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Shifting sands: New model predicts how sand and other granular materials flow

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(Apr. 5, 2012) — Sand in an hourglass might seem simple and straightforward, but such granular materials are actually tricky to model. From far away, flowing sand resembles a liquid, streaming down the center of an hourglass like water from a faucet. But up close, one can make out individual grains that slide against each other, forming a mound at the base that holds its shape, much like a solid.

Sand's curious behavior -- part fluid, part solid -- has made it difficult for researchers to predict how it and other granular materials flow under various conditions. A precise model for granular flow would be particularly useful in optimizing processes such as pharmaceutical manufacturing and grain production, where tiny pills...

Handheld plasma flashlight rids skin of notorious pathogens

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — A group of Chinese and Australian scientists have developed a handheld, battery-powered plasma-producing device that can rid skin of bacteria in an instant.

The device could be used in ambulance emergency calls, natural disaster sites, military combat operations and many other instances where treatment is required in remote locations.

The plasma flashlight, presented April 5, in IOP Publishing's Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics is driven by a 12 V...

Quantum computer built inside a diamond

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — Diamonds are forever -- or, at least, the effects of this diamond on quantum computing may be. A team that includes scientists from USC has built a quantum computer in a diamond, the first of its kind to include protection against "decoherence" -- noise that prevents the computer from functioning properly.

The demonstration shows the viability of solid-state quantum computers, which -- unlike earlier gas- and liquid-state systems -- may represent the future of...

Free apps drain smartphone energy on 'advertising modules'

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — Researchers have shown that popular free smartphone apps spend up to 75 percent of their energy tracking the user's geographical location, sending information about the user to advertisers and downloading ads.

"It turns out the free apps aren't really free because they contain the hidden cost of reduced battery life," said Y. Charlie Hu, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Because smartphone batteries must be small and...

New options for nuclear waste? Crushing pressure surprisingly opens up nanopores in mineral

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — By squeezing a porous solid, scientists surprisingly made its cavities open wider, letting in -- and trapping -- europium ions. Given the similarities between europium and uranium ions, the team, based at the University of South Carolina, Yonsei University (Korea), and Stanford University, thinks the innovation could represent a promising new avenue for nuclear waste processing.

The focus of their work is natrolite, one of the many examples of aluminosilicate...

New way of lasing: A 'superradiant' laser

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — Physicists at JILA have demonstrated a novel "superradiant" laser design, which has the potential to be 100 to 1,000 times more stable than the best conventional visible lasers. This type of laser could boost the performance of the most advanced atomic clocks and related technologies, such as communications and navigation systems as well as space-based astronomical instruments.

Described in the April 5, 2012, issue of Nature, the JILA laser prototype relies on...

Carbon nanotubes can double growth of cell cultures

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — A dose of carbon nanotubes more than doubles the growth rate of plant cell cultures -- workhorses in the production of everything from lifesaving medications to sweeteners to dyes and perfumes -- researchers are reporting.

Their study, the first to show that carbon nanotubes boost plant cell division and growth, appears in the journal ACS Nano.

Mariya V. Khodakovskaya and colleagues explain that their previous research demonstrated that so-called...

Defying conventional wisdom, water can float on oil

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — Defying thousands of years of conventional wisdom, scientists are reporting that it is possible for water to float on oil, a discovery they say has important potential applications in cleaning up oil spills that threaten seashores and fisheries. Their report appears in ACS' journal Langmuir.

Chi M. Phan and colleagues point out that the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle made an early attempt to explain flotation around 350 B.C. Today, most people know that...

Bacterial contamination found in pharmacy robots

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(Apr. 4, 2012) — Drug dispensing robots designed to quickly prepare intravenous medications in a sterile environment can harbor dangerous bacteria, according to a report in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

During a routine screening in 2010, personnel at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina discovered Bacillus cereusbacteria in samples dispensed by their machine, the Intellifill IV...