Scientists ‘uncover’ lost Leonardo masterpiece

Evidence uncovered in Florence, Italy supports a theory that a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting resides behind a superimposed mural. At stake, is confirmation of the painting “The Battle of Anghiari,” commissioned in 1503, and considered by some as one of da Vinci’s most significant works.

An endoscopic probe, fitted with a camera and inserted through a wall, allowed researchers to view the existing mural and obtain samples for analysis. While not conclusive, chemical analysis suggests the da Vinci painting, long assumed to have been destroyed in the mid-16th century, lay behind a Giorgio Vasari’s mural titled “The Battle of Marciano.” Supporting evidence includes:

  1. A sample showing a chemical composition similar to pigment found in brown glazes on Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” and “St. John the Baptist.”
  2. The presence of flakes of red material unlikely to be present in an ordinary plastered wall.
  3. A beige material seen on the original wall that could only have been applied by a paintbrush.
  4. Confirmation of an air gap that suggests that Vasari may have preserved da Vinci’s masterpiece by building a wall in front of it before executing his later mural.

Research was led by the National Geographic Society and UC San Diego’s Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3). CISA3 is based at the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).
— More information at

Bone Disorder Sparks Autism Insights

Children with multiple hereditary exostoses (MHE) suffer from growths on their bones that cause pain and disfigurement. But beyond the physical symptoms of this genetic disease, some parents have long observed that these children also experience autism-like social problems. Now Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute scientists report discovery of the molecular basis of these autistic symptoms in MHE children.

While not all autistic children have MHE, nor are all MHE children autistic, studies involving mice with a genetic defect that models human MHE did show symptoms that meet the three defining characteristics of autism: social impairment, language deficits, and repetitive behavior. After demonstrating the MHE link between skeletal deformities as well as social and cognitive problems, researchers then went on to define the cellular, molecular, and physiological basis for these symptoms.

— The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘Nanotrees’ Harvest the Sun

Electrical engineers are building a forest of tiny nanowire trees in order to cleanly capture solar energy without using fossil fuels and harvest it for hydrogen fuel generation. The team from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering say nanowires made from abundant natural materials like silicon and zinc oxide offer a cheap way to deliver hydrogen fuel on a mass scale.

The trees’ vertical structure and branches are keys to capturing the maximum amount of solar energy because they can grab and adsorb light while flat surfaces simply reflect it.

The 3D branched, nanowire array uses photo-electrochemical water-splitting to separates water into oxygen and hydrogen in order to extract hydrogen gas to be used as fuel. This process uses clean energy with no greenhouse gas byproduct. By comparison, the conventional means of producing hydrogen relies on electricity from fossil fuels.

— Reported in the journal Nanoscale.

— Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.