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UW-Milwaukee researchers to lead search for gravitational waves

By Mark Johnson

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will lead a new effort to detect low-frequency gravitational waves, a discovery that would give mankind a new picture of the universe and confirm one of the last unresolved predictions of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

The project, which includes more than 60 scientists and students at 11 institutions, has just received a five-year, $14.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

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Dark matter: Out with the WIMPs, in with the SIMPs?

By Adrian Cho

Like cops tracking the wrong person, physicists seeking to identify dark matter—the mysterious stuff whose gravity appears to bind the galaxies—may have been stalking the wrong particle. In fact, a particle with some properties opposite to those of physicists' current favorite dark matter candidate—the weakly interacting massive particle, or WIMP—would do just as good a job at explaining the stuff, a quartet of theorists says. Hypothetical strongly interacting massive particles—or SIMPs—would also better account for some astrophysical observations, they argue.

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A new way to make laser-like beams using 1,000x less power

ANN ARBOR—With precarious particles called polaritons that straddle the worlds of light and matter, University of Michigan researchers have demonstrated a new, practical and potentially more efficient way to make a coherent laser-like beam.

They have made what's believed to be the first polariton laser that is fueled by electrical current as opposed to light, and also works at room temperature, rather than way below zero.

Those attributes make the device the most real-world ready of the handful of polariton lasers ever developed. It represents a milestone like none the field has seen since the invention of the most common type of laser – the semiconductor diode – in the early 1960s, the researchers say. While the first lasers were made in the 1950s, it wasn't until the semiconductor version, fueled by electricity rather than light, that the technology took off.

This work could advance efforts to put lasers on computer circuits to replace wire connections, leading to smaller and more powerful electronics. It may also have applications in medical devices and treatments and more.

The researchers didn't develop it with a specific use in mind. They point out that when conventional lasers were introduced, no one envisioned how ubiquitous they would become. Today they're used in the fiber-optic communication that makes the Internet and cable television possible. They are also in DVD players, eye surgery tools, robotics sensors and defense technologies, for example.

A polariton is part light and part matter. Polariton lasers harness these particles to emit light. They are predicted to be more energy efficient than traditional lasers. The new prototype requires 1,000 times less electricity to operate than its conventional counterpart made of the same material.

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Cray doubles manufacturing capacity

Cray Inc. has doubled down on Chippewa Falls, and a tangible sign of that is now on display just off Seymour Cray Sr. Boulevard.

That’s where a Cray sign in front of a building at 1955 Olson Drive signifies the company’s new supercomputer manufacturing facility, just a couple of miles away from its original one at 1050 Lowater Rd.

Recent upgrades at that primary manufacturing site, coupled with the new facility here, have essentially doubled Cray’s manufacturing capacity to approximately 213,000 square feet.

The move assures that Cray’s supercomputers will be made for years to come in the city where Seymour Cray launched the company back in 1972.

“For more than 40 years now, we have enjoyed a proud and storied history with Chippewa Falls, and the opening of our new manufacturing facility affirms our commitment to building our supercomputers in a town that is synonymous with Cray,” said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray.

“I am pleased our new facility is now up and running, and producing Cray supercomputers that are proudly made in Chippewa Falls.”

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Stem cell advance yields mature heart muscle cells

by Renee Meiller

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has induced human embryonic stem cells (hESC) to differentiate toward pure-population, mature heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes.

A substrate patterned with a precisely sized series of channels played a critical role in the advance.

Published online in the journal Biomaterials, the research could open the door to advances in areas that include tissue engineering and drug discovery and testing.

Researchers currently can differentiate hESC into immature heart muscle cells. Those cells, however, don't develop the robust internal structures — repeating sections of muscle cells called sarcomeres — that enable cardiomyocytes to produce the contracting force that allows the heart to pump blood. Other cell components that allow heart muscle cells to communicate and work together also are less developed in immature cardiomyocytes.

One barrier to efforts to produce more mature cells is the culture surface itself; hESC are notoriously finicky. "It's really hard to culture stem cells effectively and to provide them with an environment that's going to help them to thrive and differentiate in the way you want," says lead author Wendy Crone, a professor of engineering physics, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at UW-Madison.

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Two local tech start-ups win grants for super-computer program

Peter Qian has come up with a way to get new industrial products on the market a lot faster.

Dennis Bahr is working on a neutron camera that will do a better job checking manufactured equipment for flaws and screening items for explosives.

The two Madison-area men and the young companies they have started were among six named last week to receive Computational Science Challenge Grants to work with Milwaukee Institute, a nonprofit computational research center founded in 2007.

This is the first year for the contest, with a $250,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and a matching grant for $250,000 worth of support services funded by Milwaukee private equity firm Mason Wells.

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Oil spill cleanup by sponge: Madison scientists tout tidy technology

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

In a development arising from nanotechnology research, scientists in Madison have created a spongelike material that could provide a novel and sustainable way to clean up oil spills.

It's known as an aerogel, but it could just as well be called a "smart sponge."

To demonstrate how it works, researchers add a small amount of red dye to diesel, making the fuel stand out in a glass of water. The aerogel is dipped in the glass and within minutes, the sponge has soaked up the diesel. The aerogel is now red, and the glass of water is clear.

"It was very effective," said Shaoqin "Sarah" Gong, who runs a biotechnology-nanotechnology lab at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in Madison.

"So if you had an oil spill, for example, the idea is you could throw this aerogel sheet in the water and it would start to absorb the oil very quickly and efficiently," said Gong, a University of Wisconsin-Madison associate professor of biomedical engineering. "Once it's fully saturated, you can take it out and squeeze out all the oil."

The material's absorbing capacity is reduced somewhat after each use, but the product "can be reused for a couple of cycles," Gong said.

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UW 'ideas factory' looks to turn research into economic growth

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

When Rebecca Blank arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last summer, she became chancellor of one of the largest academic research universities in the world, but one that has an uneven track record for commercializing that work.

UW-Madison had nearly $1.2 billion in research spending yet launched only four start-ups in 2012, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. Blank wants to improve that performance and has a great opportunity in front of her.

As she settles into the job, Blank is overseeing the hiring of three key economic development leaders and a new university-driven commercialization effort. Blank says she wants "a real step-up in ways we engage in the economic development agenda for the state."

During a four-year stint as deputy U.S. commerce secretary, Blank says she learned that economically successful regions attract investment and industries by building partnerships between the public, private and educational sectors — and there is always a large research institution involved.

"The University of Wisconsin-Madison is that research center. It is the ideas factory and the innovation center for the state," Blank said. "It has got to be a partner with the state and with the private sector if we're going to attract the high-tech manufacturing, nutrition, software, health care businesses of the 21st century."

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Q&A: How WARF Plans to Stay Relevant in Lean Times for Tech Transfer

Angela Shah

Quick, name one of the oldest—if not the oldest—university tech transfer institutions in the country.

If your brain automatically took you to a spot in New England or sunny California, think again. It’s the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF, which was founded nearly 90 years ago in 1925.

What would become WARF started when Harry Steenbock, a University of Wisconsin biochemistry professor, discovered a way to increase the vitamin D content of food, which could eliminate rickets, a crippling bone disease in children caused by a deficiency in that vitamin. Quaker Oats offered him $900,000—worth almost $12 million today—for the rights to his invention.

But Steenbock believed that the university should benefit from research he had conducted there. And so, he began to petition regents to set up a foundation composed of alumni that would manage patents from university research, and license the inventions to people in the business world who could make them into useful, profitable products. Any royalty income from the products would flow back to the foundation, and be put back into additional UW research, creating what WARF founders envisioned would be a virtuous cycle.

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Secret second code found hiding within human DNA

Scientists have long believed that DNA tells the cells how to make proteins. But the discovery of a new, second DNA code overnight suggests the body speaks two different languages.

The findings in the journal Science may have big implications for how medical experts use the genomes of patients to interpret and diagnose diseases, researchers said.

The newfound genetic code within deoxyribonucleic acid, the hereditary material that exists in nearly every cell of the body, was written right on top of the DNA code scientists had already cracked.

Rather than concerning itself with proteins, this one instructs the cells on how genes are controlled.

Its discovery means DNA changes, or mutations that come with age or in response to viruses, may be doing more than what scientists previously thought, he said.

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