News in brief
UK's big science spend
The UK Department for Innovation Universities and Skills (Dius) has announced a multi-million pound investment programme for large-scale research facilities throughout the country.
© LABORATORY OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, CAMBRIDGE
The government will invest almost £400 million via its Large Facilities Capital Fund, providing support for nine research projects, including £25 million to complete the 'Isis' neutron facility at Harwell, and £92.5 million to complete the third phase of the Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire.
Another major beneficiary is the Medical Research Council (MRC), which will receive £67 million to redevelop the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. The total cost of the rebuild is estimated at £200 million, with the rest of the funding provided by the MRC. The money will allow the LMB to expand into new areas including neurobiology.
G8 climate deal falls short
Meeting in Japan last month, leaders of the world's eight richest nations agreed to a target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, from an as yet unspecified baseline. The US had previously refused to set a target on emissions.
The agreement includes explicit recognition of 'the importance of sustainable biofuel production and use'. It also supports investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants, and calls for the launch of 20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects globally by 2010. But critics say the agreement is short on details. And the leaders of India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico issued their own statement, arguing that the G8 should agree to cuts of 80 to 95 per cent by 2050.
Reach goes nanoscale
Carbon could be regulated under Europe's Reach (Registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) legislation within three months, after EU governments voted in favour of removing a legal loophole that allows the nanoscale forms of the material to be sold without testing. Environmental groups have applauded the move, which is intended to better protect workers against nanomaterials throughout their lifecycle. European Commission officials now say they are looking into the possibility of distinguishing between nanocarbon and larger scale carbon. Since Reach applies to substances rather than specific forms of substances, it is not currently possible to differentiate between the forms under current law.
Polymer plugs burst brains
Researchers at Purdue University have proposed a potential treatment for patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Richard Borgens and his team at the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in Indiana, US, treated rats with the polyether polyethylene glycol (PEG) soon after injury. They found that rats that received PEG showed significant improvements in their behavioural capabilities in comparison to placebo controlled ones. PEG interacts with burst cell membranes, repairing the damage.
The scientists conclude that their latest findings, published in the Journal of Biological Engineering (DOI: 10.1186/1754-1611-2-9), may have the greatest effect if administered in combination with other drugs used in TBI.
Graphene passes strength test
US researchers have proven graphene's strength by poking it with a very tiny stick. Changgu Lee and his colleagues from Columbia University in New York, US, made flakes of graphene 1.5 m m in diameter and stretched them across a series of tiny wells - like cellophane stretched over a cake tray. They then tested the elastic properties and strength of the flakes by poking each one with the tip of an atomic force microscope. Their results, published in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1157996) agree with the theoretical predictions that graphene is one of the strongest materials ever measured. And the researchers say their measurements serve as a benchmark for the structural and mechanical properties of graphene that could aid the design of future applications.
Capturing carbon dioxide
Europe's first mainland carbon dioxide storage site has been inaugurated in Germany.
The CO2-SINK Project, supported under the European Commission's sixth framework programme (FP6), aims to store up to 60,000 tonnes of CO2 at depths of more than 600 metres below Ketzin, a small town west of Berlin. The first injection of gas into saltwater-filled, porous rocks took place on 30 June.
Reinhard Hüttl, scientific executive director of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Potsdam, describes the project as a unique laboratory that will allow scientists to monitor the CO2 store and any interactions with its environment.
Arsenic risk mapped
Arsenic risk map' for Southeast Asia and Bangladesh
© NATURE GEOSCIENCE
A statistical model linking the risk of arsenic contamination with geological features and soil characteristics has been used to create an 'arsenic risk map' for Southeast Asia. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Zurich, say they have verified the map, published in Nature Geoscience (DOI: 2008; doi:10.1038/ngeo254), with a field survey in a region of southern Sumatra. The risk map predicts high risk zones of groundwater arsenic contamination in Sumatra and the Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar, where no measurements of arsenic in groundwater are currently available.
The UK government has released a consultation document outlining how it plans to hit its 2020 target of producing 15 per cent of the country's energy from renewable sources. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr) has set a deadline of September 2008 for comments on the proposals.
The government plans to achieve this 1000 per cent increase over current renewable energy levels principally by vastly boosting wind power production. But the practicalities of installing so many wind turbines are already drawing criticism. Aside from construction issues, wind power schemes to date have been held back by slow connection to the national grid - an issue the government plans to address through new incentives.
Planning decisions for new schemes will also be accelerated, thanks to a new centralised planning commission. Though broadly supportive of the strategy, the Renewable Energy Association cautions that the current proposals don't take full advantage of the UK's impressive wave and tidal power resources.
Sugary flu detection
A new test to detect flu viruses that remains stable for months without refrigeration has been developed by scientists in the US. Rather than using antibodies to recognise the virus, the test employs artificial forms of sialic acid - a sugar molecule found on the surface of cells that flu viruses attach to when they infect humans. The researchers showed that their synthetic sugars could differentiate between two influenza strains (Sydney and Beijing) that commonly infect humans. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society , the researchers write that their molecules can be produced in large amounts and remain stable for up to six months (DOI: 10.1021/ja800842v).