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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Toward tires that repair themselves

Toward tires that repair themselves | Amazing Science |
A cut or torn tire usually means one thing—you have to buy a new one. But some day, that could change. For the first time, scientists have made tire-grade rubber without the processing step—vulcanization—that has been essential to inflatable tires since their invention. The resulting material heals itself and could potentially withstand the long-term pressures of driving. Their report appears in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Vulcanization involves adding sulfur or other curatives to make rubber more durable while maintaining its elasticity. But once an errant piece of glass or other sharp object pierces a tire, it can't be patched for long-term use. Researchers are beginning to develop self-healing rubber in the laboratory, but these prototypes might not be stable over time either. Amit Das and colleagues wanted to address that shortcoming.

Using a new simple process that avoids vulcanization altogether, the researchers chemically modified commercial rubber into a durable, elastic material that can fix itself over time. Testing showed that a cut in the material healed at room temperature, a property that could allow a tire to mend itself while parked. And after 8 days, the rubber could withstand a stress of 754 pounds per square inch. Heating it to 212 degrees Fahrenheit for the first 10 minutes accelerated the repair process. The researchers say their product could be further strengthened by adding reinforcing agents such as silica or carbon black.

Reference: Ionic Modification Turns Commercial Rubber into a Self-Healing Material, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2015, 7 (37), pp 20623–20630 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b05041

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New ‘stealth dark matter’ theory may explain mystery of the universe’s missing mass

New ‘stealth dark matter’ theory may explain mystery of the universe’s missing mass | Amazing Science |

A new theory that may explain why dark matter has evaded direct detection in Earth-based experiments has been developed by a team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) particle physicists known as the Lattice Strong Dynamics Collaboration.

The group has combined theoretical and computational physics techniques and used the Laboratory’s massively parallel 2-petaflop Vulcan supercomputer to devise a new model of dark matter. The model identifies today’s dark matter as naturally “stealthy.” But in the extremely high-temperature plasma conditions that pervaded the early universe, it would have been easy to see dark matter via interactions with ordinary matter, the model shows.

“These interactions in the early universe are important because ordinary and dark matter abundances today are strikingly similar in size, suggesting this occurred because of a balancing act performed between the two before the universe cooled,” said Pavlos Vranas of LLNL, one of the authors of a paper in an upcoming edition of the journal Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter makes up 83 percent of all matter in the universe and does not interact directly with electromagnetic or strong and weak nuclear forces. Light does not bounce off of it, and ordinary matter goes through it with only the feeblest of interactions. It is essentially invisible, yet its interactions with gravity produce striking effects on the movement of galaxies and galactic clusters, leaving little doubt of its existence.

The key to stealth dark matter’s split personality is its compositeness and the miracle of confinement. Like quarks in a neutron, at high temperatures these electrically charged constituents interact with nearly everything. But at lower temperatures, they bind together to form an electrically neutral composite particle. Unlike a neutron, which is bound by the ordinary strong interaction of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the stealthy neutron would have to be bound by a new and yet-unobserved strong interaction, a dark form of QCD.

“It is remarkable that a dark matter candidate just several hundred times heavier than the proton could be a composite of electrically charged constituents and yet have evaded direct detection so far,” Vranas said. Similar to protons, stealth dark matter is stable and does not decay over cosmic times. However, like QCD, it produces a large number of other nuclear particles that decay shortly after their creation. These particles can have net electric charge but would have decayed away a long time ago. In a particle collider with sufficiently high energy (such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland), these particles can be produced again for the first time since the early universe. They could generate unique signatures in the particle detectors because they could be electrically charged.

malik matwi's comment, December 13, 2015 3:00 PM
neither dark matter nor energy
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Researchers use disordered matter for computation, evolving breakthrough nanoparticle Boolean logic network

Researchers use disordered matter for computation, evolving breakthrough nanoparticle Boolean logic network | Amazing Science |

Natural computers, such as evolved brains and cellular automata, express sophisticated interconnected networks and exhibit massive parallelism. They also adapt to exploit local physical properties such as capacitative crosstalk between circuits. By contrast, synthetic computers channel activity according to established design rules and do not adapt to take advantage of their surroundings. Thus, researchers are interested in using matter itself for computation.

Scientists have speculated about the ability to evolve designless nanoscale networks of inanimate matter with the same robust capacities as natural computers, but have not yet realized the concept. Now, a group of researchers reports in Nature Nanotechnology a disordered nanomaterials system that was artificially evolved by optimizing the values of control voltages according to a genetic algorithm.

Using interconnected metal nanoparticles, which act as nonlinear single-electron transistors, the researchers were able to exploit the system's emergent network properties to create a universal, reconfigurable Boolean gate. The authors note that their system meets the requirements for a cellular neural network—universality, compactness, robustness and evolvability. Their approach works around the device-to-device variations that are becoming increasingly difficult to align as semiconductors approach the nanoscale, and which result in uncertainties in performance.

Their system is a disordered nanoparticle network that can be reconfigured in situ into any two-input Boolean logic gate by tuning six static control voltages. It exploits the rich emergent behavior of up to 100 arbitrarily interconnected nanoparticles. For the experiment, the researchers used 20 nm gold nanoparticles interconnected with insulating molecules. These single-electron transistors express strongly nonlinear switching behavior, and the researchers looked for logic gates among the mutual interactions between them.

The fastest method proved to be artificial evolution. They developed a genetic algorithm that followed the well-known rules of natural selection, considering each control voltage as a gene and the complete set of system voltages as a genome. The best-performing (i.e., "fittest") genomes were preserved and improved via a composite cloning-breeding approach. The desirable traits of the initial, mostly low-performing genomes were passed selectively to subsequent generations.

For each logic gate evolved, the genetic algorithm almost always converged to a viable genome within less than 200 generations. The researchers note that due to the slow input signals they used, the process took about an hour; optimizing the system set-up could result in faster evolution.

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Old enigma cracked: What's Driving the Brightest Galaxies in the Universe

Old enigma cracked: What's Driving the Brightest Galaxies in the Universe | Amazing Science |

Astronomers may have finally cracked the enigma of why the universe's brightest galaxies are so incredibly luminous. 

Over the past 50 years or so, astronomers have observed certain galaxies in our universe—called submillimeter galaxies (SMGs)—that outshine other galaxies by hundreds of times over. These rabid, glowing galaxies also give birth to stars thousands of times faster than our own Milky Way does. But ever since their discovery, exactly what exactly causes these ultra-bright galaxies to become so radiant has been a longstanding mystery.

One prevailing theory is that SMGs are cosmic car crashes—the fiery result of two disc galaxies like the Milky Way colliding. But in simulation after simulation, nobody's ever been able to plug in the physics and explain what we see in real life. But today, a team of astronomers—led by Desika Narayanan at Haverford College—has announced the first working model of SMGs and the first conclusive answer of why they're so radiant. They published their work today in the journal Nature.

Based on Narayanan's new model, SMGs are not the result of spectacular crashes. Rather, something much more interesting is going on: SMG galaxies are strange, long-lived convection ovens driven by gravity.

Narayanan's new model shows that despite their ample reservoirs of gas and dust, SMGs don't leak gas (what astronomers call galactic outflow) at all the way Milky Way-type galaxies do. Instead, because of the tight grip of gravity in these hugely massive galaxies, as stars die and go nova the stellar gas is recycled back inward, continually fueling the formation of new stars and future supernova. That recycling process forms a feedback loop that jets out crazy amounts of light while keeping the mass trapped inside the galaxy.

According to Narayanan and his team, their model owes its accuracy to a newly developed computer code that describes how light escapes the complex maze of dust and gas in an SMG. Romeel Davé, an astronomer at the University of the Western Cape who specializes in supercomputer galactic models (and was not involved in the research), says that thanks to this breakthrough, Narayanan and his team have "presented the first impressively viable model of SMG formation, allowing us a tantalizing glimpse behind the mask of these behemoths of deep space."

According to Davé, Narayanan's new model "offer[s] unprecedented clarity in understanding the origins of such deep-space monsters."

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Paralyzed Man Walks Using Brain Power

Paralyzed Man Walks Using Brain Power | Amazing Science |

Using an EEG, virtual reality, and physical therapy, researchers at UC Irvine helped a paraplegic man walk again.

A paraplegic man has been able to walk again using the power of his brain alone. The patient, who had been paralyzed for five years following a spinal cord injury, is the first with such injuries ever to walk without the need for prosthetic limbs orwalking aids. Researchers believe that this is a vital first step in demonstrating that direct brain control can reverse the effects of complete paralysis and restore function into a person’s limbs.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG)—a non-invasive test which detects electrical activity in the brain—researchers at the University of California, Irvine were able to monitor signals as they passed to electrodes placed on the patient’s knees. For 19 weeks, he underwent training sessions while suspended 5cm above the ground in order to enable free motion of the legs, before walking a 3.66m course on terra firma.

“Even after years of paralysis the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking,” explained Dr. An Do, one of thestudy’s lead researchers. “We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. This noninvasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton.”

While the field of prosthetics is advancing at a rapid rate, the news that the hundreds of thousands of paraplegics in the U.S might be able to regain spinal cord function is a life-changing prospect. Though the procedure has only been carried out on one patient and is still under review, the proof-of-concept study could affect paralyzed people the world over, and cut down on numerous diseases caused by excessive wheelchair reliance such as pressure ulcers and heart disease.

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J. Craig Venter’s Human Longevity to Offer Health Services by Subsidizing Sequencing

J. Craig Venter’s Human Longevity to Offer Health Services by Subsidizing Sequencing | Amazing Science |
Fifteen years ago, scientific instigator J. Craig Venter spent $100 million to race the government and sequence a human genome, which turned out to be his own. Now, with a South African health insurer, the entrepreneur says he will sequence the medically important genes of its clients for just $250.

Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), the startup Venter launched in La Jolla, California, 18 months ago, now operates what’s touted as the world’s largest DNA-sequencing lab. It aims to tackle one million genomes inside of four years, in order to create a giant private database of DNA and medical records.

In a step toward building the data trove, Venter’s company says it has formed an agreement with the South African insurer Discovery to partially decode the genomes of its customers, returning the information as part of detailed health reports.

The deal is a salvo in the widening battle to try to bring DNA data to consumers through novel avenues and by subsidizing the cost of sequencing. It appears to be the first major deal with an insurer to offer wide access to genetic information on a commercial basis.

Jonathan Broomberg, chief executive of Discovery Health, which insures four million people in South Africa and the United Kingdom, says the genome service will be made available as part of a wellness program and that Discovery will pay half the $250, with individual clients covering the rest. Gene data would be returned to doctors or genetic counselors, not directly to individuals. The data collected, called an “exome,” is about 2 percent of the genome, but includes nearly all genes, including major cancer risk factors like the BRCA genes, as well as susceptibility factors for conditions such as colon cancer and heart disease. Typically, the BRCA test on its own costs anywhere from $400 to $4,000.

“I hope that we get a real breakthrough in the field of personalized wellness,” Broomberg says. “My fear would be that people are afraid of this and don’t want the information—or that even at this price point, it’s still too expensive. But we’re optimistic.” He says he expects as many as 100,000 people to join over several years.

Via Gerd Moe-Behrens
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Physicists break distance record for quantum teleportation

Physicists break distance record for quantum teleportation | Amazing Science |
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have "teleported" or transferred quantum information carried in light particles over 100 kilometers (km) of optical fiber, four times farther than the previous record.

The experiment confirmed that quantum communication is feasible over long distances in fiber. Other research groups have teleported quantum information over longer distances in free space, but the ability to do so over conventional fiber-optic lines offers more flexibility for network design.

Not to be confused with Star Trek's fictional "beaming up" of people, quantum teleportation involves the transfer, or remote reconstruction, of information encoded in quantum states of matter or light.

Teleportation is useful in both quantum communications and quantum computing, which offer prospects for novel capabilities such as unbreakable encryption and advanced code-breaking, respectively. The basic method for quantum teleportation was first proposed more than 20 years ago and has been performed by a number of research groups, including one at NIST using atoms in 2004.

The new record, described in Optica, involved the transfer of quantum information contained in one photon—its specific time slot in a sequence— to another photon transmitted over 102 km of spooled fiber in a NIST laboratory in Colorado. The lead author, Hiroki Takesue, was a NIST guest researcher from NTT Corp. in Japan. The achievement was made possible by advanced single-photon detectors designed and made at NIST.

"Only about 1 percent of photons make it all the way through 100 km of fiber," NIST's Marty Stevens says. "We never could have done this experiment without these new detectors, which can measure this incredibly weak signal."

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Tiny magnets in metamaterial mimic steam, water and ice

Tiny magnets in metamaterial mimic steam, water and ice | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) created a synthetic material out of 1 billion tiny magnets. Astonishingly, it now appears that the magnetic properties of this so-called metamaterial change with the temperature, so that it can take on different states; just like water has a gaseous, liquid and a solid state. This material made of nanomagnets might well be refined for electronic applications of the future – such as for more efficient information transfer.

synthetic material – created from 1 billion nanomagnets – assumes different aggregate states depending on the temperature: the so-called metamaterial exhibits phase transitions, much like those between steam, water and ice. This effect was observed by a team of researchers headed by Laura Heyderman from PSI.

"We were surprised and excited," explains Heyderman. "Only complex systems are able to display phase transitions." And as complex systems can provide new kinds of information transfer, the result of the new study also reveals that the PSI researchers' metamaterial would be a potential candidate here. The major advantage of the synthetic metamaterial is that it can be customised virtually freely. While the individual atoms in a natural material cannot be rearranged with pinpoint precision on such a grand scale, the researchers say that this is possible with the nanomagnets.

The magnets are only 63 nanometers long and shaped roughly like grains of rice. The researchers used a highly advanced technique to place 1 billion of these tiny grains on a flat substrate to form a large-scale honeycomb pattern. The nanomagnets covered a total area of five by five millimeters.

Thanks to a special measuring technique, the scientists initially studied the collective magnetic behaviour of their metamaterial at room temperature. Here there was no order in the magnetic orientation: the magnetic north and south poles pointed randomly in one direction or another.

When the researchers cooled the metamaterial gradually and constantly, however, they reached a point where a higher order appeared: the tiny magnets now noticed each other more than before. As the temperature fell further, there was another change towards an even higher order, in which the magnetic arrangement appeared almost frozen. The long-range order of water molecules increases in a similar way at the moment when water freezes into ice. "We were fascinated by the fact that our synthetic material displayed this everyday phenomenon of a phase transition," says Heyderman.

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How to catch a molecule: Single molecules imprisoned by laser light

How to catch a molecule: Single molecules imprisoned by laser light | Amazing Science |

In a paper published in Physical Review AOak Ridge National Laboratory and University of Tennessee physicists describe conceptually how they may be able to trap and exploit a molecule’s energy to advance a number of fields. “A single molecule has many degrees of freedom, or ways of expressing its energy and dynamics, including vibrations, rotations and translations,” said Ali Passian of Oak Ridge National Lab. “For years, physicists have searched for ways to take advantage of these molecular states, including how they could be used in high-precision instruments or as an information storage device for applications such as quantum computing.”

Catching a molecule with minimal disturbance is not an easy task, considering its size — about 1 nanometer — but this paper proposes a method that may overcome that obstacle. When interacting with laser light, the ring toroidal nanostructure can trap the slower molecules at its center. That’s because the nano-trap, which can be made of gold using conventional nanofabrication techniques, creates a highly localized force field surrounding the molecules. The team envisions using scanning probe microscopy techniques, which can measure extremely small forces, to access individual nano-traps.

“Once trapped, we can interrogate the molecules for their spectroscopic and electromagnetic properties and study them in isolation without disturbance from the neighboring molecules,” Passian said.

Previous demonstrations of trapping molecules have relied on large systems to confine charged particles such as single ions. Next, the researchers plan to build actual nanotraps and conduct experiments to determine the feasibility of fabricating a large number of traps on a single chip. “If successful, these experiments could help enable information storage and processing devices that greatly exceed what we have today, thus bringing us closer to the realization of quantum computers,” Passian said.

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Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells

Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells | Amazing Science |

MIT biological engineers have developed a modular system of proteins that can detect a particular DNA sequence in a cell and then trigger a specific response, such as cell death. This system can be customized to detect any DNA sequence in a mammalian cell and then trigger a desired response, including killing cancer cells or cells infected with a virus, the researchers say.

“There is a range of applications for which this could be important,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering and Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES). “This allows you to readily design constructs that enable a programmed cell to both detect DNA and act on that detection, with a report system and/or a respond system.”

Collins is the senior author of a Sept. 21 Nature Methods paper describing the technology, which is based on a type of DNA-binding proteins known as zinc fingers. These proteins can be designed to recognize any DNA sequence. “The technologies are out there to engineer proteins to bind to virtually any DNA sequence that you want,” says Shimyn Slomovic, an IMES postdoc and the paper’s lead author. “This is used in many ways, but not so much for detection. We felt that there was a lot of potential in harnessing this designable DNA-binding technology for detection.”

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Aerial Construction: Quadrocopters build a bridge out of ropes

Aerial Construction: Quadrocopters build a bridge out of ropes | Amazing Science |

Building a rope bridge with flying machines in the ETH Zurich Flying Machine Arena. The quadrocopters autonomously assembling a rope bridge. This is part of a body of research in aerial construction, a field that addresses the construction of structures with the aid of flying machines.

In this work, a rope bridge that can support the crossing of a person is built by quadrocopters, showing for the first time that small flying machines are capable of autonomously realizing load-bearing structures at full-scale and proceeding a step further towards real-world scenarios. Except for the required anchor points at both ends of the structure, the bridge consists exclusively of tensile elements and its connections and links are entirely realized by flying machines. Spanning 7.4 m between two scaffolding structures, the bridge consists of nine rope segments for a total rope length of about 120 m and is composed of different elements, such as knots, links, and braids. The rope used for these experiments is made out of Dyneema, a material with a low weight-to-strength ratio and thus suitable for aerial construction. Of little weight (7 g per meter), a 4 mm diameter rope can sustain 1300 kg.

The vehicles are equipped with a motorized spool that allows them to control the tension acting on the rope during deployment. A plastic tube guides the rope to the release point located between two propellers. The external forces and torques exerted on the quadrocopter by the rope during deployment are estimated and taken into account to achieve compliant flight behavior. The assembly of the bridge is performed by small custom quadrocopters and builds upon the Flying Machine Arena, a research and demonstration platform for aerial robotics. The arena is equipped with a motion capture system that provides vehicle position and attitude measurements. Algorithms are run on a computer and commands are then sent to the flying machines via a customized wireless infrastructure.

In order to be able to design tensile structures that are buildable with flying robots, a series of computational tools have been developed, specifically addressing the characteristics of the building method. The design tools allow to simulate, sequence, and evaluate the structure before building.

The location of the scaffolding structure is manually measured before starting the construction. The primary and bracing structure can then be realized without human intervention. Before realizing the stabilizers, the locations of the narrow openings of the bridge are measured and input to the system, which adapts the trajectories accordingly.

More information and related publications can be found on the project website: 


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Delicately opening a band gap in graphene enables high-performance transistors

Delicately opening a band gap in graphene enables high-performance transistors | Amazing Science |

Electrons can move through graphene with almost no resistance, a property that gives graphene great potential for replacing silicon in next-generation, highly efficient electronic devices. But currently it's very difficult to control the electrons moving through graphene because graphene has no band gap, which means the electrons don't need to cross any energy barrier in order to conduct electricity. As a result, the electrons are always conducting, all the time, which means that this form of graphene can't be used to build transistors because it has no "off" state. In order to control the electron movement in graphene and enable "off" states in future graphene transistors, graphene needs a non-zero band gap—an energy barrier that can prevent electrons from conducting electricity when desired, making graphene a semiconductor instead of a full conductor.

In a new study, scientists have opened a band gap in graphene by carefully doping both sides of bilayer graphene in a way that avoids creating disorder in the graphene structure. Delicately opening up a band gap in graphene in this way enabled the researchers to fabricate a graphene-based memory transistor with the highest initial program/erase current ratio reported to date for a graphene transistor (34.5 compared to 4), along with the highest on/off ratio for a device of its kind (76.1 compared to 26), while maintaining graphene's naturally high electron mobility (3100 cm2/V·s).

The researchers, led by Professor Young Hee Lee at Sungkyunkwan University and the Institute for Basic Science in Suwon, South Korea, have published their paper on the new method for opening up a band gap in graphene in a recent issue of ACS Nano.

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Deep Reinforcement Learning Machine Has Taught Itself to Play Chess at Higher Levels

Deep Reinforcement Learning Machine Has Taught Itself to Play Chess at Higher Levels | Amazing Science |

"Chess, after all, is special; it requires creativity and advanced reasoning. No computer could match humans at chess." That was a likely argument before IBM surprised the world about computers playing chess. In 1997, Deep Blue's entry won the World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov.

Matthew Lai records the rest: "In the ensuing two decades, both computer hardware and AI research advanced the state-of-art chess-playing computers to the point where even the best humans today have no realistic chance of defeating a modern chess engine running on a smartphone."

Now Lai has another surprise. His report on how a computer can teach itself chess—and not in the conventional way—is on arXiv. The title of the paper is "Giraffe: Using Deep Reinforcement Learning to Play Chess." Departing from the conventional method of teaching computers how to play chess by giving them hardcoded rules, this project set out to use machine learning to figure out how to play chess. Namely, he said that deep learning was applied to chess in his work. "We use deep networks to evaluate positions, decide which branches to search, and order moves."

As for other chess engines, Lai wrote, "almost all chess engines in existence today (and all of the top contenders) implement largely the same algorithms. They are all based on the idea of the fixed-depth minimax algorithm first developed by John von Neumann in 1928, and adapted for the problem of chess by Claude E. Shannon in 1950."

This Giraffe is a chess engine using self-play to discover all its domain-specific knowledge. "Minimal hand-crafted knowledge is given by the programmer," he said.

Results? Lai said ,"The results showed that the learned system performs at least comparably to the best expert-designed counterparts in existence today, many of which have been fine tuned over the course of decades."

OK, not at super-Grandmaster levels, but impressive enough. "With all our enhancements, Giraffe is able to play at the level of an FIDE [Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or World Chess Federation] International Master on a modern mainstream PC," he stated. "While that is still a long way away from the top engines today that play at super-Grandmaster levels, it is able to defeat many lower-tier engines, most of which search an order of magnitude faster."

Addressing the value of Lai's work in this paper, MIT Technology Review, stated that, "In a world first, an artificial intelligence machine plays chess by evaluating the board rather than using brute force to work out every possible move." Giraffe, said the review, taught itself to play chess by evaluating positions much more like humans.

Tom Vandermolen's curator insight, September 22, 2015 6:28 PM

I wonder if this approach can be applied to a rule-bound environment like an OWL ontology, and used to learn how to automatically add new concepts and relationships to it?

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First brain-to-brain ‘telepathy’ communication via the Internet

First brain-to-brain ‘telepathy’ communication via the Internet | Amazing Science |

The first brain-to-brain telepathy-like communication between two participants via the Internet has been performed by University of Washington researchers. The experiment used a question-and-answer game. The goal is for the “inquirer” to determine which object the “respondent” is looking at from a list of possible objects. The inquirer sends a question (e.g., “Does it fly?) to the respondent, who answers “yes” or “no” by mentally focusing on one of two flashing LED lights attached to the monitor. The respondent is wearing an electroencephalography (EEG) helmet.

By focusing on the “yes” light, the EEG device generates send a signal to the inquirer via the Internet to activate a magnetic coil positioned behind the inquirer’s head, which stimulates the visual cortex and causes the inquirer to see a flash of light (known as a “phosphene”). A “no” signal works the same way, but is not strong enough to activate the coil.

The experiment, detailed today in an open access paper in PLoS ONE, is the first to show that two brains can be directly linked to allow one person to guess what’s on another person’s mind. It is “the most complex brain-to-brain experiment, I think, that’s been done to date in humans,” said lead author Andrea Stocco, an assistant professor of psychology and researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

The experiment was carried out in dark rooms in two UW labs located almost a mile apart and involved five pairs of participants, who played 20 rounds of the question-and-answer game. Each game had eight objects and three questions. The sessions were a random mixture of 10 real games and 10 control games that were structured the same way.*

Participants were able to guess the correct object in 72 percent of the real games, compared with just 18 percent of the control rounds. Incorrect guesses in the real games could be caused by several factors, the most likely being uncertainty about whether a phosphene had appeared.

The study builds on the UW team’s initial experiment in 2013, which was the first to demonstrate a direct brain-to-brain connection between humans. Other scientists have connected the brains of rats and monkeys, and transmitted brain signals from a human to a rat, using electrodes inserted into animals’ brains. In the 2013 experiment, the UW team used noninvasive technology to send a person’s brain signals over the Internet to control the hand motions of another person.

The experiment evolved out of research by co-author Rajesh Rao, a UW professor of computer science and engineering, on brain-computer interfaces that enable people to activate devices with their minds. In 2011, Rao began collaborating with Stocco and Prat to determine how to link two human brains together.

In 2014, the researchers received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that allowed them to broaden their experiments to decode more complex interactions and brain processes. They are now exploring the possibility of “brain tutoring,” transferring signals directly from healthy brains to ones that are developmentally impaired or impacted by external factors such as a stroke or accident, or simply to transfer knowledge from teacher to pupil. The team is also working on transmitting brain states — for example, sending signals from an alert person to a sleepy one, or from a focused student to one who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

“Imagine having someone with ADHD and a neurotypical student,” Prat said. “When the non-ADHD student is paying attention, the ADHD student’s brain gets put into a state of greater attention automatically.”

“Evolution has spent a colossal amount of time to find ways for us and other animals to take information out of our brains and communicate it to other animals in the forms of behavior, speech and so on,” Stocco said. “But it requires a translation. We can only communicate part of whatever our brain processes. “What we are doing is kind of reversing the process a step at a time by opening up this box and taking signals from the brain and with minimal translation, putting them back in another person’s brain,” he said.

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Quantum entanglement: New study predicts a quantum Goldilocks effect

Quantum entanglement: New study predicts a quantum Goldilocks effect | Amazing Science |
Just as in the well-known children's story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, something good happens when things are done in moderation, rather than in extremes.

A new study has translated "not too hot or too cold, just right" to the quantum world and the generation of quantum entanglement – the binding within and between matter and light – and suggests that the universe started "neither too fast nor too slow."

By studying a system that couples matter and light together, like the universe itself, researchers have now found that crossing a quantum phase transition at intermediate speeds generates the richest, most complex structure. Such structure resembles "defects" in an otherwise smooth and empty space. The findings are published in Physical Review A, the American Physical Society's main journal.

"Our findings suggest that the universe was 'cooked' at just the right speeds," said Neil Johnson, professor of physics in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences and one of the authors of the study. "Our paper provides a simple model that can be realized in a lab on a chip, to explore how such defect structure develops as the speed of cooking changes."

The big mystery concerning the origin of the universe is how the star clusters, planetary systems, galaxies, and other objects that we now see managed to evolve out of nothing. There is a widespread belief within the scientific community that the birth of structure in the universe lies in the crossing of a quantum phase transition and that the faster the transition is crossed, the more structure it generates. The current findings contradict that belief.

The study sheds new light on how to generate, control, and manipulate quantum entanglement, since the defects contain clusters of quantum entanglement of all sizes. The findings hold the key to a new generation of futuristic technologies—in particular, ultrafast quantum computing, ultrasafe quantum cryptography, high-precision quantum metrology, and even the quantum teleportation of information.

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Lab-grown kidneys work in animals

Lab-grown kidneys work in animals | Amazing Science |

Scientists say they are a step closer to growing fully functioning replacement kidneys, after promising results in animals. When transplanted into pigs and rats, the kidneys worked, passing urine just like natural ones. Getting the urine out has been a problem for earlier prototypes, causing them to balloon under the pressure. The Japanese team got round this by growing extra plumbing for the kidney to stop the backlog, PNAS reports.

Although still years off human trials, the research helps guide the way towards the end goal of making organs for people, say experts. In the UK, more than 6,000 people are waiting for a kidney - but because of a shortage of donors, fewer than 3,000 transplants are carried out each year. More than 350 people die a year, almost one a day, waiting for a transplant. Growing new kidneys using human stem cells could solve this problem.

Dr Takashi Yokoo and colleagues at the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo used a stem cell method, but instead of just growing a kidney for the host animal, they set about growing a drainage tube too, along with a bladder to collect and store the urine.

They used rats as the incubators for the growing embryonic tissue. When they connected up the new kidney and its plumbing to the animal's existing bladder, the system worked. Urine passed from the transplanted kidney into the transplanted bladder and then into the rat bladder. And the transplant was still working well when they checked again eight weeks later. They then repeated the procedure on a much larger mammal - a pig - and achieved the same results.

Prof Chris Mason, an expert in stem cells and regenerative medicine at University College London, said: "This is an interesting step forward. The science looks strong and they have good data in animals. "But that's not to say this will work in humans. We are still years off that. It's very much mechanistic. It moves us closer to understanding how the plumbing might work. "At least with kidneys, we can dialyze patients for a while so there would be time to grow kidneys if that becomes possible."

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Genetic analysis supports prediction that spontaneous rare mutations cause half of autism

Genetic analysis supports prediction that spontaneous rare mutations cause half of autism | Amazing Science |

A new analysis of data on the genetics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been released by experts. One commonly held theory is that autism results from chance combinations of commonly occurring gene mutations. But the study provides support for a different theory: that devastating 'ultra-rare' mutations of genes that they classify as "vulnerable" play a causal role in roughly half of all ASD cases. The vulnerable genes to which they refer harbor what they call an LGD, or likely gene disruption.

A team led by researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) this week publishes in PNAS a new analysis of data on the genetics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One commonly held theory is that autism results from the chance combinations of commonly occurring gene mutations, which are otherwise harmless. But the authors' work provides support for a different theory.

They find, instead, further evidence to suggest that devastating "ultra-rare" mutations of genes that they classify as "vulnerable" play a causal role in roughly half of all ASD cases. The vulnerable genes to which they refer harbor what they call an LGD, or likely gene-disruption. These LGD mutations can occur "spontaneously" between generations, and when that happens they are found in the affected child but not found in either parent.

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Baleen whales host a unique gut microbiome with similarities to both land carnivores and herbivores

Baleen whales host a unique gut microbiome with similarities to both land carnivores and herbivores | Amazing Science |
Mammals host gut microbiomes of immense physiological consequence, but the determinants of diversity in these communities remain poorly understood. Diet appears to be the dominant factor, but host phylogeny also seems to be an important, if unpredictable, correlate. Here we show that baleen whales, which prey on animals (fish and crustaceans), harbor unique gut microbiomes with surprising parallels in functional capacity and higher level taxonomy to those of terrestrial herbivores. These similarities likely reflect a shared role for fermentative metabolisms despite a shift in primary carbon sources from plant-derived to animal-derived polysaccharides, such as chitin. In contrast, protein catabolism and essential amino acid synthesis pathways in baleen whale microbiomes more closely resemble those of terrestrial carnivores. Our results demonstrate that functional attributes of the microbiome can vary independently even given an animal-derived diet, illustrating how diet and evolutionary history combine to shape microbial diversity in the mammalian gut.
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Oncolytic Viruses: A New Class of Immunotherapy Drugs against Cancer

Oncolytic Viruses: A New Class of Immunotherapy Drugs against Cancer | Amazing Science |
Oncolytic viruses represent a new class of therapeutic agents that promote anti-tumour responses through a dual mechanism of action that is dependent on selective tumour cell killing and the induction of systemic anti-tumour immunity. The molecular and cellular mechanisms of action are not fully elucidated but are likely to depend on viral replication within transformed cells, induction of primary cell death, interaction with tumour cell antiviral elements and initiation of innate and adaptive anti-tumour immunity. A variety of native and genetically modified viruses have been developed as oncolytic agents, and the approval of the first oncolytic virus by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is anticipated in the near future. This Review provides a comprehensive overview of the basic biology supporting oncolytic viruses as cancer therapeutic agents, describes oncolytic viruses in advanced clinical trials and discusses the unique challenges in the development of oncolytic viruses as a new class of drugs for the treatment of cancer.
Madison Totushek's curator insight, September 22, 2015 7:25 PM

This article was a very good read for me, especially since I have ties of losing people to cancer. Any cancerous medical advancement makes me happy to see because this epidemic has affected millions of people worldwide, and even more people including the families who have lost their loved ones to this battle. This article was talking about this new therapeutic agent that promote anti tumor responses, which basically kill the primary cancerous cells. I think this can be especially beneficial to those who have had their tumors metastasis and have spread to throughout their lymph nodes and have the ability to reappear anywhere by random stimulation. This product still needs to be approved by the FDA, but I am hopeful that it will have a huge impact on those who are battling this disease. 

Steve Mattison's curator insight, September 25, 2015 4:30 PM
Good news!
CHEN YE's curator insight, May 13, 2016 7:27 AM
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Physicists determine the three-dimensional positions of individual atoms for the first time

Physicists determine the three-dimensional positions of individual atoms for the first time | Amazing Science |
Atoms are the building blocks of all matter on Earth, and the patterns in which they are arranged dictate how strong, conductive or flexible a material will be. Now, scientists at UCLA have used a powerful microscope to image the three-dimensional positions of individual atoms to a precision of 19 trillionths of a meter, which is several times smaller than a hydrogen atom.

Their observations make it possible, for the first time, to infer the macroscopic properties of materials based on their structural arrangements of atoms, which will guide how scientists and engineers build aircraft components, for example. The research, led by Jianwei (John) Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a member of UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute, is published Sept. 21 in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

For more than 100 years, researchers have inferred how atoms are arranged in three-dimensional space using a technique called X-ray crystallography, which involves measuring how light waves scatter off of a crystal. However, X-ray crystallography only yields information about the average positions of many billions of atoms in the crystal, and not about individual atoms' precise coordinates.

"It's like taking an average of people on Earth," Miao said. "Most people have a head, two eyes, a nose and two ears. But an image of the average person will still look different from you and me."

Because X-ray crystallography doesn't reveal the structure of a material on a per-atom basis, the technique can't identify tiny imperfections in materials such as the absence of a single atom. These imperfections, known as point defects, can weaken materials, which can be dangerous when the materials are components of machines like jet engines.

Miao and his team showed that the atoms in the tip of the tungsten sample were arranged in nine layers, the sixth of which contained a point defect. The researchers believe the defect was either a hole in an otherwise filled layer of atoms or one or more interloping atoms of a lighter element such as carbon.

Regardless of the nature of the point defect, the researchers' ability to detect its presence is significant, demonstrating for the first time that the coordinates of individual atoms and point defects can be recorded in three dimensions. "We made a big breakthrough," Miao said.

Miao and his team plan to build on their results by studying how atoms are arranged in materials that possess magnetism or energy storage functions, which will help inform our understanding of the properties of these important materials at the most fundamental scale. "I think this work will create a paradigm shift in how materials are characterized in the 21st century," he said. "Point defects strongly influence a material's properties and are discussed in many physics and materials science textbooks. Our results are the first experimental determination of a point defect inside a material in three dimensions."

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First ‘Tree of Life’ for 2.3 Million Species Released

First ‘Tree of Life’ for 2.3 Million Species Released | Amazing Science |

A first draft of the “tree of life” for the roughly 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes — from platypuses to puffballs — has been released.

A collaborative effort among eleven institutions, the tree depicts the relationships among living things as they diverged from one another over time, tracing back to the beginning of life on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago.

Tens of thousands of smaller trees have been published over the years for select branches of the tree of life — some containing upwards of 100,000 species — but this is the first time those results have been combined into a single tree that encompasses all of life.

“This is the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together,” said principal investigator Karen Cranston of Duke University. “Think of it as Version 1.0.” The current version of the tree — along with the underlying data and source code — is available to browse, edit, and download free at — a sort of “Wikipedia” for the evolutionary trees.

It is also described in an open-access article appearing Sept. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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CSHLScientists sequence genome of a flatworm that can regrow most of its body parts

CSHLScientists sequence genome of a flatworm that can regrow most of its body parts | Amazing Science |

Tourists spending a recuperative holiday on the Italian coast may be envious of the regenerative abilities of locally found flatworm Macrostomum lignano. Named for its discovery near the Italian beach town of Lignano Sabbiadoro, this tiny worm can regenerate almost its whole body following an injury, and researchers have long been trying to understand how it’s able to pull off this trick. 

In work published today in PNAS, a team of researchers has for the first time characterized the flatworm’s genome, paving the way for a host of new studies of the worm and its regenerative capabilities. The team was led by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Professor and HHMI Investigator Gregory Hannon, also a Professor and Senior Group Leader at the CRUK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge, and CSHL Associate Professor Michael Schatz.

“This flatworm can regenerate every part of its body except the brain,” says Hannon. He was studying an important pathway in mammalian reproductive tissues when he became interested in Macrostomum. “This and other regenerating flatworms have the same kind of pathway operating in stem cells that is responsible for their remarkable regenerative capabilities.  As we started to try to understand the biology of these stem cells, it very quickly became clear that we needed information about the genetic content of these organisms.”

M. lignano turned out to have an unusually complex genome filled with repetitive elements that made it challenging to assemble and analyze, says Schatz. “At the genomic level it has almost no relationship to anything else that's ever been sequenced. It's very strange and unique in that sense.” To overcome the extreme genomic complexity, the team used new long-read sequencing technology that boosted the quality of the genome sequence obtained by more than one hundred fold over standard short-read approaches.

The researchers used the worm’s genomic information to study how gene expression changed during regeneration. “It's a very powerful tool to be able to see the genes that get activated that are responsible for regeneration of the animal,” Schatz explains. “We think this is going to be a very important species for stem cell research.”  

The flatworm is ideal for studying stem cells, says lead author Kaja Wasik, who conducted the work as a PhD student in Hannon’s lab along with co-lead author James Gurtowski from Schatz’s lab. “The worms are just like floating sacks full of stem cells, so they're very easily accessible,” says Wasik. “From what we looked at, it looks like many of the developmental pathways that are present in humans are also present in the worms, and we can now study whether they potentially could be involved in regeneration.”

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The Genesis Engine: Can we eliminate disease and solve world hunger?

The Genesis Engine: Can we eliminate disease and solve world hunger? | Amazing Science |

SPINY GRASS AND SCRAGGLY PINES creep amid the arts-and-crafts buildings of the Asilomar Conference Grounds, 100 acres of dune where California's Monterey Peninsula hammerheads into the Pacific. It's a rugged landscape, designed to inspire people to contemplate their evolving place on Earth. So it was natural that 140 scientists gathered here in 1975 for an unprecedented conference.

They were worried about what people called “recombinant DNA,” the manipulation of the source code of life. It had been just 22 years since James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin described what DNA was—deoxyribonucleic acid, four different structures called bases stuck to a backbone of sugar and phosphate, in sequences thousands of bases long. DNA is what genes are made of, and genes are the basis of heredity.

Preeminent genetic researchers like David Baltimore, then at MIT, went to Asilomar to grapple with the implications of being able to decrypt and reorder genes. It was a God-like power—to plug genes from one living thing into another. Used wisely, it had the potential to save millions of lives. But the scientists also knew their creations might slip out of their control. They wanted to consider what ought to be off-limits.

By 1975, other fields of science—like physics—were subject to broad restrictions. Hardly anyone was allowed to work on atomic bombs, say. But biology was different. Biologists still let the winding road of research guide their steps. On occasion, regulatory bodies had acted retrospectively—after Nuremberg, Tuskegee, and the human radiation experiments, external enforcement entities had told biologists they weren't allowed to do that bad thing again. Asilomar, though, was about establishing prospective guidelines, a remarkably open and forward-thinking move.

Fast forward to 2015. Baltimore joined 17 other researchers for another California conference, this one at the Carneros Inn in Napa Valley. “It was a feeling of déjà vu,” Baltimore says. There he was again, gathered with some of the smartest scientists on earth to talk about the implications of genome engineering. The stakes, however, have changed. Everyone at the Napa meeting had access to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9. The first term is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 is the name of a protein that makes it work. Technical details aside, Crispr-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around—any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people. “These are monumental moments in the history of biomedical research,” Baltimore says. “They don't happen every day.”

Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched.

International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.

The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it's perilous. Crispr goes well beyond anything the Asilomar conference discussed. It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would—designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are—or who will be the first to break them.

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Working electronic circuits produced through artificial evolution

Working electronic circuits produced through artificial evolution | Amazing Science |

Researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology and the CTIT Institute for ICT Research at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have produced working electronic circuits that have been developed in a radically new way, using methods that resemble Darwinian evolution. The size of these circuits is comparable to the size of their conventional counterparts, but they are much closer to natural networks like the human brain. The findings promise a new generation of powerful, energy-efficient electronics, and have been published in the prominent leading British journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The approach of the researchers at the University of Twente is based on methods that resemble those found in Nature, using networks of gold nanoparticles for the execution of essential computational tasks. Unlike conventional electronics, this process doesn't involve designed circuits. By using 'designless' systems, the researchers avoid costly design mistakes. The computational power of their networks is enabled by applying artificial evolution. This rapid evolution takes less than an hour, rather than millions of years. By applying electrical signals, a single network can be configured into 16 different logic gates. The evolutionary approach works around—or can even take advantage of—possible material defects that can be fatal in conventional electronics.

This is the first time that researchers have realized robust electronics using artificial evolution at distance scales competitive with commercial technology. This paves the way for executing more complex tasks that are difficult to execute on current digital computers or that take a lot of time and energy. The researchers envisage a spectrum of possible applications, including wearable electronics or medical technology.

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Chimps gripped by homemade King Kong movie, Japanese study finds

Chimps gripped by homemade King Kong movie, Japanese study finds | Amazing Science |

Great Apes Make Anticipatory Looks Based on Long-Term Memory of Single Events: A new study has discovered that chimpanzees are not only hooked by clip of ape attacking human, but on rewatch remember where weapons are stashed.

It is not the most accomplished sweded version of King Kong: a man dressed in a furry suit (trainers still visible) mimics an ape breaking out of a cage and then attacking a human. The victim then – spoiler alert – fetches a small red hammer and batters his assailant.

And yet this 40-second attempt at homemade horror by researchers in Japan has succeeded in gripping a chimp crowd. A study published in Current Biology found they not only failed to avert their eyes, but were not tempted by distracting treats dangled during the screening.

When the film was then screened to the same chimps 24 hours later, their eye movements indicated a clear memory of the hammer denouement.

The rights of simians are currently being debated in the US, with some lawyers arguing chimps are “autonomous and self-determining” beings.

Such issues have long been chewed over at the movies, with the rebooted Dawn of the Planet of the Apes franchise recently reigniting discussion. Earlier this year, Jurassic World and Ted 2 both also cheerled for some animals to enjoy equivalent rights to humans.

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