical signal pass through the bodies like a wave, creating the pulse that allows the jellyfish to swim. They then grew an artificial jellyfish in a tiny frame, complete with body and eight appendages—but did it without using a single jellyfish cell. Instead, it was grown from the heart muscle cells of a rat, as well as plastic silicone that mimics the “jelly” of a jellyfish’s body.

When they sent an electrical signal through the structure, the muscle contracted like jellyfish’s stroke, then the elastic silicone pulled the structure back to its original shape ready. When placed in water, it swam like the real thing. The researchers dubbed their creation “Medusoid.”

Why do such an experiment? Firstly, it’s really cool, and secondly, it has applications for human health. It’s a way of understanding muscular pumps, so this may help researchers test heart drugs and develop heart valves or pacemakers made from a patient’s own cells. “Instead of heart valves made out of aluminum or plastic, they would be built out of your own biological material,” Parker says. “That makes it more biocompatable and potentially longer-lived.”


See Dr. Sahin’s Wondrous Spore-Driven Evaporation Engine

It sounds like a steampunk fantasy, but it is, in fact, a real thing. 

Columbia University bioengineers have built a number of working engines powered by water evaporation and contracting and expanding bacterial spores. The machines represent the first time the humidity that naturally rises from evaporating water has been used as a fuel source.

Biophysicist Ozgur Sahin and his colleagues built evaporation-driven devices that enabled a miniature car to move, a mill to spin, weight to be lifted and an oscillatory engine to power LEDs.

The work is actually a continuation of research we reported on in 2014 to generate electricity and make robot muscles from the force of hydrating and dehydrating microbial spores. But where that study showed only rudimentary lengths of polymer film coated with the spores flexing when in contact with water vapor, the group has now created working machinery using the phenomenon. Learn more and see a video below.

Keep reading

Cells talk to their neighbors before making a move

To decide whether and where to move in the body, cells must read chemical signals in their environment. Individual cells do not act alone during this process, two new studies on mouse mammary tissue show. Instead, the cells make decisions collectively after exchanging information about the chemical messages they are receiving.

“Cells talk to nearby cells and compare notes before they make a move,” says Ilya Nemenman, a theoretical biophysicist at Emory University and a co-author of both studies, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The co-authors also include scientists from Johns Hopkins, Yale and Purdue.

David Ellison, Andrew Mugler, Matthew D. Brennan, Sung Hoon Lee, Robert J. Huebner, Eliah R. Shamir, Laura A. Woo, Joseph Kim, Patrick Amar, Ilya Nemenman, Andrew J. Ewald, and Andre Levchenko. Cell–cell communication enhances the capacity of cell ensembles to sense shallow gradients during morphogenesis. PNAS, January 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1516503113

Andrew Mugler, Andre Levchenko, and Ilya Nemenman. Limits to the precision of gradient sensing with spatial communication and temporal integration. PNAS, January 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509597112

Biophysicists create artificial cells that can change shape and move on their own

Using only a few ingredients, the biophysicist Prof. Andreas Bausch and his team at the Technische Universität München (TUM) have successfully implemented a minimalistic model of the cell that can change its shape and move on its own. They describe how they turned this goal into reality in the current edition of the academic journal Science, where their research is featured as cover story.

READ MORE ON TUM | Technische Universität München
How Strange Twists in DNA Orchestrate Life
So-called "supercoils" change the behavior of DNA, opening a new role for topology in the study of life.

DNA is probably best known for its iconic shape — the double helix that James Watson and Francis Crick first described more than 60 years ago. But the molecule rarely takes that form in living cells. Instead, double-helix DNA is further wrapped into complex shapes that can play a profound role in how it interacts with other molecules. “DNA is way more active in its own regulation than we thought,” said Lynn Zechiedrich, a biophysicist at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the researchers leading the study of so-called supercoiled DNA. “It’s not a passive [molecule] waiting to be latched on to by proteins.”

Zechiedrich’s newest findings, published in Nature Communications in October, capture the dynamic nature of supercoiled DNA and point to what could be a new solution to one of DNA’s longstanding puzzles. The letters of the genetic code, known as bases, lie hidden within the helix — so how does the molecular machinery that reads that code and replicates DNA get access? Specialized proteins can unzip small segments of the molecule when it’s replicated and when it’s converted into RNA, a process known as transcription. But Zechiedrich’s work illustrates how DNA opens on its own. Simply twisting DNA can expose internal bases to the outside, without the aid of any proteins. Additional work by David Levens, a biologist at the National Cancer Institute, has shown that transcription itself contorts DNA in living human cells, tightening some parts of the coil and loosening it in others. That stress triggers changes in shape, most notably opening up the helix to be read.

The research hints at an unstudied language of DNA topology that could direct a host of cellular processes. “It’s intriguing that DNA behaves this way, that topology matters in living organisms,” said Craig Benham, a mathematical biologist at the University of California, Davis. “I think that was a surprise to many biologists.”

Continue Reading.

Make the best pie ever using science

You may have Grandma’s recipe for the perfect crust, but do you really know what goes on at a molecular level? UCLA biophysicist Amy Rowat shares some of the scientific aspects of apple pie and explains how you can apply these insights in the kitchen.

  1.  Think of butter as a gas.

    Butter is really just a bunch of teeny tiny water droplets dispersed in a matrix of fat. In the oven, these water droplets convert from liquid to gas. This means that the chunks of butter you can see in your dough are really just big pockets of air waiting to happen. More air = flakier crust. While butters with the highest butterfat content are generally synonymous with the highest quality butter, when it comes to baking pie a slightly lower fat content, and higher water content, may be a good thing.
  2.  Experiment with the liquids you add to your pie dough
    Gluten gives structure and stability to pie dough, but can also make pie dough dense and tough when over-developed. Typically water is added to create pie dough, but you can experiment with different liquids —like vodka, rum or even carbonated water— that impede the formation of gluten protein networks.
  3.  Sometimes the best pie is a day-old pie.
    Temperature is important for pie texture. Because molecules flow more quickly past each other at higher temperatures, hot pie filling straight from the oven will be more runny; as the pie filling cools, starchy molecules like cornstarch and flour spend more time interacting with each other. As the pie cools, the pectin molecules of your fruit also spend more time interacting with each other. This results in a more solid, gel-like filling that will take longer to seep out of the pie when it is cut and served on a plate.

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Here’s how the hydra rips its own body open to eat a meal

It’s hard out there for a hydra. Scientists from the University of California have detailed the process by which the tiny freshwater creature Hydra vulgaris opens its mouth, and it ain’t pretty: It has to rip a hole into its own body every time it consumes food.

It’s not exactly shocking that these strange swimmers can split themselves open and plop their skin back together without missing a beat. But in the new study, published Tuesday in the Biophysical Journal, scientists were able to observe and describe the process step-by-step at the cellular level for the first time. They did this using genetically modified Hydra vulgaris with green and red fluorescent proteins tagging two different skin layers.

“The fact that the cells are able to stretch to accommodate the mouth opening, which is sometimes wider than the body, was really astounding,” senior author Eva-Maria Collins, a biophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement. “When you watch the shapes of the cells, it looks like even the cell nuclei are deformed.”

Hydra opens its mouth over the course of 13 seconds. (UC San Diego)

(Carter and Hyland et al/Biophysical Journal 2016)

sorry, can’t hear you over the awesomeness of my gemini squad
  • Margaret Fuller (American journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate) 
  • Diego Velasquez (Spanish painter who was one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age)
  • Paul Gauguin (His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse)
  • Gustave Courbet (French painter who led the Realist movement, he rejected academic convention and the Romanticism of the previous generation of visual artists)
  • Daniel Fahrenheit (German physicist best known for inventing the mercury-in-glass thermometer and for developing atemperature scale now named after him.) 
  • Rachel Carson (American marine biologist and conservationist  credited with advancing the global environmental movement.)
  • Mary Anning (British paleontologist with findings that contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the histpry of earth)
  • Francis Crick (British molecular biologist, biophysicist, andneuroscientist, most noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule)
  • James Maxwell (Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation)
  • Carl Linnaeus (Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.)
  • Barbara McClintock (American scientist and cytogeneticist who demonstrated  the notion of genetic recombination by crossing-over and  produced the first genetic map for maize, linking regions of the chromosome to physical traits.)
  • Peter Higgs ( British theoretical physicist, invented the Higgs mechanism, which predicts the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson, the detection of which became one of the great goals of physics.)
  • Robert Mullikan ( American physicist and chemist, primarily responsible for the early development of molecular orbital theory) 
  • Johnny Depp      do
  • Marilyn Monroe   i
  • Angelina Jolie    even
  • Chris Evans        need
  • Chris Pratt          to?
  • Queen Victoria (Her reign is known as the Victorian era. It was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, and was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire)
  • Jurgen Habermas (German sociologist and philosopher  widely recognized as one of the world’s leading intellectuals.)
  • Jane grant (American journalist and co-founder of The New Yorker who was also the first full-fledged reporter at The New York Times.)
  • Aloysius Alzheimer (Alzheimer is credited with identifying the first published case of “presenile dementia”, also called Alzheimer’s disease.)
  • Virginia apgar (American obstetrical anesthesiologist, she introduced  obstetrical considerations to the established field of neonatology and invented the Apgar Score)
  • Nathaniel chapman (American physician, he was the founding president of the American Medical Association)
  • Joseph guillotin (French physician and freemason who proposed the use of a device to carry out death penalties in France, as a less painful method of execution. The device was later named the guillotine)
  • Anne frank  (She is one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Her diary  documents her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.)
  • Walt whitman (Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time. “Oh Captain! My Captain!”)
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Scottish writer and physician, most noted for his fictional stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.)
  • Ian Fleming (English author, journalist and naval intelligence officer, best known for his James Bond series of spy novels.)
  • Thomas Mann (German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate.)
#WaterisLIFE Energy East pipeline would threaten Manitoba's drinking water: report #IdleNoMore
A new report says the proposed Energy East pipeline would threaten the drinking water of more than 60 per cent of Manitoba residents.

A new report says a pipeline that would carry one million barrels of oil daily from Alberta to the East Coast would threaten the drinking water of more than 60 per cent of Manitoba residents.

The report by the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition said a rupture on the proposed Energy East pipeline would seep into any number of waterways which feed into Winnipeg’s water supply.

The pipeline transporting oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries and port terminals on the East Coast would partly run underneath an aqueduct carrying Winnipeg’s drinking water from Shoal Lake near the Ontario boundary.

Dennis LeNeveu, a retired biophysicist and author of the report, said a 40-year old repurposed natural gas line would be used across Manitoba. Such pipelines can get corroded and have ruptured four times in Manitoba in the last 20 years, he said.

The entire length of Winnipeg’s 100-year-old aqueduct would be in danger of contamination from the pipeline, which would run parallel to it, LeNeveu said.

“Small, continuous, undetected leaks will occur and seep unseen into the ground causing ground and surface water contamination,” he said following the release of the report Monday. “One spill, one leak – it doesn’t have to be a big leak – almost anywhere along that line can be carried over our aqueduct.”

There would also be “a significant risk of rupture and explosion” from a nearby natural gas line in Manitoba, LeNeveu said. Such an explosion could “easily be as large or larger” than the train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Que., almost two years ago, the report said.

“The smoke plume from such an explosion and fire could necessitate the immediate evacuation of the entire population of Winnipeg should it occur nearby.”


Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), the company behind the $12-billion pipeline, said it would be safe. Spokesman Tim Duboyce said the company already does a thorough inspection of the existing line with technology that can detect erosion as small as a pencil tip.

Such defects are immediately repaired, he said. Energy East would be monitored around the clock and would be shut down the minute any leak were detected.

“We’re proceeding with the preparation of this project with safety at top of mind,” Duboyce said.

TransCanada has never had an oil pipeline leak because of a problem with the “integrity” of the line, he said.

Critics say even a small risk of contaminating Manitoba’s water is too great.

“There is absolutely no replacement for water in sustaining life,” said Vicki Burns, director of the Save Lake Winnipeg Project. “On the other hand, we know there are new technologies that actually will allow us to meet our energy needs without relying on the problems of fossil fuels.”

Alex Paterson with the energy justice coalition called on the provincial government to oppose the proposal, even though it is federally regulated. Paterson said the province still controls building permits and conducts its own environmental assessment.

“The reality is, if they wanted to protect the water, the only sure way to protect our water is not have this pipeline go through.”

Conservation Minister Tom Nevakshonoff declined to be interviewed. Spokesman Al Foster said in an emailed statement the department was studying the report and it would be taken into consideration during National Energy Board hearings on the project.

Cell’s skeleton is never still

New computer models that show how microtubules age are the first to match experimental results and help explain the dynamic processes behind an essential component of every living cell, according to Rice University scientists.

The results could help scientists fine-tune medications that manipulate microtubules to treat cancer and other diseases. Rice theoretical biophysicist Anatoly Kolomeisky and postdoctoral researcher Xin Li reported their results in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Microtubules are cylinders made of 13 protein strands and are one of several components of a cell’s cytoskeleton. Motor proteins walk along these bundles to deliver cargoes to various parts of a cell and to discard trash. Microtubules also play a part in cell division, movement and signaling. Cells constantly build, destroy and rebuild these cylinders and reuse the molecular blocks.

“One of the most interesting phenomena associated with microtubules is this dynamic instability,” Kolomeisky said. “When you look at them in cells or in vitro, they grow and grow, and suddenly start to shrink without any change in the external conditions. Then suddenly, they start to grow again.”

This instability is essential to cellular processes. “If the cell stabilizes, it dies,” said Kolomeisky, a professor of chemistry and of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice. In fact, he said, the goal of many drugs that target microtubules aim to stabilize growth so a cell stops functioning before it can reproduce. That’s important in the fight against cancer, he said.

Caption: Rice University scientists are using custom software to help explain the dynamic instability seen at all times in microtubules, essential elements of a cell’s cytoskeleton. The individual elements are protein dimers attached to either guanosine triphosphate (GTP) in red or guanosine diphosphate (GDP) in blue. Clusters of GTP-binding molecules serve as caps that slow or stop microtubules from dissolving.  Credit: Xin Li/Rice University

Researchers build bacteria’s photosynthetic engine

Found in the bottom of lakes and ponds today, purple bacteria possess simpler photosynthetic organelles—specialized cellular subunits called chromatophores—than plants and algae. For that reason, Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) targeted the chromatophore to study photosynthesis at the atomic level.

As a computational biophysicist, Schulten unites biologists’ experimental data with the physical laws that govern the behavior of matter. This combination allows him to simulate biomolecules, atom by atom, using supercomputers. The simulations reveal interactions between molecules that are impossible to observe in the laboratory, providing plausible explanations for how molecules carry out biological functions in nature.

More information:D. Chandler, J. Strümpfer, M. Sener, S. Scheuring, and K. Schulten. “Light Harvesting by Lamellar Chromatophores in Rhodospirillum photometricum.” Biophysical Journal 106, no. 11 (2014): 2503–2510.                                        

University of Illinois researchers used the Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility to create a model of a complete 100-million-atom photosynthetic chromatophore. The final chromatophore model contained about 16,000 lipids and 101 proteins, including the five major types of proteins that contribute to the clockwork of processes that result in the conversion of light energy to ATP. Credit: Abhi Singharoy and Melih Sener, UIUC
New evidence that plants get their energy using quantum entanglement

Biophysicists theorize that plants tap into the eerie world of quantum entanglement during photosynthesis. But the evidence to date has been purely circumstantial. Now, scientists have discovered a feature of plants that cannot be explained by classical physics alone€” but which quantum mechanics answers quite nicely.

So cool. Why can’t I do this too? Quantum guzzle sunlight.