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Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Technology of the future, 02, 2010 - vibrations and energy

Today:

  1. Pickin' Up Good Vibrations to Produce Green Electricity
  2. Scientists: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts
  3. Balancing protein intake, not cutting calories, may be key to long life
  4. Researchers show brain waves can 'write' on a computer in early tests
  5. Nerve-cell transplants help brain-damaged rats fully recover lost ability to learn
  6. At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = equal instant battery (w/ Video)
I haven't posted for a while, since I'm busy with other hm, projects recently. But still, I think this post will be quite interesting for you, because of the amazing technologies described in the articles. Enjoy!

Pickin' Up Good Vibrations to Produce Green Electricity

November 30, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- Known as 'energy harvesting', the concept has been around for over a decade, but researchers from the University of Bristol aim to make it possible to make use of a much wider range of vibrations than is currently possible.

The team are exploring how vibrations caused by machines such as helicopters and trains could be used to produce power. Vibrations from household appliances and the movement of the human body could also be harnessed in this way.

"Vibration energy-harvesting devices use a spring with a mass on the end", says Dr Stephen Burrow, who is leading the project. "The mass and spring exploit a phenomenon called resonance to amplify small vibrations, enabling useful energy to be extracted. Even just a few milliwatts can power small electronic devices like a heart rate monitor or an engine temperature sensor, but it
can also be used to recharge power-hungry devices like or mobile phones."

The Bristol team are developing a new type of device where the mass and spring resonate over a much wider range of frequencies. This would enable a much wider range of vibrations to be exploited and so increase the overall contribution that energy harvesting could make to energy supplies. The team believes it can achieve this by exploiting the properties of non-linear springs which allow the energy harvester to respond to a wider range of frequencies than conventional springs.

If the research at Bristol succeeds in achieving its objectives, wider-frequency energy harvesting devices could be available for real-world use within five years. source

Scientists: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts

December 2, 2009 By ARIEL DAVID , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- A group of European scientists said Wednesday they have successfully connected a robotic hand to an amputee, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts.

The experiment lasted a month, and scientists say it was the first time a patient has been able to make complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system.

The Italian-led team said at a news conference Wednesday in Rome that last year it implanted electrodes into the arm of the patient who had lost his left hand and forearm in a car accident.

The prosthetic was not implanted on the patient, only connected through the electrodes. During the news conference, video was shown of 26-year-old Pierpaolo Petruzziello as he concentrated to give orders to the hand placed next to him.

"It's a matter of mind, of concentration," Petruzziello said. "When you think of it as your hand and forearm, it all becomes easier."

During the month he had the electrodes connected, Petruzziello learned to wiggle the robotic fingers independently, make a fist, grab objects and make other movements.

The euro2 million ($3 million) project, funded by the European Union, took five years to complete and produced several scientific papers that have been published or are being submitted to top journals, including Science Translational Medicine and , Rossini said.

After Petruzziello recovered from the microsurgery he underwent to implant the electrodes in his arm, it only took him a few days to master use of the , Rossini said. By the time the experiment was over, the hand obeyed the commands it received from the man's brain in 95 percent of cases.

Petruzziello, an Italian who lives in Brazil, said the feedback he got from the hand was amazingly accurate.

"It felt almost the same as a real hand. They stimulated me a lot, even with needles ... you can't imagine what they did to me," he joked with reporters.

While the "LifeHand" experiment lasted only a month, this was the longest time electrodes had remained connected to a human in such an experiment, said Silvestro Micera, one of the engineers on the team. Similar, shorter-term experiments in 2004-2005 had hooked up amputees to a less-advanced robotic arm, and patients were only able to make basic movements, he said.

It will take at least two or three years before scientists try to replicate the experiment with a more long-term prosthesis, the experts said. First they need to study if the hair-thin electrodes can be kept in longer.

Results from the experiment are encouraging, as the electrodes removed from Petruzziello showed no damage and could well stay in longer, said Klaus-Peter Hoffmann, a biomedical expert at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the German research institute that developed the electrodes.

More must also be done to miniaturize the technology on the arm and the bulky machines that translate neural and digital signals between the robot and the patient. source

My comment: Simply amazing! However, I can't even imagine how sad "the patient" was when they disconnected the arm and left him without it. It's too cruel thing to do to a person, like cutting his hand for a second time. I think they should have left it with him and simply replaced it when it broke down.


Balancing protein intake, not cutting calories, may be key to long life

December 2, 2009

Getting the correct balance of proteins in our diet may be more important for healthy ageing than reducing calories, new research funded by the Wellcome Trust and Research into Ageing suggests.

The research may help explain why 'dietary restriction' (also known as ) - reducing whilst maintaining sufficient quantities of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients - appears to have health benefits. In many organisms, such as the fruit fly (drosophila), mice, rats and the , these benefits include living longer. Evidence suggests that dietary restriction can have health benefits for humans, too, though it is unclear whether it can increase longevity.

Dietary restriction can have a potentially negative side effect, however: diminished fertility. For example, the female fruit fly reproduces less frequently on a low calorie diet and its litter size is reduced, though its reproductive span lasts longer. This is believed to be an evolutionary trait: in times of famine, essential nutrients are diverted away from reproduction and towards survival.

To understand whether the health benefits of dietary restriction stem from a reduction in specific nutrients or in calorie intake in general, researchers at the Institute of Healthy Ageing, UCL (University College London), measured the effects of manipulating the diet of female . The results of the study are published today in the journal Nature.

The fruit flies were fed a diet of yeast, sugar and water, but with differing amounts of key nutrients, such as vitamins, lipids and . The researchers found that varying the amount of amino acids in the mixture affected and fertility; varying the amount of the other nutrients had little or no effect.

In fact, when the researchers studied the effect further, they found that levels of a particular amino acid known as methionine were crucial to maximising lifespan without decreasing fertility. Adding methionine to a low calorie diet boosted fertility without reducing lifespan; likewise, reducing methionine content in a high calorie diet prolonged lifespan. Previous studies have also shown that reducing the intake of methionine in rodents can help extend lifespan.

Amino acids are the building blocks of life as they form the basis of proteins. Methionine is one of the most important amino acids at it is essential to the formation of all proteins. Whilst proteins are formed naturally in the body, we also consume proteins from many different food types, including meat and dairy products, soy-derived food such as tofu, and pulses. The relative abundance of methionine differs depending on the food type in question; it occurs in naturally high levels in foods such as sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, fish and meats.

source

My comment: That's a hell of a study. So, if you're on low calorie diet and you eat a lot of meat, fish or nuts, you'll get to live longer and be fertile. If you eat a lot of the same in the high calorie diet, you live less. Or to say it in another way - if you take a lot of calories, in the form of sugars and so on, you better consume less meat and so on. That sounds strange and sure, it is about the balance, but for me, they missed a point. This amino acid regulate in some way our metabolism, telling our body what to do with the calories it takes and this is the key moment. I don't know why they didn't look deeper but I think they really should.


Researchers show brain waves can 'write' on a computer in early tests

December 7, 2009

Neuroscientists at the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville, Fla., have demonstrated how brain waves can be used to type alphanumerical characters on a computer screen. By merely focusing on the "q" in a matrix of letters, for example, that "q" appears on the monitor.

Researchers say these findings, presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, represent concrete progress toward a mind-machine interface that may, one day, help people with a variety of disorders control devices, such as prosthetic arms and legs. These disorders include Lou Gehrig's disease and , among many others.

Dr. Shih and other Mayo Clinic researchers worked with Dean Krusienski, Ph.D., from the University of North Florida on this study, which was conducted in two patients with epilepsy. These patients were already being monitored for using electrocorticography (ECoG), in which electrodes are placed directly on the surface of the brain to record electrical activity produced by the firing of . This kind of procedure requires a craniotomy, a surgical incision into the skull.

Dr. Shih wanted to study a mind-machine interface in these patients because he hypothesized that feedback from electrodes placed directly on the brain would be much more specific than data collected from (EEG), in which electrodes are placed on the scalp. Most studies of mind-machine interaction have occurred with EEG, Dr. Shih says.

Because these patients already had ECoG electrodes implanted in their brains to find the area where seizures originated, the researchers could test their fledgling brain-computer interface.

In the study, the two patients sat in front of a monitor that was hooked to a computer running the researchers' software, which was designed to interpret electrical signals coming from the electrodes.

The patients were asked to look at the screen, which contained a 6-by-6 matrix with a single alphanumeric character inside each square. Every time the square with a certain letter flashed, and the patient focused on it, the computer recorded the brain's response to the flashing letter. The patients were then asked to focus on specific letters, and the computer software recorded the information. The computer then calibrated the system with the individual patient's specific brain wave, and when the patient then focused on a letter, the letter appeared on the screen.

"We were able to consistently predict the desired letters for our patients at or near 100 percent accuracy," Dr. Shih says. source

My comment: Cool, but they should focus on words and ideas, because communication can be very hard if you try to spell each word letter by letter. And working with words shouldn't be too hard, once you have observed your patient and calibrated the software while s/he reads a book or watches tv. Sure, it requires a much better software and hardware, but once you get the meanings, it will be just pattern recognition. And the patient will have to focus on the world, so it won't be exactly mind reading. But just like you give a command to type or say a word, it should be the same with computers. Or maybe this is the key - how the brain gives the command to say/write something. Hm.

Nerve-cell transplants help brain-damaged rats fully recover lost ability to learn

December 9, 2009

Nerve cells transplanted into brain-damaged rats helped them to fully recover their ability to learn and remember, probably by promoting nurturing, protective growth factors, according to a new study.

Building on previous investigation of transplants in the , this critical study confirms that cell transplants can help the brain to heal itself. Ultimately, it may lead to new therapies to help dementia patients. More generally, scientists can now develop and test new ways to help repair an injured nervous system -- whether through new drugs, genetically modified cells, transplanted neural (nerve) and non-neural , or other means.

The discovery was announced in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association. The findings, according to the authors, confirm the potential of cell grafts to stimulate the release of growth factors for neurons, regenerate or reorganize a part of the brain, and restore cognitive function, in a process called neural plasticity.

This study focused on the hippocampus, considered to be the seat of learning and memory, whose shrinkage in Alzheimer's disease causes steadily worsening symptoms. The study's authors targeted a key player in the hippocampal "learning system," which includes the hippocampus itself, the subiculum (the major output structure connected to the cortex, the self-aware "thinking" part of the brain), and the adjacent entorhinal cortex.

Previously, these scientists had demonstrated that damage to the subiculum in led to deterioration of the hippocampus, and problems with learning. The next question was obvious: Could researchers do the opposite, repair the hippocampus and restore the functions?

First, the scientists injected a neuron-destroying chemical into the subiculum area of 48 adult rats.

Next, again using precise micro-injections, the scientists transplanted hippocampal cells that had been taken from newborn transgenic mice and cultured in an incubator into the hippocampi of about half the rats. These special cells had a green fluorescent protein used to "label" and track them after transplantation.

Two months later, the scientists measured how well both the transplant and non-transplant rats learned and remembered, using two well-established maze tests of spatial learning. The rats given cell transplants had recovered completely: On both mazes, they performed as well as those rats which had not had their subiculums damaged. The rats without transplants did not recover: They had many problems learning their way through the mazes.

After studying behavior, the scientists examined what happened in the brain. Under the microscope, it appeared that the transplanted cells had settled mainly in a sub-area of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. There, the transplants appeared to promote the secretion of two types of growth factors, namely brain-derived neurotrophic factor and fibroblast growth factor, which boost the growth and survival of the cells that give rise to neurons. In the hippocampi of rats with cell transplants, the expression of brain-derived growth factor went up threefold.

It is significant that transplants can provide more neural growth factors in the , because the formation of new neurons there may be critical for cognitive function.

source

My comment: Another amazing study, the only problem I see ahead of it, is how to produce the same substances for injections in humans. But I looks very promising and I hope they won't stall its application in humans forever. There is a well documented dementia crisis across Europe and since the retirement age increases, such treatments are essential for both good economy and good life.


At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = equal instant battery (w/ Video)

December 7, 2009 By Janelle Weaver (PhysOrg.com) -- Stanford scientists are harnessing nanotechnology to quickly produce ultra-lightweight, bendable batteries and supercapacitors in the form of everyday paper.

Simply coating a sheet of with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver makes a highly conductive storage device, said Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Like batteries, capacitors hold an electric charge, but for a shorter period of time. However, capacitors can store and discharge electricity much more rapidly than a .

Cui's work is reported in the paper "Highly Conductive Paper for Energy Storage Devices," published online this week in the .

"These nanomaterials are special," Cui said. "They're a one-dimensional structure with very small diameters." The small diameter helps the nanomaterial ink stick strongly to the fibrous paper, making the battery and supercapacitor very durable. The paper supercapacitor may last through 40,000 charge-discharge cycles - at least an order of magnitude more than lithium batteries. The nanomaterials also make ideal conductors because they move electricity along much more efficiently than ordinary conductors, Cui said.

A paper supercapacitor may be especially useful for applications like electric or hybrid cars, which depend on the quick transfer of electricity. The paper supercapacitor's high surface-to-volume ratio gives it an advantage.

Cui predicts the biggest impact may be in large-scale storage of electricity on the distribution grid. Excess electricity generated at night, for example, could be saved for peak-use periods during the day. Wind farms and solar energy systems also may require storage. source

My comment: Awesome, huh! I hope they filed for a patent (I'm sure they did), because just imagine what this new technology can be used. It would be perfect for smart grids. You paint your wallpaper with this solution and then you really can store your energy on your walls. Or this can happen in the walls, in packages of paper, so that you can store even more and they will be a good insulation. Awesome!


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