Wednesday, November 30, 2011

10 Things You Didn’t Know About NASCAR Pit Crews

Pit crews are instrumental parts of the NASCAR team. Functioning in the pit and behind the scenes, each member plays an important part in ensuring the car reaches the finish line. A well-oiled machine can consistently push a driver to the front of the race, but poor teamwork can break him when he's running neck and neck with his opponents. The following interesting facts are both fun and surprising for those who've never really paid close attention to the stuff that happens off the track.

Pit crew routines are not regulated by NASCAR

Although each crew essentially does the same routine, making a few minor changes of their own, they're not required by NASCAR to conduct the same sequence of actions. Because they don't have time to perform major work, strategy revolves around fueling and tire changes — the latter involves determining whether all four tires should be changed, or just the outside tires, which bear the most weight and pressure.

Crew members use liberal amounts of duct tape

The pros are always looking for a quick fix. During a race, a pit crew will use the strong, versatile tape to adjust body panels, hold parts together, fix hoses and hanging wires, and merely to mark where the jack post, left-front tire, and sign board will be located after the car hits the pit. It's such an important tool for the crew that it has earned its own nickname — "200 mph tape."

Crew members pound their cars with baseball bats and hammers

Another seemingly primitive way pit crews adjust their cars during races is to make use of baseball bats and hammers, pounding their uber-expensive machines when the situation calls for it. A misshapen body can affect how a car performs, causing it to fail to generate a sufficient amount of down force. With little time to spare, the strongest, quickest-swinging crew members take their best shots at the problem areas, impersonating their favorite baseball sluggers.

Crew members love piano bars

A heavily damaged car that's difficult to lift needs more than just the jack man. Instead, piano bars — long, sturdy bars; not the bar you visited during your last hotel stay — provide leverage for the crew to get the car off the ground so the members can do their work. Like duct tape and baseball bats, it's a simple tool with plenty of might.

Crew members exhibit higher heart rates on asphalt tracks than concrete tracks

Given the demands that come with being a member of a pit crew, it shouldn't come as a surprise that dealing with stress is a part of the job. But, as with any job, levels of stress can vary depending on the setting and the problems it presents. According to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, members exhibit higher heart rates on asphalt tracks than concrete tracks. This may have to do with the heat of the tracks caused by the blacktop surface.

Crew members can earn close to six-figure salaries

Of course, pay varies by position and responsibility. For example, Jason Myers, the car chief for Carl Edwards until his termination in 2009, earned $140,000 in 2008 not including bonuses and other compensation. He was second-in-command to the crew chief, who boasted a salary of $500,000. Guys in lower positions but with lots of responsibility — such as those who work in the shop, travel to the races, and work on Sundays — can earn in the neighborhood of $75,000.

Crew members may frequently change teams

A pit crew change for the second consecutive season enabled Kevin Harvick to take the lead in this year's Chase. Out of the running, Clint Boyer, a Richard Childress Racing teammate, lent his crew to give Harvick a boost for the stretch run. An efficient crew can make all the difference in the world, which is why of the best crew members in the biz are highly recruited by opposing teams. Essentially, they can play the field, seeking the best possible offer.

It's a year-round job

Like modern athletes, pit crew members train year-round, sparing just a couple of weeks for rest in December. Beginning in January, they practice pit stops before the start of the season, and then take it up a notch during the season, practicing two times per week and working out rigorously. It's a constant battle to improve their efficiency so they can reduce pit stop times.

Many pit crew members are former athletes

In recent years, NASCAR pit crews have emphasized athleticism to meet the physical demands of pit stops. As every aspect of the sport has become more competitive, shorter pit times have become essential for crews, so meticulously crafted routines have become the norm. Tony Stewart, for example, employs Mike Casto, a former wide receiver from Glenville State College. Mark Martin employs Aaron Walker, who spent five seasons in the NFL. It's a great way for ex-athletes to stay in a competitive field and utilize their physical strengths.

Pit crews have their own all-star event

Held annually in Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge is a competition featuring seven pit crew members from each team. When given a signal, each team lifts the car, changes the tires, unloads 18 gallons of water substituting as fuel into a fuel tank, and upon approval from NASCAR, pushes the car 40 yards to finish the sequence. If "fuel" is spilled, too much "fuel" is left in the dump can, a jack isn't raised high enough, or lug nuts are improperly tightened, then penalties are given. Through the years, the notable pit crews of Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt have won multiple times.

Contacts and sources:
Rose King

10 Tricks To Get Laundry Done Faster

Household chores can seem daunting when you are short on time, and they either get neglected or done in a sloppy manner. We all want to save time, no matter what our schedule is, so listed below are ten tricks to get laundry done faster.
  1. Organize. Keep your laundry area cleaned and organized, so that you can find what you are looking for. Have dedicated shelves for your supplies, and keep the clutter to a minimum.
  2. Stock Up. Keep plenty of laundry detergent and fabric softener on hand, as well as stain removers, so you do not have to run out to the store during the middle of a laundry session.
  3. Sort. Sort all of your clothes in separate bins as you take them off. This will not only save you time when doing the laundry, but it will also help you to see which loads are ready.
  4. Get Help. Make laundry day a family event and get others involved in helping out. Younger children can help by matching up socks or folding small items like washcloths, while the older kids can move the laundry from one machine to the other, as well as fold and put away items.
  5. Treat For Stains. As soon as you notice a stained item, treat it immediately. Even if that means taking it off and changing clothes. It is much easier to get a stain out if you rinse it in cool water and treat it with a stain remover, before it gets a chance too set in.
  6. Clean Out Pockets. Try to get into the habit of cleaning out your pockets, prior to putting your clothes in the hamper, so you can save time on laundry day. Also, encourage others in your house to do the same. If you tell them that whatever you find you keep, that may get them into the habit faster.
  7. Clean Lint Trap. Clean out the lint trap on your dryer after every load, to reduce, not only drying time for the next load, but to also to extend the life of your machine by preventing it from overworking.
  8. Shake. By shaking out the clothing prior to putting it in the dryer, you are helping to remove some of the wrinkles created in the spin cycle. This can reduce or even eliminate the need to iron.
  9. Remove Heavy Items. Remove any bulkier items like sweatshirts, coats or jeans from a regular load to allow them to dry faster. You can add the heavy items to the next load once they have had a chance to air dry some.
  10. Hang. If the item you are washing is something you are going to hang up, then don’t bother folding it. You are just wasting time by folding something only to walk to your room and hang it up in your closet.
By implementing a few or all of the tricks above, you are sure to cut down on your laundry time. However, if you still seem to spend too much time doing laundry or if you have a large family, you may want to consider investing in another set of machines and create your own mini laundry mat at home.

Contacts and sources
Betty Jones

25 Tips For Attending Online Career Fairs

These days, going to a career fair doesn't require actually going anywhere. In fact, more and more are being held online, allowing job hunters to meet, network, and interview with prospective employers right from the comfort of their own homes. Because online career fairs are a relatively new phenomenon, many may not know how to navigate or prepare for them, and might even have some reservations about signing up at all. In reality, online career fairs are pretty similar to the real world ones, and with knowledge provided by the tips we've collected here, job hunters should be able to get through the entire process with relative ease. Read on to learn how to prepare, interact, and improve your chances of getting hired at an online career fair.


If you want to make the most of an online career fair, you need to do some preparation up front. Here are some tips that will ensure you log on ready to take on every aspect of the experience.


With an online career fair, you'll know the companies that will have booths at the fair ahead of time. This gives you the chance to do a little background reading on them, figuring out which would be the best match and ensuring you know a little bit about each one. You'll be better prepared both to choose the companies you want to focus on and answer any interview questions about them should they come up.


As soon as you know you're going to take part in an online career fair, you should begin updating your resume. Make sure you have your most recent jobs and training listed and that your resume conforms to all modern guidelines. You'll also want to make sure to have a cover letter on hand, so start early, giving yourself plenty of time to revise and rework it until it's perfect.


Whether you work in a creative field or programming, it can be incredibly useful to have some samples of your work on hand should an interviewer ask for it. Some career fairs may even let you share a few samples or a link to an online portfolio from your profile. Whatever the case, make sure you have something to show off if your industry requires it.


There are a lot of different ways to approach a career fair, online or off. How you choose to do so really depends on what you want to get out of the experience and your own career goals. Spend some time laying out which aspects of the fair you want to focus on most. It'll make it easier on the day of, as you'll know what to do first and what to save for later.


Not all career fairs work in the same way. Some create virtual conference rooms that are very similar to real life career fairs, while others may stick to more basic online technologies. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with how your career fair will work, the navigation it will use, and keep all your passwords and IDs on hand so you won't waste time struggling on the day of.


Do you have clear career goals in mind? If not, you'll get a lot more out of a career fair if you sit down and spend some time thinking about where you want to go with your work. It's important not only for you to know for your own sake, but also because it's not uncommon for prospective employers to ask questions about your career goals. You need to have a clear answer in mind.


The majority of online career fairs will give participants the opportunity to create an online profile. There, you can share information about yourself and post your resume. It's up to you how much or how little you want to share.


Just as if you were going into a face-to-face situation, you need to be prepared with questions to ask companies and prospective employers. It will showcase your interest in their job opportunities and give you some valuable talking points.


You're going to be meeting a lot of new people online during the career fair, so it can be very useful to work up a short introduction for yourself that you can use each time you meet someone new. Spend a few minutes thinking about what things are most important about you that you'd like to share with employers and other job hunters, write them down, and have them on hand when you sign on to the career fair.


The Internet is your lifeline when it comes to online career fairs. You need to ensure that you have a stable and fast connection before ever logging on. If your home Internet isn't good enough, head to a coffee shop or library to ensure that you won't get cut off mid-interview by a poor connection.


While most computers will suffice for online career fairs, some older models and those with software that hasn't been updated may not be able to cut it when it comes to the requirements of the fair. Additionally, to participate in interviews, you'll likely need access to a webcam. Make sure to get all of these things taken care of before the day of the event so you'll be prepped and ready with the right technology.


Many career fairs will give you the option to be anonymous. You need to decide how private you want to keep your job hunt before the fair. You may want to be open or you may only want potential employers to know who you are, it's up to you.
During the Fair

The big day has arrived! These tips will help you make the most of all the resources, meet-ups, and opportunities virtual career fairs have to offer.


Online career fairs often feature presentations, webinars, and chats. These interactions can help you to learn more about individual companies, network, and even improve your job-hunting skills. Taking notes will ensure you don't forget any important information and can help you highlight the best advice you hear during the fair.


You may not be meeting people in person, but they'll still be able to see you if you need to talk over webcam so it's essential to look professional. Do what you would do if you were heading into any professional situation, even if you're just online at home.


If a career fair is offering opportunities to learn more and improve your job-hunting and career development skills, then by all means take advantage. While not every webinar offered may interest you, make sure to make time for those that do.


Job hunting isn't something you can do halfheartedly, even online. Show potential employers that you're interested in them by being the first to make contact. Send them your resume, introduce yourself, and make sure they know you really want to work for them.


When chatting with employers and other job hunters online, make sure to keep your language professional. That means nothing inappropriate, no text speak, and no emoticons.


Online career fairs are an excellent place to network, just as their real-world counterparts are. Spend time not only talking to employers, but also others looking for work. You might make new friends or develop connections that can help you later on.


Interviews are not guaranteed at on online job fair, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared. Always have everything you need for interviewing on hand, so if you get an opportunity you can jump on it.


There can be a lot to take in at an online career fair, so if you have time, just browse around. You may see things you didn't know you were interested in that could help you find a job or even a new career path. It never hurts to look.


The early bird gets the worm, as they say, and that advice is probably wise for attending career fairs as well. Don't wait until the fair is halfway over to start. Get in there early and start connecting!
After It's Over

Don't just walk away and forget about your career fair experience once it's over! Use these tips to ensure you keep the career ball rolling post-fair.


If you do interview with an employer during the career fair, don't bid adieu until you've gotten an email or phone number you can reach them at for follow-up. It will not only help put your mind at ease, but show them that you're truly interested in the job.


Some career fairs will let you go back and see what you said and did during the time you spent online. Review who you talked to, what interested you, and where you see potential. Stepping back can be valuable in keeping your career on track and helping you to find work.


Show just how pumped you are to be talking to a certain company or participating in a career fair by posting to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter about your experiences. Just remember to keep it positive, your future employers may see it.


If you met some really great people at the career fair there's no reason to lose touch once it's over. Use email, LinkedIn, or other social sites to keep in contact and share your career experiences.

Contacts and sources:
Carol Brown

8 Dangers Of Working From Home To Be Aware Of

Many people think working from home would be idyllic. No more getting up early to make a long commute, no more having to put up with crabby coworkers, no more wardrobe worries. You could make your own hours and have so much more free time. Working from home certainly has its advantages, but there are drawbacks as well. If you’re someone who has an opportunity to work from home for your career, here are 8 dangers of this situation that you should be aware of.
  1. Distractions – You may think working from home would have fewer distractions than a common workplace, but the opposite is often the case, especially when people find out you’re there during the day. The phone rings, people stop by, young children are at home or you notice a neglected household item that either needs to be either fixed or cleaned. The biggest distraction of all is when there is fantastic weather that lures you outdoors. All of these things can make it hard to concentrate on your job.
  2. Time management – All of these distractions can make it hard to manage your time effectively when you work from home. It’s easy to lose track of time when you don’t have a people around to remind you. Since computers and internet are what has made it possible for people to work from home, surfing the web and reading emails can also be big time suckers. It can be difficult to keep focused on the job and not get off track. On the other hand, you can also run the danger of being too focused and not taking a break when you need one.
  3. Self discipline – The key to making your home-based career a success is self discipline. If you’re not able to keep distractions to a limit and manage your time effectively, you’re in danger of not doing very well. Some people are not very self-motivated and need a boss or supervisor to provide the incentives for them to get their work done. Overachievers don’t know when it’s time to quit for the day. These people are not good candidates for working from home.
  4. Confusing priorities – Going to an outside workplace makes it easier to prioritize your duties. You do what needs to be done at work when you’re there and the same goes for when you’re home. Working from home can make setting your priorities a little more difficult. It can be hard to ignore an unfinished home project when you’re there all the time and pretty soon you find it easy to neglect your job. You also run the risk of immersing yourself in work because you never have to go home when you’re already there.
  5. Isolation – Another danger of working from home is the feeling of isolation. People who thrive on social interaction will find it difficult to be on their own for long periods of time. Pretty soon they find themselves missing even the most annoying of their former coworkers. Unless you’re fairly comfortable with spending lots of time with only yourself for company, don’t consider a home-based career.
  6. Out of the loop – Working from home can really make you feel out of the loop. You’re not getting the latest gossip around the water cooler or included in the discussions on local issues. The coworkers who used to include you in their social gatherings don’t think of calling you since you’re no longer around. This just adds to the feeling of isolation and could lead to depression.  
  7. Children – Many people decide to work from home while they have young children to care for. Although this can really save on day care services, it may have drawbacks. Nothing is more demanding than infants and small children. They don’t understand the concept of your career and can make it difficult for you to get any meaningful work done.
  8. Appearance – Working from home can really take its toll on your personal appearance. Since you no longer have to update your wardrobe or look good to impress anyone, you run the risk of really letting yourself go. A fully stocked refrigerator is in the kitchen and snacks aren’t just for coffee breaks any more. Since nobody is going to see you all day, why even bother getting out of your bathrobe?
Whether you are a remote worker or self-employed, working from home is a great option to have, but not without some perils. It’s important to look at the pro’s and con’s before making a commitment. Look carefully at your personal situation and character to see if you have the self-determination to make it work. Also be sure to give yourself some time to adjust to the freedom a home-based career provides.

Contacts and sources:
Kate Croston

Dora, A Domestic Robot, Visits The Big City, Tries To Find Cornflakes

Dora, a domestic robot devised and built by a group of European computer scientists led by the University of Birmingham, will make an appearance at the London Science Museum’s new exhibition of cutting-edge robots from the 1st – 4th December 2011.

The first video provides an overview of some of Dora’s basic capabilities.
Credit:  CogX

Dora is a prototype domestic robot that is curious about its surroundings. It explores previously unseen environments to build up maps of its location that can be used when performing tasks for humans. It can work out which rooms are which by noting the presence of certain objects, for example, if it sees a kettle it knows it is in the kitchen, so if it has been asked to fetch a box of cornflakes it will also know that it is in the correct room to retrieve the object.

Dora, the robot, is trying to find cornflakes in a house. Instead of just exhaustively searching everywhere, Dora is equipped with probabilistic reasoning and planning to exploit the knowledge that cornflakes are usually found in kitchens. This is from the IJCAI ‘11 paper titled “Exploiting Probabilistic Knowledge under Uncertain Sensing for Efficient Robot Behaviour”.

Credit:  CogX

Dr Nick Hawes, a developer of Dora from the University of Birmingham’s School of Computer Science, said, ‘Our research aims are to produce intelligent robots to assist humans in normal environments. To do this we need to enable them to use their senses, and all available information, to solve complex problems and interact with humans in natural ways, such as through dialogue.’

Dora will be on display with 20 other unique robots including swarming and swimming robots, exploring and humanoid robots. Roboticists from the UK and Europe will be on hand to demonstrate their work and talk to visitors.

Dr Hawes continued: ‘This exhibition is a great way to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the word ‘robot’ which was coined by Czech writer Karel Čapek. We are delighted that Dora has been chosen to take part and will be displayed amongst the best and most innovative prototypes from all over the world.’

From the ICRA ‘11 paper titled “Home Alone: Autonomous Extension and Correction of Spatial Representations”:
Dora exploring and categorising autonomously from Marc Hanheide on Vimeo.
Credit:  CogX

The exhibition is open from 1st – 4th December every day from 10am – 6pm and entrance is free. Dr Hawes will give a public lecture on ‘Artificial intelligence for household robots’ at the Science Museum on 4th December at 3.30pm.

Contacts and sources
Kate Chapple, Press Officer
University of Birmingham

Dora was created as part of the CogX project ( to support research into robots that can understand and extend their own abilities.
The CogX project: The CogX Dora page:

 The Science Museum
Visitor Information:
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD. Open daily 10.00 to 18.00,
except 24-26 December. / 0870 870 4868. 

Kindergarten Friendships Matter, Especially For Boys: U Of I Study

High-quality friendships in kindergarten may mean that boys will have fewer behavior problems and better social skills in first and third grades, said Nancy McElwain, a University of Illinois associate professor of human development and co-author of a study published in a recent issue of Infant and Child Development.

"The findings for girls were different," said Jennifer Engle, lead author of the study. "Overall, teachers reported that girls in the first and third grade had good social skills, regardless of the quality of their kindergarten friendships. Boys, on the other hand, clearly benefited from the good start that early high-quality friendships provide."

Engle said the study was unique in comparing how the presence and quality of children's kindergarten friendships are related to their behavior problems and social skills in kindergarten, first, and third grades.

She noted that friendship quality was important for both boys and girls in kindergarten. Kindergarten kids with high-quality friendships tended to have fewer behavior problems and better social skills than those whose friendships were of low or moderate quality. In contrast, kids who had low-quality kindergarten friendships had more behavior problems during kindergarten.

The differences in friendship quality for boys versus girls didn't show up until the children were older, she said.

"Boys who had no friends in kindergarten had more behavior problems, but not until they had reached first and third grades," she said.

The researchers examined data from 567 children who had participated in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

Mothers in the study reported on whether their kindergarten child had at least one friend and on the quality of their child's friendships. Researchers then compared the progress of children with no friends, low-quality friendships, average-quality friendships, and high-quality friendships. Teachers provided feedback on children's behavior problems in kindergarten and first and third grades.

"As we expected, high-quality kindergarten friendships that featured cooperation and sharing, taking turns, low levels of hostility, and little destructive conflict, gave children—especially boys—practice in positive interaction, which they demonstrated in grades 1 and 3," Engle said.

How can you help your child learn to be a good friend? McElwain stressed that peers become important as children enter kindergarten. Parents should make an effort to help children, especially boys, make friends at this age through play dates and other social activities, she said.

Children also will likely relate to friends in more positive ways if they have experiences in their family that model positive expectations, caring, and respect.

When children learn to expect that people will respond positively to them, they will be responsive and friendly to others, she noted.

"Those children will be able to handle their emotions better when the going gets rough, and they'll learn how to work through conflicts. Conflict isn't necessarily good or bad; it's a matter of how kids approach disagreements with their friends or parents," she said.

McElwain offered reassurance to parents of friendless kindergartners. "Almost all of those children had made a friend by the time they reached third grade," she said.

Contacts and sources
The U of I's Nicole Lasky, now of Chicago's Perspectives Charter School, is a co-author of the study, which is available in Infant and Child Development at

School Of Gladiators Discovered At Roman Carnuntum, Austria

Blood and Sand – the life and death of Gladiators in Roman Austria

An international team of archaeologists, geophysicists and computer specialists from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI-ArchPro) is using the latest non-invasive technology to reveal archaeological remains hidden beneath the soil in unprecedented detail. The team’s work attracted international attention last year after locating a new wooden henge only 900 m from the great stone circle at Stonehenge, and recent finds using ground penetrating radar includes burial mounds and settlements dating from the Viking Age in Norway and Sweden. Now, the interdisciplinary team has discovered a unique Roman building complex at Roman Carnuntum, 20 km east of Vienna in Austria and this will shed new light on how Roman gladiators lived and died in the provinces alongside the river Danube.

School of Gladiators discovered at Roman Carnuntum, Austria

The geophysical systems, developed and used by LBI-ArchPro and its partners, provide detailed information on the nature and location of archaeological remains and imagery of features meters below the ground. At Roman Carnuntum, one of the largest preserved archaeological landscapes of its type in Europe, the team used a novel motorized multi-antenna ground penetrating radar to explore interesting features identified on aerial photographs. The suspicious area lay to the west of the amphitheatre, which was built in the first half of the second century AD and excavated from 1923 to 1930. Following survey of this area archaeologists were astounded when the new sensors revealed an extensive building complex interpreted as a school for gladiators (latin - ludus).

The Roman amphitheatre at Carnuntum held around 13000 spectators and contemporary inscriptions claimed that it was the fourth largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and frequently used for gladiatorial games. Despite the extensive excavations surrounding the amphitheatre the area that contained the school of gladiators attracted little attention and the first hints that there was an important building here came from recent analysis of aerial photographs. These photographs showed the main road leading from the town towards the amphitheatre with buildings hosting shops and inns (taberna) on the eastern side. The western side generally showed no structures at all but some photographs hinted at the existence of a large building. The LBI-ArchPro team decided to investigate these shadowy traces using a high-resolution ground penetrating radar system which could cover the area in a matter of hours. The exceptional building, identified through this rapid survey as the school for gladiators, is almost unique in the Roman Empire for its size and completeness.

The gladiatorial school at Carnuntum was set within a massive compound enclosing an area of 2800 m² and set at the eastern end of a 11000 m² land parcel surrounded by a wall. The school buildings were arranged around a central inner court where ground penetrating radar revealed a circular training arena, 19 m in diameter, enclosed by a wooden stand for spectators. The foundations of a 100 m² heated training hall, an extended bath complex, the 300 m² administration and living complex of the owner of the school can be seen in the detailed images produced by radar. In contrast, the gladiators appear to have been given cells that were as little as 5 m² in size. The image of this unique building is so clear that water pipes, sewers and the remains of the floor heating system can be seen clearly, along with the access roads to the amphitheatre, entrances and the foundations of mausolea. The archaeologists believe that they have also located the gladiators’ cemetery, immediately behind a building associated with large grave monuments, stone sarcophagi and other, simpler, graves.

In scale the new detected ludus is comparable to the ludus magnus, the great School of Gladiators behind the coliseum (amphitheatrum flavium) in Rome. The sensational image of the newly discovered School of Gladiators, provided by this new technology, is so complete that it has allowed the LBI-ArchPro team to digitally recreate this unique find without digging. The result can be explored by the software Wikitude World Browser, an augmented reality application which visualizes the school of gladiators on your ipad, android, blackberry or symbian device right on site.

Contacts and sources:
Dir. Prof. Wolfgang Neubauer, LBI-ArchPro
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology
Additional information:

The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology is a research institute of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft ( and was founded in 2010. The institute carries out its research activities together with several international partner organizations and aims to create a network of archaeological scientists supporting interdisciplinary research programmes for the development of large scale, efficient, non-invasive technologies for the discovery, documentation, visualisation and interpretation of Europe's archaeological heritage. The lead partners of the institute based in Vienna, are the University of Vienna (A), the Vienna University of Technology (A), the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (A), the Province of Lower Austria (A), Airborne Technologies (A), RGZM-Roman-Germanic Central Museum Mainz (D), RAÄ-Swedish National Heritage Board (S); IBM VISTA-University of Birmingham (GB) and NIKU-Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (N).

Discoveries Provide Evidence Of A Celestial Procession At Stonehenge

Archaeologists led by the University of Birmingham with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection have discovered evidence of two huge pits positioned on celestial alignment at Stonehenge. Shedding new light on the significant association of the monument with the sun, these pits may have contained tall stones, wooden posts or even fires to mark its rising and setting and could have defined a processional route used by agriculturalists to celebrate the passage of the sun across the sky at the summer solstice.

File:Stonehenge2007 07 30.jpg
Credit: Wikipedia

Positioned within the Cursus pathway, the pits are on alignment towards midsummer sunrise and sunset when viewed from the Heel Stone, the enigmatic stone standing just outside the entrance to Stonehenge. For the first time, this discovery may directly link the rituals and celestial phenomena at Stonehenge to activities within the Cursus.

The international archaeological survey team, led by the University of Birmingham’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre (VISTA), with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Vienna (LBI ArchPro) have also discovered a previously unknown gap in the middle of the northern side of the Cursus, which may have provided the main entrance and exit point for processions that took place within the pathway. Stretching from west to east, the Cursus is an immense linear enclosure, 100 metres wide and two and a half kilometres across, north of Stonehenge.

Professor Vince Gaffney, archaeologist and project leader from the IBM Visual and Spatial Technology

Centre at the University of Birmingham, explains: “This is the first time we have seen anything quite like this at Stonehenge and it provides a more sophisticated insight into how rituals may have taken place within the Cursus and the wider landscape. These exciting finds indicate that even though Stonehenge was ultimately the most important monument in the landscape, it may at times not have been the only, or most important, ritual focus and the area of Stonehenge may have become significant as a sacred site at a much earlier date.

“Other activities were carried out at other ceremonial sites only a short distance away. The results from this new survey help us to appreciate just how complex these activities were and how intimate these societies were with the natural world. The perimeter of the Cursus may well have defined a route guiding ceremonial processions which took place on the longest day of the year.”

Archaeologists have understood for a long time that Stonehenge was designed to mark astronomical events, built by farming societies whose everyday concerns with growing crops linked their daily lives to the passage of the seasons and in particular the sun, on which their livelihoods depended. This new evidence raises exciting questions about how complex rituals within the Stonehenge landscape were conducted and how processions along or around the Cursus were organised at the time Stonehenge was in use.

Professor Gaffney adds:

“It now seems likely that other ceremonial monuments in the surrounding landscape were directly articulated with rituals at Stonehenge. It is possible that processions within the Cursus moved from the eastern pit at sunrise, continuing eastwards along the Cursus and, following the path of the sun overhead, and perhaps back to the west, reaching the western pit at sunset to mark the longest day of the year. Observers of the ceremony would have been positioned at the Heel Stone, of which the two pits are aligned.”

Dr Henry Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Visualisation observes: “If you measure the walking distance between the two pits, the procession would reach exactly half-way at midday, when the sun would be directly on top of Stonehenge. This is more than just a coincidence, indicating that the exact length of the Cursus and the positioning of the pits are of significance.”

Stonehenge, while certainly the most important monument in the later Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape, was surrounded by a dense concentration of other sacred sites, some of which were already ancient when Stonehenge itself was built. The team has also revealed a new horseshoe arrangement of large pits north-east of Stonehenge which may have also contained posts and, together with the henge-like monument discovered last year and a number of other small monuments, may have functioned as minor shrines, perhaps serving specific communities visiting the ceremonial centre.

Paul Garwood, Lecturer in Prehistory at the University of Birmingham, comments: "Our knowledge of the ancient landscapes that once existed around Stonehenge is growing dramatically as we examine the new geophysical survey results. We can see in rich detail not only new monuments, but entire landscapes of past human activity, over thousands of years, preserved in sub-surface features such as pits and ditches. This project is establishing a completely new framework for studying the Stonehenge landscape.”

These new discoveries have come to light as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, which began in summer 2010 as the world’s biggest-ever virtual excavation using the latest geophysical imaging techniques to reveal and visually recreate the extraordinary prehistoric landscape surrounding Stonehenge.

Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, adds: “The LBI provides the best academics, technicians and young researchers in a team of 20 people and uses multiple systems designed for use on projects where the scale of work was previously unachievable. The use of non-invasive technologies provides information for virtual archaeologies that can be disseminated to the public via the web, iPad or mobile phone.”

Dr Christopher Gaffney, lecturer in Archaeological Geophysics at the University of Bradford, concludes:
“Building on our work from last year we have added even more techniques and instruments to study this remarkable landscape. It is clear that one technique is not adequate to study the complexity of the monuments and landscape surrounding our most important archaeological monument and the battery of techniques used here has significantly increased the certainty of our interpretation.”

Professor Vince Gaffney explains further in his podflash (MP3 - 10MB).

Contacts and sources:
University of Birmingham

Trail Of 'Stone Breadcrumbs' Reveals The Identity Of 1 Of The First Human Groups To Leave Africa

A series of new archaeological discoveries in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, reveals the timing and identity of one of the first modern human groups to migrate out of Africa, according to a research article published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

An international team of archaeologists and geologists working in the Dhofar Mountains of southern Oman, led by Dr. Jeffrey Rose of the University of Birmingham, report finding over 100 new sites classified as "Nubian Middle Stone Age (MSA)." Distinctive Nubian MSA stone tools are well known throughout the Nile Valley; however, this is the first time such sites have ever been found outside of Africa.

According to the authors, the evidence from Oman provides a "trail of stone breadcrumbs" left by early humans migrating across the Red Sea on their journey out of Africa. "After a decade of searching in southern Arabia for some clue that might help us understand early human expansion, at long last we've found the smoking gun of their exit from Africa," says Rose. "What makes this so exciting," he adds, "is that the answer is a scenario almost never considered."

These new findings challenge long-held assumptions about the timing and route of early human expansion out of Africa. Using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) to date one of the sites in Oman, researchers have determined that Nubian MSA toolmakers had entered Arabia by 106,000 years ago, if not earlier. This date is considerably older than geneticists have put forth for the modern human exodus from Africa, who estimate the dispersal of our species occurred between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Even more surprising, all of the Nubian MSA sites were found far inland, contrary to the currently accepted theory that envisions early human groups moving along the coast of southern Arabia. "Here we have an example of the disconnect between theoretical models versus real evidence on the ground," says co-author Professor Emeritus Anthony Marks of Southern Methodist University. "The coastal expansion hypothesis looks reasonable on paper, but there is simply no archaeological evidence to back it up. Genetics predict an expansion out of Africa after 70,000 thousand years ago, yet we've seen three separate discoveries published this year with evidence for humans in Arabia thousands, if not tens of thousands of years prior to this date."

The presence of Nubian MSA sites in Oman corresponds to a wet period in Arabia's climatic history, when copious rains fell across the peninsula and transformed its barren deserts to sprawling grasslands. "For a while," remarks Rose, "South Arabia became a verdant paradise rich in resources – large game, plentiful freshwater, and high-quality flint with which to make stone tools." Far from innovative fishermen, it seems that early humans spreading from Africa into Arabia were opportunistic hunters traveling along river networks like highways. Whether or not these pioneers were able to survive in Arabia during the hyperarid conditions of the Last Ice Age is another matter – a mystery that will require archaeologists to continue combing the deserts of southern Arabia, hot on the trail of stone breadcrumbs.

Contacts and sources:
Yael Franco
Public Library of Science

The Dhofar Archaeological Project is conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in Oman. The team is comprised of an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the University of Birmingham and Oxford Brookes University, UK; Arizona State University and Southern Methodist University, USA; Institute of Archaeology, National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine; Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Science, Czech Republic; University of Tübingen, Germany, and the University of Wollongong, Australia. The project is funded by research grants from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

Citation: Rose JI, Usik VI, Marks AE, Hilbert YH, Galletti CS, et al. (2011) The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia. PLoS ONE 6(11): e28239.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028239

Financial Disclosure: The Dhofar Archaeological Project fieldwork and analysis is funded by an Early Career Research grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/H033912/1): Funding for OSL dating comes from the Australian Research Council (DP0880675): The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Why Evolutionarily Ancient Brain Areas Are Important: Journal Of Neuroscience

Different brain structures control eye reflexes in the course of life

Structures in the midbrain that developed early in evolution can be responsible for functions in newborns which in adults are taken over by the cerebral cortex. New evidence for this theory has been found in the visual system of monkeys by a team of researchers from the RUB. The scientists studied a reflex that stabilizes the image of a moving scene on the retina to prevent blur, the so-termed optokinetic nystagmus. They found that nuclei in the midbrain initially control this reflex and that signals from the cerebral cortex (neocortex) are only added later on. PD Dr. Claudia Distler-Hoffmann from the Department of General Zoology and Neurobiology and Prof. Dr. Klaus-Peter Hoffmann from the Department of Animal Physiology report in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Human brain
Credit: Wikipedia

Why the neocortex needs help

To control sensorimotor functions (e.g. eye movements), the adult brain is equipped with different areas in the neocortex, the evolutionarily youngest part of the cerebrum. "This raises the question, why older subcortical structures in the brain have not lost the functions that can also be controlled by the neocortex" says Hoffmann. The neocortex of primates is, however, not fully functional shortly after birth and therefore cannot control the optokinetic nystagmus. "This is most probably also the case with people" says Distler-Hoffmann. Nevertheless, this reflex works directly after birth.

First the brain stem, then the cerebral cortex

The researchers examined what information controls the optokinetic nystagmus in the first weeks after birth. During the first two weeks, the reflex is controlled by signals from the retina, which are transmitted to two nuclei in the midbrain. The neocortex then adds its information and takes over during the first months of life. The optokinetic reflex, which was studied by the researchers also at the behavioural level, is almost identical under the control of the midbrain and the neocortex. It occurs, for example, when watching a moving scene. First the eyes follow the passing scene, then they move quickly in the opposite direction back to their original position. On this reflex, monkeys and humans build their slow eye tracking movements with which they keep "an eye" on moving objects.

Detecting maldevelopments in the visual system at an early stage

The optokinetic nystagmus changes if the visual system does not develop normally. Lens aberrations, corneal opacity and strabismus affect the reflex. "These findings from research with primates are important for recognizing and treating maldevelopments in the visual system of infants and young children at an early stage" explains Distler-Hoffmann.

Contacts and sources:
Dr. Claudia Distler-Hoffmann
Ruhr-University Bochum

Earthquakes: Water As A Lubricant

Geoelectrrical analysis and the change between creep and quakes in the San Andreas fault

Geophysicists from Potsdam have established a mode of action that can explain the irregular distribution of strong earthquakes at the San Andreas Fault in California. As the science magazine Nature reports in its latest issue, the scientists examined the electrical conductivity of the rocks at great depths, which is closely related to the water content within the rocks. From the pattern of electrical conductivity and seismic activity they were able to deduce that rock water acts as a lubricant.

Los Angeles moves toward San Francisco at a pace of about six centimeters per year, because the Pacific plate with Los Angeles is moving northward, parallel to the North American plate which hosts San Francisco. But this is only the average value. In some areas, movement along the fault is almost continuous, while other segments are locked until they shift abruptly several meters against each other releasing energy in strong earthquakes. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the plates had moved by six meters.

The San Andreas Fault acts like a seam of the earth, ranging through the entire crust and reaching into the mantle. Geophysicists from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences have succeeded in imaging this interface to great depths and to establish a connection between processes at depth and events at surface. "When examining the image of the electrical conductivity, it becomes clear that rock water from depths of the upper mantle, i.e. between 20 to 40 km, can penetrate the shallow areas of the creeping section of the fault, while these fluids are detained in other areas beneath an impermeable layer", says Dr. Oliver Ritter of the GFZ. "A sliding of the plates is supported, where fluids can rise."

These results suggest that significant differences exist in the mechanical and material properties along the fault at depth. The so-called tremor signals, for instance, appear to be linked to areas underneath the San Andreas Fault, where fluids are trapped. Tremors are low-frequency vibrations that are not associated with rupture processes as they are typical of normal earthquakes. These observations support the idea that fluids play an important role in the onset of earthquakes.

Contacts and sources:
F. Ossing
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

M. Becken et al., "Correlation between deep fluids, tremor and creep along the central San Andreas fault", Nature No. 480, Dec. 2011, pp. 87-90,

Early Sign Of Alzheimer's Reversed In Lab

One of the earliest known impairments caused by Alzheimer's disease - loss of sense of smell – can be restored by removing a plaque-forming protein in a mouse model of the disease, a study led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher finds.

The study confirms that the protein, called amyloid beta, causes the loss.

"The evidence indicates we can use the sense of smell to determine if someone may get Alzheimer's disease, and use changes in sense of smell to begin treatments, instead of waiting until someone has issues learning and remembering," said Daniel Wesson, assistant professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve and lead investigator. "We can also use smell to see if therapies are working."

A description of the research is published in the Nov. 2 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Smell loss can be caused by a number of ailments, exposures and injuries; but since the 1970s, it has been identified as an early sign of this disease. The new research shows how and where in the brain this happens, and that the impairment it can be treated.

"Understanding smell loss, we think, will hold some clues about how to slow down this disease," Wesson said.

There is currently no effective treatment or cure for the disease, marked by eroding senses, cognition and coordination, leading to death.

Currently 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's and the number is expected to triple to 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Wesson worked with Anne H. Borkowski, a researcher at the Nathan S. Kline Institute in Orangeburg, N.Y., Gary E. Landreth, professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, and Ralph A. Nixon, Efrat Levy and Donald A. Wilson, of the New York University School of Medicine.

They found that just a tiny amount of amyloid beta – too little to be seen on today's brain scans - causes smell loss in mouse models.

Amyloid beta plaque accumulated first in parts of the brain associated with smell, well before accumulating in areas associated with cognition and coordination.

Early on, the olfactory bulb, where odor information from the nose is processed, became hyperactive.

Over time, however, the level of amyloid beta increased in the olfactory bulb and the bulb became hypoactive. Despite spending more time sniffing, the mice failed to remember smells and became incapable of telling the difference between odors.

The same pattern is seen in people with the disease. They become unresponsive to smells as they age.

While losses in the olfactory system occurred, the rest of the mouse model brain, including the hippocampus, which is a center for memory, continued to act normally early in the disease stage.

"This shows the unique vulnerability of the olfactory system to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease," Wesson said.

The team then sought to reverse the effects. Mice were given a synthetic liver x-receptor agonist, a drug that clears amyloid beta from the brain. After two weeks on the drug, the mice could process smells normally.

After withdrawal of the drug for one week, impairments returned.

Wesson and his team are now following-up on these discoveries to determine how amyloid spreads throughout the brain, to learn methods to slow disease progression.

Contacts and sources:
Kevin Mayhood
Case Western Reserve University

New Research Distinguishes Roles Of Conscious And Subconscious Awareness

What distinguishes information processing with conscious awareness from processing occurring without awareness? And, is there any role for conscious awareness in information processing, or is it just a byproduct, like the steam from the chimney of a train engine, which is significant, but has no functional role?

These questions - which have long puzzled psychologists, philosophers, and neurobiologists - were recently addressed in a study by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers and published by the journal Psychological Science.

The study was headed by Prof. Leon Deouell from the Hebrew University's Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) and Department of Psychology and Prof. Dominique Lamy from the Department of Psychology at Tel Aviv University, and conducted by research student Liad Mudirk of Tel Aviv University with collaboration of research student Assaf Breska from the Hebrew University.

We are not consciously aware of most of the input that hits upon our sensory systems. Yet subjectively, conscious awareness dominates our mental activity. "One of the dominant theories in cognitive sciences and psychology posits that parts of the information perceived without awareness may be processed to a certain extent," says Prof. Deouell. "Yet to bind the different parts of a complex input into something meaningful and coherent requires conscious awareness.

To test this theory, the research team ran a study in which they presented participants with pictures of natural scenes including some human action, like a picture of basketball players jumping to reach a ball.

In other tests, the same scenes were presented -- except that the central object was replaced by another, unlikely object. For example, the basketball was replaced by a watermelon.

The participants viewed the pictures through a mirror stereoscope, a simple device that allowed the research team to present the pictures to only one eye. At the same time, the other eye viewed rapidly flickering patterns of colors which drew the subjects' attention, so that the participants were not aware for many seconds that anything was presented to their other eye. This allowed the researchers to measure how long it takes normal and unusual scenes to "win the competition" against the flickering pattern and break into awareness.

"We found that participants became aware of the unusual scenes earlier than to the usual scenes," commented Deouell. "The conclusion was that even before the participants were aware of the existence of the picture, the semantic relationships between parts of the scene were interpreted."

The study shows that, counter to previous theories, integration is not the prerogative of conscious awareness but is achieved even without awareness. When and why then do we need conscious awareness?

The findings of this research suggest that when the results of the integration between parts of the input are incompatible with expectations or prior knowledge, awareness is required in order to account for the conundrum. Thus, the study expands the realm of unaware processes, yet shows that conscious awareness is not a meaningful luxury - it allows us to deal with novel and unexpected situations.

Contacts and sources:

Setting The Stage For Life: Scientists Make Key Discovery About The Atmosphere Of Early Earth

Scientists in the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have used the oldest minerals on Earth to reconstruct the atmospheric conditions present on Earth very soon after its birth. The findings, which appear in the Dec. 1 edition of the journal Nature, are the first direct evidence of what the ancient atmosphere of the planet was like soon after its formation and directly challenge years of research on the type of atmosphere out of which life arose on the planet.

Image courtesy of NASA

The scientists show that the atmosphere of Earth just 500 million years after its creation was not a methane-filled wasteland as previously proposed, but instead was much closer to the conditions of our current atmosphere. The findings, in a paper titled "The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth's atmosphere," have implications for our understanding of how and when life began on this planet and could begin elsewhere in the universe. The research was funded by NASA.

For decades, scientists believed that the atmosphere of early Earth was highly reduced, meaning that oxygen was greatly limited. Such oxygen-poor conditions would have resulted in an atmosphere filled with noxious methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. To date, there remain widely held theories and studies of how life on Earth may have been built out of this deadly atmosphere cocktail.

Now, scientists at Rensselaer are turning these atmospheric assumptions on their heads with findings that prove the conditions on early Earth were simply not conducive to the formation of this type of atmosphere, but rather to an atmosphere dominated by the more oxygen-rich compounds found within our current atmosphere — including water, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

"We can now say with some certainty that many scientists studying the origins of life on Earth simply picked the wrong atmosphere," said Bruce Watson, Institute Professor of Science at Rensselaer.

The findings rest on the widely held theory that Earth's atmosphere was formed by gases released from volcanic activity on its surface. Today, as during the earliest days of the Earth, magma flowing from deep in the Earth contains dissolved gases. When that magma nears the surface, those gases are released into the surrounding air.

"Most scientists would argue that this outgassing from magma was the main input to the atmosphere," Watson said. "To understand the nature of the atmosphere 'in the beginning,' we needed to determine what gas species were in the magmas supplying the atmosphere."

As magma approaches the Earth's surface, it either erupts or stalls in the crust, where it interacts with surrounding rocks, cools, and crystallizes into solid rock. These frozen magmas and the elements they contain can be literal milestones in the history of Earth.

One important milestone is zircon. Unlike other materials that are destroyed over time by erosion and subduction, certain zircons are nearly as old as the Earth itself. As such, zircons can literally tell the entire history of the planet – if you know the right questions to ask.

The scientists sought to determine the oxidation levels of the magmas that formed these ancient zircons to quantify, for the first time ever, how oxidized were the gases being released early in Earth's history. Understanding the level of oxidation could spell the difference between nasty swamp gas and the mixture of water vapor and carbon dioxide we are currently so accustomed to, according to study lead author Dustin Trail, a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Astrobiology.

"By determining the oxidation state of the magmas that created zircon, we could then determine the types of gases that would eventually make their way into the atmosphere," said Trail.

To do this Trail, Watson, and their colleague, postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Tailby, recreated the formation of zircons in the laboratory at different oxidation levels. They literally created lava in the lab. This procedure led to the creation of an oxidation gauge that could then be compared with the natural zircons.

During this process they looked for concentrations of a rare Earth metal called cerium in the zircons. Cerium is an important oxidation gauge because it can be found in two oxidation states, with one more oxidized than the other. The higher the concentrations of the more oxidized type cerium in zircon, the more oxidized the atmosphere likely was after their formation.

The calibrations reveal an atmosphere with an oxidation state closer to present-day conditions. The findings provide an important starting point for future research on the origins of life on Earth.

"Our planet is the stage on which all of life has played out," Watson said. "We can't even begin to talk about life on Earth until we know what that stage is. And oxygen conditions were vitally important because of how they affect the types of organic molecules that can be formed."

Despite being the atmosphere that life currently breathes, lives, and thrives on, our current oxidized atmosphere is not currently understood to be a great starting point for life. Methane and its oxygen-poor counterparts have much more biologic potential to jump from inorganic compounds to life-supporting amino acids and DNA. As such, Watson thinks the discovery of his group may reinvigorate theories that perhaps those building blocks for life were not created on Earth, but delivered from elsewhere in the galaxy.

The results do not, however, run contrary to existing theories on life's journey from anaerobic to aerobic organisms. The results quantify the nature of gas molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur in the earliest atmosphere, but they shed no light on the much later rise of free oxygen in the air. There was still a significant amount of time for oxygen to build up in the atmosphere through biologic mechanisms, according to Trail.

Contacts and sources:
Gabrielle DeMarco
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The New York Center for Astrobiology

Based within the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the New York Center for Astrobiology is devoted to investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that lead to formation of habitable planets in our own and other solar systems. Supported by NASA, the $7 million center is a member of NASA's Astrobiology Institute (NAI), and is a partnership between Rensselaer and the University at Albany, Syracuse University, the University of Arizona, and the University of North Dakota. Researchers and students within the center seek to understand the chemical, physical, and geological conditions of early Earth that set the stage for life on our planet. They also look beyond our home planet to investigate whether the processes that prepared the Earth for life could be replicated elsewhere — on Mars and other bodies in our solar system, for example, and on planets orbiting other stars.

Stinky Frogs Are A Treasure Trove Of Antibiotic Substances

Some of the nastiest smelling creatures on Earth have skin that produces the greatest known variety of anti-bacterial substances that hold promise for becoming new weapons in the battle against antibiotic-resistant infections, scientists are reporting. Their research on amphibians so smelly (like rotten fish, for instance) that scientists term them "odorous frogs" appears in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research.

Credit: American Chemical Society

Yun Zhang, Wen-Hui Lee and Xinwang Yang explain that scientists long have recognized frogs' skin as a rich potential source of new antibiotics. Frogs live in warm, wet places where bacteria thrive and have adapted skin that secretes chemicals, known as peptides, to protect themselves from infections. Zhang's group wanted to identify the specific antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), and the most potent to give scientists clues for developing new antibiotics.

They identified more than 700 of these substances from nine species of odorous frogs and concluded that the AMPs account for almost one-third of all AMPs found in the world, the greatest known diversity of these germ-killing chemicals. Interestingly, some of the AMPs have a dual action, killing bacteria directly and also activating the immune system to assist in the battle.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Basic Research Program of China and The National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society

Artificial Leaf Could Debut New Era Of 'Fast-Food Energy'

Technology for making an "artificial leaf" holds the potential for opening an era of "fast-food energy," in which people generate their own electricity at home with low-cost equipment perfect for the 3 billion people living in developing countries and even home-owners in the United States. That's among the prospects emerging from research on a new genre of "electrofuels" described in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the American Chemical Society's weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Senior Correspondent Stephen K. Ritter describes research on electrofuels, made by using energy from the sun and renewable ingredients like water and carbon dioxide, reported at a gathering of experts sponsored by the U. S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E). Created in 2009 by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, ARPA-E is funding electrofuels research, with the goal of developing technologies that improve on nature's approach — photosynthesis. Electrofuels is one of 12 programs funded by ARPA-E.

The artificial leaf is one of the electrofuels technologies. Made of inexpensive materials, the leaf breaks down ordinary water into the oxygen and hydrogen that can power an electricity-producing fuel cell. Just drop the credit-card-sized device into a bucket of water and expose it to sunlight. With the cost-conscious technology, one door-sized solar cell and three gallons of water could produce a day's worth of electricity for a typical American home. The article describes a range of other electrofuel technologies, including ones based on engineered microbes, being developed in the quest for new ways of making fuels.

The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society