Posts about Harvard

Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage

Battery offers renewable energy breakthrough

a metal-free flow battery that relies on the electrochemistry of naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic (carbon-based) molecules called quinones, which are similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals.

The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.

Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks, as with fuel cells, instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components — the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity) and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity) — may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.

This looks like a very interesting field of research. Storing power remains one of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This is especially true if the use is disconnected from the grid, but is even true for grid-connected uses. Especially as increasing the amount of wind and solar energy make it increasingly likely that surplus energy is created at certain times.

The research seems to allow for sensible size home storage setups. At the commercial level the volume needed is very large. Another concern to be addressed is how many cycles the “battery” is good for before it degrades; current experimentation show no degradation after 100 cycles but consumer/commercial usage will need thousands of cycles.

Related: Battery Breakthrough (solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane)Energy Storage Using Carbon Nanotubes (2006)Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012Recharge Batteries in Seconds

Key Indicator for Malignant Melanoma Found

Skin cancer detection breakthrough

The researchers found that certain biochemical elements in the DNA of normal pigment-producing skin cells and benign mole cells are absent in melanoma cells. Loss of these methyl groups — known as 5-hmC — in skin cells serves as a key indicator for malignant melanoma. Loss corresponded to more-advanced stages of melanoma as well as clinical outcome.

Strikingly, researchers were able to reverse melanoma growth in preclinical studies. When the researchers introduced enzymes responsible for 5-hmC formation to melanoma cells lacking the biochemical element, they saw that the cells stopped growing.

“It is difficult to repair the mutations in the actual DNA sequence that are believed to cause cancer,” said Christine Lian, a physician-scientist in the Department of Pathology at BWH and one of the lead authors. “So having discovered that we can reverse tumor cell growth by potentially repairing a biochemical defect that exists — not within the sequence but just outside of it on the DNA structure — provides a promising new melanoma treatment approach for the medical community to explore.”

Because cancer is traditionally regarded as a genetic disease involving permanent defects that directly affect the DNA sequence, this new finding of a potentially reversible abnormality that surrounds the DNA (thus termed “epigenetic”) is a hot topic in cancer research, according to the researchers.

In the United States, melanoma is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in men and the seventh most common type in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2012 there will be 76,250 new cases and 9,180 deaths in the United States owing to melanoma.

Thankfully scientists keep making great progress in understanding and finding potential clues to treating cancer. And big gains have been made in treating some cancers over the last few decades. But the research successes remain difficult to turn into effective solutions in treating patients.

I am thankful we have so many scientists doing good work in this difficult and important area (cancer).

Related: Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous CellNanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadDNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your LifeResearchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to Spread

Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers

For a decade journals have been trying to continue a business model that was defensible in a new world where it is not. They have becoming increasing abusive with even more outrageous fees than they were already charging. As I said years ago it has become obvious they are enemies of science and should be treated as such. The time to find mutual beneficial solution past years ago.

Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices

Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.

A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.

he memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.

More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Research Libraries UK negotiated new contracts with Elsevier and Wiley last year after the group threatened to cancel large subscriptions to the publishers. The new deal, organised on behalf of 30 member libraries, is expected to save UK institutions more than £20m.

These journals have continuously engaged in bad practices. Scientists should publish work in ways that enrich the scientific community not ways that starve the scientific commons and enrich a few publishers that are doing everything they can to hold back information sharing.

In 2008 Harvard’s liberal arts faculty voted to make their research open source.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-usefulMIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly ArticlesMerck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalOpen Access Journal Wars

I Always Wanted to be Some Sort of Scientist

A nice simple post by a soon to be Dr. of Genetics and Molecular Biology on what being a scientist is like for her. I like her take, which I think is much more accurate than some of the generalities people use. The main reason people (men or women) become scientists because they want to be scientists.

photo of almost-Dr. Caitlin

Photo the almost-Dr. Caitlin

The truth is science requires you to be social. We share ideas, techniques, and equipment. A good scientist knows her limitations and uses someone else’s expertise when her own is not enough. The modern scientist communicates not only through conferences and journals, but also through blogging and Facebook.

When a non-scientist (usually my parents or some other close relative) asks me about what I do, they inevitably want to tie it back to how I’m curing a disease and saving the world. I am not curing a disease or saving the world.

I study science because it’s cool. I study basic science — asking questions for the purpose of learning the answer. That doesn’t mean what I do isn’t important. Lots of ground-breaking medical advances have been made just because someone asked a question no one else thought to ask.

To all you ladies fighting the good fight in other fields, keep at it, because the numbers are going up for women with advanced degrees.

I’ve always wanted to be some sort of scientist. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a paleontologist because dinosaurs are awesome (and so was “Jurassic Park”). When I was 11, I read the Hot Zone and knew I wanted to be a biologist. Though there were times that I flirted with the Dark Side, i.e., medical school, but mostly only because when my teachers figured out I was good at science they said go to medical school. No one even suggested becoming a scientist.

Great stuff. Good Luck, Caitlin.

Related: Movie Aims to Inspire College Students With Tales of Successful Minority ScientistsKids on Scientists: Before and After Talking to Real Live ScientistsWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering, Math, Physics and Computer Science

sOccket: Power Through Play

In a fun example of appropriate technology and innovation 4 college students have created a football (soccer ball) that is charged as you play with it. The ball uses an inductive coil mechanism to generate energy, thanks in part to a novel Engineering Sciences course, Idea Translation. They are beta testing the ball in Africa: the current prototypes can provide light 3 hours of LED light after less than 10 minutes of play. Jessica Matthews ’10, Jessica Lin ’09, Hemali Thakkara ’11 and Julia Silverman ’10 (see photo) created the eco-friendly ball when they all were undergraduates at Harvard College.

photo of sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

They received funding from: Harvard Institute for Global Health and the Clinton Global Initiative University. The

sOccket won the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, which recognizes the innovators and products poised to change the world. A future model could be used to charge a cell phone.

From Take part: approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide use kerosene to light their homes. “Not only is kerosene expensive, but its flames are dangerous and the smoke poses serious health risks,” says Lin. Respiratory infections account for the largest percentage of childhood deaths in developing nations—more than AIDS and malaria.

Related: High school team presenting a project they completed to create a solution to provide clean waterWater Pump Merry-go-RoundEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerGreen Technology Innovation by College Engineering Students

Watch a June 2010 interview on the ball:
Continue reading

E.O. Wilson: Lord of the Ants

This is a great webcast on E.O Wilson‘s career studying ants and animal behavior from NOVA.

Not only is the scientific knowledge very interesting it again shows that challenging conventional wisdom, while part of the scientific method, does not mean it is an easy process for those pioneers. From his web site:

In 1971 Wilson published his second major synthesis, The Insect Societies, which formulated the existing knowledge of the behavior of ants, social bees, social wasps, and termites, on a foundation of population biology. In it he introduced the concept of a new discipline of sociobiology, the systematic study of the biological basis of social behavior in all kinds of organisms. In 1975 he published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which extended the subject to vertebrates and united it more closely to evolutionary biology. The foundational discoveries of sociobiology are generally recognized to be the analysis of animal communication and division of labor, in which Wilson played a principal role, and the genetic theory of the origin of social behavior, which he helped to promote and apply in his 1971 and 1975 syntheses. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis was later ranked in a poll of the officers and fellows of the international Animal Behaviour Society as the most important book on animal behavior of all time, and is regarded today as the founding text of sociobiology and its offshoot, evolutionary psychology.

Related: Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration
by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson – Huge Ant NestSymbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaRoyal Ant Genesposts on antsEncyclopedia of Life

How Cells Age

How Cells Age

A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers reveals that the biochemical mechanism that makes yeast grow old has a surprising parallel in mice, suggesting it may be a universal cause of aging in all organisms.

In young organisms, SIRT1 effectively doubles as a gene-expression regulator and a DNA repairer. But when DNA damage accumulates—as it does with age—SIRT1 becomes too busy fixing broken DNA to keep the expression of hundreds of genes in check. This process is so similar to what happens in aging yeast that its discoverers believe it may represent a universal mechanism of aging.

Harvard researchers gain new insight into aging

Aging may be a case of neglect — an absentee landlord at the cellular level that allows gene activity to go awry, according to a study published today.

Scientists have long known that aging causes gene expression to change, and DNA damage to accumulate. But now, research led by Harvard Medical School scientists explains the connection between the two processes in mammals.

The paper, published in the journal Cell, found that a multi-tasking protein called SIRT1 that normally acts as guardian of the genome gets dragged away to DNA fix-it jobs. When the protein abandons its normal post to work as a genetic handyman, order unravels elsewhere in the cell. Genes that are normally under its careful watch begin to flip on.

“What this paper actually implies is that aspects of aging may be reversible,” said David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School biologist who led the research. “It sounds crazy, but in principle it should be possible to restore the youthful set of genes, the patterns that are on and off.”

The study is just the latest to draw yet more attention to sirtuins, proteins involved in the aging process

Aging is fascinating. By and large people just accept it. We see it happen to those all around us, without exception. But what causes biological aging? It is an interesting area of research.

Related: lobsters show no apparent signs of agingOur Genome Changes as We AgeMillennials in our Lifetime?Radical Life Extensionposts on cells

$400 Million More for Harvard and MIT

$400 million endowment for the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT

“Today the Broad Institute is the world’s leading genomics and biomedical institute, and we’re now making a $600 million bet that the Broad will be the place where the greatest scientific discoveries take place,” Eli Broad said at today’s ceremony.

In its short history, the Broad Institute’s accomplishments include cataloging and identifying genetic risk factors for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and autism; discovering new therapeutic targets for cancer, malaria, and other diseases; and applying genomic tools to better understand and treat human pathogens like tuberculosis.

The Broads’ gift is the largest to support biomedical research at a university anywhere in the world. The Broads initially invested $100 million in 2003 as a way to test the institute’s new approach to biomedical research. By 2005, the Broad Institute had already made significant accomplishments and progress, and the Broads invested a second $100 million. Their endowment of $400 million today will allow the Broad Institute to transition to a permanent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with both Harvard and MIT still at the heart of it, continuing to help govern the institute.

Many countries would love to create a world class center of biomedical research. And several are trying. Boston sure seems to be staking a claim that it will be one of those centers of excellence. The economic benefits of that to Boston will be huge.

Related: Harvard Plans Life Sciences Campus$1 Billion for Life Sciences in MassachusettsChina’s Gene Therapy Investment$600 Million for Basic Biomedical Research from HHMIEdinburgh University $115 Million Stem Cell Center

S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates

2007 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field.

Field
   
% of CEOs
2007 2006 2005
Engineering 21 23 20
Economics 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 12 15
Accounting 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3



The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 40% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 27% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 12. University of Texas has 10 and Stanford has 9.

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Engineering Education Study Debateposts on science and engineering careersScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

$1 Billion for Life Sciences in Massachusetts

Petri dish for economic growth

So far, the signs are good. The bill commits $500 million for research facilities, infrastructure improvements, and other capital projects; $250 million for tax credits; and $250 million for research grants. The plan is flexible enough to support research at private institutions while making major investments at public universities. Patrick and legislators fended off the most flagrant attempts to divert money into political pet projects with little direct relevance to the biotech industry, such as $49.5 million for a science building at a state college with no graduate science programs.

As I have mentioned many times the centers of scientific excellence are important for economic success. Massachusetts has some great advantages with MIT, Harvard, many biotech companies… but still must continue to focus on staying a center of excellence.

Related: Harvard Plans Life Sciences CampusChina’s Gene Therapy Investment$600 Million for Basic Biomedical ResearchSingapore woos top scientists with new labsEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

Harvard Course: Understanding Computers and the Internet

Harvard Extension School – Computer Science E-1: Understanding Computers and the Internet

This course is all about understanding: understanding what’s going on inside your computer when you flip on the switch, why tech support has you constantly rebooting your computer, how everything you do on the Internet can be watched by others, and how your computer can become infected with a worm just by turning it on. In this course we demystify computers and the Internet, along with their jargon, so that students understand not only what they can do with each but also how it all works and why. Students leave this course armed with a new vocabulary and equipped for further exploration of computers and the Internet. Topics include hardware, software, the Internet, multimedia, security, website development, programming, and dotcoms. This course is designed both for those with little, if any, computer experience and for those who use a computer every day.

Nice job. via: Learn How The Darn Thing Works … from Harvard

Related: University of California, Berkeley course videosTechnology Talks at GoogleEngineering and Science Webcast LibrariesLectures from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

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