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Science


— Physics

Researcher's experimental ion drive outperforms NASA's HiPEP engine

It seems as if the age of the bench-top breakthrough in rocket science is not a thing of the past. Dr Patrick Neumann of the University of Sydney has developed a new ion drive as part of his PhD thesis that is claimed to outperform the best one devised by NASA. According to Neumann, his new drive, which is still in the experimental stage, is more efficient than the latest High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) ion engine and holds the promise of "Mars and back on a tank of fuel."

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— Biology

International collaboration of researchers releases "tree of life" for 2.3 million species

The largest "tree of life" ever created has been released, spanning 3.5 billion years and 2.3 million species. The work was not carried out from scratch, as such an effort would consume a vast amount of man-hours. Instead the researchers compiled data from almost 500 existing smaller trees displaying the divergence and evolution of life as we understand it.

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— Medical

Scientists uncover potential biomarker and drug target for autism

Improving our understanding of what causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can not only lead to better drugs to treat it, but more precise methods of diagnosis. Though progress has been made, as it stands there are no reliable biomarkers for ASD, with previous research implicating hundreds of genes in the condition which has muddied the waters somewhat. But now a team of scientists has zeroed in on defects in a particular signaling pathway that may be responsible for cognitive impairments associated with the condition.

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— Medical

Paralyzed man uses own brainwaves to walk again – no exoskeleton required

A man suffering complete paralysis in both legs has regained the ability to walk again using electrical signals generated by his own brain. Unlike similar efforts that have seen paralyzed subjects walk again by using their own brainwaves to manually control robotic limbs, the researchers say this is the first time a person with complete paralysis in both legs due to spinal cord injury was able to walk again under their own power and demonstrates the potential for noninvasive therapies to restore control over paralyzed limbs.

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People identified by their own personal clouds of germs

Do you remember Pig-Pen, the Peanuts comic character who's always surrounded by a cloud of his own filth? Well, it turns out that we're actually all a little like him. Scientists have discovered that not only does everyone emit an invisible "microbial cloud," but that individuals can be recognized by the bacteria that make up their particular cloud.

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— Environment

Transparent coating keeps solar cells cool and efficient throughout the day

Stanford engineers have developed a transparent silicon overlay that can increase the efficiency of solar cells by keeping them cool. The cover collects and then radiates heat directly into space, without interfering with incoming photons. If mass-produced, the development could be used to cool down any device in the open air for instance, to complement air conditioning in cars.

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— Environment

Dose of household vinegar found to kill off reef-eating starfish

The crown-of-thorns starfish poses a major threat to the wellbeing of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Wild, uncontrollable outbreaks over the past few decades have seen the pests multiply to devour vast amounts of coral, and as it stands there's little that can be done. One method conservationists have used to some effect is injecting them with ox bile, but researchers have now discovered that a simple dose of vinegar can do much the same job, promising to significantly cut the cost of an expensive battle to rid a World Heritage Site of this damaging pest.

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— Electronics

Trinity portable wind turbines switch between vertical and horizontal blade settings

Think of wind turbines and massive blades spinning above Kansas prairies or off Danish coastlines are probably what comes to mind, but Minnesota-based Janulus has developed something a little more portable. Having found crowdfunding success in 2014 with its 12-inch (30 cm) cylindrical vertical axis (Savonius) type Trinity wind turbine, the company is now returning to the well for an updated version that is available in four different sizes and switches between horizontal and vertical axis form factors.

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