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Superconductivity was discovered in 1911 and has perplexed, astounded and inspired scientists since, but to most it can be thought of as "frictionless" electricity. In conventional electricity, heat is generated by friction as electrons (electric charge carriers) collide with atoms and impurities in the wire. This heating effect is good for appliances such as toasters or irons, but not so good for most other applications that use electricity.

In superconductors, however, electrons glide unimpeded between atoms without friction. If scientists and engineers ever harness this phenomenon at or near room temperature in a practical way, untold billions of dollars could be saved on energy costs.

That's a big "if." Superconductivity is still impractical in routine engineering use because it requires a very cold environment attainable only with the help of expensive cryogens such as liquid helium or liquid nitrogen. Past discoveries have helped scientists inch their way up the thermometer, from superconductors requiring minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4.2 Kelvin) to newer materials that superconduct at around minus 200 degrees F (138 K) Ñ still frigid, but substantially warmer and more practical.

The snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth was covered from pole to pole in a thick sheet of ice for millions of years at a time. 635 million years ago, an abrupt release of methane from ice sheets that extended to Earth's low latitudes spiked global warming and ended the last "snowball" ice age, say researchers. The researchers believe that the methane was released gradually at first and then very quickly from clathrates - methane ice that forms and stabilizes beneath ice sheets.

Also called marsh gas, methane is a colorless, odorless gas. As a greenhouse gas, it is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. When the ice sheets became unstable, they collapsed, releasing pressure on the clathrates. The clathrates then began to de-gas.

This transition "from 'snowball Earth' into a warmer period shows the compelling need for research on abrupt climate change in Earth's history," said H. Richard Lane, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.

"The universe is a big place, and weird things can happen. I was flipping through archived Spitzer data of the object, and that's when I noticed it was surrounded by a ring we'd never seen before, "said Stephanie Wachter of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology about a mysterious infrared ring a dead star that displays a magnetic field trillions of times more intense than Earth's.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope detected the ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 at two narrow infrared frequencies in 2005 and 2007. The ringed magnetar is of a type called a soft gamma repeater (SGR) because it repeatedly emits bursts of gamma rays.

Throughout the overlooked depths of Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes, a small but important animal is rapidly disappearing.

Until recently, the animal - a shrimplike, energy-dense creature called Diporeia - was a major food source for commercially important species like lake whitefish and many prey fish upon which salmon, trout and walleye rely.

Scientists are employing new research methods in a quest to explain their population freefall, which threatens to negatively affect the Lakes' ecosystems and $4 billion sport fishing industry, said Purdue University researcher Marisol Sepúlveda.

Would you like a side of food poisoning with that salad?

Salmonella can infect plant cells and successfully evade all the defense mechanisms of plants so cleaning the surfaces of raw fruits and vegetables, e.g. by washing, is not sufficient to protect against food poisoning, according to a study published today.

The results of the project are based on a model plant, which also represents the ideal basis for future development work on treatment and testing systems in the area of food safety.

1.5 billion (!) cases of food poisoning are caused by Salmonella bacteria each year (World Health Organisation). If the bacteria survive particularly well in a person, they can even infect intestinal cells and persist for longer. Previously, the only known sources of infection were infected meat products and plants that had come into contact with contaminated water.

Amyloid deposits in tissues and organs are linked to a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, type II diabetes, and prion diseases such as BSE. However, amyloids are not just pathological substances; they have potential as a nanomaterials.

Amyloid fibrils are bundles of highly ordered protein filaments made of ladder-like strands and can be several micrometers long.

In cross-section, amyloids appear as hollow cylinders or ribbons. Although amyloid fibrils are proteins, they more closely resemble synthetic polymers (plastics) than the usual globular proteins. Amyloids can display amazing mechanical properties similar to spider silk. Spider silk is, by weight, significantly stronger than steel and can be stretched to many times its original length without tearing — properties that have not been reproducible with synthetic fibers.