Physicists discover new electronic phenomenon in 2D stacked materials

We speak of “new state of matter” in relation to the discovery made by a group of physicists at Northeastern University. They discovered a new way of manipulating electrical charge, a discovery that could lead to “monumental” changes in future technology.

In the press release presenting the study, Swastik Kar, a physics professor who contributed to the discovery that only the imagination could represent a limit to the possible exploitation of such phenomena: “It could change the way we are able to detect and communicate signals. It could change the way we can perceive things and memorize information, and other possibilities we may not yet have thought about.”

In the study, published in Nanoscale, researchers describe new ways to distribute electrons evenly in a stationary, crystalline model. It is a completely new electronic phenomenon, “a new phase of matter”, as Kar himself calls it.
The researchers made the discovery working on crystalline materials of very few atoms of thickness, materials that are usually called “2D” (although, of course, they also have three dimensions).
In such materials electrons can only move in two dimensions because they are literally trapped in an endless chessboard pattern.

Analyzing two of these materials one superimposed on the other, bismuth selenide and a dichalcogenide of metal in transition, the researchers found that the electrons, instead of moving away from other negatively charged things, formed a stationary pattern, “a perfectly repeatable range of pure electronic puddles that resides between the two layers”, as Kar describes it.
These are phenomena that had already been observed before but only at extremely low temperatures, unlike the experiment carried out by Kar during which the phenomenon occurred at room temperature.

The understanding of the phenomenon itself is still in its infancy but researchers believe that it can be exploited in electronics, detection systems and information processing.

Eating fruit during pregnancy promotes better cognitive development of children

Eating fruit is also important during pregnancy, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta, according to which pregnant women who eat more fruit are more likely to improve the cognitive development of children up to a year after birth.

The discovery had already been made by a previous study, as explained by Claire Scavuzzo, one of the authors of the study, but these results had not been able to establish that it was the consumption of fruit, instead of other factors, to cause net improvements in cognition of children.
In this new study, the researchers confirm that it is precisely the intake of fruit that regulates improvements in children’s cognition.

To confirm this, Scavuzzo and colleagues carried out experiments on rats: those born to mothers whose diet had been supplemented with fruit juice obtained much better results in memory tests.
These results are in line with those of the previous study carried out on humans and with other similar studies carried out on fruit flies.

“We consider this information particularly useful for pregnant mothers, as it offers a non-pharmacological dietary intervention to promote the development of the child’s brain,” says the researcher.

This study is one of many that in recent years are showing the impact on the mental health of unborn children and babies even months after birth caused by the levels and nutritional quality of the mother during pregnancy, as suggested by Rachel Ward-Flanagan, another author of the study.
Rachel Ward-Flanagan, another author of the study, clearly states that a fruit-enriched diet carried out by women during pregnancy is one of the most efficient ways for children to start their lives in the best possible way.
The study was published in PLOS ONE.

Microalgae as food and biomass: huge potential in Malaysia

Microalgae that can be used as food for humans? Researcher Foo Su Chern from the Monash University School of Science of Malaysia’s Monash University is thinking about it. She is studying these particular monocellular organisms that can convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into biochemical products and produce oxygen as a by-product.

More than 100,000 species of microalgae have been classified to those of interest to the researcher are perhaps those that have yet to be discovered. Microalgae are already used in some nutraceutical food supplements and the properties of many species that could be of benefit to human health, but also to animal health, are certainly of interest.
Interest could increase even more with ongoing climate change as the microalgae themselves could be used to reduce carbon in the air.

Microalgae, as Foo herself explains, can grow in freshwater or seawater bodies, are characterized by high yield and, compared to other crops, are characterized by a much lower carbon release.
This means that the cultivation of microalgae itself would be much more sustainable than any other crop. They can be grown anywhere, even in closed areas, and are especially suitable in those tropical regions where there is sunshine almost all year round.

This is precisely why Malaysia could have great potential for microalgae cultivation. These could, for example, be grown as an alternative biomass to supplement palm oil, which is already widely consumed in the country, not to mention its possible use in animal feed.
This is precisely why Foo and his team are now analysing those microalgae species that are more efficient at capturing carbon and converting it into useful biochemical products, including food for humans. The team has already developed a bioreactor to produce monocultural microalgae with over 80% purity.

“We hope to gain more research opportunities and promote microalgae as a sustainable resource in the context of Southeast Asia. We need to understand that microalgae are very useful. My ultimate goal is to make microalgae more accessible to the public, so I hope to solve bottlenecks in this growing area,” says the researcher.

Discovered new sense of dogs: they detect heat through the nose

It’s a kind of “new meaning” discovered in the noses of dogs by a research team at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It is a “fascinating discovery”, as ethologist Marc Bekoff, a canine sniffing expert not involved in the study, describes it.
According to the researchers, in fact, dogs with their noses can not only sniff but also perceive mammalian body heat levels without a direct touch and therefore at a certain distance.

This is not a unique ability in absolute: that of perceiving radiant heat from living beings is a characteristic also present in some beetles, in some species of snakes and in a mammal species, the vampire bat.
Researchers have in fact discovered that the rhinaria of dogs, the naked and smooth area on the tip of the nose around the nostrils, is humid, colder than room temperature and very rich in nerves.

Precisely on the basis of these characteristics, the researchers immediately thought that dogs’ noses could not only detect the sense of smell but also heat. In order to obtain confirmation, they performed experiments on three pet dogs who had to choose a particular warm object and one at room temperature. The researchers positioned the objects at a distance of 1.6 metres.
All three dogs detected the objects emitting heat radiation with a certain level of success.

At this point, the researchers scanned the brains of other dogs of various breeds using functional MRI scans when they presented the dogs with objects that emit heat radiation or objects that did not.
Dogs were much more sensitive to hot thermal stimulation than neutral objects that did not emit any reaction.

These experiments therefore confirm that dogs can perceive heat through the nose, something that probably triggers a particular region of the brain. The dogs themselves probably inherited this ability from their direct ancestor, the grey wolf, who can sniff out hot bodies during hunting.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.

Eni: oil and gas production will peak in 2025

Eni, the leading Italian company in the energy sector, predicts that oil and gas production could reach its peak within six years, according to an article published on the Bloomberg website.

Oil and gas production is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.5% until 2025, when, according to Eni, it will settle at a constant level and then continue with a slow decline in production, especially of oil.
The aim is to cut net emissions by as much as 80% by 2050. Also by 2050, gas will represent 85% of total production for the company, which will happen in parallel with strong increases in the renewable energy sector with over 55 gigawatts of installed capacity already around 2050.

The company itself claims to have designed a strategy “that combines economic sustainability with environmental sustainability”, according to Claudio Descalzi, CEO of the company.
Eni plans to reach a zero emissions level for exploration and production operations already by 2030.

These plans will most likely need considerable expansion in the renewable energy sector and also in the carbon capture and storage technology sector.

Researchers study the strange parental behavior of American coots

An interesting behavior, in relation to the care of offspring by the American coot, was discovered by a team of researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The American coot is a waterbird with grey or black feathers and a white beak that mostly frequents the wetlands of North America. Unlike their parents, the chicks have very brightly coloured feathers and beaks between red and orange.

This difference had already been noted by previous studies and, again, other studies had shown that the parents seem to prefer the more brightly coloured chicks when it comes to feeding their offspring. However, no study had explained the reason for this strange behaviour. It was succeeded by the professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Bruce Lyon who, together with his colleague Daizaburo Shizuka from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, published a study on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Initially the researchers had thought that it was the chick, through evolutionary pathways, that could manipulate parents to get more food. However, in the course of the experiments that the researchers carried out, using, among other things, a photospectrometer to measure the precise color gradations of more than 1500 coot chicks, they found that this behavior is related to another one that sees mothers feed more some chicks instead of others to make sure that at least part of them can survive in strength since the available food is almost never enough for everyone.

The researchers initially discovered the mother, during the first 10 days after hatching the eggs, showed no preferences and fed all the chicks in which way. However, 10 days after the last hatching, the parents began to check the food allocation to ensure that at least one of the chicks could grow in strength. The latter began to receive preferential feeding and grew faster, becoming stronger and more resilient. However, parents tend to choose the chicks that are born later, which are, incidentally, the most colourful. In comparison with the others, he carries out a sort of aggression called “tousling”: he shakes them by the back of the neck to prevent them from eating too much.

“The male and the female share the brood, with each parent feeding only their half of the brood, and each parent also chooses a favourite. The colour predicts which one they choose, therefore the ornament can serve as signal for telling them which chick needs the maximum help,” explains Lyon himself. “They start by creating an irregular playing field, which allows them to break down the brood, and then they intervene to level the field. Orange plumage seems to be a feature that helps them do that.”

Among other things, this also explains why the eggs that mothers lay in the nests of other mothers, a behaviour known as “brood parasitism” and typical also of other species of birds, are less coloured. The eggs that the females lay in the nests of strangers are the first in the laying sequence and therefore are characterized by a lower pigment. With this preferential behaviour, parents are therefore more likely to feed their own child than the child of another.

Scientists discover that “underwater” beetle larvae are massacring tadpoles

The discovery of groups of beetles capable of exterminating thousands of tadpoles has been made almost by chance. The discovery was made by ecologist Jose Valdez who, together with his team, attempted to repopulate a frog conservation site in Newcastle, Australia. The researchers had thought to fence the area to keep out the predator snakes but had not calculated the possible arrival of perhaps even more deadly but at the same time much smaller predators: the Hydaticus parallelus, “underwater” beetles which attack in groups.

They use tactics of encirclement and attack so refined that out of 10,000 tadpoles introduced in the site, three years later only a handful of frogs remained. The case of predators that are much smaller than their prey is quite rare in the wild, just as it is unusual to see insects like beetles hunting in packs.

On nighttime stakeouts, Valdez and colleagues have noticed the tactics these insects use to surround a tadpole and tear it apart in the shortest possible time, tactics so refined that Valdez himself claims to have been shocked. In addition to attacking the tadpoles, these “diving” beetles lay their eggs inside the Lechriodus fletcheri frog eggs. The insects’ eggs usually hatch within 24 hours of hatching the frog’s eggs.

This way when the insects’ eggs hatch they can then easily attack the tadpoles as soon as they are born. Researchers have noticed that only beetle larvae were capable of killing up to three tadpoles every hour, often leaving their prey only half-eaten by another neighbor.

Vitamin D defends against infections in skin wounds

According to new experiments conducted by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU), vitamin D can be of great help in preventing infections, particularly those that can arise as a result of injuries to the skin.

According to the researchers, in fact, the treatment with vitamin D greatly reduces the number of pathogens in wounds by regulating an important antimicrobial peptide in the body. In the study, published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is in fact described as vitamin D, present in a few foods including beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and fatty fish meat, promotes the production of catelicidin (CAMP), an antimicrobial peptide made of immune cells and cells that act as a barrier against infection.

The same gene that encodes catelicidin is present in humans and other primates. In other mammals, including mice, there is a gene that resembles it but is not activated by vitamin D. In fact, researchers carried out experiments on mice by grafting the human CAMP gene into them: rodents showed greater resistance to intestinal and staphylococcal infections on the skin.

Adrian Gombart, a scientist at OSU, and one of the authors of the study, says in the press release: “With our mouse model, we have shown that treating a skin wound infected with S. aureus with the bioactive form of vitamin D significantly reduced the number of bacteria in the wound.”

Arid and very dry phases much more common in the Americas than thought

Periods of drought in the Americas would be surprisingly common according to a study conducted by Columbia University paleoclimatologist Nathan Steiger. The scientist has in fact analyzed the tree trunk rings and found, as he explains in his study in Science Advances, several evidence that very dry climatic phases, such as those involving California this year or Chile in recent years, are actually very common.

The speech would be related to at least the last 12,000 years. According to the researcher, these very dry climatic phases have in common an abnormally very cold phase in the eastern Pacific Ocean and a process also known as La Niña.
Moreover, these analyses, making a projection into the future, suggest that further periods of extreme aridity could also involve the entire west coast of the Americas.

This study follows other studies that analyzed dead tree stumps located in the middle of lakes and rivers in Patagonia and the Sierra Nevada in California in the mid-1990s. Trees growing in watercourses or lakes indicated that drought levels so others must have lasted for decades. But it was only with this study, during which the scientist analyzed the tree rings, that the researchers used data covering much larger regions.

In addition, by combining these data with data on corals, ocean sediments and ice cores, the researcher has generated a kind of global vision of how the climate is changing. The research would confirm that from 800 to 1600 A.D., many such arid phases would have occurred in various parts of the world.

In particular the arid phases in the southwest of the United States were influenced by three factors, according to Steiger and the other authors of the study: the area of the North Atlantic Ocean abnormally hot, slight increases in global temperature and La Niña. As far as the arid phases of South America are concerned, it would be mostly only La Niña that would be the main trigger.

Now it remains to be seen how these drought patterns will change with ongoing global warming if it does. It is expected that with a warmer climate the drier phases will increase, but it is not so simple: scientists themselves remain divided on how the current climate change will affect the dry phases of certain areas. The drought that has been seen in Chile in recent years could, in any case, only be a faint example of what could happen in the future with consequences that could be catastrophic.

Alzheimer’s vaccine even closer to reality thanks to a new study

The possibility of a vaccine against dementia is getting closer and closer to reality thanks to a new study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Molecular Medicine and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), published in Alzheimer Research & Therapy. The treatment, which has already been successful in experiments on mice to which the vaccine was injected intramuscularly, could now proceed to clinical trials in humans.

It is a new vaccine that removes “brain plaque” and those protein aggregates called tau that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease itself. Neurodegeneration and cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease are in fact caused by the so-called accumulating beta-amyloid plaques (Aβ) and TAU proteins.

Anahit Ghochikyan, one of the main authors of the study together with Hvat Davtyan and Mathew Blurton-Jones of the UCI, explains the success obtained during the experiments with mice that, once treated with the vaccine, developed antibodies specific for Aβ and tau: “Our approach is trying to cover all the bases and overcome previous blockages in the search for a therapy to slow down the accumulation of Aβ/tau molecules and delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in an increasing number of people worldwide.

This new vaccine could help trigger the body’s immune responses against Alzheimer’s disease in a large population of subjects.