Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International  |  Nov. 8, 2002 at 7:45 AM
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BIOCLOCK SETS TIMING FOR CELL COMMUNICATIONS

A biochemical clock that plays a crucial role in how information is sent from the surface of a cell to its nucleus has been discovered by a research team led by Johns Hopkins University. The messages can include instructions for the cell to commit suicide or to thrive, researchers say, opening up possibilities the communication route could be used to treat cancer and other disease. Cells send these messages by setting off a chain of chemical reactions. While studying a reaction pathway called NF-kappaB in a mouse, researchers found if the pathway is activated for a short time, a single pulse of activity is delivered to the cell nucleus, activating a set of genes. If the pathway is activated for a longer time, more pulses go through and activate a larger gene set. The researchers say the timing of the pulses is critical for the cell's genetic functions to work properly. They envision one day creating drugs that disrupt the information pathway -- for example by sending a direct message to cancer cells to commit suicide.


PLASMA TURBULENCE CAN SELF-REGULATE

Magnetically confined plasmas in tokamaks and fusion devices have a high degree of turbulence that can destroy conditions for producing fusion energy. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dlll-D tokamak, at General Atomics, say this turbulence can, however, limit its own destructive abilities by generating flows that self-regulate. The flows were predicted theoretically and then observed in computer simulations and researchers say they create a "shearing" or tearing action that destroys turbulent eddies. This turbulence represents some of the most complex physics on the planet, the researchers note, but by using supercomputers they can simulate the turbulence-induced movement of tokamak particles and heat. The information can be used for making reliable predictions about tokamaks and future commercial-scale fusion reactors.


SANDIA LAB SHOWS SPENT NUKE FUEL LESS REACTIVE

Sandia National Labs researcher Gary Harms and his team say a new reactor built by Sandia shows spent nuclear fuel -- uranium -- is less reactive than the original fresh fuel. The researchers say this could make safe transport, storage and disposal of nuclear waste less expensive. "The conservative view has always been to treat spent fuel like it just came out of the factory with its full reactivity," Harms says. "This results in the numbers of canisters required in the handling of spent nuclear fuel to be conservatively high, driving up shipping and storage costs." The team says as nuclear fuel is burned, the reactivity decreases because of the consumption of some of the uranium and the accumulation of fission products or "ash." This so-called burnup credit could allow spent nuclear fuel to be safely packed in more dense arrays, requiring fewer canisters.


CREATING WEARABLE PERSONAL COMPUTERS

Virginia Tech engineers are designing e-textiles -- cloth interwoven with electronic components -- that can be made into wearable personal computers or large sensing and communications fabric. One goal of their project, called STRETCH, is to develop large e-textile fabrics that will look like typical military equipment -- tents or camouflage nets -- but have electronic wires and sensors woven in that listen to or sense faint sounds of distant vehicles being deployed by the enemy. Within the fabric, the sensors and their connecting wires communicate to create information patterns that can be translated by computer software into images to show where the sounds are located. Fabrics also could be woven with sensors to detect chemicals or pick up satellite signals. Because the wires and sensors in e-textiles are woven into the fabric, wearable computers also could be constructed much like normal-looking shirts or hats or other types of cloth apparel.

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(EDITORS: For more information about CELL CLOCK, contact Phil Sneiderman at 410-516-7907 or e-mail prs@jhu.edu. For TURBULENCE, George R. McKee, 858-455-2419 or mckee@fusion.gat.com, for REACTOR FUEL, Chris Burroughs, 505-844-0948 or coburro@sandia.gov, and for STRETCH, Mark Jones, 540-231-8849 or mtj@vt.edu)

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