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Oct. 8, 2009 at 5:44 PM
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Aluminum-water rocket propellant studied

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they are developing a new type of 'green' rocket propellant that consists of a frozen mixture of water and "nanoscale aluminum" powder.

The aluminum-ice, or so-called Alice, propellant is described as being more environmentally friendly than conventional propellants and could be manufactured on the moon, Mars or other water-bearing bodies.

Purdue University Associate Professor Steven Son said the Alice propellant might be used to launch rockets into orbit and for long-distance space missions, as well as generating hydrogen for fuel cells.

Purdue is working with NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Pennsylvania State University to develop Alice.

Assistant Professor Timothee Pourpoint said the tiny size of the aluminum particles, which have a diameter of about 80 nanometers, is key to the propellant's performance.

"It is considered a green propellant, producing essentially hydrogen gas and aluminum oxide," Pourpoint said. "Alice might one day replace some liquid or solid propellants, and, when perfected, might have a higher performance than conventional propellants. "It's also extremely safe while frozen because it's difficult to accidentally ignite."

Research findings were presented during the summer at a conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and will be published next year in the conference proceedings.

Diabetic herbal remedies need more study

SYDNEY, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- There is positive evidence Chinese herbal medicines may prevent diabetes in those at high risk, an Australian review says, but more study is needed.

The Cochrane review of 16 studies finds combining herbal medicines with lifestyle changes is twice as effective as lifestyle changes alone at normalizing patients' blood sugar levels. However, the researchers concluded there was not enough hard scientific evidence to recommend their use.

"Our results suggest that some Chinese herbal medicines can help to prevent diabetes, but we really need more research before we can confidently say that these treatments work," lead researcher Suzanne Grant of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, says in a statement. "The real value of the study is as guidance for further trials. We need to see more trials that make comparisons with placebos and other types of drugs, and better reporting on the outcomes of these trials."

The clinical trials included 1,391 people who received 15 different herbal formulations. Those given the herbal formulations were less likely to develop full blown diabetes during the study period.

Trials lasted from one month to two years and no adverse effects were reported.

Radioisotope battery under development

COLUMBIA, Mo., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. electrical engineers say they are developing a smaller, lighter and more efficient battery that uses a nuclear energy source.

Much attention has been given to making batteries smaller and more powerful, but scientists say problems can arise when such batteries become heavier than the devices they power.

"To provide enough power, we need certain methods with high energy density," said University of Missouri Assistant Professor Jae Kwon, who is leading the research. "The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries."

Kwon and his research team are developing a small nuclear battery, currently the size and thickness of a penny, intended to power various micro-nanoelectromechanical systems.

The innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also in its semiconductor. Kwon said his battery uses a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid semiconductor.

"The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."

Kwon's research has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and the Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.

Radiation and cancer drug exposure studied

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they are co-leading an international study on the possible genetic effects of radiation and cancer drug exposures on future generations.

The study's principal investigators are meeting this week at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center to discuss their recent findings, which will be presented at an upcoming meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

The study, focusing on cancer survivors in the United States and Scandinavia, is designed to discover the potential genetic consequences of reproductive organs exposed to curative therapy by drugs or radiation. Scientists said they want to determine whether radiation and chemotherapy before conception increases the occurrence of birth defects, stillbirths and specific conditions such as Down syndrome. They also want to know if radiation treatment leads to cancer or DNA damage in the patients' offspring.

Project leaders said it is the first and largest study of its kind.

"So far, the results have been encouraging," said Dr. John Mulvihill, one of the study's leaders and a University of Oklahoma geneticist. "This study is important for many reasons, but most notably for cancer survivors who need reassurances that their children will not be affected by their chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This research also will help families in Hiroshima and Chernobyl, where residents were exposed to high levels of radiation as children and young adults."

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