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A rendering of the harpoon embedded in a comet, with its collection cartridge visible insi...

Call it Ishmael. Actually, no, call it the Comet Nucleus Sample Return mission spacecraft. Regardless of its name, the NASA vehicle will be wielding a harpoon, not unlike the narrator of Moby Dick. Instead of hunting a white whale, however, it will be after a comet. Although the spacecraft itself is still a concept, its harpoon is in the works now.  Read More

 Principle of the microscopic engine (Diagram: University of Stuttgart)

It sounds implausible, yet scientists have managed to create a functioning engine, analogous to a Stirling engine, just three micrometers wide and made of a single particle. The minuscule engine was created by Clemens Bechinger and Valentin Blickle at the University of Stuttgart, and though it has its quirks, the pair have apparently demonstrated the engine's ability to do work.  Read More

Researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to help test subjec...

How would you like to have the ability to play the piano downloaded into your brain? You might not end up with the same sense of achievement, but it sure would be a lot quicker and easier than years of lessons and practicing. Well, we're not there yet (and perhaps we never should be), but that sort of scenario is now a little closer to reality, thanks to research conducted at Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan.  Read More

Arthropod cuticle, found in insects, spiders and crustaceans, has provided inspiration for...

Web-slinging arachnids already have researchers toiling away looking to replicate the remarkable properties of spider silk. Now spiders, along with their insect and crustacean arthropod cousins, have provided inspiration for a new material that is cheap to produce, biodegradable, and biocompatible. Its creators say the material, dubbed "Shrilk," has the potential to replace plastics in consumer products and could also be used safely in a variety of medical applications, such as suturing wounds or serving as scaffolding for tissue regeneration.  Read More

Results of a proton-proton collision with four identified muons, a possible signature of a...

The results of two recent experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva suggest physicists are close to discovering the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle. Combined, the two experiments have narrowed the possible band of possible Higgs boson masses. Though not sufficient to claim a discovery, the latest experiments restrict the region in which the Higgs boson might be hiding.  Read More

A diagram of a three-dimensional indium-gallium-arsenide transistor (Image: Peter Ye, Purd...

Starting next year, computers will be available with three-dimensional transistors – these will incorporate vertical components, unlike the flat chips that we’re used to seeing. This structure will allow them to have shorter gates, which are the components that allow the transistors to switch the electrical current on and off, and to direct its flow. The shorter the gate, the faster the computer can operate. While the new 3D transistors will have a gate length of 22 nanometers, as opposed to the present length of about 45, the use of silicon as a construction material limits how much shorter they could ultimately get. That’s why scientists from Purdue and Harvard universities have created prototype 3D transistors made out of indium-gallium-arsenide – the same compound recently used in a record-breaking solar cell.  Read More

Universal Age Estimator software can be used to serve up unsolicited advertising to partic...

Estimating another person's age comes naturally to most people. Some find it more challenging than others, but it's an ability we usually don't give much thought to. For computers, however, it's not all that easy. There have been many attempts at age estimation software, but the one offered recently by a group of researchers from Singapore seems unique. It relies on widely available and inherently diverse web resources, and can therefore be used across all ethnicities.  Read More

NASA's Kepler mission has detected the most Earth-like planet yet - Kepler 22b (Image: Art...

The ongoing search for Earth-like worlds has taken another promising step. On December 5, NASA announced the discovery of the planet most likely so far to sustain life outside of the Solar System. The exoplanet, given the undramatic name of Kepler 22b, was found by NASA's Kepler spacecraft as part of its mission to seek out Earth-type planets in our galaxy. Though Kepler 22b is not the first such planet to be detected in recent years, it is the first one orbiting a star similar to our Sun and at a distance where it is capable of possessing liquid water, which most scientists regard as essential for life to exist. Though this is a significant milestone, the question remains, how good a candidate for a second Earth is Kepler 22b? Could there be life there or is it a planetary blind alley?  Read More

Scientists have created one of the smallest electronic circuits ever, and it has led to a ...

A team of scientists from Montreal’s McGill University have successfully formed a circuit between two wires which were separated by a gap of only 15 nanometers – that’s about the width of 150 atoms. It is reportedly “the first time that anyone has studied how the wires in an electronic circuit interact with one another when packed so tightly together.” Along with being one of the smallest electronic circuits ever created, it has also led to a discovery that may have big implications for the world of computing.  Read More

A cross-section of engineered cartilage tissue, which initially incorporated fast-degradin...

Injuries involving torn or degraded joint cartilage can be very debilitating, especially since that cartilage is incapable of healing itself, past a certain point. It's not surprising, therefore, that numerous scientists have been working on ways of either growing replacement cartilage outside of the body, or helping the body to regrow it internally. Just a few of the efforts have included things like stem cell-seeded bandages, bioactive gel, tissue scaffolds, and nanoscale stem cell-carrying balls. Now, researchers from Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University have announced something else that shows promise - sheets of mesenchymal (bone and cartilage-forming) stem cells, permeated with tiny beads filled with the growth factor beta-1.  Read More

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