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Geek-Up[09.24.10] -- Magical BEANs, Combating Bacteria's Resistance to Antibiotics and the ChemCam's Journey to Mars

September 24, 2010 - 5:19pm


Check out the ChemCam close-up, which will reveal which elements are present in Mars’ rocks and soils.

Magical BEANs may sound like something out of one of your favorite childhood stories, but for researchers at Berkeley Lab they mean mega-sized data storage.

Binary eutectic-alloy nanostructures – or BEANs – are an entire new class of phase-change materials compromised of nanocrystal alloys of a metal and a semiconductor. Phase-change materials have the ability to readily and swiftly transition between different phases: making them a valuable low-power source of flash memory and data storage. Find out more about how these nano-sized particles could be applied to phase-change random access memory technologies and possibly optical data storage here.

Iowa State University and Ames Laboratory researchers have made a discovery that could help drug researchers develop treatments that combat bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics. To make their findings, the researchers purified and crystallized the membrane proteins that make up an E. coli bacteria’s efflux pump. These pumps, which are comprised of crystal structures in the membrane, remove heavy-metal toxins from bacteria cells. Team lead Edward Yu of Iowa State explains, "We want to understand the mechanisms of these heavy-metal pumps. And that could allow biotechnology researchers to make inhibitors to stop the pump and the antibiotic resistance." The team’s findings are published in the journal Nature.

When the Curiosity rover launches from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, it will carry with it a laser-equipped rock robot. Along with nine other instruments aboard Curiosity, the ChemCam is expected to reach Mars in August 2012. Using a technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, the ChemCam will reveal which elements are present in Mars’ rocks and soils.

Here’s how it works: the laser beam zaps a pinhead-sized area on the targeted sample, vaporizing it. A spectral analyzer checks out the samples, which each yield unique emission line wavelengths. Like fingerprints, the wavelengths can be matched to a library of known chemical compounds to reveal the exact elements present.

The instrument was developed by a U.S.-French team, including scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Check the video above for a close-up look at the ChemCam.