Cell Biology – Biological clocks: Circadian rhythms not dependent on DNA | It has long been assumed that the internal clocks in all living things (loosely called the Circadian rhythm) is associated with DNA. Apparently, they are not. A new study by the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh (UK) has shown that red blood cells contain – and use – the critical chronological material known as peroxiredoxin proteins. The thing is; red blood cells don’t contain DNA. This finding was augmented by further research, in conjunction with Observatoire Oceanologique (Banyuls, France), on algae. It was found that the algae continued to produce and use peroxiredoxin proteins even when kept in the dark – when its DNA becomes inactive. So now, to use the colloquial expression, it’s back to the drawing board to re-examine this ancient, universal and fundamental process of keeping time within the cells of all living things.
[EurekAlert, 01-26-11, Ancient body clock discovered that helps to keep all living things on time]
Climate Change – Between Norway and Greenland: Much warmer water, big impact | Water in the North Atlantic between Greenland and the northernmost part of Norway (Svalbard) is warming – and not by just a little. It has warmed roughly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and it is now warmer by 2.5 degrees than it was during the so-called Medieval Warm Period. This is the conclusion of a study by a consortium of universities from Norway, Germany and the United States. This much warming will have a profound effect on the ice coverage of the Arctic Sea, with projections now looking at an ice-free summer within a few decades. This also implies major changes in the climate of the northern areas of the globe.
[EurekAlert, 01-27-11, Warming North Atlantic water tied to heating Arctic, according to new study]
[Here’s a related SciTechStory post: New evidence: Change in North Atlantic currents]
Energy Storage – Solid-state lithium-ion batteries on the horizon | A lot of batteries are all wet, or at least contain fluid material. Even with the best batteries based on lithium-ion chemistry, the medium – the electrolyte – is a gel. This fluidity comes with a cost – weight and a tendency to degenerate. It would be much better if batteries could use solid-state technology, dry, compact and more efficient. Unfortunately, although solid-state batteries are already manufactured, the process of making them is cumbersome and expensive – fit only for specialized batteries. Now Planar Energy Company (Orlando, Florida, USA) has developed a process to create an electrolyte made of ceramic that can literally be printed on sheets of metal or plastic to create the battery. This ‘thin film’ technique, which ultimately is also a lithium-ion battery, is suitable for mass production. The batteries are smaller, lighter, and a third less expensive to make than current lithium-ion models. A pilot production facility is now under construction.
Photonics – Plasmonic metamaterials: Shaping the future of light | First, light comes in different forms – technically, wavelengths. Second, glass isn’t the only material that can transmit light. One of the most active fields of research in photonics (the study of light in all its forms) is with what are called plasmonic metamaterials, that is fully-manmade materials designed to manipulate light at various wavelengths. Plasmonic devices with the right optical qualities can be used to create much better lenses, sensors, lasers and other light-based products. Problem is, some of the components used in the metamaterials, namely silver and gold nanoparticles, absorb too much light. A research team from Purdue University (Indiana, USA) and California Institute of Technology (USA) have discovered substitutes for gold and silver that not only absorb less light but are amenable to finer ‘tuning’ for specific wavelengths of light. Principally these are forms of aluminum oxide and titanium nitride (the stuff that gets painted on the domes of churches to make them look like they’re plated with gold). In a sense, this is a small but necessary advance in plasmonic technology. It’s not so small, however, when seen in the perspective of the range of advances in photonics, which could very well influence new generations of computer, sensor, laser, and telecommunications technologies.