Amazing Science
678.0K views | +246 today
Amazing Science
Amazing science facts - 3D_printing • aging • AI • anthropology • art • astronomy • bigdata • bioinformatics • biology • biotech • chemistry • computers • cosmology • education • environment • evolution • future • genetics • genomics • geosciences • green_energy • history • language • map • material_science • math • med • medicine • microscopy • nanotech • neuroscience • paleontology • photography • photonics • physics • postings • robotics • science • technology • video
Your new post is loading...
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Gaming improves multitasking skills: Study reveals plasticity in age-related cognitive decline

Gaming improves multitasking skills: Study reveals plasticity in age-related cognitive decline | Amazing Science |

Commercial companies have claimed for years that computer games can make the user smarter, but have been criticized for failing to show that improved skills in the game translate into better performance in daily life. Now a study published this week in Nature convincingly shows that if a game is tailored to a precise cognitive deficit, in this case multitasking in older people, it can indeed be effective.

Led by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, the study found that a game called NeuroRacer can help older people to improve their capacity to multitask — and the effect seems to carry over to tasks in everyday life and is still there after six months. The study also shows how patterns of brain activity change as those cognitive skills improve.


NeuroRacer is a three-dimensional video game in which players steer a car along a winding, hilly road with their left thumb, while keeping an eye out for signs that randomly pop up. If the sign is a particular shape and colour, players have to shoot it down using a finger on their right hand. This multitasking exercise, says Gazzaley, draws on a mix of cognitive skills just as real life does — such as attention focusing, task switching and working memory (the ability to temporarily hold multiple pieces of information in the mind).


Gazzaley and his colleagues first recruited around 30 participants for each of six decades of life, from the 20s to the 70s, and confirmed that multitasking skills as measured by the game deteriorated linearly with age. They then recruited 46 participants aged 60–85 and put them through a 4-week training period with a version of NeuroRacer that increased in difficulty as the player improved.


After training, subjects had improved so much that they achieved higher scores than untrained 20-year-olds, and the skill remained six months later without practice.

The scientists also conducted a battery of cognitive tests on the participants before and after training. Certain cognitive abilities that were not specifically targeted by the game improved and remained improved — such as working memory and sustained attention. Both skills are important for daily tasks, from reading a newspaper to cooking a meal.


That is significant, says Gazzaley. “Neuro­Racer doesn’t demand too much of those particular abilities — so it appears that the multitasking challenge may put pressure on the entire cognitive control system, raising the level of all of its components.”

The team also recorded brain activity using electroencephalography while participants played NeuroRacer. As their skills increased, so did activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with cognitive control, in a manner that correlated with improvements in sustained-attention tasks. Activity also increased in a neural network linking the prefrontal cortex with the back of the brain.

But Gazzaley’s study confirms that cognitive function can be improved — if you design training methods properly, says Klingberg, who is a consultant for Cogmed, a company he founded in 1999 to market computer-based training methods, particularly for people with attention-deficit disorders.


Last year, Gazzaley also co-founded a company, called Akili, for which he is an adviser. It is developing a commercial product similar to NeuroRacer, which remains a research tool, and will seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to market it as a therapeutic agent. A ‘games’ approach might also help people with particular cognitive deficits, such as depression or schizophrenia, adds Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, who develops computer games to improve brain function and who also advises Akili.


Gazzaley cautions against over-hyping: “Video games shouldn’t now be seen as a guaranteed panacea.” But Linsey, for her part, is happy with what the game did for her and about her own contribution. “It’s been exciting to discover the older brain can learn — and I’m glad my own brain helped make the discovery.”


JMS1 Group9's curator insight, September 30, 2013 7:53 AM

Not only is gaming a great leisure activity that can unwind stress and serve as an escapism, but now it has also been proven to help the gamer with muti-tasking and other skills.


Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Older Brain Is Willing, but Too Full for New Memories

Older Brain Is Willing, but Too Full for New Memories | Amazing Science |
Studies in modified mice suggest that it is harder to make new long-term memories as we age because the brain is full of old ones that are hard to erase.


The N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) is widely known to be the synaptic coincidence detector essential for controlling synaptic plasticity and gating memory formation . Together with the NR1 core subunit, the NR2A and NR2B subunits form the diheteromeric or triheteromeric complex of the NMDA receptor in the forebrain regions. Depending on ages or states of animals, dynamic changes in NR2A and NR2B can lead to the different mixture of NR1/NR2A, NR1/NR2B, and NR1/NR2A/NR2B receptors in the forebrain. There is a higher amount of NR2B expression in postnatal and juvenile brains, but NR2A gradually becomes more prevalent in adulthood and advanced ages.


Based on distinct biophysical properties of the NR2A and NR2B (such as longer channel opening duration with the NR2B subunit than the NR2A, etc.), it has been hypothesized that an increased NR2A:NR2B ratio in the sexually matured and/or aged brains may represent a major genetic factor underlying the age-dependent, gradual constraint on memory functions in comparison to that of juvenile or younger brains. However, it is difficult to test this NR2A:NR2B ratio hypothesis by directly comparing the young animals with the aged animals because there are significant differences in expression of many other genes between those two age groups. Moreover, the levels of NR2A or NR2B expression in the cortex and hippocampus can also be dynamically modulated by individual experiences (i.e. enriched environment, or social interactions).


A series of genetic studies have shown that global knockout of NR2A resulted in lesser CA1 long-term potentiation, a moderate deficiency in spatial reference memory and fear memory, and/or significant spatial working memory deficit. This suggests that the presence of NR2B in NR2A−/− mice largely preserves LTP and most long-term memories. On the other hand, genetic deletion of NR2B in the forebrain- or hippocampus-specific knockout of NR2B results in more profound memory deficits and impaired LTP. These experiments, by examining the extreme ends of the NR2A:NR2B ratio spectrum (without NR2A or NR2B), have provided fundamental insights into the roles of the pure NR2A- or NR2B-containing NMDA receptor population under the given test conditions.


The initial evidence for the concept that an increased NR2A:NR2B ratio may reduce synaptic plasticity and memory function in adulthood came from NR2B transgenic experiments. Research has shown that genetic overexpression of NR2B in the mouse forebrain can lead to larger hippocampal long-term potentiation (10–100 Hz range, without affecting LTD) and enhanced learning and memory function as tested in seven different memory tasks. Similar memory and LTP enhancement was also observed in NR2B overexpression transgenic rats, pointing to the conserved beneficial effects of NR2B in multiple animal species. Thus, these NR2B overexpression experiments, along with other studies, have provided important evidence that the increased NR2A:NR2B ratio can be detrimental to greater synaptic plasticity and memory function in the older brains.


In a recent study, scientists have directly tested this hypothesis and investigated the effects of increased NR2A:NR2B ratio in the adult mouse forebrain on synaptic plasticity and learning behaviors by producing CaMKII promoter-driven NR2A transgenic mice. They combined hippocampal slice electrophysiology and behavioral paradigms to investigate how such overexpression may alter synaptic plasticity and cognition, and showed that the high NR2A amount in the forebrain principal excitatory neurons can selectively affect long-term memory formation. But surprisingly, instead of the predicted smaller LTP in the CA1 region of the NR2A transgenic mice, the researchers found that NR2A overexpression selectively abolished 3–5 Hz frequency-induced LTD in the CA3-CA1 synapses without affecting 100 Hz LTP or 1 Hz LTD.


This results suggest a novel step by which long-term memory consolidation engages LTD-like process to sculpt, crystallize, and incorporate newly acquired information into long-term knowledge in the brain.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Injectable sponge delivers drugs, cells, and structure

Injectable sponge delivers drugs, cells, and structure | Amazing Science |

Bioengineers at Harvard have developed a gel-based sponge that can be molded to any shape, loaded with drugs or stem cells, compressed to a fraction of its size, and delivered via injection. Once inside the body, it pops back to its original shape and gradually releases its cargo, before safely degrading.


The biocompatible technology, revealed this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, amounts to a prefabricated healing kit for a range of minimally invasive therapeutic applications, including regenerative medicine.


“What we’ve created is a three-dimensional structure that you could use to influence the cells in the tissue surrounding it and perhaps promote tissue formation,” explains principal investigator David J. Mooney, Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.


“The simplest application is when you want bulking,” Mooney explains. “If you want to introduce some material into the body to replace tissue that’s been lost or that is deficient, this would be ideal. In other situations, you could use it to transplant stem cells if you’re trying to promote tissue regeneration, or you might want to transplant immune cells, if you’re looking at immunotherapy.”


Consisting primarily of alginate, a seaweed-based jelly, the injectable sponge contains networks of large pores, which allow liquids and large molecules to easily flow through it. Mooney and his research team demonstrated that live cells can be attached to the walls of this network and delivered intact along with the sponge, through a small-bore needle. Mooney’s team also demonstrated that the sponge can hold large and small proteins and drugs within the alginate jelly itself, which are gradually released as the biocompatible matrix starts to break down inside the body.


Normally, a scaffold like this would have to be implanted surgically. Gels can also be injected, but until now those gels would not have carried any inherent structure; they would simply flow to fill whatever space was available.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers engineer bacterium to hunt down and kill pathogens

Researchers engineer bacterium to hunt down and kill pathogens | Amazing Science |

Recent examples of new genetic circuits that enable cells to acquire biosynthetic capabilities, such as specific pathogen killing, present an attractive therapeutic application of synthetic biology. A team of researchers in Singapore has developed a technique for bioengineering a bacterium to seek out and kill targeted pathogens.


They demonstrate a novel genetic circuit that reprograms Escherichia coli to specifically recognize, migrate toward, and eradicate both dispersed and biofilm-encased pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells. The reprogrammed E. coli degraded the mature biofilm matrix and killed the latent cells encapsulated within by expressing and secreting the antimicrobial peptide microcin S and the nuclease DNaseI upon the detection of quorum sensing molecules naturally secreted by P. aeruginosa. Furthermore, the reprogrammed E. coli exhibited directed motility toward the pathogen through regulated expression of CheZ in response to the quorum sensing molecules.

By integrating the pathogen-directed motility with the dual antimicrobial activity in E. coli, we achieved signifincantly improved killing activity against planktonic and mature biofilm cells due to target localization, thus creating an active pathogen seeking killer E. coli.

NCPbiology's curator insight, June 27, 2014 6:26 AM

Interesting extra reading?

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Stimulated Raman Scattering Visualizes Brain Tumors During Surgery

Stimulated Raman Scattering Visualizes Brain Tumors During Surgery | Amazing Science |
A new method can distinguish tumors from normal brain tissue in living mice. With further refinement, the approach could help doctors remove brain tumors with great precision.


Recognizing the difference between tumors and normal brain tissue during surgery is a major challenge. Removing healthy tissue can cause neurologic problems, but leaving tumor tissue behind can allow the cancer to spread again. This is a particular problem with glioblastoma multiforme, the most common form of malignant brain cancer in adults. Glioblastoma tumors grow quickly and are difficult to treat. The tumors infiltrate normal brain tissue and can’t be easily singled out.


Experimental methods to tell the difference between tumors and normal tissue during surgery have had limited success. Over the past 15 years, a team led by Dr. Sunney Xie at Harvard University has been developing a technique called stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy. The method takes advantage of the fact that chemical bonds in molecules have their own sets of vibration frequencies, and produce unique patterns of scattered light called Raman spectra. These spectra can be used as fingerprints to identify and differentiate different molecules in a complex environment. SRS microscopy involves shining noninvasive lasers to excite particular Raman frequencies in tissues. The weak light signals emitted by the tissues vary depending on the tissues’ molecular composition, such as lipids, proteins, and DNA.


In collaboration with Dr. Daniel Orringer and colleagues at the University of Michigan Medical School, Xie’s team applied SRS microscopy to the problem of distinguishing protein-rich glioblastomas from more lipid-rich surrounding tissue. Their work was funded by an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award and by NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI). The results appeared on September 4, 2013, in Science Translational Medicine.


By combining SRS images made from light at 2 different frequencies, the scientists were able to construct images that identified tissues with different lipid and protein content. To test the approach on tumors, they implanted human glioblastoma cells into mice and allowed them to grow into tumors. They then placed samples on slides and used SRS microscopy to make 2-color images of the samples. For comparison, they froze the samples and stained them with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E), the current approach used to diagnose brain tumors.


The scientists found that SRS microscopy worked as well as H&E in distinguishing tumor-infiltrated brain tissue from surrounding healthy tissue. They then adapted the technique for use in live mice. Craniectomies exposed the tumor and adjacent brain tissue for SRS imaging. While standard microscopy found no obvious evidence of the tumor, SRS microscopy identified regions with extensive tumor infiltration.


“For more than 100 years, hematoxylin and eosin stain has been the gold standard for this type of imaging,” Xie says. “But with this [SRS] technology, we don't need to freeze the tissue, we don't need to stain tissue, and we don't need to biopsy—this acts like an optical biopsy and allows us to identify the tumor margins at a cellular level.”

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers claim satellite data proves global warming caused by humans

Researchers claim satellite data proves global warming caused by humans | Amazing Science |

A team of climatologists with members from the U.S., Australia, Canada and Norway is claiming in a paper they've had published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that they have found proof that global warming is being caused by human influences. They are basing their claims on computer simulations they've run and data obtained from three decades' worth of satellite observations.

Most of the world's scientists agree that our planet is experiencing global warming. Most also generally support the theory that the cause of global warming is due to an increase in greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide. And while many also support the notion that the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is likely due to human emissions, few are willing to go on record claiming that global warming is due directly to human activities. The researchers in this new effort are one such group and they claim they have proof.

Satellites, as most everyone knows, have been hovering over or circling our planet for over half a century. Over that time period they have grown progressively more sophisticated, measuring virtually every conceivable aspect of the planet below—from gas levels in the atmosphere to temperature readings on an averaged global scale, to the impact of natural events such as volcanic eruptions. It's this data the researchers used in their attempt to root out the true source of global warming.


The research team conducted a two stage study. The first involved creating computer models that simulated climate evolution over the past several decades under three different scenarios: a world without human influence, a world with only human influence and a world without human emissions or naturally occurring incidents such as volcanic eruptions. The second stage involved gathering data from satellites and comparing it with what the team had found in creating their simulations. They say patterns emerged that prove that human influence is the cause behind global warming. One example they cite is data that shows that the troposphere (the part of the atmosphere closest to us) has seen a steady rise in temperature over the past several decades, even as the layer just above it, the stratosphere, has cooled slightly.


But what has the team really convinced that humans are the true source behind global warming, is that they were unable to produce the type of warming we've seen with just natural events—it's only when human emissions are added to models that such a trend can be realistically simulated. That, they say, proves that human practices over the past several decades are responsible for global warming.

Sheridan LeMessurier-Moore's curator insight, July 15, 2014 10:27 PM

With use of satellites, testing and various experiments, scientists are now able to prove that global warming is the cause that has been produced by humans. 

This theory has been proven by a stage two study - involving three satellites measuring the impact from three scenarios , one being without human influence, one with only human influences and one without natural or human emissions. 

With this experiment conducted, it was proven that humans are the cause behind Global Warming. 

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Nitrogen fixing trees help to quicken the pace of reforestation

Nitrogen fixing trees help to quicken the pace of reforestation | Amazing Science |

Researchers have discovered that trees can switch on their ability to fix Nitrogen from the atmosphere with a little help from the Rhizobium bacteria. This finding has a huge implication on the ongoing projects of reforestation on denuded lands.


A study was carried out on a square mile area of the Panama Canal watershed where the forest was recovering after clearing activities. Different land use options were studied and the carbon storage, runoff and biodiversity were carefully monitored. A comparison was made between mature tropical forests, native trees in forest restoration plots and abandoned pastureland.

Jefferson Hall, one of the researchers, said, “This is the first solid case showing how nitrogen fixation by tropical trees directly affects the rate of carbon recovery after agricultural fields are abandoned. Trees turn nitrogen fixation on and off according to the need for nitrogen in the system.”


It was observed that trees which were able to fix the atmospheric nitrogen were also able to add carbon nine times quicker than ordinary trees. In fact Nitrogen fixing trees were able to add 50,000 kilograms of carbon per hectare during the first 12 years of growth.


Tropical forests act as carbon sinks drawing away carbon from the air. As the scourge of the Global warming increases it is important that freed land which has been denuded by industrial or agricultural use be quickly repaired and reforested. Nitrogen fixing trees will help to quicken the pace of reforestation.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Flexpad: Flexible materials become input devices and displays

Flexpad: Flexible materials become input devices and displays | Amazing Science |
With Flexpad, paper, plastic film or another flexible material is transformed into a computer input device and moveable display.


Recently at the 2013 IFA international trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances in Berlin, major electronics manufacturers displayed new types of displays that are thin, and even curved, but expensive. IT experts in Saarbrücken have gone a step further. Their more cost-effective approach, called Flexpad, allows a simple, standard sheet of paper to be transformed into a moveable, flexible display. Already today, this could help patients better review the results of a computer tomography, for example. In the long term, the IT experts want to discover what new applications are viable in future for ultra-thin, deformable, mobile end devices, and how they can best be operated.


Human organs shimmer in red on a sheet of paper displaying a longitudinal view of the human abdomen. The spinal column and pelvic bones form contrasting yellow islands. As the sheet of paper is bent downwards at the ends, the bones appear to come into the foreground while the soft tissue recedes (see video). What appears to be science fiction at first glance, is the result of the “Flexpad” research project developed under the leadership of Jürgen Steimle in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, in cooperation with Kiel University. In the meantime, Steimle heads the Embodied Interaction research group at the Multimodal Computing and Interaction Cluster of Excellence.


“We routinely deform objects intuitively in many different ways. We bend back pages in books, deflate balls, fold paper, and sculpt clay”, explains Jürgen Steimle. “And by projecting user interface elements onto tangible, deformable objects we can control computers and other technical devices better and more easily.”


Flexpad thereby works as follows: The motion sensor records the user and the paper, capturing the paper’s deformation and movement. So that the recording takes place precisely and in real time despite the rather coarse image data from the Kinect camera, the researchers have developed and implemented two algorithms. The first initially subtracts out the interference caused by the fingers and hands of the user. If the user moves the paper - whether left or right, or bends it into an arc or wavy form - the camera senses this. A specially developed computer model subsequently describes these movements in fractions of a second, so that the projector can reproduce it on the sheet in near real time.


Nevertheless, Flexpad has certain limits: The user must stand in a particular area under the camera and projector for the system to work properly. Therefore, the user cannot move freely around the room.


“The paper takes on two simultaneous functions in our system”, explains Steimle. “It is input device and display at the same time.” The user can interact with the device in a similar way to using a mouse for controlling a computer. Other materials besides paper are also suitable, for example sheets of plastic or other deformable materials. The only important thing is that they possess a certain malleability and flexibility.


Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

New Snail Species with Transparent Shell Discovered in Cave in Croatia

New Snail Species with Transparent Shell Discovered in Cave in Croatia | Amazing Science |

Dr. Alexander Weigand of the Goethe-University Frankfurt has described a new species of cave-dwelling snail from the Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system.


The new species, named Zospeum tholussum, is a tiny and fragile snail with a beautifully shaped dome-like semi-transparent shell. Dr. Weigand found only one living specimen of Zospeum tholussum in an unnamed large chamber at the remarkable depth of 980 m.


“The single living specimen was found in an unnamed large chamber with lots of stones, rocks and sand. A temporal small stream of running water was present close to the collecting site. Air temperature was between 3.3 – 3.5 degrees Celsius, water temperature 5.1 degrees Celsius and air humidity 100 per cent. Shells were observed beginning from 800 m depth till the bottom of the cave. Shells were generally found on layers of mud,” Dr. Weigand wrote in a paper published in the open-access journalSubterranean Biology.


All known species from the cave-dwelling genus Zospeum possess a limited ability to move. Their preference of a muddy habitat and the fact that they are usually located near the drainage system of the cave, in a close proximity to running water, however suggest that these animals are not exactly immobile. Scientists hypothesize that dispersal is achieved through passive transportation via water or larger mammals.

Connor Keesee's curator insight, October 8, 2013 12:21 PM

Connor Keesee Nelson Gold 4 

New Species Discovered

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Did a hyper-black hole spawn our Universe and the Big Bang was just a mirage from a collapse of a higher dimensional star?

Did a hyper-black hole spawn our Universe and the Big Bang was just a mirage from a collapse of a higher dimensional star? | Amazing Science |

The event horizon of a black hole — the point of no return for anything that falls in — is a spherical surface. In a higher-dimensional universe, a black hole could have a three-dimensional event horizon, which could spawn a whole new universe as it forms.


Cosmologists have speculated that the Universe formed from the debris ejected when a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole — a scenario that would help to explain why the cosmos seems to be so uniform in all directions.


The standard Big Bang model tells us that the Universe exploded out of an infinitely dense point, or singularity. But nobody knows what would have triggered this outburst: the known laws of physics cannot tell us what happened at that moment.


It is also difficult to explain how a violent Big Bang would have left behind a Universe that has an almost completely uniform temperature, because there does not seem to have been enough time since the birth of the cosmos for it to have reached temperature equilibrium.


To most cosmologists, the most plausible explanation for that uniformity is that, soon after the beginning of time, some unknown form of energy made the young Universe inflate at a rate that was faster than the speed of light. That way, a small patch with roughly uniform temperature would have stretched into the vast cosmos we see today. But Afshordi notes that “the Big Bang was so chaotic, it’s not clear there would have been even a small homogenous patch for inflation to start working on”.


In a recent paper, Afshordi and his colleagues turn their attention to a proposal made in 2000 by a team including Gia Dvali, a physicist now at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. In that model, our three-dimensional (3D) Universe is a membrane, or brane, that floats through a ‘bulk universe’ that has four spatial dimensions.


Ashfordi's team realized that if the bulk universe contained its own four-dimensional (4D) stars, some of them could collapse, forming 4D black holes in the same way that massive stars in our Universe do: they explode as supernovae, violently ejecting their outer layers, while their inner layers collapse into a black hole.


In our Universe, a black hole is bounded by a spherical surface called an event horizon. Whereas in ordinary three-dimensional space it takes a two-dimensional object (a surface) to create a boundary inside a black hole, in the bulk universe the event horizon of a 4D black hole would be a 3D object — a shape called a hypersphere. When Afshordi’s team modelled the death of a 4D star, they found that the ejected material would form a 3D brane surrounding that 3D event horizon, and slowly expand.


The authors postulate that the 3D Universe we live in might be just such a brane — and that we detect the brane’s growth as cosmic expansion. “Astronomers measured that expansion and extrapolated back that the Universe must have begun with a Big Bang — but that is just a mirage,” says Afshordi.


The model also naturally explains our Universe’s uniformity. Because the 4D bulk universe could have existed for an infinitely long time in the past, there would have been ample opportunity for different parts of the 4D bulk to reach an equilibrium, which our 3D Universe would have inherited.


No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Girl who feels no pain could inspire new painkillers

Girl who feels no pain could inspire new painkillers | Amazing Science |

A mutation in one gene means that a girl is unable to sense pain – a discovery that could hold clues for the development of new drugs.


A girl who does not feel physical pain has helped researchers identify a gene mutation that disrupts pain perception. The discovery may spur the development of new painkillers that will block pain signals in the same way.


People with congenital analgesia cannot feel physical pain and often injure themselves as a result – they might badly scald their skin, for example, through being unaware that they are touching something hot.


By comparing the gene sequence of a girl with the disorder against those of her parents, who do not, Ingo Kurth at Jena University Hospital in Germany and his colleagues identified a mutation in a gene called SCN11A.


This gene controls the development of channels on pain-sensing neurons. Sodium ions travel through these channels, creating electrical nerve impulses that are sent to the brain, which registers pain.


Overactivity in the mutated version of SCN11A prevents the build-up of the charge that the neurons need to transmit an electrical impulse, numbing the body to pain. "The outcome is blocked transmission of pain signals," says Kurth.


To confirm their findings, the team inserted a mutated version of SCN11A into mice and tested their ability to perceive pain. They found that 11 per cent of the mice with the modified gene developed injuries similar to those seen in people with congenital analgesia, such as bone fractures and skin wounds. They also tested a control group of mice with the normal SCN11A gene, none of which developed such injuries.


The altered mice also took 2.5 times longer on average than the control group to react to the "tail flick" pain test, which measures how long it takes for mice to flick their tails when exposed to a hot light beam. "What became clear from our experiments is that although there are similarities between mice and men with the mutation, the degree of pain insensitivity is more prominent in humans," says Kurth.


The team has now begun the search for drugs that block the SCN11Achannel. "It would require drugs that selectively block this but not other sodium channels, which is far from simple," says Kurth.


"This is great science," says Geoffrey Wood of the University of Cambridge, whose team discovered in 2006 that mutations in another, closely related ion channel gene can cause insensitivity to pain. "It's completely unexpected and not what people had been looking for," he says.


Wood says that there are three ion channels, called SCN9A, 10A and 11A, on pain-sensing neurons. People experience no pain when either of the first two don't work, and agonising pain when they're overactive. "With this new gene, it's the opposite: when it's overactive, they feel no pain. So maybe it's some kind of gatekeeper that stops neurons from firing too often, but cancels pain signals completely when it's overactive," he says. "If you could get a drug that made SCN11A overactive, it should be a fantastic analgesic."


"It's fascinating that SCN11A appears to work the other way, and that could really advance our knowledge of the role of sodium channels in pain perception, which is a very hot topic," says Jeffrey Mogil at McGill University in Canada, who was not involved in the new study.


No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Guinness record: World's thinnest glass is just two atoms thick

Guinness record: World's thinnest glass is just two atoms thick | Amazing Science |

At just a molecule thick, it's a new record: The world's thinnest sheet of glass, a serendipitous discovery by scientists at Cornell and Germany's University of Ulm, is recorded for posterity in the Guinness Book of World Records.


The "pane" of glass, so impossibly thin that its individual silicon and oxygen atoms are clearly visible via electron microscopy, was identified in the lab of David A. Muller, professor of applied and engineering physics and director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science.


The work that describes direct imaging of this thin glass was first published in January 2012 in Nano Letters, and the Guinness records officials took note. The record will now be published in the Guinness World Records 2014 Edition.


Just two atoms in thickness, the glass was an accidental discovery, Muller said. The scientists had been making graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms in a chicken wire crystal formation, on copper foils in a quartz furnace. They noticed some "muck" on the graphene, and upon further inspection, found it to be composed of the elements of everyday glass, silicon and oxygen.


They concluded that an air leak had caused the copper to react with the quartz, also made of silicon and oxygen. This produced the glass layer on the would-be pure graphene.


Besides its sheer novelty, Muller said, the work answers an 80-year-old question about the fundamental structure of glass. Scientists, with no way to directly see it, had struggled to understand it: it behaves like a solid, but was thought to look more like a liquid. Now, the Cornell scientists have produced a picture of individual atoms of glass, and they found that it strikingly resembles a diagram drawn in 1932 by W.H. Zachariasen – a longstanding theoretical representation of the arrangement of atoms in glass.


"This is the work that, when I look back at my career, I will be most proud of," Muller said. "It's the first time that anyone has been able to see the arrangement of atoms in a glass."


What's more, two-dimensional glass could someday find a use in transistors, by providing a defect-free, ultra-thin material that could improve the performance of processors in computers and smartphones.

Robert Keyse's curator insight, October 23, 2013 8:43 AM

Wonderful story this..


Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Camouflaged Octopus Uses Thousands Of Tiny Chromatophores and Reflectors To Match Surroundings

Camouflaged Octopus Uses Thousands Of Tiny Chromatophores and Reflectors To Match Surroundings | Amazing Science |
Roger Hanlon was following this octopus underwater and couldn't believe his eyes.


The ghost octopus can match the color and texture of its surroundings in fractions of a second by changing the size and shape of dynamic spots of pigments on their skin called chromatophores.

Chromatophores allow an octopus to blend in with all manner of underwater backdrops.


Some combination of these expandable chromatophores and reflectors underneath them allows an octopus to blend in with vegetation, rocks, or smooth surfaces almost imperceptibly. Hanlon has been studying these animals for years, and is still in awe of their camouflaging stunts. “The amazing thing is that these animals are color blind yet they are capable of creating color-match patterns,” Hanlon told Science Friday, “But we don’t know how.”


So, when science can’t tell us how something works, all we can do is be amazed. Watch the video again and revel in how awesome this tricky octopus is. It won’t get any more obvious, we promise. 

Mad Scientist's curator insight, September 17, 2013 12:25 AM

This video shows the amazing the camoflague ability of the octopus. Squid and Cuttlefish (relatives of octopus) are also really good at this. What is even more amazing is that these animals are colour-blind and that their skin cells do all the work.

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

EPFL is developing a tiny, personal blood testing laboratory that implants under your skin

EPFL is developing a tiny, personal blood testing laboratory that implants under your skin | Amazing Science |

EPFL scientists have developed a tiny, portable personal blood testing laboratory: a minuscule device implanted just under the skin provides an immediate analysis of substances in the body, and a radio module transmits the results to a doctor over the cellular phone network. This feat of miniaturization has many potential applications, including monitoring patients undergoing chemotherapy.


Humans are veritable chemical factories - we manufacture thousands of substances and transport them, via our blood, throughout our bodies. Some of these substances can be used as indicators of our health status. A team of EPFL scientists has developed a tiny device that can analyze the concentration of these substances in the blood. Implanted just beneath the skin, it can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously, and then transmit the results directly to a doctor’s computer. This method will allow a much more personalized level of care than traditional blood tests can provide. Health care providers will be better able to monitor patients, particularly those with chronic illness or those undergoing chemotherapy. The prototype, still in the experimental stages, has demonstrated that it can reliably detect several commonly traced substances.

The device was developed by a team led by EPFL scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara. The implant, a real gem of concentrated technology, is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but includes five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin – thus there’s no need to operate every time the battery needs changing.


Information is routed through a series of stages, from the patient’s body to the doctor’s computer screen. The implant emits radio waves over a safe frequency. The patch collects the data and transmits them via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which then sends them to the doctor over the cellular network.


Great care was taken in developing the sensors. To capture the targeted substance in the body – such as lactate, glucose, or ATP – each sensor’s surface is covered with an enzyme. “Potentially, we could detect just about anything,” explains De Micheli. “But the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible.” The enzymes currently being tested are good for about a month and a half; that’s already long enough for many applications. “In addition, it’s very easy to remove and replace the implant, since it’s so small.”


The electronics were a considerable challenge as well. “It was not easy to get a system like this to work on just a tenth of a watt,” de Micheli explains. The researchers also struggled to design the minuscule electrical coil that receives the power from the patch.


The prototype has already been tested in the laboratory for five different substances, and proved as reliable as traditional analysis methods. The project brought together eletronics experts, computer scientists, doctors and biologists from EPFL, the Istituto di Ricerca di Bellinzona, EMPA and ETHZ. It is part of the Swiss Nano-Tera program, whose goal is to encourage interdisciplinary research in the environmental and medical fields. Researchers hope the system will be commercially available within 4 years.


More wearable technology news here:

Patricia Nicoll's curator insight, October 6, 2013 9:46 PM

Instantaneous sampling and blood results

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Novel type of lens combines human and insect vision to focus wide-angle views

Novel type of lens combines human and insect vision to focus wide-angle views | Amazing Science |

Multi-part lens expands and contracts to change focus. A lens invented at The Ohio State University combines the focusing ability of a human eye with the wide-angle view of an insect eye to capture images with depth.

The results could be smartphones that rival the photo quality of digital cameras, and surgical imaging that enables doctors to see inside the human body like never before.


Engineers described the patent-pending lens in the Technical Digest of the 25th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems.

"Our eye can change focus. An insect eye is made of many small optical components that can't change focus but give a wide view. We can combine the two," explained Yi Zhao, associate professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology at Ohio State. "What we get is a wide-angle lens with depth of field."


That is to say, the lens shows a wide view, but still offers a sense of human-like depth perception: as close objects come into focus, far away objects look blurry.


Zhao's prototype lens is made of a flexible transparent polymer filled with a gelatinous fluid similar to fluid inside the human eye. It's actually a composite of several separate dome-shaped fluid pockets, with small domes sitting atop one larger dome. Each dome is adjustable, so that as fluid is pumped into and out of the lens, different parts of it expand and contract to change the overall shape-and thus, the direction and focus-of the lens.


This shape-changing strategy is somewhat similar to the way muscles in the human eye change the shape of the lens tissue in order to focus. It differs dramatically from the way typical cameras and microscopes focus, which involves moving separate glass lenses back and forth along the line of sight.

The shape-changing lens could potentially offer the same focusing capability as multiple moving lenses in a single stationary lens, which would make for smaller and lighter cameras and microscopes.


In particular, Zhao is interested in using the lens in confocal microscopes, which use a system of moving glass lenses and a laser to scan three-dimensional images of tiny objects.


"We believe that it is possible to make a confocal microscope with no moving parts," he said.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

WIRED: NASA's Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration - Earth's Reserves Almost Ran Out

WIRED: NASA's Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration - Earth's Reserves Almost Ran Out | Amazing Science |

In 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft left Earth on a five-year mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Thirty-six years later, the car-size probe is still exploring, still sending its findings home. It has now put more than 19 billion kilometers between itself and the sun. Last week NASA announced that Voyager 1 had become the first man-made object to reach interstellar space.


The distance this craft has covered is almost incomprehensible. It’s so far away that it takes more than 17 hours for its signals to reach Earth. Along the way, Voyager 1 gave scientists their first close-up looks at Saturn, took the first images of Jupiter’s rings, discovered many of the moons circling those planets and revealed that Jupiter’s moon Io has active volcanoes. Now the spacecraft is discovering what the edge of the solar system is like, piercing the heliosheath where the last vestiges of the sun’s influence are felt and traversing the heliopause where cosmic currents overcome the solar wind. Voyager 1 is expected to keep working until 2025 when it will finally run out of power.


None of this would be possible without the spacecraft’s three batteries filled with plutonium-238. In fact, Most of what humanity knows about the outer planets came back to Earth on plutonium power. Cassini’s ongoing exploration of Saturn, Galileo’s trip to Jupiter, Curiosity’s exploration of the surface of Mars, and the 2015 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft are all fueled by the stuff. The characteristics of this metal’s radioactive decay make it a super-fuel. More importantly, there is no other viable option. Solar power is too weak, chemical batteries don’t last, nuclear fission systems are too heavy. So, we depend on plutonium-238, a fuel largely acquired as by-product of making nuclear weapons.


But there’s a problem: We’ve almost run out. “We’ve got enough to last to the end of this decade. That’s it,” said Steve Johnson, a nuclear chemist at Idaho National Laboratory. And it’s not just the U.S. reserves that are in jeopardy. The entire planet’s stores are nearly depleted.

The country’s scientific stockpile has dwindled to around 36 pounds. To put that in perspective, the battery that powers NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is currently studying the surface of Mars, contains roughly 10 pounds of plutonium, and what’s left has already been spoken for and then some. The implications for space exploration are dire: No more plutonium-238 means not exploring perhaps 99 percent of the solar system. In effect, much of NASA’s $1.5 billion-a-year (and shrinking) planetary science program is running out of time. The nuclear crisis is so bad that affected researchers know it simply as “The Problem.”


But it doesn’t have to be that way. The required materials, reactors, and infrastructure are all in place to create plutonium-238. In fact, the U.S. government recently approved spending about $10 million a year to reconstitute production capabilities the nation shuttered almost two decades ago. In March, the DOE even produced a tiny amount of fresh plutonium inside a nuclear reactor in Tennessee.

The only natural supplies of plutonium-238 vanished eons before the Earth formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Exploding stars forge the silvery metal, but its half-life, or time required for 50 percent to disappear through decay, is just under 88 years.


Fortunately, we figured out how to produce it ourselves — and to harness it to create a remarkably persistent source of energy. Like other radioactive materials, plutonium-238 decays because its atomic structure is unstable. When an atom’s nucleus spontaneously decays, it fires off a helium core at high speed while leaving behind a uranium atom. These helium bullets, called alpha radiation, collide en masse with nearby atoms within a lump of plutonium — a material twice as dense as lead. The energy can cook a puck of plutonium-238 to nearly 1,260 degrees Celsius. To turn that into usable power, you wrap the puck with thermoelectrics that convert heat to electricity. Voila: You’ve got a battery that can power a spacecraft for decades.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

New Rapid Blood Test Can Distinguish Bacterial Infections from Viral

New Rapid Blood Test Can Distinguish Bacterial Infections from Viral | Amazing Science |
A blood test developed by Duke University researchers will help doctors learn whether a patient's infection is caused by a virus or bacteria.


The Duke test can recognize a specific genetic fingerprint that the body expresses when it's sick.


In the most recent experiment, 102 subjects with viral and bacterial infections, as well as healthy control patients, arrived at a hospital emergency room and were given the blood test. With about 90 percent accuracy, the test returned the proper diagnosis in just 12 hours.


Dr. Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, also of Duke's Genome Institute, told Healthline that the test results were confirmed using traditional lab tests, which take much longer and are far more labor-intensive. “It was really outstanding from our perspective having an assay [test] that performed so robustly in a real-world setting.”


In larger studies set to begin as early as this flu season, scientists will look at ways of paring down the number of genes the test analyzes and reducing the test's turnaround time to as little as one hour. “We'd love to have the pregnancy test equivalent to viral infections,” Ginsburg said.


Woods, Ginsburg, and others have filed for a provisional patent on the science behind the test. Their experiment was funded in part by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.


Many of the infectious samples the team used to develop the test came from the global H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Many H1N1 sufferers were not quickly diagnosed and treated, which allowed the disease to spread to even more individuals.


In addition to the early detection of naturally occurring global pandemics, the authors believe their test could also help the U.S. respond to a bioterrorism attack. “This could help screen people for exposure, perhaps even before they have fully developed symptoms,” Ginsburg said. “We hope it's an application, if it ever comes to that.”

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

SUSY2013 Video: Dramatically simplified calculations for particle physics discovered - The Amplituhedron

SUSY2013 Video: Dramatically simplified calculations for particle physics discovered - The Amplituhedron | Amazing Science |

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.


“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.


The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.


“The degree of efficiency is mind-boggling,” said Jacob Bourjaily, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and one of the researchers who developed the new idea. “You can easily do, on paper, computations that were infeasible even with a computer before.”


The new geometric version of quantum field theory could also facilitate the search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large- and small-scale pictures of the universe. Attempts thus far to incorporate gravity into the laws of physics at the quantum scale have run up against nonsensical infinities and deep paradoxes. The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity.


“Both are hard-wired in the usual way we think about things,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and the lead author of the new work, which he is presenting in talks and in a forthcoming paper. “Both are suspect.”


Further reading:


The original PPT presentation from Dr. Trnka is here:

Alain Coetmeur's comment, September 19, 2013 4:14 AM
it remind me the work of Feynman, who find a different way to express the same reality. It is not a change of theory, but many a paradigm extension (not a change in fact). It may open new doors, and force physicist to change they way to work... It seems to beautiful that I expect it to be embraced quickly.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

What direction does Earth's center spin? New insights solve 300-year-old problem

What direction does Earth's center spin? New insights solve 300-year-old problem | Amazing Science |

Earth's inner core, made up of solid iron, 'superrotates' in an eastward direction -- meaning it spins faster than the rest of the planet -- while the outer core, comprising mainly molten iron, spins westwards at a slower pace.


Although Edmund Halley -- who also discovered the famous comet -- showed the westward-drifting motion of Earth's geomagnetic field in 1692, it is the first time that scientists have been able to link the way the inner core spins to the behavior of the outer core. The planet behaves in this way because it is responding to Earth's geomagnetic field.


The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, help scientists to interpret the dynamics of the core of Earth, the source of our planet's magnetic field.


In the last few decades, seismometers measuring earthquakes travelling through Earth's core have identified an eastwards, or superrotation of the solid inner core, relative to Earth's surface.


"The link is simply explained in terms of equal and opposite action," explains Dr Philip Livermore, of the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. "The magnetic field pushes eastwards on the inner core, causing it to spin faster than Earth, but it also pushes in the opposite direction in the liquid outer core, which creates a westward motion."


The solid iron inner core is about the size of the Moon. It is surrounded by the liquid outer core, an iron alloy, whose convection-driven movement generates the geomagnetic field.


The fact that Earth's internal magnetic field changes slowly, over a timescale of decades, means that the electromagnetic force responsible for pushing the inner and outer cores will itself change over time. This may explain fluctuations in the predominantly eastwards rotation of the inner core, a phenomenon reported for the last 50 years by Tkalčić et al. in a recent study published in Nature Geoscience.

Jordan Meyer's curator insight, October 3, 2013 11:55 PM

We have found out that the inner core of earth roates eastwards. The magentic field pushes eastwards on the inner core, causing it to spin faster than Earth, but it also pushes in the opposite direction in the liquid outer core, which creates westward motion. This is the resoning for many earthquakes and if we can keep ahead in knowledge about how the earth is moving we will have a better idea of when these natural disasters will happen. Hopefully being able to prevent less loss of money for the country. 

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

How and where imagination occurs in the human brain

How and where imagination occurs in the human brain | Amazing Science |
Philosophers and scientists have long puzzled over where human imagination comes from. In other words, what makes humans able to create art, invent tools, think scientifically and perform other incredibly diverse behaviors?


The answer, Dartmouth researchers conclude in a new study, lies in a widespread neural network -- the brain's "mental workspace" -- that consciously manipulates images, symbols, ideas and theories and gives humans the laser-like mental focus needed to solve complex problems and come up with new ideas.


Their findings, titled "Network structure and dynamics of the mental workspace," appear the week of Sept. 16, 2013, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


"Our findings move us closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species and provides such a rich internal playground for us to think freely and creatively," says lead author Alex Schlegel , a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "Understanding these differences will give us insight into where human creativity comes from and possibly allow us to recreate those same creative processes in machines."


Scholars theorize that human imagination requires a widespread neural network in the brain, but evidence for such a "mental workspace" has been difficult to produce with techniques that mainly study brain activity in isolation. Dartmouth researchers addressed the issue by asking: How does the brain allow us to manipulate mental imagery? For instance, imagining a bumblebee with the head of a bull, a seemingly effortless task but one that requires the brain to construct a totally new image and make it appear in our mind's eye.

Megan Kopke's curator insight, October 31, 2013 4:11 PM

our brain could be controlling images and symbols to produce "imagination" rather than something more arbitrary... we make vague contructs of images described to us that may not exsist outside of our imagination.  people with greater imaginations can form more symbols and images, or combine them more easily? 

Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

New Vaccine Clears AIDS-Causing Virus in Monkeys

New Vaccine Clears AIDS-Causing Virus in Monkeys | Amazing Science |
A newly developed vaccine has the ability to completely kill simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in non-human primates.


“To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly-publicized but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with anti-viral medicines very early after the onset of infection or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer,” said Dr. Louis Picker, who is a senior author of the study published online in the journal Nature.


“This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body.”


The new approach involves the use of cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a common virus already carried by a large percentage of the population. Dr. Picker and his colleagues discovered that pairing CMV with SIV had a unique effect.


They found that a modified version of CMV engineered to express SIV proteins generates and indefinitely maintains so-called ‘effector memory’ T-cells that are capable of searching out and destroying SIV-infected cells.


T-cells are a key component of the body’s immune system, which fights off disease, but T-cells elicited by conventional vaccines of SIV itself are not able to eliminate the virus. The SIV-specific T-cells elicited by the modified CMV were different. About 50 percent of monkeys given highly pathogenic SIV after being vaccinated with this vaccine became infected with SIV but over time eliminated all trace of SIV from the body.


In effect, the hunters of the body were provided with a much better targeting system and better weapons to help them find and destroy an elusive enemy.

“Through this method we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defenses’ to combat the disease,” Dr. Picker said.


“Our vaccine mobilized a T-cell response that was able to overtake the SIV invaders in 50 percent of the cases treated. Moreover, in those cases with a positive response, our testing suggests SIV was banished from the host. We are hopeful that pairing our modified CMV vector with HIV will lead to a similar result in humans.”

robyns tut's curator insight, September 16, 2013 2:32 PM

This article is relevent to South African because of the high number of HIV positive citizens. With new innovations in eliminating SIV in non-human primates, this could be a step in the right direction in finding a cure for HIV. It also makes me wonder if finding a cure is going to make much of a difference when so many sufferers will probably never be able to afford it.


Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Human Touch Sensitivity Extends to Nanoscale down to 12 nanometers, smaller than the size of a ribosome

Human Touch Sensitivity Extends to Nanoscale down to 12 nanometers, smaller than the size of a ribosome | Amazing Science |

Your sense of touch is way more sophisticated than you can imagine. A new study indicates that our tactile capacity extends far beyond our visual range, allowing us to detect objects on the nanoscale. Researchers believe that the findings may inspire new developments in a wide variety of fields. 


The new study, published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, sought to appraise the human sense of touch in terms of our capacity to differentiate rough and smooth stimuli. Together with a group of psychologists, material scientists evaluated the test subjects’ ability to detect miniscule “bumps” along a smooth surface. According to lead researcher Mark Rutland of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, the surprising findings shed new light on a traditionally overlooked faculty. 


"What you're capable of sensing and how you use your finger to sense a surface, up until recently has been a little bit of black art," he explained to ABC Science. "There are other stimuli like heat, cold, wetness, but we've excluded them just to be able to focus on the topographical stuff."


To test the hypothesis, the researchers enrolled 20 volunteers in an experiment. After being blindfolded, the participants were asked to run their index finger across 16 polymer surfaces featuring a series of tiny, parallel ridges. The height of these ridges ranged from 7 nanometers to 4.5 micrometers, and their wavelengths from 300 nanometers to 90 micrometers. 


For reference, a nanometer is 1×10−3 micrometer, or one thousandth of a micrometer. A micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter, or about 0.000004 inches. "The participants could distinguish a surface which had a 13-nanometre average amplitude from a smooth surface," Rutland told reporters. "I was surprised and very very excited."


The research team has every right to be excited. The nanometer is a tremendously minute unit used to measure worlds far beyond those perceived by the eye. The scale measures viral activity, unfolding chemistry, and the wavelength of light. A ribosome, for example, is about 20 nanometers in diameter. 


While the electronics industry and its booming touchscreen technology may stand to benefit the most from the findings, Rutland is confident that virtually all industries will value a more sophisticated understanding of touch.


"This shows unambiguously that the human finger, with its coarse fingerprint structure in the sub-millimeter range, is capable of dynamically detecting surface structures many orders of magnitude smaller," the researchers say.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Holy Water May be Harmful to Your Health and Contained up to 62 Million Bacteria per Milliliter

Holy Water May be Harmful to Your Health and Contained up to 62 Million Bacteria per Milliliter | Amazing Science |

New study find that 86 percent of holy water contains fecal matter. Despite its purported cleansing properties, holy water could actually be more harmful than healing, according to a new Austrian study on "holy" springs.

Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested water from 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna and found samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water, none of it safe to drink.


Tests indicated 86 percent of the holy water, commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants' lips, was infected with common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.


Nitrates, commonly found in fertilizer from farms, were also identified in the water. If ingested, water containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level could cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than 6 months, which could lead to death if untreated, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


"We need to warn people against drinking from these sources," said Dr Alexander Kirschner, study researcher and microbiologist at the Medical University of Vienna.


The study, published in the Journal of Water and Health, also found that all church and hospital chapel fonts contained bacteria -- the busier the church, the higher the bacterial count.


"This may represent a problem that has hitherto been underestimated, especially in hospitals, since there a lot of people with weakened immune systems there," Kirschner said.


There have been advances made for the more hygienic use of holy water, including the invention of a holy water dispenser a few years ago by an Italian priest, while studies have also indicated that adding salt (at recommended levels of 20 percent) can help disinfect the water.


But Kirschner cautions that salt is not a reliable way to prevent infection and instead recommends priests regularly change the holy water in churches and erect signs to inform congregants about the dangers as well as of the history of the holy springs.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Reflectin, a new tunable biomimetic infrared camouflage coating created

Reflectin, a new tunable biomimetic infrared camouflage coating created | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers led by Dr Alon Gorodetsky has developed a tunable biomimetic infrared camouflage coating inspired by pencil squids. The scientists produced reflectin – a structural protein essential in the squid’s ability to change color and reflect light – in common bacteria and used it to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.


With the appropriate chemical stimuli, the films’ coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving them a dynamic configurability that allows the films to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera.

Infrared detection equipment is employed extensively by military forces for night vision, navigation, surveillance and targeting.


The novelty of this coating lies in its functionality within the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, roughly 700 to 1,200 nanometers, which matches the standard imaging range of most infrared visualization equipment. This region is not usually accessible to biologically derived reflective materials.


“Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities,” said Dr Gorodetsky, who with colleagues reported the results in the journalAdvanced Materials.


“This is just the first step in developing a material that will self-reconfigure in response to an external signal.”


“Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and color to adapt to their environments. Basically, we’re seeking to make shape-shifting clothing – the stuff of science fiction – a reality.”

No comment yet.
Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Slow-motion world for small animals - feeling for time is relative

Slow-motion world for small animals - feeling for time is relative | Amazing Science |

Smaller animals tend to perceive time in slow-motion, helping them to escape from larger predators, a study finds. This means that they can observe movement on a finer timescale than bigger creatures, allowing them to escape from lager predators.


Insects and small birds, for example, can see more information in one second than a larger animal such as an elephant. In humans, too, there is variation among individuals. Athletes, for example, can often process visual information more quickly. An experienced goalkeeper would therefore be quicker than others in observing where a ball comes from. The speed at which humans absorb visual information is also age-related. Younger people can react more quickly than older people, and this ability falls off further with increasing age.

From a human perspective, our ability to process visual information limits our ability to drive cars or fly planes any faster than we currently do in Formula 1, where these guys are pushing the limits of what is humanly possible. To go any quicker would require either computer assistance, or enhancement of our visual system, either through drugs or ultimately implants.

Some deep-sea isopods (a type of marine woodlouse) have the slowest recorded reaction of all, and can only see a light turning off and on four times per second "before they get confused and see it as being constantly on.

Having eyes that send updates to the brain at much higher frequencies than our eyes do is of no value if the brain cannot process that information equally quickly. Hence, this work highlights the impressive capabilities of even the smallest animal brains. Flies might not be deep thinkers but they can make good decisions very quickly.

Room 8's curator insight, September 18, 2013 4:46 PM

This is a great article.

Connor Keesee's curator insight, October 9, 2013 12:22 PM

Connor Keesee Animal Science, Gold 3