Scientific Chicago with Neil Shubin

World's Most Powerful Camera, Giant Viruses, Vanishing Electronics, Faithful Coyotes and Nobel Prize Winners

Are coyotes monogamous? How can electronics vanish in the body? And what have this years' Nobel Prize winners discovered? Our science guy, Neil Shubin, joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to help answer these questions and more in tonight's Scientific Chicago.

Zoomed-in image from the Dark Energy Camera of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, in the Fornax cluster of galaxies, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth; Photo by Dark Energy Survey CollaborationWorld’s Most Powerful Digital Camera Opens Eye
The world’s most powerful sky-mapping machine is capturing breathtaking photos of galaxies from atop a mountain in the Chilean Andes. The photos taken by the Dark Energy Camera may be the key to unlocking the mystery of expansion in the universe.

After eight years of planning, the camera achieved first light on September 12.

“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” said James Siegrist, an associate director within the U.S. Department of Energy. “The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.”

The Dark Energy Camera, about the size of a phone booth, was built at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. The most powerful camera of its kind, this instrument allows astronomers and physicists the ability to see light from over 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away.

Using this new camera, scientists working in the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration will begin the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken.

To learn more about the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration, click here.

Giant viruses should be included reconstructions of the tree of life, researchers report in a new study. The mimivirus, shown here (small black hexagons) infecting an amoeba, is as big as some bacterial cells and shares some ancient protein structures with most organisms; Photo courtesy Prof. Didier Raoult, Rickettsia Laboratory, La Timone, Marseille, FranceStudy of Giant Viruses Shakes Up Tree of Life
A new study of giant viruses finds evidence to support the theory that viruses are actually ancient living organisms, not inanimate molecular remnants run astray, as previously thought.

The researchers looked into the distant past of three-dimensional, structural domains of proteins. These structures are also known as folds and act like fossils, giving clues to past evolutionary events.

“Just like paleontologists, we look at the parts of the system and how they change over time,” said Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, University of Illinois crop sciences and Institute for Genomic Biology professor, who led the analysis. “We make a very basic assumption that structures that appear more often and in more groups are the most ancient structures.”

Viruses have typically been left out when documenting the relatedness of all living things.

The researchers discovered that many of the most ancient protein folds were also present in the giant viruses. This suggests that these viruses appeared quite early in evolution and were originally much more complex than they are today.

To learn more about this study, click here.

A biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water; Photo courtesy Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Tufts UniversityEnvironmentally Safe Electronics that Vanish in Body
Researches at the University of Illinois in collaboration with Tufts University and Northwestern University have demonstrated a new type of biodegradable electronics technology that can completely dissolve in water or bodily fluids.

These advancements could change design paradigms for medical implants, environmental monitors and consumer devices, like creating compostable cell phones and other portable devices that are constantly upgraded to reduce electronic waste.

“From the earliest days of the electronics industry, a key design goal has been to build devices that last forever – with completely stable performance. But if you think about the opposite possibility – devices that are engineered to physically disappear in a controlled and programmed manner – then other, completely different kinds of application opportunities open up,” said John A. Rogers, Professor of Engineering at the U. of I., who led the research team.

The team has built a whole variety of transient materials all capable of dissolving in water, including transistors, diodes, wireless power coils, temperature and strain sensors, photo detectors, solar cells, radio oscillators, antennas and even simple digital cameras.

The researches encapsulate the devices in silk, and depending on the structure of the silk, the devices will dissolve in minutes, days, weeks, and potentially years.

The researches are further refining these and other devices for specific applications and for other possible opportunities not even identified yet.

To learn more about this study, click here.

Photo courtesy Prof. Stan Gehrt, Ohio State UniversityChicago’s Urban Coyotes Show A Strong Monogamous Bond With Their Partners
Though it might seem contrary to the sexual reproducing habits of animals, coyotes are actually a lot more monogamous than you might think. Over the course of six years, scientists at Ohio State University studied 236 urban coyotes living around Chicago. They found that these coyotes remained 100 percent faithful to their mating partner.

“In contrast to studies of other presumably monogamous species that were later found to be cheating, such as arctic foxes and mountain bluebirds, we found incredible loyalty to partners in the study population,” said study co-author Stan Gehrt, an ecologist at the university.

The scientists used cruelty-free entrapment methods to take small blood and tissue samples from the coyotes, which were then released at the same location from which they were captured.

Analysis of these genetic samples showed no evidence of polygamy within the population. It found that mates typically stay with their partner for more than one breeding season, and some males even guard their partners from other interlopers.

It’s thought that the coyotes remain monogamous because the female is capable of producing large litters.

“If the female were to try to raise those large litters by herself, she wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Gehrt. “But the male spends just as much time helping to raise those pups as the female does.”

The finding came as part of a wider study of the urbanized coyotes since 2000.

To learn more about this study, click here.

Photo courtesy Argonne National LaboratoryNobel Prize Winners
The 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Americans Brian Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors.

“By understanding more about the ways these cellular receptors function, we can open new frontiers in biology and develop more effective drug therapies for serious illnesses,” said Argonne director Eric D. Isaacs.

To learn more about their research, click here.

Two physicists will share the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics. Serge Haroche of the Collège de France and the École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, and David J. Wineland, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their research on the relations between light and matter.

To learn more about their research, click here.

Scientists from Britain and Japan share a Nobel Prize in medicine for their discoveries in the field of "regenerative medicine.” John Gurdon, of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, Britain and Shinya Yamanaka, of Kyoto University in Japan, discovered ways to create tissue that would act like embryonic cells, without the need to harvest embryos.

To learn more about their research, click here.