Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Technology rules, June, 2009-check out how far can our dreams go

First, watch this ultra-cool virtual heart:

"Created by a team of doctors from the Heart Hospital in London and computer animators from post-production company Glassworks, the beating heart can be manipulated via a computer mouse or keyboard." source

  1. Birds can dance, really
  2. Animals that count: How numeracy evolved
  3. A Single Neuron Can Change the Activity of the Whole Brain
  4. Brain cell mechanism for decision making also underlies judgment about certainty
  5. Invisibility Cloak Blurs Line Between Magic and Science (w/Video)
Short stories:
  1. Scientists create blood vessels from patients' own cells
  2. Inventors: Shockingly Simple Wave Device Will Beat Wind Energy in Price
  3. Carbon nanotube device can detect colors of the rainbow
  4. Salt in ice plumes hint at liquid sea on Saturn's moon
  5. Russia mulls rocket power 'first'

Birds can dance, really

April 30th, 2009

Researchers at Harvard University have found that humans aren't the only ones who can groove to a beat -- some other species can dance, too. This capability was previously believed to be specific to humans. The research team found that only species that can mimic sound seem to be able to keep a beat, implying an evolutionary link between the two capacities.

My comment: Wow did you see that parrot?! It actually danced. That's so big. Because music and dance are one of the fist signs of culture and art. And now we see that dance isn't only human property. It's so amazingly cool! And it's a nice continuation of my posts about animals intelligence. And I think there are so many more to come. I mean, if animals can count, if they have memories about the past and plans about the future, how can we even define intelligence. This is beginning of the end of the humans-the king of Nature.

Animals that count: How numeracy evolved

Few now doubt that primates have a sense of number, and even distantly related animals, including salamanders, honeybees and newly hatched chicks, seem to have the knack, with some able to perform basic arithmetic. What's more, the skills of this growing mathematical menagerie resemble our own innate abilities.

In one experiment, rhesus monkeys and university students had to choose the bigger of two sets of geometrical objects that appeared briefly on a computer monitor. Both groups performed successfully (see image). Importantly, Brannon's team found that monkeys, like humans, make more errors when the ratio between the two groups is smaller.

Primates are not the only animals whose numerical capacities rely on ratio, however.

To investigate, Claudia's Uller team tempted local red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) with two sets of fruit flies held in clear tubes. In a series of trials, the researchers noted which tube the amphibians scampered towards, reasoning that if they had a capacity to recognise number, they would head for the larger number of tasty snacks.

At rates well above chance, the salamanders successfully discriminated between tubes containing 8 and 16 flies, for example, but not between 3 and 4, 4 and 6, and 8 and 12 (Animal Cognition, vol 6, p 105). So it seems that for the salamanders to discriminate between two big numbers, the largest must be at least twice as big as the smallest.

That was not the case, however, for numbers up to and including 3. The salamanders could differentiate between 2 and 3 flies just as well as 1 and 2 flies, suggesting they recognise small numbers in a different way to larger numbers. This chimes with studies showing that adults, infants and primates can also differentiate precisely between small numbers, irrespective of the ratios between the quantities.

Together, the results suggest that the two abilities - to precisely identify small numbers and to
estimate the relative size of large numbers - have deep roots in our evolutionary history. source

My comment: Read the source for more amazing examples! Even the mosquitofish can differ between quantities! This is simply stunning. Back on my previous comment, I really think we're just beginning to give the proper credit to everything around us. And qualities that before we considered entirely human will move far out of our comfort zone. To the point, when we'll be able to really understand what intelligence and awareness is. To the point when we'll be able to tell wether one (alien) life-form is on our level or not!

A Single Neuron Can Change the Activity of the Whole Brain

May 1st, 2009
( -- The pulsing of a single neuron can switch a brain’s waves from the equivalent of a big ocean swell to ripples on a pond, according to new research from Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Yang Dan of the University of California, Berkeley.

The study reveals important new information about how the controls large-scale activity patterns and suggests that an individual cell has more influence than previously thought.

use electrical pulses to talk with one another and guide functions ranging from heart rate and breathing to decision-making and navigation. Like the din of a crowd, the chatter of 100 billion neuronal cells in the human brain creates larger patterns of activity commonly called brain waves.

These patterns reveal the brain’s general state of arousal. For instance, large, slow brain waves that are synchronized throughout the brain are indicative of deep sleep. In an awake person, the brain broadcasts a rapid, uncoordinated pattern.

Dan and her colleagues wanted to understand how large-scale wave patterns influence the connection between two neurons. They knew that neuronal connections could strengthen or weaken over time, and these changes seem to underlie learning and memory. They wondered whether the overall pattern of brain activity altered ’ ability to change their connection strength.

Studying anesthetized rats, they used one electrode to spur a neuron to fire rapidly and used another electrode nearby to activate the local neuronal connections. A third electrode was used to pick up the larger pattern emitted by all the neurons in the area. They wanted the overall brain state to remain constant during the experiment, but instead found that tickling one neuron could cause the entire brain state to change.

Looking more closely, they verified that a neuron firing at high frequency could switch the brain from a “non-REM pattern” of activity to a “REM pattern,” and vice versa.

The result was counterintuitive. “Every neuron makes connections to roughly 1,000 other neurons, but most of those are quite weak,” says Dan. A target cell won’t respond unless many, many neurons that connect to it fire at the same time and therefore she says it’s surprising that a single neuron could change the activity of the whole brain.

Dan doesn’t yet know how one cell could exert such power. The researchers had to repeatedly and rapidly fire a cell to cause the pattern to switch, so they might be emulating the effect of many cells firing at once. A neuron doesn’t normally fire in that way, so it is an open question whether the activity of a single neuron could change overall brain pattern under normal circumstances. source

My comment: I also think it's more likely the frequency of firing, than anything else. Because from the point of view of our brain, if a neuron starts firing like crazy, it must have a good reason to do it. So the brain must pay attention to it. It's like hearing somebody talk in your sleep. At first, it doesn't matter, but if the talking is longer, you become slowly aware of it. At first it enters your dream, and if the noise continues, you awake yourself. Ok, these are just my speculations, but for me, it makes a lot of sense. And this research is extremely important not only from abstract point of view. It is essential for understanding how the brain works. Imagine that the autoimmune disorders happen because a neuron or two got mad. That's certainly something you can easily cure. Not so easy to deal with the whole brain.

Brain cell mechanism for decision making also underlies judgment about certainty

May 7th, 2009 by Leila Gray

( -- Countless times a day people judge their confidence in a choice they are about to make.

University of Washington (UW) researchers who study how the brain makes decisions are uncovering the biological mechanisms behind the belief that a choice is likely to be correct.

Several other research projects have shown that choice certainty is closely associated with reaction time and with decision accuracy.

The researchers tested the possibility that the same brain cell mechanism that underlies decision making might also underlie judgments about certainty. In their study, rhesus monkeys played a video game in which they watched a dynamic, random dot display. They then had to determine the direction of motion. The difficulty of the task was varied by both the percentage of moving dots and the viewing time. After a short delay, the fixation point faded. This cued the monkey to indicate its choice of direction by moving its eyes toward one of two targets. The monkey would receive a reward for each correct choice, and no reward for an incorrect choice.

On a random half of the trials, the monkey could pass on making a choice and instead pick a third, fixed-position target that guaranteed a small reward. While watching the moving dots, the monkeys didn't know whether this third option would be offered. The sure bet was shown during the short delay.

"The monkeys opted for the sure target when the chance of making a correct decision about the motion direction was small," the researchers noted. They picked the sure bet more frequently when the visual evidence was weaker and duration shorter.

According to the researchers, when the monkeys waived the sure-bet option, they more accurately picked the correct direction than when the wager wasn't offered. This occurred at all levels of difficulty, suggesting that the monkeys chose the sure bet because of uncertainty, not because that round of the game was too hard.

The researchers recorded activity from 70 brain cells while the monkeys made their decisions. The cells were located in the lateral intraparietal cortex of the brain. The parietal lobe is located just under the crown of the head and plays a role in spatial sensations. In rhesus monkeys, the lateral area of the parietal lobe is attuned to movement.

The researchers found that the pattern of firing activity in these brain nerve cells could predict the direction choice and whether the monkey would opt out of the direction decision by taking the sure bet when it was offered. Normally, these brain cells change their firing rates as evidence accrues for one direction or the other, ultimately giving rise to a clear decision through high or low firing rates.

On some trials, however, these same brain cells seemed to dilly-dally and achieve an intermediate "gray zone" of activity. Those were the trials where the monkey declared uncertainty by choosing the sure-bet target.

Analysis of the detailed data from the study results show that the mechanism underlying certainty in these brain cells is linked to the same evidence accumulation that underlies choice and decision time.

"This simple mechanism," the authors said, "brings certainty, which is commonly conceived as a subjective aspect of decision making, under the same rubric as choice and reaction time."

The authors went on to add, "Our findings suggest that when the brain embraces truth, it does so in a graded way so that even a binary [yes/no, true/false, left/right] choice leaves in its wake a quantity that represents a degree of belief. The neural mechanism of doesn't flip into a fixed point, but instead approximates a probability distribution." source

My comment: Ok, you may have found this article for little boring, but I'll tell you way this is sooo cool. Because if you can fix those neurons in human brain, that will give a whole new perspective to brain-computer interface. Because now, it requires a certain amout of efforts to tell the computer to do something with your mind-the computer has no way of knowing whether you really want something or you're simply considering it. And thus the effort. If you monitor those neurons, however, you'll be able to know if the person really want something or just thinks about it. And that is a major difference. I so so so hope this goes to the product end of research. Yes, it's scientific value is also big, but I so want to see brain-computer interface that is commercially doable. Just imagine what opportunities it presents for disabled people! And for everyone else afterward. So cool!

Invisibility Cloak Blurs Line Between Magic and Science (w/Video)

May 1st, 2009
( --
A team led by Xiang Zhang, a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and director of UC Berkeley's Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center, has created a "carpet cloak" from nanostructured silicon that conceals the presence of objects placed under it from optical detection. While the carpet itself can still be seen, the bulge of the object underneath it disappears from view. Shining a beam of on the bulge shows a reflection identical to that of a beam reflected from a flat surface, meaning the object itself has essentially been rendered invisible.

While metallic metamaterials have been successfully used to achieve invisibility cloaking at microwave frequencies, until now cloaking at optical frequencies, a key step towards achieving actual invisibility, has not been successful because the metal elements absorb too much light.

The new cloak created by Zhang and his team is made exclusively from dielectric materials, which are often transparent at optical frequencies.

Right now the cloak operates for light between 1,400 and 1,800 nanometers in wavelength, which is the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, just slightly longer than light that can be seen with the human eye. However, because of its all dielectric composition and design, Zhang says the cloak is relatively easy to fabricate and should be upwardly scalable. He is also optimistic that with more precise fabrication this all dielectric approach to cloaking should yield a material that operates for visible light - in other words, true invisibility to the naked eye. source
My comment: Now that's what I call invisibility. You can see the carpet, but can't see there's something beneath it. Cool! No more comments, really, but that's quite nice to check out. There's even a video!

Scientists create blood vessels from patients' own cells

4/25/2009 12:01 PM

LONDON — Scientists have grown blood vessels for kidney patients from their own cells, making it easier and safer for them to use dialysis machines, a new study says.

Some experts said the results suggested that doctors might one day be able to custom-produce blood vessels for patients with circulatory problems in their hearts or legs. Todd McAllister of Cytograft Tissue Engineering in California and colleagues implanted lab-grown blood vessels into 10 patients with advanced kidney disease in Argentina and Poland from 2004 to 2007.

Dialysis patients need a vessel, or shunt, to connect them to dialysis machines. This can be made from their own vessels. But because dialysis is done so regularly, kidney patients often run out of healthy vessels and need an artificial one, often made out of gortex. Those are prone to infection and inflammation.

In the study, doctors took a small snippet of skin from patients. Cells from those samples were grown in a lab, to help them produce proteins like elastin and collagen. From those, scientists made sheets of tissue that were rolled into blood vessels 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) long.

The vessels were finished after 6 to 9 months. All of the vessels were implanted into patients' upper arms, to connect them to dialysis machines.

The vessels failed in three of the patients, which experts said was not surprising in patients so seriously ill. One other patient withdrew from the study and another died of unrelated causes.

In the five remaining patients, the vessels worked for at least 6 to 20 months after they were implanted. Afterwards, those patients needed fewer interventions, including surgeries, to maintain the vessels than regular dialysis patients.

McAllister said he and colleagues plan to test similar devices in patients with heart and leg problems.

The study was was paid for by Cytograft Tissue Engineering.

"It's difficult to predict what will happen next, but they are on the right track," Mironov said. He added the same technique might be useful for people with heart, leg or hernia problems. But Mironov worried the vessels, which cost between $15,000 and $20,000, might be too expensive to be used widely. source

Inventors: Shockingly Simple Wave Device Will Beat Wind Energy in Price

A new prototype of a wave power generator has been unveiled in England, and its inventors followed the creed espoused by Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The new wave power device, known as Anaconda, is a basic tube made from rubber and fabric and filled with water. It is still in trial phase, but its creators, optimistic about its potential as a source of mass power, are confident it will be cheaper than a wind farm generating the equivalent amount of power and less controversial in terms of public protest since the devices will be below the sea [Telegraph].

The Anaconda rides waves in the ocean, which create bulges along the tubing that travel along its length gathering energy. At the end of the tube, the surge of energy drives a turbine and generates electricity [BBC News]. While similar technology has already been deployed in the coastal waters near Portugal, the inventors of the Anaconda say its mostly rubber composition and its few moving parts combine to give it a sturdy and resilient edge in the tumultuous ocean.

The company behind the Anaconda, Checkmate Sea Energy, has been testing a small-scale 25-foot-long prototype in a wave tank, but if the project goes to full implementation—which could happen in five years’ time—each tube would be about 650 feet long. Each device is anchored to the ocean floor but moves with the waves, generating enough energy to power 1,000 homes. The plan is to have “shoals” or “schools” of the devices around the coast, where they would be harnessed to “swim” just below the surface [Telegraph] in groups of 50 or more.source

Carbon nanotube device can detect colors of the rainbow

April 30th, 2009
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have created the first carbon nanotube device that can detect the entire visible spectrum of light, a feat that could soon allow scientists to probe single molecule transformations, study how those molecules respond to light, observe how the molecules change shapes, and understand other fundamental interactions between molecules and nanotubes.

Salt in ice plumes hint at liquid sea on Saturn's moon

1 May 2009, 0156 hrs IST
LONDON: Scientists, studying measurements made by Cassini spacecraft, have found salt in the ice plumes that bloom above Saturn’s Enceladus, which suggest the presence of a liquid ocean on the satellite.

The Cassini spacecraft flew through a plume on October 9 and measured the molecular weight of chemicals in the ice.

According to a report in New Scientist, Frank Postberg of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, and colleagues, found traces of sodium in the form of salt and sodium bicarbonate.

The chemicals would have originated in the rocky core of Enceladus, so to reach a plume they must have leached from the core via liquid water. . source

Russia mulls rocket power 'first'

By Anatoly Zak
Science reporter

Russia's next-generation manned space vehicle might be equipped with thrusters to perform a precision landing on its return to Earth.

Engineers are considering a rocket-powered landing system for the successor to Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

If accepted, it would be the first time that a manned vehicle relied solely on rocket engines for touchdown.

Previous manned missions have landed on Earth using a parachute or, in the case of space shuttles, a pair of wings.

Last July, Korolev-based RKK Energia released the first drawings of a multi-purpose transport ship, known as the Advanced Crew Transportation System (ACTS), which, at the time, Russia had hoped to develop in co-operation with Europe.

But the design of the spacecraft's crew capsule had raised eyebrows in some quarters, as it lacked a parachute - instead sporting a cluster of 12 soft-landing rockets, burning solid propellant.

Combined with retractable landing legs and a re-usable thermal protection system, landing rockets promised to enable not only a safe return to Earth, but also the possibility of performing multiple space missions with the same crew capsule.

According to the presentation made by Nikolai Bryukhanov, the leading designer at RKK Energia, at the 26th International Symposium on Space Technology and Science in Hamamatsu, Japan, the spacecraft would fire its engines at an altitude of just 600-800m, as the capsule is streaking toward Earth after re-entering the atmosphere at the end of its mission.

After a vertical descent, the precision landing would be initiated at the altitude of 30m above the surface.

Christian Bank, the leading designer of manned space systems at EADS-Astrium in Bremen, Germany, which at the time was responsible for the European side of the ACTS project, agreed with the validity of this novel Russian approach toward landing.

As a result, an alternative concept has emerged, which would combine a high-precision rocket-powered landing under normal circumstances and a parachute in the case of an emergency.

As with any compromise, it requires splitting the capsule into two parts - the crew cabin and the propulsion section.

If the craft's landing engines were to fail, the propulsion section would have to be jettisoned. Otherwise, the propellant-laden ship would be too heavy for a parachute to handle.

As preliminary development of the PPTS vehicle would not be completed until mid-2010, only time will tell whether this compromise can silence the system's detractors. source

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