- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

GENTLE GIANTS NOT SO GENTLE

Huge plasma loops on the Sun — long thought to be gentle giants — really have some explosive characteristics, say solar physicists at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at the University College of London. Some loops are large enough to engulf 40 Earths. Coronal mass ejections are violent explosions — space weather so to speak — that can destroy satellites and create auroras. Using data taken from the Yohkoh and SOHO satellites, the scientists analyzed the giant loops to see how frequently they erupt. In the past only one eruption had been observed, leading scientists to believe the loops are tame. The Mullard team found that not only can these huge structures be thrown away from the Sun, but they also can be heated to temperatures 14,000 times the temperature of boiling water. They also found that the longer the loop, the more likely it is to erupt.

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UCLA, NASA FORM INSTITUTE

The Institute for Cell Mimetic Space Exploration, a joint creation by the University of California Los Angeles and NASA, opened this week with the goal of creating a commercially successful "lab on a chip." UCLA researchers call the technology used "cell mimetics" because it fuses biotechnology, nanotechnology and informatics. Uses for "lab on a chip" include chemical and bacteriological agent detection, early disease diagnosis, and creation of a "smart spacesuit," — all with complex functions contained on a chip-sized monitoring device. The process takes a biological cell and adds molecular machines — one 10-thousandth the diameter of a human hair — capable of monitoring and modifying the cell's condition. In nature, for cells to evolve into tissue or organs the next step is communicating and coordinate their actions. CMISE seeks to mimic how cells form themselves into progressively more complex systems.

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NATURAL BANDAGES AID HEALING

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are developing natural bandages that mimic the body's healing process. They use fibrinogen, the same compound the body uses to clot blood, to create a nano-fiber mat. Spun from strands of fibrinogen 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, the fabric could be placed on a wound and never taken off — minimizing blood loss and encouraging the healing process. The bandage eventually would be absorbed by the body. To create the fibers, the researchers used electrospinning, which begins with a solution of fibrinogen attached to a nozzle pointed at a metal target. An electric field is created between the nozzle and the target, and gradually increased until the force of the electric field overcomes the surface tension of the solution. This forms a liquid jet that is transformed into a dry fiber before it reaches the target.

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FORESTS FRAGMENTING

Department of Agriculture Forest Service researcher Kurt Riitters says new data show U.S. forests still are connected over large regions but fragmentation is pervasive enough potentially to damage the ecology. Riitters and colleagues used high-resolution land-cover maps from satellite images to model forest fragmentation across the continental United States. "Fragmentation refers to both the amount of forest and its spatial pattern," Riitters says. "Although the actual extent of forest has increased in some areas of the U.S., the spatial patterns indicate extensive fragmentation." The study found 43.5 percent of U.S. forest was within 295 feet of forest edge and almost 62 percent was within 492 feet of the edge. Less than 1 percent was more than 4,036 feet from the forest edge. The study also showed where forest existed, it was dominant — 73 percent was in landscapes at least 60 percent forested.

(EDITORS: For more information on PLASMA LOOPS, contact Julia Maddock at 01793 442094 or e-mail julia.maddock@pparc.ac.uk. For CELL MIMETIC, Pamela Corante, (310) 206-8788 or pcorante@support.ucla.edu, for BANDAGE, Beverly Hassell, (202) 872-4065 or b_hassell@acs.org, and for FORESTS, Kurt Riitters, (919) 549-4015 or kriitters@fs.fed.us)

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