SciTech Briefs

Large polymer additive makes fuel less explosive

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have engineered a “mega-supramolecule” that can be added to flammable fuels such as gasoline or kerosene to ward off explosions in the event of an impact. During a vehicular accident, fuel droplets tend to form clouds, which linger in the air and create violent explosions when ignited. The new additive consists of a large polymer that interacts with fuel molecules. This interaction produces much larger droplets which do not linger, effectively negating the extremely dangerous fuel clouds made by smaller molecules. The new additve also breaks apart under pressure, which ensures that the additive will not clog fuel pumps.

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Porous portabella mushrooms preserve cellphone batteries

It’s the marriage of the century: fungi and electronics. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering have turned to portabella mushrooms to present a low-cost and environmentally friendly alternative for graphite anodes in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The mushrooms are porous, meaning they feature a lot of small spaces through which liquid and air can pass. When applied to batteries, this structure creates more space for energy to be transferred and stored. In addition, using the mushrooms in anode fabrication could allow batteries to increase in capacity with use, rather than decrease, due to their high potassium content, which allows activation of certain dead-end pores during the battery’s use.

Source: Science Daily

Baby booty bacteria found to predict asthma

Researchers working on the C.H.I.L.D. study examined stool and urine samples from over 300 babies at three months old and then again at one year. They also acquired their health information at one, three, and five years old. Upon inspection, they discovered a correlation between low or undetectable levels of four certain bacteria at three months and the development of asthma at one year old. This discovery could help speed up asthma diagnosis, but could also help identify the cause of and prevent asthma all together. This research created statistically significant results that provide clout to the hypothesis that the microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria within our bodies — has significant effects on our health.

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Placebo predicts effectiveness of real drug

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Medical School have long been pioneers in studying the brain’s “painkilling” mu-opioid system and its response to placebo drugs. In a recent study, they showed that participants with depression who reported symptom improvement after taking a placebo showed the strongest mu-opioid response in brain regions involved in emotion and depression. These individuals were also more likely to show signs of improvement when taking the real drug than those whom the placebo did not affect. These findings are the first to show that the brain’s opiod system is involved in the body’s response to antidepressants and placebos, and could be used to develop better, faster-acting antidepressants.

Source: Science Daily

Researchers search for the formula for happiness

Christian Bayer, from the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics at the University of Bonn, has established a connection between long-term increases in income and personal happiness and satisfaction. This research has shown that just having more money does not make one more content; only long-term income increases affect happiness. The findings also identified that individuals who consistently have more work are less happy. This contradicts the idea that people are more happy with any job than none at all, suggesting that it is not the lack of work, but the lack of income from which people suffer. Bayer says that “the formula for greater satisfaction in life seems to be: persistently more money while working the same number of hours.”

Source: Science Daily

Researchers map reactions in muscle during exercise

Research completed at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre provides a comprehensive blueprint of the 1,000 molecular reactions that occur in skeletal muscles during exercise. This was done by analyzing skeletal muscle from untrained, healthy males ten minutes after intense exercise. This breakthrough will allow researchers to focus their efforts and develop drugs which target not a single chemical, but multiple molecules and perhaps even entire pathways. This discovery establishes a basis for the development of drugs which can mimic the beneficial effects of exercise for patients who need the effects of exercise, but cannot exercise themselves.

Source: Science Daily