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From Superbugs To Supernovas: Research Highlights From 2011

From research in antibiotic use and superbugs, which could help us address a global medical challenge, to a supernova finding that solved a millennia-old stellar mystery, 2011 was an exciting year for research at North Carolina State University. As we prepare for 2012, we’re taking a look back at some of the interesting research stories to come out of NC State over the past year.

Superbugs From Swine: Antibiotics are frequently used on commercial hog farms not only to fight disease, but also to help pigs gain weight faster. Research from NC State found the common pests that live on these farms acquire antibiotic-resistant bacteria and have the potential to spread these bacteria throughout the farm and to residential settings.

Supernova Solved: In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers recorded a bright “guest star” in the night sky. By the 1960s, astronomers figured out that the guest star was in fact a supernova, and identified the remains of the stellar explosion. And in 2011, a team of astrophysicists led by NC State researchers solved the mystery of what caused this explosion and why this particular remnant is so very large.

Soft Memory: NC State researchers developed a memory device that is as soft as Jell-O and functions well in wet environments – opening the door to a new generation of biocompatible electronic devices.

Predicting and Preventing Genocide: Researchers from NC State proposed a health-based approach to identifying groups at high risk of genocide, in a first-of-its-kind attempt to target international efforts to stop these mass killings before they start.

Helicopter Parents: Parental safety concerns may prevent children from getting good exercise, according to an NC State study that examined how families use neighborhood parks.

Superstreets: The so-called “superstreet” traffic design results in significantly faster travel times, and leads to a drastic reduction in automobile collisions and injuries, according to NC State researchers who conducted the largest-ever study of superstreets and their impacts.

Sniffing Out Lymphoma: Researchers at NC State are narrowing the search for genes involved in non-Hodgkin lymphoma – by turning dogs into humans (genomically speaking).

Self-Healing Sensors: NC State researchers have designed a sensor that can measure strain in structural materials and is capable of healing itself – an important advance for collecting data to help us make informed decisions about structural safety in the wake of earthquakes, explosions or other unexpected events.

Circadian Rhythm Linked To Skin Cancer: When you’re hit with that afternoon energy lull, don’t head outside to find some sunlight to brighten your day. An NC State study shows that the same circadian rhythm that saps your afternoon energy also appears to slow down some important cellular healing mechanisms – including one that repairs DNA damage in skin cells.

Removing Radioactive Contaminants: A combination of forest byproducts and crustacean shells may be the key to removing radioactive materials from drinking water, according to researchers from NC State.

Kidney Disease: Effects of a particularly devastating human kidney disease may be blunted by making a certain cellular protein receptor much less receptive, according to research by scientists at NC State and a number of French universities and hospitals.

LED Efficiency: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are an increasingly popular technology for use in energy-efficient lighting. Researchers from NC State have developed a technique that reduces defects in the gallium nitride films used to create LEDs, making them more efficient.

Carbon and The Big Bang: As Star Trek is so fond of reminding us, we’re carbon-based life forms. But the event that jump-started the universe, the Big Bang, didn’t actually produce any carbon, so where the heck did it – and we – come from? An NC State researcher has helped create supercomputer simulations that demonstrate how carbon is produced in stars, proving an old theory correct.

Dog-Gone Good! A Prosthetic Canine Ankle: NC State researchers designed, developed and surgically implanted a customized prosthetic ankle for a Siberian husky. NC State is the only university in the world that can manufacture custom prosthetics for veterinary patients in house, thanks to the close collaboration between veterinarians and engineers.

Snakes Are Different From You and Me: Virgin motherhood by a copperhead snake. Sperm storage for more than five years by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake before fertilization and motherhood. NC State researchers are finding that reptile reproduction, to steal from Alice in Wonderland,  is getting curioser and curioser.