Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Декабрь 2019 г.

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Российская наука и мир
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    Washington Post / Dec. 2, 2019
    Ice preserved a tiny puppy in near-perfect condition for 18,000 years. Scientists are fascinated
    • By Hannah Knowles and Kayla Epstein
    Российские ученые продемонстрировали уникальную находку - обнаруженного в вечной мерзлоте доисторического щенка возрастом около 18 000 лет. Пока не удалось определить, является ли щенок волком, собакой или неким переходным звеном - первые генетические тесты не дали однозначного ответа.

Researchers have big outstanding questions about the puppy they have named Dogor - "friend" in a language of the Siberian area where the creature spent 18,000 years in permafrost.
They don’t have to speculate about what Dogor looked like, however, because icy conditions have left him remarkably frozen in time.
"This puppy has all its limbs, pelage - fur, even whiskers. The nose is visible. There are teeth. We can determine due to some data that it is a male," said Nikolai Androsov, director of the Northern World museum, at a presentation of the discovery in Yakutsk.
Though scientists could determine that it was a male, the AP reported, they’re still trying to figure out whether the tiny canine is a dog or a wolf. They wonder whether he could be part of the evolutionary bridge that turned a fierce wild animal into man’s best friend.
"Fantastic, right?" said Dave Stanton, a research fellow at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm who has been scrutinizing the canine. "We have quite a lot of ancient samples. … But this has got be one of the best-preserved."
The puppy was discovered last year by locals in Yakutia, said Sergei Fyodorov, who heads the exposition hall at the Mammoth Museum of Russia’s North-Eastern Federal University. Dogor left the wilderness as a lump of soil and ice, but scientists could make out the head and paws of what they believed at first to be a young wolf.
Fyodorov told The Washington Post that he carefully cleaned off dirt and debris to reveal near-intact fur - "extremely rare for animals of that time period."
"It’s an amazing feeling, to see, touch and feel the history of earth," he said.
The puppy, whose name was announced earlier this week, remains in Russia. But he has caught the attention of researchers in Sweden and England who want to better understand Dogor’s life and place in a still-mysterious evolution.
Testing on a rib bone has revealed the animal’s age: about two months, said Stanton, a postdoctoral scholar who has been working for more than a year on a broader attempt to answer lingering questions about canine history.
The analysis also put Dogor’s short life at a particularly interesting period of time, right around when many wolf lineages were going extinct and dogs are thought to have emerged. Exactly how and when they evolved from wolves is unclear; one recent study estimates between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The fact that testing can’t tell whether Dogor is wolf or dog gives further evidence for a link to both species, scientists say.
"As you go back in time, as you get closer to the point that dogs and wolves converge," Stanton said, it becomes "harder to tell between the two."
Stanton said he and his colleagues need to do more analysis on Dogor’s genome to increase their confidence that they have sequenced it correctly. Their work is just starting.
Luckily for them, just like the puppy’s coat and teeth, the DNA is well preserved.

© 1996-2019 The Washington Post.
* * *
    Atlas Obscura / December 3, 2019
    The History and Mystery of Russia’s "Valley of Death"
    A volcanic gorge in remote Kamchatka has given up some of its secrets - but not all of them.
    • By Robin George Andrews
    О так называемой «Долине смерти», расположенной у основания вулкана Кихпиныч на востоке Камчатки, ее первооткрывателях и исследователях. Обнаруженная в 1975 году долина протяженностью около 2 км известна тем, что там регулярно и в заметных количествах погибают животные и птицы. Причиной являются скапливающиеся в долине вулканические газы, есть также версия о присутствии более быстродействующих отравляющих газов - предположительно, цианистого водорода.

The Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia’s Far East, is a volcanic winter wonderland. Snow blankets a chain of eruptive mountains here that shower the land with molten fireworks. It is as beautiful as it is biodiverse, with a myriad of aquatic, aerial, and terrestrial species.
But there’s lethal trouble in this chilly paradise. In one of its smaller valleys, animals wander in but not out.
When the snow melts, various critters, from hares to birds, appear in search of food and water. Many die soon thereafter. Predatory scavengers such as wolverines spot an easy dinner; they slink or swoop into the valley - only to die themselves. From lynxes to foxes, eagles to bears, this 1.2-mile-long trough has claimed innumerable victims.
But the killer here is a phantom. The dead, whose corpses are naturally refrigerated and preserved, show no traces of external injuries or diseases that would be responsible for their expirations.
Vladimir Leonov, a volcanologist at Russia’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (IVS) who’s recognized by his colleagues as the site’s discoverer, identified the cause of death when he first came across the site, in 1975: It’s the result of a volcanic phenomenon - a common gas that nearly everyone is familiar with.
But while the forensic science has long been clear, unconfirmed stories about the place still abound. Some claim, for instance, that animal corpses are regularly removed from the valley - though no one can say by whom. Another mystery dates back to the mid-1970s. Viktor Deryagin, a student of Leonov’s who helped his instructor discover the valley, says that Soviet military officials, alerted to the valley’s existence, arrived in a helicopter, took some strange samples, and quickly departed. What did they gather and conclude?
Welcome to the Valley of Death, a site that remains as darkly enchanting - and as lethal - as it was when it was discovered 44 years ago.
Fewer than 350,000 people live on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Large portions of the region lack roads. If they existed, you could drive for an entire day and still be walled in by volcanoes. Many of the volcanoes here, like Tolbachik and Sheveluch, are hyperactive, and frequently limn the land in fresh coats of lava paint. Most of Kamchatka is an icy volcanic wilderness - a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose geological curiosities and extraordinary aesthetics compel scientific visitors from around the world.
Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, recalls lying on a cooled Kamchatkan lava flow, hearing nothing but the small bursts of volcanic gas sneaking out of the ground as birds flew overhead. During her most recent visit, she stood near a freshly chilled lava flow that was still 176° Fahrenheit - hot enough to toast her necklace from several feet away. "There’s just no place like it," she says.
With persistence and permission, many places on the peninsula can be accessed. That includes the Kronotsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve, which contains the relatively youthful (4,800 years old) Kikhpinych volcano. At its feet is the lichen-covered Valley of Geysers, whose bubbling pits shoot pillars of steam hundreds of feet into the azure sky. Discovered in 1941 by geologist Tatyana Ustinova and a scientific observer named Anisifor Krupenin, it remains a site of scientific intrigue that is also open to tourists.
But the Valley of Death - a comparatively quiet and diminutive crevasse, littered with the frozen remains of animals and located near an upper sliver of the Geyzernaya river within the reserve - is one place that is strictly off-limits.
Leonov died in 2016, at age 66, but his son, Andrey Leonov - a researcher at the S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology - is well versed in his father’s adventures. So is his father’s one-time student Deryagin. Deryagin left academia long ago, worked in construction, and is now retired. After Andrey tracked him down on Russian social media, Deryagin recounted previously untold details about his scientific adventure with Leonov four decades ago. Together, both men tell an extraordinary tale of the site’s discovery.
Vladimir Leonov and Deryagin first visited and documented the valley on July 27, 1975. (There is, however, some dispute on the matter. Officials at the reserve acknowledge Leonov’s role in the discovery, but suggest that it was independently found by a man named Vladimir Kalyaev, the chief ranger at the time. Andrey Leonov insists that his father - a modest man more interested in scientific discovery than quibbles about credit - reached the valley, with Deryagin, four days before Kalyaev arrived.)
Prior to that date, a number of people - from employees of the reserve to scientists to tourists - had passed along a trail just 1,000 feet from the ravine. Some had seen collections of dead critters in the valley from time to time, but made no special note of it.
The animal deaths in 1975, though, were hard to ignore: Heavy snowfall had created pits over curious holes in the ground, and a plethora of animals - including five dead bears in one small area - appeared to have died in or around them.
Deryagin says that in Soviet times, geologists were instructed to immediately inform authorities about the mass death of people or animals, using a special radio channel. On July 27, Leonov did just that: He walked to the nearby Valley of Geysers, found a radio box, and called in his report.
The next day, Deryagin says, a military helicopter turned up, carrying a major, two young women (likely laboratory assistants), and a man (perhaps a biologist) who took copious notes. They performed a hasty autopsy on the dead bears, took samples of their flesh and teeth, then flew away.
Leonov and Deryagin performed their own scientific analyses, gathering as much data on the strange location as they could. Writing in the Kamchatskaya Pravda newspaper in the spring of 1976, Leonov described the discovery, coining the term "Valley of Death" - an homage to several lethal valleys around the world, including a volcanic gorge in Arizona and parts of certain volcanic folds in Indonesia. In this segment of Kamchatka, Leonov wrote, borrowing a passage from another writer, "nature seems to have pronounced its curse." All life is snuffed out in a place that "breathes extermination and devastation."
Other researchers quickly corroborated his findings. A 1983 paper - whose primary author, Gennady Karpov, is now the deputy director for science at the IVS - says that over a five-year period, rangers from the reserve found the corpses of 13 bears, three wolverines, nine foxes, 86 mice, 19 ravens, more than 40 small birds, a hare, and an eagle.
Like Leonov and Deryagin, a well-known bear researcher named Vitaly Nikolayenko visited the valley in 1975. Before one of the peninsula’s brown bears mauled him to death, in 2003, he published a book that chronicled his scientific work, including the research he’d performed in the valley. Notably, he wrote, many bears here seemed to have been in good health before they died. But the footsteps of one large male indicated that it had been very disoriented before it fell over and suddenly expired.
During one of his visits, Nikolayenko describes experiencing painful cramps in his lungs and acute dizziness, which resolved only after he’d clambered atop a windswept crest. Other visitors have reported similarly woozy sensations here, and accounts by reserve officials note headaches and weakness. (Reports of human deaths here remain unconfirmed, though some suggest that people have perished in the valley.)
Nikolayenko also recorded the deaths of 20 foxes, dozens of ravens, and 100 white partridges. The hares and adult birds, he wrote, seemed to have died in springtime and early summer, when the valley’s grasslands were freshly thawed.
Volcanologists and zoologists concluded that the animals that died in the valley usually died quickly, and only on the ground. Their hearts often lacked blood, but their lungs were engorged with it.
They’d suffocated, in other words. And any humans who lingered too long in the Valley of Death - a landscape filled with invisible volcanic gases, either toxic or asphyxiating - probably would too. (Leonov had surmised that volcanic gases were the killers back in 1976. In the Kamchatskaya Pravda article, he astutely compared the deaths to those seen in volcanic realms elsewhere in the world, including Italy’s "burning fields," where fumaroles - jets of hot volcanic gas - can create deadly mixtures. Those death pits that caught Leonov and Deryagin’s eyes in 1975? The heavy snowfall had probably walled in and concentrated the life-stealing gases escaping from those fumaroles, leading to denser die-offs.)
A range of gases are potentially present in the valley at any time, including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide - pungent effusions that can damage respiratory systems. Some doses can be lethal, but a human would need to be exposed to a high quantity of them for a long time, says Helen Robinson, a researcher of geothermal systems at the University of Glasgow.
It’s far more likely that the speedy animal deaths in Kamchatka are due to carbon dioxide, a common volcanic gas that is both invisible and odorless. If there is enough of it, Robinson says, death can occur in a matter of minutes. (A grim example of this occurred in 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, where an uprush of carbon dioxide from the volcanic lake killed 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock overnight.)
Yuri Taran, a volcanologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has studied the Kamchatka region, says that specific outflows of the valley’s gases have not been officially reported. But given that the distinctly eggy smell of hydrogen sulfide is largely absent, carbon dioxide seems the likely culprit.
To Alexey Kiryukhin, a volcanologist at the IVS, the science is actually pretty simple. Carbon dioxide is denser than air; when it emerges from the ground, it pools in the valley’s dips. Small animals, attracted by the available vegetation in the warmer months, breathe it in and asphyxiate. So do the scavengers they attract.
But what happens to all those dead animals? According to a few tourism sites, scientists and volunteers regularly take away the corpses in order to spare rare animals higher up on the food chain from a grisly fate.
It’s a persistent rumor, but as yet unproven. Andrey Leonov notes that there’s no permanent human presence in the Valley of Death; the nearest one is in the Valley of Geysers, several miles away and across elevated terrain. People work in the reserve, he says, but "I hardly believe that they regularly clean the valley from corpses."
Olga Girina, a volcanologist at the IVS, agrees. Though the lethal valley is within the reserve’s jurisdiction, she says, staff are not allowed to interfere in nature’s processes in any way.
Kiryukhin suspects that the death-defying tales of corpse retrieval are stories shared by tourism agencies to appease visitors concerned about the plight of the animals. (The reserve itself didn’t respond to requests for comment.)
When Leonov discovered the valley, he began his 1976 piece with the words of another scribe, writing that "everyone who comes here is horrified and fearful." But he hoped that scientific rigor and reason would ultimately prevail, and provide a rational explanation for the animal deaths.
In 2015, a year before he died, Leonov contributed to a special scientific publication by the reserve that recounted the discovery. He urged his fellow scientists to conduct further research and continue to unveil the geological secrets of this "daughter of Kamchatka."
His wish is likely to be granted. The Valley of Death may be dangerous and remote, but with such powerfully morbid gravity, it’s likely to draw more scientific prospectors in the years to come.

© 2019 Atlas Obscura. All rights reserved.
* * *
    Drug Target Review / 4 December 2019
    Medicine against bone disease found in Saussurea leaves
    Isolated components found in the Saussurea controversa plant have antimicrobial and regenerative properties which could lead to a treatment for bone diseases.
    Исследователи из Томского политехнического университета, Сибирского государственного медицинского университета и Балтийского федерального университета имени Иммануила Канта обнаружили и выделили из растения семейства астровых, соссюреи спорной (Saussurea controversa), вещество, способное бороться с инфекциями костной ткани. Такие инфекции часто устойчивы к антибиотикам и плохо поддаются лечению.

A team of researchers from Kant Baltic Federal University (BFU), Russia has discovered that leaves from the plant, Saussurea controversa, could potentially reduce inflammatory processes and increase the immune response against osteomyelitis.
Saussurea controversa has been traditionally used to treat liver, kidney, digestive tract and locomotive diseases. Its dried leaves are sold in pharmacies because their decoction is widely used as a medicine against cold and bronchitis.
To understand what substances this plant owes its medicinal properties to, a team of scientists from Siberian State Medical University and Tomsk Polytechnic University extracted individual components from the plant and determined their composition. The useful components of the decoction included flavonoids and polysaccharides. These groups of substances are known for their antimicrobial properties and the ability to speed up bone tissue regeneration.
The scientists from the BFU have suggested using Saussurea extract to treat bone tissue infections and tested its ability to affect stem cells. To do so, the extract of Saussurea leaves was added to the substrate with such cells. The growth of the cell culture slowed down under the influence of plant polysaccharides. It turned out that Saussurea did not stimulate the division of stem cells, but made them turn into bone tissue.
To test the antibacterial properties of Saussurea, the scientists added the extract of its leaves into a substrate with Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria cause such deadly diseases as osteomyelitis, endocarditis, pneumonia and sepsis. Moreover, they are highly resistant to a wide range of antibiotics making the therapy long and complicated. The experiment showed the decrease of S. aureus growth in the substrate with Saussurea compared to a control group.
"The isolated components have antimicrobial and regenerative properties," concluded Larisa Litvinova, MD, a Head of the Basic Laboratory for Immunology and Cell Biotechnologies, Professor of the Department of Fundamental Medicine, Institute of Medicine, BFU. "Our plan is to participate in the development of a medicinal drug for the comprehensive treatment of bone diseases and injuries associated with the risk of infectious complications. Plant materials are less toxic. They can be administered as regular pills making the treatment much easier."
The study was published in Molecules.

© Russell Publishing Limited, 2010-2019. All rights reserved.
* * *
    Washington Post / Dec. 4, 2019
    Tame foxes taught us about animal domestication. But did we get the story wrong?
    • By Jason Bittel
    Явление «синдрома одомашнивания» было открыто Чарльзом Дарвином и состояло в том, что в процессе отбора на способность сосуществовать с человеком у популяций животных формируется набор одних и тех же поведенческих и внешних признаков. На практике это впервые проверил советский генетик Дмитрий Беляев, начав в 1959 году эксперимент по доместикации лис. Всего за несколько десятилетий удалось воспроизвести эволюционный процесс длиной в тысячи лет, при этом у многих лис изменилось и поведение, и внешность.
    По мнению генетиков и биологов из Массачусетского университета, эксперимент Беляева является идеальной моделью для генетического картирования локусов, формирующих сложные поведенческие черты, но считать его однозначным доказательством существования синдрома одомашнивания все же нельзя.

In 1959, the Soviet zoologist Dmitry Belyaev began selectively breeding silver foxes. Those least afraid of people were chosen to reproduce. His goal was to simulate the process that turned fierce ancient wolves into the dogs now known as our best friends.
The experiment worked, famously well. In 10 generations, Belyaev’s lineage of foxes became tame, seeking attention from people and wagging their tails when scientists approached.
But this wasn’t the only way the foxes changed. In 1979, Belyaev noted that some of the foxes had begun to look different, developing curly tails, spotting on their coats and floppy, puppy-like ears. Later, other scientists began noticing some of these same traits in other domesticated species - pigs and goats, birds and fish - which seemed to point to a common genetic path that animals take as they change from wild to tame to domesticated.
This tantalizing notion, now known as domestication syndrome, was first put forward by Charles Darwin, and it has become integral to our understanding of how animal domestication works. But in a new paper, some scientists have challenged its accuracy - and, along the way, common beliefs about what domestication means.
The authors of the paper do not doubt that Belyaev was able to breed tamer foxes. But the Russian experiment fell short of proving the existence of domestication syndrome, they argue, because Belyaev’s first foxes were far from wild, and there’s no proof certain physical features are common to domesticated species.
"The common story line is that when you select on tameness in an animal species, a whole suite of other traits change in a predictable way," said Elinor Karlsson, a genomic scientist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and senior author on the study. "And we just couldn't find convincing evidence for that."
A major problem is that Belyaev started with foxes that weren’t wild, said Kathryn Lord, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and lead author of the paper, published Tuesday in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Genetic testing indicated they originated in eastern Canada, probably at a fur farm on Prince Edward Island, which means the animals were already on the path toward domestication.
There’s also evidence that Canadian fur farmers were seeking to produce unusual pelt colors, including with white spotting, which might fetch higher prices. So some of the traits held up by Belyaev as evidence of the domestication syndrome may already have been present in his first batch of foxes.
And those foxes’ tendency to produce white spots likely would have become greater when they arrived in Russia, because Belyaev started his experiment with a rather small population of 130 animals, Karlsson said.
"You can get very rapid changes in the frequency or the prevalence of a trait without having done a whole lot of work, just by making the population really, really small," she said.
The other wrinkle is that evidence for the suite of physical traits long said to be shared by dogs, goats, rabbits and other domesticated species is thin, the authors say.
For instance, it’s commonly said that domesticated animals have curlier, more upright tails - the difference between a Siberian husky’s and a gray wolf’s. But Lord and her colleagues found no conclusive evidence that domesticated dogs hold their tails differently from wolves, foxes or other wild canids. They also found little documentation of these traits for other animals.
"I know this is true! It’s a thing!" Lord said, acknowledging that even she finds the lack of data frustrating. "But nobody’s counted it."
This is important, Karlsson said, because while "tail carriage" is more common in less fearful foxes, it’s also seen in some of their wild cousins. That means the adorable, dog-like tails seen in the Russian experiment’s foxes may not be linked to genetic changes that enabled their tameness at all. It might just be sheer luck.
"Our main point is not that domestication syndrome doesn’t exist, but just that we don’t think there is enough evidence to be confident it does exist," said Karlsson in a follow-up email.
None of this matters much to how most of us relate to our dogs and cats (or pigs and goats). But the challenge to common wisdom about how those animals came to be has caused waves in the community of domestication scholars - and gotten a mixed reception.
"The fox experiment is the most celebrated one in studies of domestication, yet details of it have never been fully published or explained, much less critically assessed," said Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra, a paleobiologist at the University of Zurich who has studied domestication syndrome. "This paper to me shows that new, better designed experiments on domestication - of several kinds of animals - are needed to advance the field forward."
Melinda Zeder, senior scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said the Russian farm-fox experiment has "really been oversold," in that many popular portrayals make it out to be grander and more simplified than Belyaev and the scientists who succeeded him meant it to be.
"The caution that they offer here is very useful, to sort of pull back and say this is not the be-all, end-all," Zeder said. But she added that the "case is not as convincing as you would want it to be," in part because, she said, it places too much weight on a lack of studies documenting every domestication syndrome trait in every domesticated animal.
Belyaev was well aware that white spotting was present in his fox population and never claimed it was linked to tameness, said Anna Kukekova, a geneticist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has been studying these foxes for decades. Belyaev detailed this clearly in a paper he published in 1979, she said.
Kukekova said she had other qualms about the new paper, though she agrees that there doesn’t seem to be evidence for one easy path to domestication.
"Genes rarely have a single function," she said in an email.
"I would strongly argue [the Russian farm-fox experiment] is still the gold standard," said Lee Dugatkin, a biologist at the University of Louisville and co-author of a book about the Russian experiment, "How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)".
Dugatkin said he had "major concerns" about the study. He said curly tails didn’t show up in the foxes for nine to 10 generations and that the scientists did not select for them once they showed up. But they grew more common with each tamer generation, he said. The project, which is now run by his co-author, Russian geneticist Lyudmila Trut, has since added two new lineages of foxes, one selected for aggression and another as a control, he said, and they haven’t developed curly tails and spotting.
But just because those traits don’t show up in other populations "doesn’t prove that the traits are directly linked to tameness," said Karlsson, "just that those traits happened to also occur in the population that was selected for tameness. The most likely explanation is that this is due to random chance."
Lord makes no bones about how important Belyaev’s work was. "It’s an amazing behavioral experiment," she said.
But it could be stronger, Karlsson said.
"That was kind of what inspired us to write the paper," she said. "Because there’s nothing more frustrating than when people just assume that something is true that hasn’t been proved yet."

© 1996-2019 The Washington Post.
* * *
    Mirage News / December 6, 2019
    Biologists will use Aeroschup to clean plastic from water
    Лабораторные испытания показали, что технология «Аэрощуп», созданная биологами Томского государственного университета для очистки донных отложений водоемов от нефтепродуктов, способна также извлекать оттуда и микрочастицы пластика. Летом следующего года планируются испытания «Аэрощупа» на природных объектах.

The Aeroschup technology created by TSU biologists to clean the bottom of reservoirs of petroleum products will be used to solve the problem of plastic contamination. The project team has already completed laboratory tests that confirmed the ability of the Aeroschup to extract plastic particles from bottom sediments. The scientific team plans to conduct field tests of the technology in the summer of 2020.
"Plastic is present everywhere a person’s foot has stepped", says Danil Vorobyev, director of the TSU Biological Institute. "Moreover, the results of the large transarctic expedition made by Russian scientists under the guidance of TSU professor Alexey Orlov showed that macroplastic is also found where there are no people, for example, in the Kara and Chukchi seas, carried by rivers that are now heavily polluted".
As Danil Vorobyov notes, the synthetic material located on the surface of bodies of water is not very difficult to clean and it can be easily collected. If this is not done, plastic fouling and the inclusion of mineral particles occur over time, that is, it acquires negative buoyancy and settles to the bottom, where it becomes microplastic and decomposes, releasing toxic substances.
Microplastic enters food chains because all animals eat it, from zooplankton to fish and birds. Synthetic material, in which toxic impurities are added (dyes, flame retardants, and others), can accumulate in the tissues of living organisms. Once in the digestive system of animals, toxic compounds can cause organ damage and other undesirable effects. Also, the microparticles of the plastic easily absorb other toxic substances, such as pesticides and dioxins, and just as easily excrete them into the body that they enter.
TSU biologists plan to solve the problem of plastic pollution with the help of the Aeroschup, which has proved its effectiveness in cleaning oil from the bottom sediments of water bodies.
"The technology is based on the principle of flotation - the device collects oil from the bottom due to molecular adhesion of petroleum hydrocarbons to the boundary of two phases: air and liquid. It means that air bubbles separate it from the bottom and raise it to the surface", explains Danil Vorobyov. "Laboratory tests on microplastics (particles up to 5 mm) showed that the Aeroschup works well with this material. Under hydropneumatic action, mineral particles are separated from the plastic, buoyancy becomes positive, and polluting components rise to the surface of the water, after which they can be mechanically collected".

© Mirage News.
* * *
    Tech Explorist / December 6, 2019
    Studying the distribution of hydrogen in metals
    Surface effects affect the distribution of hydrogen in metals.
    • By Amit Malewar
    Проникновение водорода в металлы и сплавы делает их более хрупкими, поэтому конструкционные материалы перед использованием проверяют в условиях насыщения водородом. Сотрудники Санкт-Петербургского политехнического университета Петра Великого и Института проблем машиноведения РАН замерили распределение водорода в металлах с помощью стандартных тестов на водородное растрескивание и обнаружили, что существует поверхностный эффект, который не позволяет водороду проникать в металл. Это может приводить к ошибкам как при проверке качества материалов, так и при проведении научных исследований.

Hydrogen in metals attracts interest from scientists since many decades. It influences the properties of various materials significantly, which is essential for almost all industrial technologies. One of its features that fascinates scientists is: it can enter the molten metal and remain in it after solidification.
Only one hydrogen atom per hundreds of thousands of metal atoms is enough, whereas other impurities can cause some harm in much higher concentrations. But there is a problem, a small concentration of hydrogen is difficult to fix, thus often gets difficult to directly measure its content in metals, especially its distribution within micron-thick metal layers. Commonly indirect measurements are used, in particular, the time of saturation with hydrogen is normalized.
Scientists from Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University, along with the Institute of Problems of Mechanical Engineering of the Russian Academy of Sciences, have examined the distribution of hydrogen in metals in the process of standard testing for hydrogen cracking.
Their outcomes demonstrate that there is a surface effect that does not let hydrogen enter the metal. Thus, it causes errors in industrial quality control of material, and to fundamental errors in terms of scientific research of hydrogen embrittlement.
Construction materials are tested before use under hydrogen saturation conditions. The most common ones are the electrochemical saturation of metal samples in an electrolyte solution and saturation in a neutral salt solution while passing hydrogen sulfide. It is usually considered that these methods provide universal saturation of the samples similar to natural conditions. Scientists wanted to check if this is true. For that purpose, they conducted the study on a highly sensitive industrial mass spectrometric hydrogen analyzer.
The analyzer detected the surface effect. It based on the fact that an abnormally high concentration of hydrogen arises in the thin layer of metal at the surface of the sample, which is hundreds of times higher than the internal hydrogen concentration. This surface layer of metal, with a thickness of about 50 microns, creates a kind of a "shield" that prevents the entering of hydrogen into the metal. A theoretical model was also developed in terms of the mathematical description of this phenomenon.
Vladimir Polyansky, professor of SPbPU said, "This is a new look at the industrial testing of the hydrogen resistance of metals, applied in many standardized methods of quality control. It turns out that it is not equivalent to the actual hydrogen saturation that occurs during metal part exploitation. This causes errors in evaluating metals properties. It is important to understand that modern high-strength alloys are highly sensitive to the influence of hydrogen, so additional testing and the development of new methods of industrial testing are required."
"We plan to study how much the surface effect we discovered is manifested in real constructions subject under thermomechanical loads, and what is the relationship between model hydrogen saturation and the brittleness of metals that occurs during real industrial exploitation."
The finding was published in the International Journal of Continuum Mechanics and Thermodynamics. The Russian Science Foundation grant supported this research.

© Copyright - Tech Explorist.
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    Nanowerk / Dec 09, 2019
    Astrophysicists discovered a neutron star with an unusual magnetic field structure
    Ученые из МФТИ, Института космических исследований РАН и Пулковской обсерватории обнаружили нейтронную звезду, магнитное поле которой можно увидеть только под определенным углом.

Scientists from Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology, Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI), and Pulkovo Observatory discovered a unique neutron star, the magnetic field of which is apparent only when the star is seen under a certain angle relative to the observer.
Previously, all neutron stars could be grouped into two big families: the first one included objects where the magnetic field manifests itself during the whole spin cycle, and the other one included objects where the magnetic field is not measured at all. The neutron star GRO J2058+42 studied by the researchers offers an insight into the internal structure of neutron star's magnetic field only at a certain phase of its rotational period.
The work was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters ("Discovery of a Pulse-phase-transient Cyclotron Line in the X-Ray pulsar GRO J2058+42").
The neutron star in the GRO J2058+42 system was discovered almost quarter of a century ago with the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), USA. It belongs to the class of so-called transient X-ray pulsars. This object was studied using different instruments and nothing set it apart from other objects of its class.
Only recent observations with the NuSTAR space observatory that has an outstanding combination of the high energy resolution (<400 eV) and extremely wide energy range (3-79 keV), enabled the scientists to detect a peculiar feature in the pulsar's emission, potentially making it the first object of its own family.
A cyclotron absorption line* was registered in the source energy spectrum** that allows to estimate the magnetic field strength of the neutron star. Such an observational phenomenon (cyclotron line) is not new and is currently observed in approximately 30 X-ray pulsars.
The uniqueness of the Russian scientists' discovery is that this line manifests itself only when the neutron star is seen under a certain angle to the observer. This discovery became possible due to a detailed "tomographic" analysis of the system.
X-ray spectra of the neutron star GROJ2058+42 were measured from ten different directions and only in one of them a significant depression in the emission intensity around 10 keV was found. This energy corresponds approximately to the magnetic field strength of 1012 G at the surface of the neutron star. The obtained result is especially interesting due to a simultaneous registration of higher harmonics of the cyclotron line at the same rotational phase of the neutron star.
Neutron stars are superdense objects with the radius of about 10 km and the mass of 1.4-2.5 mass of the Sun. Neutron stars are born as a result of supernova explosions that can be lead to such compression of the matter that electrons merge with protons and form neutrons, resulting in colossal masses in small volumes.
Moreover, the magnetic field strength at the surface of the neutron star after the collapse may reach 1011-1012 G (which is tens of millions times higher than achieved in the most powerful Earth labs). Typically, neutron stars have a dipole configuration of the magnetic field, i.e. they have two poles (similar to the Earth, which has the North and the South magnetic poles).
Some of neutron stars may form binary systems with normal stars, capturing the matter from their normal companions and accreting it onto magnetic poles This process is somewhat similar to the Earth capturing solar wind particles, which results in a phenomenon known as aurora. If the neutron star's rotation axis does not coincide with its magnetic axis, the observer will register a periodic signal, like one from a lighthouse, and the star appears as an X-ray pulsar.
GRO J2058+42 is a quite peculiar X-ray pulsar because its emission can be observed only during bright outbursts. Such behavior is explained by the fact that the companion star in this system belongs to the so-called class Be-stars. Such stars rotate around their axis so rapidly that an outflowing (or the so-called decretion) disc of matter forms around their equator.
As the neutron star moves around a high mass normal component, the matter from such disc starts to flow to its surface, which leads to an outburst, or a quick increase of the luminosity. These are ideal moments for studying physical properties of such objects.
Such studies are typically complicated by the fact that outbursts in most such systems are rather rare and cannot be reliably predicted. Therefore, it is important to promptly organize observations with space observatories when such events do happen. Scientists from above-mentioned institutes were fortunate to catch the beginning of a new outburst from GRO J2058+42 and quickly organize series of observations with the NuSTAR observatory.
These observations showed that the magnetic field manifests itself only during certain phases of the neutron star rotation, which may point to its unusual configuration or peculiarities in the system's geometry. The obtained results were so intriguing that the Russian scientists contacted their colleagues from the NuSTAR team and suggested carrying out additional observations that confirmed the initial findings.
In general, possible inhomogeneities in the magnetic field structure of neutron stars were predicted by the theoretical calculations, but previously such inhomogeneities had been believed to form only through short outbursts, observed from magnetars. The discovery by the Russian scientists proved for the first time that the magnetic field of a neutron star has a considerably more complex structure than what had been believed earlier, and that this complex structure may retain its shape for a rather long time and be a fundamental property of an object.
Alexander Lutovinov, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Deputy Director for Research at Space Research Institute, MIPT professor, and one of the discovery authors, said, "The structure of magnetic fields of neutron stars is a fundamental issue of its formation and evolution. On the one hand, the dipole structure of the progenitor star should be preserved during the collapse, but on the other hand, even our own Sun has local magnetic field inhomogeneities that are manifested as sun spots. Similar structures were theoretically predicted for neutron stars as well. It is great to witness them in real data for the first time. The theorists will now have new factual data for their modeling, and we will have a new tool for studying parameters of neutron stars."
Notes
* Cyclotron frequency is the frequency of a charged particle (in this case, an electron) moving and rotating in a magnetic field. Depending on external conditions, one can observe either an emission or absorption at this frequency. The latter is registered in X-ray pulsars' spectra, which enables direct measurement of their magnetic field.
** Energy spectrum is the distribution of the intensity emission as a function of the photon frequency.

© 2019 Nanowerk. All Rights Reserved.
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    3DPMN / December 16, 2019
    ISS cosmonauts bioprint bone tissue in space using 3dbio’s magnetic bioprinter
    Bone grafts could help make long range space and interplanetary missions a reality.
    • Davide Sher
    На МКС российские космонавты с помощью биопечати создали фрагменты искусственной костной структуры из керамики на основе фосфата кальция. Это первый опыт использования 3D-принтера в условиях невесомости. Биопринтер «Орган.Авт» создан лабораторией биотехнологических исследований 3D Bioprinting Solutions. Устройство использует технологию магнитной левитации, поэтому объект создается не послойно, как обычно, а одновременно со всех сторон.

For the first time in the world, Russian scientists from 3D Bioprinting Solutions (3dbio) were able to bioprint bone tissue in space by growing fragments of bone structure in zero-gravity conditions. During experiments on the ISS, tissue samples were made from calcium phosphate ceramics, which were populated with living cells. These sample are now currently being comprehensively studied on Earth. In the future, this technology will enable the creation of bone implants for transplantation to cosmonauts on long-range interplanetary expeditions.
During manned flights to Mars or work at the lunar base, cosmonauts will spend long times in isolation and low-gravity conditions. In such circumstances, providing them with specialized medical care is problematic. Therefore it is necessary to create new means of space medicine for the formation of body tissues in zero gravity. In the future, such tissues can be transplanted to cosmonauts if they become ill, get injured or if bone structure degenerates in micro-gravity.
Russian scientists are now looking at these issues, with respect to human bones, by conducting relevant experiments on the ISS. Last August 22, 2019, 3Dbio sent a batch of cellular materials to the ISS, to be bioprinted using the Organ.Aut magnetic bioprinter, which allows 3D assembly of tissue structures in micro-gravity.
This device uses magnetic levitation technology in zero gravity, so that the object is not created in layers, as in conventional 3D printers, but volumetrically, from all sides at the same time. To visualize this process you can think of it as making a snowball. Using this method of production, Russian cosmonauts managed to form a fragment of bone tissue, in the shape of a spheroid, from ceramic particles. The fragments then began to interact with each other, forming stable chemical bonds. At this point, the live osteogenic cells were distributed evenly on the surface of the spheroid, which subsequently formed an engineered tissue structure.
Last October the samples we successfully brought back to Earth on a descent vehicle, preserving their integrity and properties. Currently, they are being studied in detail by scientists who have already been able to confirm that the resulting material shows high biological activity. In the future, this process may thus enable fast bone tissue production.
3D Bioprinting Solutions revealed plans to continue the experiments on growing tissues in orbit. In particular, 3dbio scientists plan to gradually grow more bone tissue in more complex shapes, thus bringing it closer to the characteristics of the original biological bones. "Subsequently, we are going to complicate the geometry of the printed products," said Yusef Khesuani, Co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions. "To achieve this goal we intend to add sound waves to the control system of our printer. These will work together with magnetic waves in order to create more complex shapes. This - Khesuani added - will allow us to create tubular and branching objects, which in their shape will correspond to human bones and blood vessels."
Printing bone tissue from ceramic particles together with biomaterials in zero gravity was carried out by 3D Bioprinting Solutions for the first time in the world. Thus, during the study of the resulting samples, significant fundamental discoveries can be made. In the future, the new technology will allow the growth of bone implants for cosmonauts and transplantation operations without the need to return to Earth.

© Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved.
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    Nature / 17 December 2019
    Russia joins race to make quantum dreams a reality
    National initiative aims to develop practical technologies that could mine databases and create ultra-secure communication networks.
    • Quirin Schiermeier
    Фундаментальные и прикладные квантовые исследования получают государственную поддержку в ряде стран: Евросоюз, Германия, Китай, США вкладывают миллиарды в разработку квантовых компьютеров. Включилась в гонку и Россия - запущен проект с бюджетом 50 мрд рублей на первые пять лет.

Russia has launched an effort to build a working quantum computer, in a bid to catch up to other countries in the race for practical quantum technologies.
The government will inject around 50 billion roubles (US$790 million) over the next 5 years into basic and applied quantum research carried out at leading Russian laboratories, the country’s deputy prime minister, Maxim Akimov, announced on 6 December at a technology forum in Sochi. The windfall is part of a 258-billion-rouble programme for research and development in digital technologies, which the Kremlin has deemed vital for modernizing and diversifying the Russian economy.
"This is a real boost," says Aleksey Fedorov, a quantum physicist at the Russian Quantum Center (RQC), a private research facility in Skolkovo near Moscow. "If things work out as planned, this initiative will be a major step towards bringing Russian quantum science to a world-class standard."
Quantum computers use elementary particles, which can exist in multiple quantum states at once, to carry out calculations. Quantum bits, or qubits, can in theory process information exponentially faster than the binary one-zero bits used in classical computing. Powerful quantum computers could predict the outcomes of chemical reactions, search huge databases or factor large numbers, such as those used in encryption.
Quantum advantage
Quantum technology already receives massive governmental support in a number of countries. The European Union’s €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) Quantum Flagship programme, first announced in 2016, is expected to produce technology-demonstration projects, such as a quantum processor on a silicon chip, within a few years. Germany announced a €650-million national quantum initiative in August 2019. The Chinese and US governments are also spending billions on quantum science and technology programmes.
The race is on to create quantum computers that outperform classical machines in specific tasks. Prototypes developed by Google and IBM, headquartered in Mountain View, California, and Armonk, New York, respectively, are approaching the limit of classical computer simulation. In October, scientists at Google announced that a quantum processor working on a specific calculation had achieved such a quantum advantage.
Russia is far from this milestone. "We’re 5 to 10 years behind," says Fedorov. "But there’s a lot of potential here, and we follow very closely what’s happening abroad." Poor funding has excluded Russian quantum scientists from competing with Google, says Ilya Besedin, an engineer at the National University of Science and Technology in Moscow.
Besedin’s group has made a prototype quantum processor based on superconducting materials that operates on two qubits. Google’s quantum computer works on 53 qubits. Russia is lagging behind, but the national quantum initiative might not have come too late, says Besedin.
"No one is close to the quantum-computing capacity that would be required for practical applications," he says. "There are many technical challenges, and we’re all looking for new avenues to explore. With serious government support, this is going to become a very interesting research opportunity in Russia."
Homegrown qubits
The initiative comes as quantum science in Russia begins to recover from the departure of top researchers during the 1990s and 2000s, who left in search of better salaries and funding opportunities. Several Russian quantum physicists working abroad - including Mikhail Lukin and Eugene Demler, both now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts - are on the RQC’s international advisory board. Others, including Alexey Ustinov, a condensed matter physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, have received grants from the Russian government to set up research groups in Russia.
And scientists in Russia are already developing their own approaches to building large-scale quantum computers, says Ustinov. "Russian labs can’t yet compete with the likes of Google," he says. "But the initiative is a promising start to increase the level of quantum research in Russia. We will see where this will lead."
But Peter Zoller, a quantum scientist at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, questions whether the initiative alone is enough to lure talented young scientists into quantum research and technology. Rebuilding trust in Russia’s science system and reestablishing the country’s educational tradition, Zoller adds, "will be more difficult than announcing a quantum initiative."

© 2019 Springer Nature Limited.
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    Phys.Org / December 17, 2019
    Researchers close in on new nonvolatile memory
    Физики из МФТИ совместно с германскими и американскими коллегами разработали методику измерения распределения электрического потенциала внутри так называемого сегнетоэлектрического конденсатора. Это прототип будущих энергонезависимых элементов памяти, которые смогут работать гораздо быстрее сегодняшних флеш- и твердотельных накопителей, а также намного превосходить их по количеству циклов перезаписи.

Researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, along with their colleagues from Germany and the U.S., have achieved a breakthrough in nonvolatile memory devices. The team came up with a unique method for measuring the electric potential distribution across a ferroelectric capacitor, which could lead to the creation of memory orders of magnitude faster than current flash and solid-state drives, withstanding 1 million times as many rewrite cycles. The paper was published in Nanoscale.
Hafnium dioxide-based memory is based on a dielectric already known to the microelectronics industry. Subjected to temperature treatment and alloying, a nanometer-scale hafnium dioxide layer can form metastable crystals that possess ferroelectric properties - that is, they "remember" the direction of the electric field applied to them.
The new memory cell is a zirconium-hafnium oxide film 10 nanometers thick interlaid between two electrodes. Its structure resembles a conventional electric capacitor. To make ferroelectric capacitors usable as memory cells, their remnant polarization has to be maximized; and to ensure that, engineers need a detailed understanding of the processes that occur in the nanofilm. This involves explaining how the electric potential is distributed across the film following voltage application and polarization reversal. Since the discovery of a ferroelectric phase in hafnium oxide 10 years ago, the potential distribution at the nanoscale has only been modeled, but not directly measured. The latter has been reported in the recent paper in Nanoscale.
The team employed a technique known as high-energy X-ray photoemission spectroscopy. The specialized methodology developed at MIPT relies on the so-called standing-wave mode of the powerful monochromatic X-ray beam, which requires a synchrotron light source to produce. The machine used in the study is located in Hamburg, Germany. It was used to perform measurements on the hafnium oxide-based memory cell prototypes manufactured at MIPT.
"If used for the industrial production of nonvolatile memory cells, the ferroelectric capacitors developed in our lab could endure 10 billion rewrite cycles, which is 100,000 times more than state-of-the-art flash drives can survive," said study co-author Andrei Zenkevich, who heads the Laboratory of Functional Materials and Devices for Nanoelectronics at MIPT.
A further advantage of ferroelectric memory devices is that external radiation has absolutely no effect on them, unlike their semiconductor-based analogues. This means that the flash-like memory of the future could even weather cosmic ray exposure and operate in outer space.

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    High North News / Dec 22 2019
    Growing social problems in Russian mono-towns
    • Doris Friedrich
    Созданные в советское время монопромышленные города - характерная черта многих регионов Арктики. После распада Советского Союза они столкнулись со множеством социально-экономических проблем.
    Ученые Кольского научного центра РАН и Белгородского государственного национального исследовательского университета опубликовали исследование, посвященное характерным проблемам арктических моногородов и возможным путям их решения.

Mono-industrial towns, often based on extractive industries, are a feature of many regions in the Arctic. In Russia’s Arctic, the creation of mono-towns was one of the pillars of the regions’ development under Soviet rule. However, social problems in mono-towns in the Russian Arctic are currently large and growing.
A study recently published examines the factors generating such problems. Some are inherent in all Arctic mono-towns, such as the harsh environmental conditions, the remoteness from financial and administrative centres, and the dependence on "city-forming" companies.
Other problems, Vera Samarina and her co-authors of the Kola Science Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Belgorod State National Research University claim, are due to deficiencies in the municipal administration. These include the lack of necessary social institutions, a problematic relationship between the city and its most important company, a lack of funds for implementing municipal social policies, and an insufficiently skilled labor force.
Expensive and underdeveloped
"Even though it is a diamond town, it is quite an expensive, under-developed town. Expensive because it is situated quite far from big cities and transportation is long and costly. Under-developed because it looks like it is still stuck in the Soviet time and very few new buildings are constructed since then. Air quality is bad due to the open kimberlite pipe," says Maria Ivanova (36), who lives in Mirny, a town with more than 35,000 inhabitants, dominated by the diamond industry and located 820 kilometres west of Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic. Maria Ivanova is not her real name. For security reasons, the citizen wants to remain anonymous.
The city faces similar problems to other mono-towns in the Russian Arctic. The dominance of one cluster of companies brings with it very specific challenges:
"Since these towns have only one dominant industry, many of the inhabitants are temporary workers, who come to earn money and leave. The salary in those companies is quite good, but other companies or services could be offering quite a low salary. Many locals can face unemployment if they are not qualified enough with the skills of the city dominating industry. Therefore many professionals are hired from outside."
Ivanova also considers the infrastructure as deficient:
"Medicine is poor in this town because of a lack of doctors and other staff. Mirny can have some issues related to some cultural or social life since it is a small town. Education in Mirny is good though; there are some good schools with modern infrastructure etc., but many youngsters leave as soon as they graduate. Buying a house or flat is extremely expensive, but even if you buy something it would be pretty difficult to sell it since no one would buy that. To rent an apartment is also very expensive because people are usually unemployed or prices are high", she says.
Soviet legacy
Despite their unique history and development, Russia’s Arctic mono-towns could serve as a case study concerning the economic and social situation in mono-industrial towns across the Arctic, an issue tightly connected to the development of Arctic regions.
Based on and adding to these institutional failures, Olga Povoroznyuk, a researcher at the University of Vienna who studies the region of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway, also lists as social problems "unemployment, lack of educational, cultural and recreational opportunities, and infrastructural degradation." Urban settlements close to the BAM are usually single-industry towns that depend on extractive industries and the railroad.
Since the dissolution of the USSR, "population outflow and economic decline lead to the shrinking of such towns. This means deindustrialization, demodernization and the shrinking of permanent population in the Arctic, which is especially noticeable in the Russian part," Povoroznyuk further comments.
Unsustainable development
This trend has a negative impact on what is sometimes called "sustainable development" in the Russian Arctic. Povoroznyuk and others argue that Russia’s strategies for economic development lay too much weight on economic efficiency and catering to the technological and infrastructural needs of extractive industries. Economic development is often prioritized at the expense of social development, which produces development disparities between the regions of the Russian Arctic. Instead, the focus should be more on investments in human resources.
"No one stays to live"
Norilsk is a city with a population of over 100,000 people, located 300 km north of the Arctic Circle. On a YouTube video about the mining city, where one fifth of the world’s nickel is mined, one user commented on the quality of life: "Norilsk is a business city. There is no one who stays to live there. The people who are there, are people contracted by the company. (…) You can live well, especially when you know that at the end of your contract the company gives you a free house on the shores of the Black Sea at the edge of the beach."
There are no roads to Norilsk, so the only access is by plane or, in the summertime, by ferry. People not hired by Nornickel, the city’s most prominent company, require a special permit to enter Norilsk. "The whole city belongs to the company. (…) The city was only built so that the men could be close to the mines," the same user adds. Despite the city’s remoteness, "in Norilsk there is everything: shopping centres, gyms, swimming pools, park roofed aquatics, local television, coffee shops, restaurants, and many nightclubs to party."
Dependent on state participation
Samarina and her co-authors propose two main ways to resolve the problems. The first comprises measures to diversify the labour market and realize an "active employment policy". This includes on one hand making the labour market more efficient and adjusting the fit between employees’ and employers’ needs, for instance through a "municipal bank of vacancies" and by forecasting labour demand. On the other hand, residents’ employment-related situation should be targeted through higher education and other educational services, as well as enhancing the housing conditions and labour protections.
The second way focuses on improving living standards, including the civil engineering infrastructure - water, heat, waste disposal, electric power - and transportation, such as the state of the roads. The ecological side is also part of the solution: Atmospheric emissions should be reduced, disturbed soils reclaimed, and a better waste management system established.
However, these solutions are dependent on the active participation of the Russian state. This begs the question: Is the state willing to invest time and other resources in a more "sustainable" development of its Arctic regions?
Promising social and human capital
Povoroznyuk explains the situation referring to a phenomenon termed the "resource curse", where regions rich in natural resources often develop in an unsustainable way and lag behind on social indicators. This "curse" is characteristic of the BAM region, despite its promising social and human capital, which is the result of the successful integration of newcomers and the construction of community identities. Cultural and ethnic tolerance further contributes to a favourable social environment.
She suggests the economic diversification of mono-towns is a step in the direct direction: "Possible solutions could be economic restructuring, including investments in industries other than resource extraction, such as tourism, agriculture and subsistence activities, etc."
One example of subsistence activity that could be developed into commercial enterprises is reindeer herding and hunting, and partly related to it, ethnic tourism. However, extractive industries compete with traditional land users for the land and, more often than not, emerge victorious from associated legal and political struggles. These industries thus minimize residents’ other economic opportunities, while creating social tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
Beneficial for whom?
It seems that while the companies behind Russia’s Arctic mono-towns have a comprehensive incentives package for their employees and their families, they might not benefit the region at large. The demise of the Soviet Union has led to socio-economic problems, which have yet to be resolved. In the meantime, extractive industries displace traditional land uses and thus disadvantage Indigenous people. According to the study by the Kola Science Centre, the social problems are solvable through active state intervention and better management. It remains questionable, however, whether the Russian state is indeed motivated to take on this monumental task.
Russian mono-towns
• In so-called mono-towns, monogorod in Russian, a small number of companies in a single production cluster employs more than 25% of the working population and produce more than 50% of the industrial outcome.
• In 2014, there were around 18 mono-towns in the Russian Arctic. Their occupational structure is homogeneous and the issues encompass a high unemployment rate and a lack of cultural and educational prospects.
• In the USSR, mono-towns were a way to adapt the workforce organization to the economic, environmental, and political context.
• After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the companies upholding such mono-towns suffered from the collapse of the planned economy. This is still the cause of many socio-economic problems that the inhabitants of these towns face today.

Copyright © 2018 High North News. All Rights Reserved.
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    Mirage News / December 26, 2019
    TSU found how nanoparticles from environment enter brain
    Ученые Центра генетических ресурсов лабораторных животных ИЦИГ СО РАН и Биологического института Томского госуниверситета определили путь, по которому наночастицы вирусов, а также органических и неорганических веществ из окружающей среды проникают в головной мозг, а также нашли простой и недорогой способ блокировать их поступление.

A group of scientists from the Center for Genetic Resources of Laboratory Animals of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ICG SB RAS) and the TSU Biological Institute have established a path through which nanoparticles of viruses and organic and inorganic substances from the environment enter the brain. Along with this, researchers have found a simple and inexpensive way to block their entry. The data obtained will protect a person from undesirable effects and can play a large role in medicine and pharmaceuticals, where nanoparticles are increasingly used for the diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases.
"There are a large number of nanoparticles of a wide variety of chemical elements and their compounds in the environment, from harmless to toxic, for example, heavy metal oxides", explains Mikhail Moshkin, Director of the Center for Laboratory Animal Genetic Resources of the ICG SB RAS. "Scientists have accumulated some data that indicate the adverse effect of nanoparticles, for example, if people live closer than 50 meters from large highways, due to the accumulation of nanosized particles in the brain, they have previously developed neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer, Parkinson, and others)".
Russian researchers decided to find out how nanoparticles enter the human body. They cannot penetrate through the lungs and blood vessels because the blood-brain barrier does not let them into the brain. Experiments conducted on rodents helped calculate the trajectory of the movement of nanoparticles.
Scientists instilled a solution with nanoparticles into the nasal cavity of laboratory animals and, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), monitored their appearance in the structures of the brain. Studies have shown that particles appear in the olfactory bulb within three hours, the concentration increases and reaches a maximum after 12 hours, in the hippocampus, dentate gyrus, and other brain structures, the maximum is observed after 3-4 days. The movement corresponds to the trajectory of the nerve connections of the olfactory system.
Along with this, it was found that particles moving inside the nerve fiber can pass through synapses that connect various neurons. As it turned out, not all nanoparticles overcome synaptic transmission, for example, manganese oxide passes through synapses, but silicon dioxide (sand) does not. The reason was explained by a proteomic analysis conducted by scientists at the Erasmus University Rotterdam: it showed that manganese oxide, unlike sand, binds effectively to the AP-3 protein, which is involved in synaptic transmission processes.
"Experimental failures often lie on the way to an interesting result", says Mikhail Moshkin. "Our researchers wanted to get a real neurobiological effect from the entry of nanoparticles into the brain. In one experiment, mice were injected with nose particles of manganese oxide for a month. But nothing has changed in the behavior of mice. And, as an MRI study showed, in the brains of these mice there were no areas of accumulation of magnetic-contrast manganese. It was further established that a single injection of nanoparticles into the nasal cavity almost completely blocks their capture and entry into the brain during subsequent administration. These results gave rise to a systematic study of factors affecting the transport of nanoparticles from the nasal cavity to the brain".
There are two groups of factors: the first are substances that affect the state of the mucosal layer covering the ends of the olfactory neurons, and the second are substances that affect the membrane potential of the olfactory receptors. As a result, it was possible to find combinations of chemical compounds that either completely block or significantly enhance the transport of nanoparticles from the nasal cavity to the brain.
An equally important discovery was the fact that with the introduction of some nanoparticles into the nose of rodents, their body temperature quickly decreased by several degrees. Along the way, it was established that an outflow of cerebrospinal fluid occurred.
"It turned out that in the nose there is a whole cascade of events. The revealed effects are significant for the development of new methods of thermoregulation and the solution of such a serious problem as the treatment of cerebral edema", says Mikhail Moshkin. "Nanoparticles are now being introduced into various drugs to increase their efficiency. The data obtained help to understand how the concentration of these particles increases and how they can be introduced into the patient’s body".
As for further research, biologists plan to study the penetration of viruses, especially influenza. This information is important not only from fundamental science but it is also necessary for the development of preventive measures that contribute to the reduction of epidemics.
Scientists also intend to conduct research involving people with unhealthy trades - firefighters and welders to test the recently discovered method of blocking nanoparticles. Based on the results obtained, it will be possible to develop mechanisms for protecting a person from the undesirable effects of such particles.

© Mirage News.
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    Big Think / 29 December, 2019
    Mystery effect speeds up the universe - not dark energy, says study
    Russian astrophysicists propose the Casimir Effect causes the universe's expansion to accelerate.
    • Paul Ratner
    Астрофизики Балтийского федерального университета имени Канта предложили новую гипотезу, касающуюся гипотетической темной энергии, введенной в математическую модель Вселенной ради объяснения ее ускоряющегося расширения. Согласно гипотезе, темной энергии не существует, а расширение Вселенной обусловлено наличием у нее границ и воздействием на них так называемого эффекта Казимира.

Dark energy, one of the most controversial physics ideas, is getting another challenge. After all, if this force is supposed to make up about 68% of the mass-energy of the universe, where exactly is it? A new paper by a pair of Russian astrophysicists says dark energy simply doesn't exist. Instead, they point to the mysterious Casimir effect as the explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe.
The study, from Professor Artyom Astashenok and undergraduate student Alexander Teplyakov of the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, takes issue with the fact that as far as dark energy's suggested role, "no one knows what is it and how it works," as remarks Astashenok in a press release.
The astrophysicists say the discovery that the universe is not only expanding, but accelerating in that process, can be explained by an effect named after the Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir. Back in 1948, he proposed that if you'd put two metal plates in a vacuum, you could still observe attraction between them. Logic would dictate that there'd be nothing in the vacuum to cause such a force, but as Astashenok explained, "according to quantum theory, particles constantly appear and disappear there, and as a result of their interaction with plates, which indicate certain boundaries of space (which is extremely important), a very small attraction occurs."
This phenomenon, now dubbed the Casimir effect, has been extrapolated by the Russian scientists to space. They believe there is no enigmatic "Dark Energy" but a "manifestation of the boundaries of the universe" that is responsible for an additional repulsion that causes the universe to speed up its expansion.
Astashenok further expounds that their idea doesn't claim that the universe has an end. Rather a "complex topology" occurs.
"You can draw an analogy with the Earth. After all, it also has no boundaries, but it is finite," says Astashenok. "The difference between the earth and the universe is that in the first case we are dealing with two-dimensional space, and in the second - with three-dimensional".
Check out the new study in the International Journal of Modern Physics.

© Copyright 2007-2018 The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.
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    EurekAlert / 30-Dec-2019
    Replacing one gas with another helps efficiently extract methane from permafrost
    Ученые Сколтеха и шотландского Университета Хериота-Уатта предложили новый метод добычи метана из газовых гидратов в вечной мерзлоте - с помощью закачки туда дымовых газов, образующихся при сжигании топлива. При этом на место скопления метана вводится СО2 в гидратной форме, что позволяет решить сразу две задачи: добыть метан и снизить выбросы в атмосферу углекислого газа, захоронив его в вечной мерзлоте.

Scientists from Skoltech and Heriot-Watt University proposed extracting methane by injecting flue gas into permafrost hydrate reservoirs. Since the flue gas contains carbon dioxide, the new technology will also contributes to reduction of this green house gas in the Arctic atmosphere. The results of their study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The Russian Arctic is actively developing due to exploitation of recently discovered oil and gas fields. However, operations in the Arctic region face numerous geological challenges. One of the most serious of them is formation of gas hydrates in frozen rock mass. Gas hydrates are ice-like crystalline structures formed by water and gas molecules. Their accumulations strongly hinders oil and gas field development and triggers spontaneous methane emissions into the atmosphere on the Arctic coast and shelf.
The scientists from the Skoltech Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery (CHR) and from Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh, Scotland) developed a unique method for extracting methane from permafrost gas-hydrates by injecting flue gases, generated by fuel combustion. The main sources of flue gas are waste gases from coal-burning power plants and metallurgical plants and other industrial facilities.
The research team has found optimal injection conditions and identified the effect of flue gases on the efficiency of methane recovery. It is important to emphasize that flue gas contains considerable amount of green-house carbon dioxide, that will also be buried subsurface. The carbon dioxide forms hydrate replacing the original methane hydrate. The new technology is essential for development of the hydrocarbon fields in the highly sensitive Arctic environment.
"Our approach not only helps extract methane and prevent its free release into the atmosphere but also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I would say our method offers a double dividend in terms of environmental safety," says Leading Research Scientist at CHR, Evgeny Chuvilin.

Copyright © 2020 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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