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Stories of modern science ... from UPI

  |   Aug. 19, 2002 at 11:10 AM
SCRAP METAL COULD YIELD 'NANO' TREASURE

Purdue University researchers have discovered nano-crystals in discarded chips of metals and metal alloys that normally are melted down for re-use. The chips, which are shaved away from metals as they are machined, could become a cheap source of the valuable nano-crystals. The nano-crystals could help make vehicle bumpers stronger and aluminum more wear resistant. They also could produce bearings that last longer than their conventional counterparts, as well as new types of sensors and components for computers and electronic hardware. The nano-crystals, which can be made of steel, tungsten, titanium, nickel or other metals and alloys, have been shown to be up to 300 percent harder than the same materials in bulk form. "Imagine, you have all of these bins full of chips, and they get melted down as scrap," researchers said. "But, in some sense, the scrap could be more valuable pound-for-pound than the material out of which the part is made."


PANCREAS GENE FOUND

Vanderbilt University researchers have found a gene responsible for the formation of the pancreas in mice. Using a unique genetic marker that produces a blue color, which enabled researchers to track cell development generation by generation, they discovered a gene called p48. The gene is required for the development of both types of cells in the pancreas -- those that secrete digestive enzymes and those that secrete insulin and other hormones. As the research proceeds in humans, the discovery could open the way toward new therapies to combat diabetes. Using the blue marker technique, the researchers also discovered when p48 is missing or not functioning, the cells that normally form the pancreas turn into intestinal tissues. "That is very powerful information when you are thinking about manipulating stem cells in the laboratory," researchers said.


ACID RAIN THREATENING WOOD THRUSH

Cornell University researchers have found a link between acid rain in North America and widespread declines across the breeding range of the wood thrush. Using data collected by thousands of volunteers, researchers found the wood thrush is less likely to attempt to breed in regions that receive high levels of acid rain, especially in the higher elevations of its habitat, where populations of the songbird are declining by as much as 5 percent per year. Although the exact mechanism leading to the declines is still unknown, researchers said the most likely cause is leaching of calcium from the soil by acid rain. Calcium is an important part of the birds' diet, existing in foods such as earthworms, millipedes, centipedes and other insects. The mineral might be critical at egg-laying time, researchers said, when calcium demand is highest for female birds, or during the nesting period, when calcium supplements are often provided to growing young.


PROBING THE BERING LAND BRIDGE

A team of researchers is sailing the Bering and Chukchi seas searching for clues about sea floor history and the land bridge that once existed between Alaska and Russia. The team will also explore how the disappearance of the land bridge may have affected that region's climate. "We want to know how quickly the land bridge formed or was flooded with changes in global sea level, cutting off the migration of people and a wide range of plants and animals," researchers said. "And we're looking at the area's climate history to understand how the ocean and the atmosphere affected the land, and what happened to the water masses in the region when the land bridge was submerged." The Bering Strait has been submerged dozens of times over the past several million years between ice ages. Researchers said they hope to learn more about the geologic history of the region since the last ice age ended about 20,000 years ago.


(Editors: For more information on NANO-CRYSTALS, contact Emil Venere at 765-494-4709 or evenere@purdue.edu. For PANCREAS, John Howser at 615-322-4747 or john.howser@vanderbilt.edu. For SONGBIRDS, Roger Segelken at 607-255-9736 or hrs2@cornell.edu. For LAND BRIDGE, Elizabeth Luciano at 413-545-0444 or luciano@journ.umass.edu)

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