Tag Archives: university

A war rages in Ukraine. Researchers are called to take a stand, neighboring Universities are offering their aid

The Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine is roaring through the local and global research community. Academic activity in Ukraine has been essentially shut down until further notice. Serhiy Kvit, the head of the Ukrainian National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance and former minister of education and science, is also calling for academics around the world to take a stand against the war.

Image credits Ministry of Defense of Ukraine / Flickr.

The flames of war

War between two states in Europe was, arguably, not something many people expected to see, despite the mounting tensions between Ukraine and Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But this is exactly what we are witnessing today. Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, resounds with gunfire and bombs as I write these lines.

As a science journalist, I never expected (or desired) to write about an ongoing war; you, our readers, probably never expected to read about one here on ZME Science. But an event of such magnitude swallows everything in its wake, even the world of science and research. Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declaring martial law in the country in the aftermath of the invasion, higher education in the country has been put on indefinite hold.

Science, it turns out, is not spared of the flames of war.

“[The] academic community can’t keep silence on this unheard-of war. You, academics, know Europe’s history of the 20th century the best, the history of the Second World War and its consequences for Europe and the world,” Kvit told University World News. “We call on universities, academic institutions in Europe and around the world to stand up with Ukraine against Putin’s regime, against ruining the fundamentals of peace, security and democracy in Europe and in the world.”

“It is our joint task – to defend democracy.”

Students and staff at universities across Ukraine have been told to stay at home, and their activity suspended, until further notice. School activity is also heavily disturbed, as families and teachers flee the hostilities. Kvit said that the fighting will invariably involve the death of Ukrainian civilians, from those fighting the invasion to children. Such reports are already coming in, unfortunately.

The suspension of academic life is meant to give civilians the opportunity to keep themselves safe. Kvit explains that the situation is dire, a “real war, the shelling of military infrastructure, airports and multiple peaceful cities around Ukraine […] Putin’s soldiers seizing Ukrainian cities and towns”. Under these circumstances, academic life in Ukraine cannot continue as normal.

He calls on researchers around the world to take a stand and issue messages to international organizations, representatives of governments, other researchers, and the wide public against the Russian government’s invasion.

Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine.

Ukraine’s plea is already being answered in some regrds. Germany’s Foreign Office has “recommended” Universities in the country freeze relations with Russia, “in particular scientific projects”, says Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK).

“This is a deeply depressing day. Our solidarity applies to the entire Ukrainian population and, above all, to our university partners,” he said for University World News. “We are very concerned about the life and well-being of Ukrainian scientists and students. The German universities will assist them within the limits of their possibilities.”

“It is also foreseeable that these developments will inflict severe damage on German-Russian scientific relations. We will have to examine the consequences accordingly.”

The European Union as a whole is also discussing whether to exclude Russia from every and all research networks and associated infrastructure, according to Science|Business. An extraordinary European Council meeting is set for later today to discuss this alongside other measures. However, Ukrainian high-ranking officials accuse the rest of Europe of not doing nearly enough.

Germany is host to over 8,200 Ukrainian-native students — it represents one of the most important countries of origin for higher education students in Germany. Authorities are now working out how to best care for these students as they face the prospect of their families embroiled in the conflict at home. At present, there are 257 collaborative projects between the two countries, which see the collaboration of 113 German and 89 Ukrainian universities; how these projects evolve in the future hinges on the developments in the current war.

“The Russian attack against Ukraine has serious consequences for our relations in science and academia, which had been built with confidence and hope for two decades and are now threatened by illegitimate assaults against international law,” said Alt.

Some universities have been preparing for such a scenario over the last few weeks. The Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv has been preparing video materials informing students of evacuation routes and shelters on campus and releasing fresh instructions from their emergency management committee. Other educational institutions in less-affected areas of Ukraine seem to be continuing their activity remotely. One example is in the city of Lviv, very close to the Polish-Ukrainian border.

“The educational process at the university continues remotely,” Volodymyr Melnyk, the rector of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv said in a statement today. “Our task is to act in an organized and responsible manner, consolidate efforts and maintain order”.

Academic institutions in countries bordering Ukraine have also offered their support. The Latvian students association urged their government to help students fleeing Ukraine to continue their studies in Latvia. The rectors of Romania’s two largest universities have also released statements in support of Ukrainian refugees and offering support to protect the assets and heritage of Ukrainian universities.

“I think it is our duty to show solidarity and come up with concrete proposals to support students, professors, and their families,” said Marian Preda, the rector of the University of Bucharest.

The University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania.

Preda says universities and educational centers in Romania should help safeguard the documents and books of their Ukrainian counterparts from the destruction caused by war. Meanwhile, Daniel David, rector of Babeș-Bolyai University in the city of Cluj-Napoca urged all rectors in Romania to coordinate efforts to integrate academics feeling Ukraine into higher education and research institutions in Romania. He adds that the university received multiple cooperation requests over the past weeks from researchers in Ukraine.

“Those researchers, as well as Romania and our universities could transform this unfortunate brain drain from Ukraine,” he said.

As a Romanian, I can attest that refugees from Ukraine are already crossing the border, fleeing the war. Local authorities in several cities have already offered their support, and there is an impressive (and heartwarming) level of effort in the public sphere to welcome house and help these refugees. The response at the level of the government is so far disappointing, however. Other countries neighboring Ukraine, such as Poland, are also working hard to accommodate the sudden influx of people; according to my (few) friends there, there is a similar effort by the common people to help Ukrainians crossing the border with food, lodging, and guidance, as well as a much more robust effort from the government.

As a journalist and someone who has been passionate about science and knowledge my whole life, I can only applaud international efforts to safeguard Ukrainian researchers and their work. These are dark days we are living, but they will only become brighter if we help those in need, and fight for what’s right.

Salmonela phage.

New U.S. Center to research how viruses can help us overcome drug resistance

In a bid to fight drug-resistant infections, one group of U.S. researchers is trying to include bacteria-munching viruses on our list of available treatments.

Salmonela phage.

Salmonela phage PA13076.
Image credits microbiologybytes / Flickr.

Amid the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and the string of outbreaks in recent years — most notably the Ebola virus in Africa, Zika in South America, and the Nipah virus outbreak in India — it may feel like everything microscopic is out to get us. But fret not: nature doesn’t discriminate; there’s something to infect everything under the sun.

One group of researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) plans to cash in on this by using bacteria-hunting viruses — phages — to knock out drug-resistant infections, the university reported recently.

The enemy of my enemy

The initiative stems from the efforts of UCSD researchers who 2 years ago used phages to save a colleague’s life. In 2015, UCSD psychologist Tom Patterson was hospitalized after a drug-resistant strain of the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii invaded his pancreas during a vacation in Egypt. Antibiotic treatment failed and Patterson fell into a coma. His wife, UCSD epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee, launched an international effort to find the right phage to cure him — and, using strains donated by biotech AmpliPhi Biosciences, Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Navy, she did.

Building on that success, the team wants to expand the use of phage therapy in the U.S. Phages are naturally-occurring strains of viruses that live in all sorts of environments and prey on bacteria. They’re really, really good at killing bacteria, much more so than any antibiotics we’ve developed. They’re also single-minded in their purpose, and phage therapy has little to no side effects. However, it’s not flawless: each phage targets only a specific strain of bacteria — so actually using them as a treatment means sifting through millions of strains to find the one that works.

Patterson received some of the phages intravenously — considered to be a risky option, as toxins produced by bacteria used to grow the phages could linger in the mixture. The team’s success in Petterson’s case helped cement their belief that phage therapy can bring an important contribution to modern medicine.

Past pushes towards phage therapy across the globe, however, have fared quite poorly, and the approach isn’t widely considered as a viable treatment path. Phages’ ability to attack a single strain at a time is what gave researchers the most trouble and, for many, signaled that it’s simply not worth pursuing. Previous phage clinical testing, such as an EU-sponsored trial known as PhagoBurn, haven’t been very successful — in part because it focused on treating burn wounds, which typically involve several strains of bacteria. Still, there were some encouraging results regarding phage therapy, mostly from centers in Georgia and Poland. In the context of rising antibiotic-resistance, a few U.S. companies and research centers have also started reconsidering phage therapy.

Since Patterson’s recovery, the UCSD team has successfully cleared infections in five more people with phage cocktails under a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process designed for emergencies where no approved treatments are available. However, these are anecdotal evidence, and any phage therapy that has the slightest hope of getting FDA approval needs reliable evidence that it’s safe and effective. That kind of evidence can only be brought to bear following structured clinical trials.

The team hopes their new center will help provide such evidence. A first in North America, the center will initially consist of 16 UCSD researchers and physicians. It will launch with a 3-year, $1.2 million grant from UCSD. Christened the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics (IPATH), it won’t manufacture any phage treatments itself but will collaborate with academia and companies on clinical trials. Initially, IPATH will focus on treating patients suffering from chronic drug-resistant infections related to organ transplants, implanted devices (e.g. pacemakers or joints), and cystic fibrosis.

The trials to be carried out at IPATH will also draw wisdom from past failures with phage therapy. Most notably, it will focus on patients infected with a single (and known) bacterial strain. While it may be difficult to tease out the effects of phage therapy alone (as these patients are undergoing antibiotic treatment, and discontinuing them isn’t an option) the team expects phage therapy to eventually be used in tandem with antibiotics.

One of the main hurdles IPATH collaborators will have to overcome is that current drug approval systems just aren’t suited to accommodate phage therapy. They’re meant to estimate single compounds that can affect patients more or less equally — phage therapy, on the other hand, requires mixes of viruses that need to be tailored for each individual. One potential workaround to this issue would be to get approval for an entire library of phages from which doctors can later create custom treatments. In the meantime, the UCSD team plans to keep securing phages for individual cases under FDA’s emergency pathway, Strathdee says.

Georgia State’s computer warning system leaves no student behind on graduation

Georgia State University, Atlanta, has released the results of its automated warning system for students who struggle with their classes. And so far, the data is more than encouraging.

Image credits Rob Towne / Pixabay.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a student. In between the optimism of youth and their lack of experience, they rarely ask academic advisors for help when they need it. I should know, because I never do it, either. With this in mind, GSU has pioneered an advance warning system that tracks their progress and attempts to nip their hardships in the bud.

“They’re either the high-achievers who don’t need much help, or students who are already failing out of their classes,” says Allison Calhoun-Brown, a political scientist who oversees advising at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta.

“What we need is an early warning system,” she adds.

Early alert

Such a system should identify which students need help long before the problem becomes apparent. GSU’s faculty showed that their system is on the right track. At the annual meeting of AAAS on Sunday, the University’s vice provost Timothy Renick discussed the system’s results.

“We’ve done over 200,000 interventions,” he said.

Each intervention took place between GSU advisors and undergraduate students who were flagged by the system as requiring help. The analysis is fully handled by the computer algorithm, without any human input. In the majority of cases, the warnings were based on subtle signs which neither the faculty nor the students themselves would notice — such as getting a B- rather than a B+ on a particular course.

Being flagged by the system in and of itself doesn’t impact the student’s progress in any way — as GSU puts it, it’s “not a grade and is not reported in the student’s academic record.” What it does is give the students a chance to improve on their weak points before they can put a dent on their achievements by the end of the semester.

Students who seemed to be dropping the ball on one course were sent an email detailing university resources that could help them succeed. Those whose progress followed this pattern in two or more courses the advisers invited to discuss and understand what was pulling them down.

“Sometimes the student has just chosen the wrong courses or taken on too much at once,” says Calhoun-Brown. “Or sometimes we found that they needed extra help with writing or math skills. Some needed help with time management.”

Closing the gap

Tim Renick talking about the early warning program.
Image credits Accesstocompletion.

GSU’s system is effective because it has a lot of data to work with. By drawing “2.5 million grades and 140,000 student records”, the system can find subtle statistical cues that a student is heading for academic success or struggling to pass a course. It has identified over 800 combinations of indicators — for example difficulties in following a course that formed the basis for later ones in the degree — that are strongly correlated with an undergraduate’s risk of graduating late or dropping out of school altogether.

“At large public universities that aren’t particularly well-resourced, like Georgia State, [students] typically haven’t gotten that kind of attention. We’re finding that the change to give them that kind of support is making a big, big difference,” Renick said. “But the reality is that, even with the best intentions, Georgia State couldn’t have done this five or six years ago. We need the big data and the analytics platforms to allow us to do this.”

“The biggest misconception out there is that this completion agenda is a move toward dumbing down higher education so more students can graduate. And I think it’s the opposite,” he said. “It’s providing, for the first time, the opportunity for at-risk students to do real college work and succeed in areas where, perhaps, they didn’t have the chance in the past.”

And so far, it’s been really successful. Before its implementation four years ago, GSU had similar achievement gaps to other universities with low-income students — with “at risk” students having roughly 10% lower graduation rates. Now, there is “no achievement gap” Calhoun-Brown added. The University has risen its overall graduation rates by 22% during this time. Faculty members also noted that the number of African American students who graduate with science-related degrees has doubled over this period.

These results come down to better student retention not changes to the courses or student body, Renick says. By encouraging and helping students to work through their difficulties, the university ensures higher rates of graduation for traditionally at-risk students and more difficult courses.

“Over the same years that we were seeing these huge increases in STEM graduates, we only increased the size of our admitted freshman and transfer classes by about 4%,” he explained.

Other universities have also shown interest in the system, with 11 US institutions preparing to launch trials on their own campuses. Some South African universities have also expressed interest in adopting similar systems, to help them tackle their own racial achievement gaps — some of the largest in the world.

worlds_top_universities_ranking

2013-2014 World’s top 400 Universities: Caltech, Harvard, Oxford on the podium

worlds_top_universities_rankingRecently the Times Higher Education global ranking of the top 400 universities in the world has been unveiled. For the third time in a row, California Institute of Technology ranks on top, while Harvard University, Oxford University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology round out the top five schools in the 2013–2014 rankings.

The Times Higher Education global ranking employs 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to rank the top Universities of the world, which reflect research (worth 30 percent of a school’s overall ranking score), teaching (30 percent), citations (30 percent), international outlook (which includes the total numbers of international students and faculty and the ratio of scholarly papers with international collaborators, 7.5 percent), and industry income (a measure of innovation, 2.5 percent.

Separate rankings by continent (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America) and subject (Arts & Humanities, Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health, Engineering & Technology, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences) have also been made and can be seen on the website.

Here are the top 200 Universities in the world

1California Institute of TechnologyUnited States

94.9

2Harvard UniversityUnited States

93.9

2University of OxfordUnited Kingdom

93.9

4Stanford UniversityUnited States

93.8

5Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUnited States

93.0

6Princeton UniversityUnited States

92.7

7University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom

92.3

8University of California, BerkeleyUnited States

89.8

9University of ChicagoUnited States

87.8

10Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom

87.5

11Yale UniversityUnited States

87.4

12University of California, Los AngelesUnited States

86.3

13Columbia UniversityUnited States

85.2

14ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ZürichSwitzerland

84.5

15Johns Hopkins UniversityUnited States

83.7

16University of PennsylvaniaUnited States

81.0

17Duke UniversityUnited States

79.3

18University of MichiganUnited States

79.2

19Cornell UniversityUnited States

79.1

20University of TorontoCanada

78.3

21University College LondonUnited Kingdom

77.6

22Northwestern UniversityUnited States

77.1

23The University of TokyoJapan

76.4

24Carnegie Mellon UniversityUnited States

76.0

25University of WashingtonUnited States

73.4

26National University of SingaporeSingapore

72.4

27University of Texas at AustinUnited States

72.2

28Georgia Institute of TechnologyUnited States

71.6

29University of Illinois at Urbana ChampaignUnited States

71.4

30University of Wisconsin-MadisonUnited States

71.1

31University of British ColumbiaCanada

70.8

32London School of Economics and Political ScienceUnited Kingdom

69.8

33University of California, Santa BarbaraUnited States

68.4

34University of MelbourneAustralia

68.2

35McGill UniversityCanada

68.1

36Karolinska InstituteSweden

67.8

37École Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneSwitzerland

67.7

38King’s College LondonUnited Kingdom

67.6

39University of EdinburghUnited Kingdom

67.5

40New York UniversityUnited States

67.4

40University of California, San DiegoUnited States

67.4

42Washington University in St LouisUnited States

67.2

43The University of Hong KongHong Kong

65.3

44Seoul National UniversityRepublic of Korea

65.2

45Peking UniversityChina

65.0

46University of MinnesotaUnited States

64.9

47University of North Carolina at Chapel HillUnited States

64.5

48Australian National UniversityAustralia

64.4

49Pennsylvania State UniversityUnited States

64.2

50Tsinghua UniversityChina

63.5

50Boston UniversityUnited States

63.5

52Kyoto UniversityJapan

63.2

52Brown UniversityUnited States

63.2

52University of California, DavisUnited States

63.2

55Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenGermany

63.1

56Korea Advanced Institute of Science and TechnologyRepublic of Korea

62.9

57Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong Kong

62.5

58University of ManchesterUnited Kingdom

62.3

59Ohio State UniversityUnited States

62.0

60Pohang University of Science and TechnologyRepublic of Korea

61.7

61KU LeuvenBelgium

61.3

62Purdue UniversityUnited States

60.7

63Georg-August-Universität GöttingenGermany

59.9

63University of Queensland AustraliaAustralia

59.9

65Rice UniversityUnited States

59.8

65École Normale SupérieureFrance

59.8

67Leiden UniversityNetherlands

59.4

68Universität HeidelbergGermany

59.2

69Delft University of TechnologyNetherlands

59.1

70University of Southern CaliforniaUnited States

59.0

70École PolytechniqueFrance

59.0

72University of SydneyAustralia

58.8

73Erasmus University RotterdamNetherlands

58.1

74Universität BaselSwitzerland

57.7

74Utrecht UniversityNetherlands

57.7

76Nanyang Technological UniversitySingapore

57.2

77Wageningen University and Research CenterNetherlands

56.8

78University of PittsburghUnited States

56.7

79University of BristolUnited Kingdom

56.3

80Emory UniversityUnited States

56.1

80Durham UniversityUnited Kingdom

56.1

80Tufts UniversityUnited States

56.1

83University of AmsterdamNetherlands

55.9

83Michigan State UniversityUnited States

55.9

85Ghent UniversityBelgium

55.5

86Freie Universität BerlinGermany

55.3

87Technische Universität MünchenGermany

55.2

88Case Western Reserve UniversityUnited States

55.0

88Vanderbilt UniversityUnited States

55.0

90University of Notre DameUnited States

54.7

91Monash UniversityAustralia

54.6

92McMaster UniversityCanada

54.5

93University of California, IrvineUnited States

54.1

94Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinGermany

53.8

95University of RochesterUnited States

53.6

96Université Pierre et Marie CurieFrance

53.5

97University of Colorado BoulderUnited States

53.4

98University of GroningenNetherlands

52.9

98Maastricht UniversityNetherlands

52.9

100University of HelsinkiFinland

52.6

100University of YorkUnited Kingdom

52.6

102Royal Holloway, University of LondonUnited Kingdom

52.5

103Rutgers, The State University of New JerseyUnited States

52.4

103Stockholm UniversitySweden

52.4

103University of ArizonaUnited States

52.4

106University of MontrealCanada

52.3

106Eindhoven University of TechnologyNetherlands

52.3

108University of Maryland, College ParkUnited States

52.2

109Chinese University of Hong KongHong Kong

52.0

109University of AlbertaCanada

52.0

111Uppsala UniversitySweden

51.9

112University of VirginiaUnited States

51.8

112University of SheffieldUnited Kingdom

51.8

114University of New South WalesAustralia

51.7

114Université Paris-SudFrance

51.7

114Queen Mary, University of LondonUnited Kingdom

51.7

117KTH Royal Institute of TechnologySweden

51.6

117University of St AndrewsUnited Kingdom

51.6

117Technical University of DenmarkDenmark

51.6

117University of GlasgowUnited Kingdom

51.6

121University of SussexUnited Kingdom

51.2

121University of ZürichSwitzerland

51.2

123Lund UniversitySweden

51.1

124University of GenevaSwitzerland

51.0

125Tokyo Institute of TechnologyJapan

50.8

126Dartmouth CollegeUnited States

50.5

126University of Cape TownSouth Africa

50.5

128University of FloridaUnited States

50.4

129RWTH Aachen UniversityGermany

50.3

129Trinity College DublinRepublic of Ireland

50.3

131Radboud University NijmegenNetherlands

50.2

132Université de LausanneSwitzerland

50.1

132Indiana UniversityUnited States

50.1

132University of MassachusettsUnited States

50.1

135Boston CollegeUnited States

50.0

136University of California, Santa CruzUnited States

49.9

137Lancaster UniversityUnited Kingdom

49.7

138Aarhus UniversityDenmark

49.6

139University of LeedsUnited Kingdom

49.5

139Colorado School of MinesUnited States

49.5

141University of WarwickUnited Kingdom

49.4

142National Taiwan UniversityTaiwan

49.2

143University of UtahUnited States

49.1

144Osaka UniversityJapan

49.0

144VU University AmsterdamNetherlands

49.0

146University of SouthamptonUnited Kingdom

48.9

146Arizona State UniversityUnited States

48.9

148University of ExeterUnited Kingdom

48.7

148University of California, RiversideUnited States

48.7

150Tohoku UniversityJapan

48.5

150University of CopenhagenDenmark

48.5

152Albert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgGermany

48.4

153University of BirminghamUnited Kingdom

48.3

154Karlsruhe Institute of TechnologyGermany

48.0

155Université Joseph Fourier, GrenobleFrance

47.8

156École Normale Supérieure de LyonFrance

47.5

157University of BernSwitzerland

47.4

157University of NottinghamUnited Kingdom

47.4

159Texas A&M UniversityUnited States

47.2

160Georgetown UniversityUnited States

47.0

161University of IowaUnited States

46.7

161University College DublinRepublic of Ireland

46.7

161University of LeicesterUnited Kingdom

46.7

164University of AntwerpBelgium

46.6

164Pompeu Fabra UniversitySpain

46.6

164Brandeis UniversityUnited States

46.6

164University of AucklandNew Zealand

46.6

168University of Western AustraliaAustralia

46.4

169University of LiverpoolUnited Kingdom

46.3

170University of TwenteNetherlands

46.2

170University of ViennaAustria

46.2

172Yeshiva UniversityUnited States

46.1

172Université Catholique de LouvainBelgium

46.1

174University of DelawareUnited States

46.0

174University of East AngliaUnited Kingdom

46.0

176University at BuffaloUnited States

45.9

176Université Libre de BruxellesBelgium

45.9

178Université Paris Diderot – Paris 7France

45.8

178Stony Brook UniversityUnited States

45.8

180Wake Forest UniversityUnited States

45.7

181Universität BonnGermany

45.6

181Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteUnited States

45.6

183Iowa State UniversityUnited States

45.5

184Northeastern UniversityUnited States

45.4

185University of OsloNorway

45.3

185University of MiamiUnited States

45.3

185University of OttawaCanada

45.3

188University of AberdeenUnited Kingdom

45.2

188The University of Texas at DallasUnited States

45.2

190Yonsei UniversityRepublic of Korea

45.1

191Hebrew University of JerusalemIsrael

45.0

191University of Illinois at ChicagoUnited States

45.0

193Mines ParisTechFrance

44.9

194University of ReadingUnited Kingdom

44.8

194George Washington UniversityUnited States

44.8

196University of DundeeUnited Kingdom

44.7

197Florida Institute of TechnologyUnited States

44.6

198Newcastle UniversityUnited Kingdom

44.5

199Boğaziçi UniversityTurkey

44.3

199Tel Aviv UniversityIsrael

Scientists create the first molecular transistor

Researchers from Yale University succeeded in what seemed to be an impossible task: they’ve created a transistor from a single molecule. In case you don’t know, a transistor is a “semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals” (via wikipedia).

power_transistor

The team showed that using a single benzene molecule attached to gold contacts is just as good as the regular silicone transistor. Also, by modifying the voltage applied through the contacts, they were able to control the current that was going through the molecule.

“We were able to allow current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high,” says Mark Reed, Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale.

The importance of this discovery should not be underestimated; it could prove to be very useful, especially in computer circuits, because common transistors are not feasible at such small scales, and this may very well be another step towards the next generation of computers. However, researchers underlined the fact that fast molecular computers are probably decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”

The world’s most advanced microscope

microscope

It’s the equivalent of taking the Hubble telescope (before it was damaged) and directing it towards atoms and molecules instead of stars and galaxies, according to Gianluigi Botton, director of the new Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster, where the world’s most advanced and powerful microscope works.

It’s called Titan 80-300 Cubed and it was installed in the summer, and since then it passed several tests and challenges, quickly passing each and everyone of them, gaining more and more attention from the media and scientists.

“We are certainly the first university in the world with a microscope of such a high calibre,” says Botton. “With this microscope we can now easily identify atoms, measure their chemical state and even probe the electrons that bind them together.”

“The addition of the Titan 80-300 Cubed to the Centre’s suite of microscopy instruments that include a Titan cryo-in situ solidifies Ontario’s and Canada’s lead in nanotechnology, and places us among the world’s most advanced materials research institutions,” says Mo Elbestawi McMaster’s vice-president, Research and International Affairs.

A few days ago, a group of elite international scientists were invited to test it, and they were absolutely amazed by what it can do.

“They were astounded by its capability, and by the fact that there is such support in this country for a venture of this magnitude,” said John Capone, Dean of Science. “We should be very proud that McMaster has taken the initiative to secure this facility. There are many applications for it in life sciences. This particular instrument will enable many new discoveries in the areas of fundamental biological and physical sciences that will help us to better understand the nature of diseases and the development of new cures.”

Built in Holland, this wonder of technology will be used to produce more efficient lighting, better solar cells, drug delivery materials and other cures, making it worth the $15 million it cost.