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Planetary Nervous System, Global Participatory Platform, Social Information Technologies: How to Create a Better World?

It probably started with Linux, then came Wikipedia and Open Street Map. Crowd-sourced information systems are central for the Digital Society to thrive. So, what's next? In this video, Dirk Helbing introduces a number of concepts such as the Planetary Nervous System, Global Participatory Platform, Interactive Virtual Worlds, User-Controlled Information Filters and Reputation Systems, and the Digital Data Purse. He also discusses ideas such as the Social Mirror, Intercultural Adapter, the Social Protector and Social Money as tools to create a better world. These can help us to avoid systemic instabilities, market failures, tragedies of the commons, and exploitation, and to create the framework for a Participatory Market Society, where everyone can be better off.


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Arturo Pereira's curator insight, August 12, 9:01 AM
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Forkhead Box O3 (Foxo3) Anti-Aging Gene May Hold Key to Protect Inner Ear Hair Cells from Damage

Forkhead Box O3 (Foxo3) Anti-Aging Gene May Hold Key to Protect Inner Ear Hair Cells from Damage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have discovered that a protein implicated in human longevity may also play a role in restoring hearing after noise exposure. The findings, where were published in the journal Scientific Reports, could one day provide researchers with new tools to prevent hearing loss.

 

The study reveals that a gene called Forkhead Box O3 (Foxo3) appears to play a role in protecting outer hair cells in the inner ear from damage. The outer hair cells act as a biological sound amplifier and are critical to hearing. When exposed to loud noises, these cells undergo stress. In some individuals, these cells are able to recover, but in others the outer hair cells die, permanently impairing hearing. While hearing aids and other treatments can help recovered some range of hearing, there is currently no biological cure for hearing loss.

 

"While more than a hundred genes have been identified as being involved in childhood hearing loss, little is known about the genes that regulate hearing recovery after noise exposure," said Patricia White, Ph.D., a research associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neuroscience and lead author of the study. "Our study shows that Foxo3 could play an important role in determining which individuals might be more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss."

 

Approximately one-third of people who reach retirement age have some degree of hearing loss, primarily due to noise exposure over their lifetimes. The problem is even more acute in the military, with upwards of 60 percent of individuals who have been deployed in forward areas experiencing hearing loss, making it the most common disability for combat veterans.

 

Foxo3 is known to play an important role in cell's stress response. For example, in the cardiovascular system, Foxo3 helps heart cells stay healthy by clearing away debris when the cells are damaged. Additionally, people with a genetic mutation that confers higher levels of Foxo3 protein have been shown to live longer.

 

White and her team carried out a series of experiments involving knock-out mice who were genetically engineered to lack the Foxo3 gene. The researchers found that, compared to normal mice, these animals were unable to recover hearing after being exposed to loud noises. The team also observed that during the experiment the Foxo3 knock-out mice lost most of their outer hair cells. In the normal mice, outer hair cell loss was not significant.

 

"Discovering that Foxo3 was important for the survival of outer hair cells is a significant advance," says senior author Patricia White. "We are also excited about the results because Foxo3 is a transcription factor, which regulates the expression of many target genes. We are currently investigating what its targets might be in the inner ear, and how they could act to protect the ear from damage."

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Scientists made robotic bees that can fly and swim, to one day study the ocean

Scientists made robotic bees that can fly and swim, to one day study the ocean | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

“What’s better than a robot inspired by bees? A robot inspired by bees that can swim.Researchers led by a team at Harvard University have developed a tiny, 175-milligram (about two feathers) device with insect-inspired wings that can both flap and rotate, allowing it to either fly above the ground or swim in shallow waters and easily transition between the two.”

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Scientists modify CRISPR to epigenetically treat diabetes, kidney disease and muscular dystrophy

Scientists modify CRISPR to epigenetically treat diabetes, kidney disease and muscular dystrophy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Most CRISPR/Cas9 systems work by creating "double-strand breaks" (DSBs) in regions of the genome targeted for editing or for deletion, but many researchers are opposed to creating such breaks in the DNA of living humans. As a proof of concept, the Salk group used their new approach to treat several diseases, including diabetes, acute kidney disease, and muscular dystrophy, in mouse models.

 

"Although many studies have demonstrated that CRISPR/Cas9 can be applied as a powerful tool for gene therapy, there are growing concerns regarding unwanted mutations generated by the double-strand breaks through this technology," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and senior author of the new paper, published in Cell on December 7, 2017. "We were able to get around that concern."

 

In the original CRISPR/Cas9 system, the enzyme Cas9 is coupled with guide RNAs that target it to the right spot in the genome to create DSBs. Recently, some researchers have started using a "dead" form of Cas9 (dCas9), which can still target specific places in the genome, but no longer cuts DNA. Instead, dCas9 has been coupled with transcriptional activation domains—molecular switches—that turn on targeted genes. But the resulting protein—dCas9 attached to the activator switches—is too large and bulky to fit into the vehicle typically used to deliver these kinds of therapies to cells in living organisms, namely adeno-associated viruses (AAVs). The lack of an efficient delivery system makes it very difficult to use this tool in clinical applications.


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An AI Translation Algorithm Can Predict the “Language” of Chemical Reactions

An AI Translation Algorithm Can Predict the “Language” of Chemical Reactions | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

By thinking of organic chemistry as words and sentences instead of atoms and molecules, researchers have found a way for artificial intelligence to predict chemical reactions.

 

In a paper published on arXiv by researchers at IBM and being presented at this week’s Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference, the researchers demonstrate that by treating reaction predictions as a translation problem, they could come up with the correct reaction more often than was possible with previous models.

 

“Intuitively, there is an analogy between a chemist’s understanding of a compound and a language speaker’s understanding of a word,” the researchers write.

 

Using a neural network often used in machine translation, the researchers trained the system on a data set that included 395,496 reactions. From that data, the neural net had to learn the “syntax” of reactions to be able to predict unseen compounds. The algorithm gave researchers a list of the top five most likely reactions, and the top prediction was correct 80 percent of the time, beating another model that tried to predict reactions by six percentage points.

 

There are millions of chemical reactions that have yet to be documented, so this approach could help speed up research for things like drug discovery. But researchers say that as more data gets added to the models, more double-checking will have to take place. Teodoro Laino, one of the researchers, told IEEE Spectrum that they “didn't create this tool to replace organic chemists, but to help them.”


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Google has released a machine learning AI tool that makes sense of your genome

Google has released a machine learning AI tool that makes sense of your genome | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

AI tools could help us turn information gleaned from genetic sequencing into life-saving therapies. Almost 15 years after scientists first sequenced the human genome, making sense of the enormous amount of data that encodes human life remains a formidable challenge. But it is also precisely the sort of problem that machine learning excels at.

 

Google has now released a tool called DeepVariant that uses the latest AI techniques to build a more accurate picture of a person’s genome from sequencing data. DeepVariant helps turn high-throughput sequencing readouts into a picture of a full genome. It automatically identifies small insertion and deletion mutations and single-base-pair mutations in sequencing data.

 

High-throughput sequencing became widely available in the 2000s and has made genome sequencing more accessible. But the data produced using such systems has offered only a limited, error-prone snapshot of a full genome. It is typically challenging for scientists to distinguish small mutations from random errors generated during the sequencing process, especially in repetitive portions of a genome. These mutations may be directly relevant to diseases such as cancer.

 

A number of tools exist for interpreting these readouts, including GATK, VarDict, and FreeBayes. However, these software programs typically use simpler statistical and machine-learning approaches to identifying mutations by attempting to rule out read errors. “One of the challenges is in difficult parts of the genome, where each of the tools has strengths and weaknesses,” says Brad Chapman, a research scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health who tested an early version of DeepVariant. “These difficult regions are increasingly important for clinical sequencing, and it’s important to have multiple methods.”

 

DeepVariant was developed by researchers from the Google Brain team, a group that focuses on developing and applying AI techniques, and Verily, another Alphabet subsidiary that is focused on the life sciences. The team collected millions of high-throughput reads and fully sequenced genomes from the Genome in a Bottle (GIAB)  project, a public-private effort to promote genomic sequencing tools and techniques. They fed the data to a deep-learning system and painstakingly tweaked the parameters of the model until it learned to interpret sequenced data with a high level of accuracy.

 

Last year, DeepVariant won first place in the PrecisionFDA Truth Challenge, a contest run by the FDA to promote more accurate genetic sequencing. “The success of DeepVariant is important because it demonstrates that in genomics, deep learning can be used to automatically train systems that perform better than complicated hand-engineered systems,” says Brendan Frey, CEO of Deep Genomics.

 

The release of DeepVariant is the latest sign that machine learning may be poised to boost progress in genomics. Deep Genomics is one of several companies trying to use AI approaches such as deep learning to tease out genetic causes of diseases and to identify potential drug therapies (see “An AI-Driven Genomics Company Is Turning to Drugs”).

 

Deep Genomics aims to develop drugs by using deep learning to find patterns in genomic and medical data. Frey says AI will eventually go well beyond helping to sequence genomic data. “The gap that is currently blocking medicine right now is in our inability to accurately map genetic variants to disease mechanisms and to use that knowledge to rapidly identify life-saving therapies,” he says.

 

Another prominent company in this area is Wuxi Nextcode, which has offices in Shanghai, Reykjavik, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wuxi Nextcode has amassed the world’s largest collection of fully sequenced human genomes, and the company is investing heavily in machine-learning methods.

 

DeepVariant will also be available on the Google Cloud Platform. Google and its competitors are furiously adding machine-learning features to their cloud platforms in an effort to lure anyone who might want to tap into the latest AI techniques (see “Ambient AI Is About to Devour the Software Industry”).

 

In general, AI figures to help many aspects of medicine take big leaps forward in the coming years. There are opportunities to mine many different kinds of medical data—from images or medical records, for example— to predict ailments that a human doctor might miss (see “The Machines Are Getting Ready to Play Doctor” and “A New Algorithm for Palliative Care”).

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Google turns the sci-fi which amazed us on the big screen yesterday into today's reality. 

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MACHOs are dead. WIMPs are a no-show. Say hello to SIMPs, a new candidate for dark matter

MACHOs are dead. WIMPs are a no-show. Say hello to SIMPs, a new candidate for dark matter | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The intensive, worldwide search for dark matter, the missing mass in the universe, has so far failed to find an abundance of dark, massive stars or scads of strange new weakly interacting particles, but a new candidate is slowly gaining followers and observational support.

 

Called SIMPs - strongly interacting massive particles - they were proposed three years ago by University of California, Berkeley theoretical physicist Hitoshi Murayama, a professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) in Japan, and former UC Berkeley postdoc Yonit Hochberg, now at Hebrew University in Israel.

 

Murayama says that recent observations of a nearby galactic pile-up could be evidence for the existence of SIMPs, and he anticipates that future particle physics experiments will discover one of them. Murayama discussed his latest theoretical ideas about SIMPs and how the colliding galaxies support the theory in an invited talk Dec. 4 at the 29th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics in Cape Town, South Africa.

 

SIMPs, like WIMPs and MACHOs, theoretically would have been produced in large quantities early in the history of the universe and since have cooled to the average cosmic temperature. But unlike WIMPs, SIMPs are theorized to interact strongly with themselves via gravity but very weakly with normal matter. One possibility proposed by Murayama is that a SIMP is a new combination of quarks, which are the fundamental components of particles like the proton and neutron, called baryons. Whereas protons and neutrons are composed of three quarks, a SIMP would be more like a pion in containing only two: a quark and an antiquark.

 

The SIMP would be smaller than a WIMP, with a size or cross section like that of an atomic nucleus, which implies there are more of them than there would be WIMPs. Larger numbers would mean that, despite their weak interaction with normal matter - primarily by scattering off of it, as opposed to merging with or decaying into normal matter - they would still leave a fingerprint on normal matter, Murayama said.

 

He sees such a fingerprint in four colliding galaxies within the Abell 3827 cluster, where, surprisingly, the dark matter appears to lag behind the visible matter. This could be explained, he said, by interactions between the dark matter in each galaxy that slows down the merger of dark matter but not that of normal matter, basically stars.

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Viruses share genes with organisms across the three superkingdoms of life

Viruses share genes with organisms across the three superkingdoms of life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new study finds that viruses share some genes exclusively with cells that are not their hosts. The study, reported in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, adds to the evidence that viruses swap genes with a variety of cellular organisms and are agents of diversity, researchers say.

 

The study looked at protein structures in viruses and across all superkingdoms, or domains, of life: from the single-celled microbes known as bacteria and archaea, to eukaryotes, a group that includes animals, plants, fungi and all other living things.

"It is typical to define viruses in relation to their hosts, but this practice restricts our understanding of virus-cell interactions," said University of Illinois and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology researcher Arshan Nasir, who led the new research with Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, a professor of crop sciences and affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I., and Kyung Mo Kim, a senior scientist at the Korea Polar Research Institute, in Incheon, South Korea.

 

"Recent research has revealed that organisms can form partnerships with other organisms and live in communities. For example, many bacterial and archaeal species reside in and on the human body and constitute the human microbiota," Nasir said.

 

Viruses that infect archaea and bacteria, for example, are not known to infect eukarya. However, they may still interact in nonharmful ways with organisms they do not infect, the researchers said. "We wanted to investigate the genomes of viruses and cellular organisms to look for possible traces of gene transfer from viruses to cells, beyond what we already know about virus interactions with their hosts," Nasir said.

 

The team used a bioinformatics approach to analyze the genomes of organisms and the viruses that infect them. Rather than focusing on genetic sequences, which can change over the generations, the team examined the functional components of proteins, which they call folds. Each fold - and there are more than 1,400 of them across all domains of life - has a unique 3-D structure that performs a specific operation. Because folds are critical to protein function, they remain stable even as the sequences that code for them change as a result of mutations or other processes, the researchers said.

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Using light instead of electrons promises faster, smaller, more-efficient computers and smartphones

Using light instead of electrons promises faster, smaller, more-efficient computers and smartphones | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

 

By forcing light to go through a smaller gap than ever before, a research team at Imperial College London has taken a step toward computers based on light instead of electrons.

Light would be preferable for computing because it can carry much-higher-density information, it’s much faster, and more efficient (generates little to no heat). But light beams don’t easily interact with one other. So information on high-speed fiber-optic cables (provided by your cable TV company, for example) currently has to be converted (via a modem or other device) into slower signals (electrons on wires or wireless signals) to allow for processing the data on devices such as computers and smartphones.

 

To overcome that limitation, the researchers used metamaterials to squeeze light into a metal channel only 25 nanometers (billionths of a meter) wide, increasing its intensity and allowing photons to interact over the range of micrometers (millionths of meters) instead of centimeters. That means optical computation that previously required a centimeters-size device can now be realized on the micrometer (one millionth of a meter) scale, bringing optical processing into the size range of electronic transistors.

 

The results were published Thursday Nov. 30, 2017 in the journal Science.

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First DNA sequence from a single mitochondrion

First DNA sequence from a single mitochondrion | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

DNA sequences between mitochondria within a single cell are vastly different, found researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. This knowledge will help to better illuminate the underlying mechanisms of many disorders that start with accumulated mutations in individual mitochondria and provide clues about how patients might respond to specific therapies. The findings are published in Cell Reportsthis week.

 

Mitochondria, a component of cells that have their own DNA (mtDNA), produce energy for the body, among other functions. One mitochondrion can contain 10 or more different genomes with hundreds to thousands of individual mitochondria residing in each cell. A number of mitochondrial diseases arise from mutations accumulating in mtDNA. For example, these mutations have been found in colorectal, ovarian, breast, bladder, kidney, lung, and pancreatic tumors.

 

Using methods developed in the lab of senior author James Eberwine, PhD, a professor of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics, the investigators extracted single mitochondrion and then extracted its mtDNA. They compared mutations present in single mitochondrion in individual mouse and human neurons and found that mouse cells had more accumulated mutations compared to human cells. Because of this finding that mutations accumulate at a different rate in mice versus humans, Eberwine notes that one important take away from the study is to ensure that mitochondrial diseases or potential therapeutics in cells are examined in models where the mutations parallel those that occur in humans.

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Paleontologists discover 215 miraculously well-preserved pterosaur eggs

Paleontologists discover 215 miraculously well-preserved pterosaur eggs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

“Extraordinary.” “Stellar.” “Truly awesome.” “A world-class find.”

That’s how paleontologists are reacting to the discovery of several hundred ridiculously well-preserved pterosaur eggs in China, some of them still containing the remains of embryos. “My first thought was extreme jealousy,” said David Unwin, a pterosaur expert and paleobiologist at the University of Leicester. “Really.”

 

To understand why Unwin and others are freaking out about the discovery, published Thursday in the journal Science, you have to first appreciate how rare pterosaur eggs are.

 

The pterosaurs were an order of flying reptiles that went extinct some 66 million years ago. They were not actually dinosaurs, but they went extinct at the same time. Along with bats and birds, they are the only vertebrates to truly fly. And though these creatures lorded over the skies for around 162 million years, only a handful of pterosaur egg fossils have ever been unearthed. And of those, paleontologists have just six three-dimensional eggs – that is, eggs not completely flattened by millions of years of being crushed under younger sediments.

 

But now, we have a pterosaur egg extravaganza. According to the new research, a site in China’s Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang has coughed up 215 beautiful, pliable and miraculously three-dimensional eggs – 16 of which contain embryonic remains. The researchers also suspect there could be as many as 300 more eggs within the same sandstone block. No wonder Xiaolin Wang, the study’s lead author and a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the discovery could be described as a sort of “pterosaur Eden.”

 

Aside from breaking records, Unwin said there are practical reasons for why having more eggs is better. “When you have a really unique find, you basically can’t do anything to it because that’s all you’ve got.” But now that we have literally hundreds of eggs to work with, we have more options – such as cutting different eggs into cross-sections to study growth rates.

 

What’s more, the egg treasure trove also boasts skeletons from what appear to be hatchlings, juveniles and adults. This, too, is an embarrassment of riches because it means scientists now have more information about how pterosaurs progressed from egg to adult than ever before. “This is by far the most exciting discovery that I know of,” said Alexander Kellner, co-author of the new study and paleontologist at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

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Hofstadter butterfly emerges from quantum simulation

Hofstadter butterfly emerges from quantum simulation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Quantum simulators, which are special-purpose quantum computers, will help researchers identify materials with new and useful properties. This enticing future has just taken a step forward thanks to a collaboration between Google and researchers at universities in California, Singapore and Greece.

 

The international team used photons in Google's quantum chip to simulate the surprising and beautiful pattern of the 'Hofstadter butterfly', a fractal structure characterizing the behaviour of electrons in strong magnetic fields. The results, published 1 December in Science, show how quantum simulators are starting to live up to their promise as powerful tools.

 

"We've always had this idea that we can use photons to simulate and better understand nature. Our collaboration puts this into practice," says Dimitris Angelakis at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore.

 

The feat was performed on Google's chain of nine superconducting quantum bits (qubits) by collaborators at Google and the University of California Santa Barbara in the United States, the National University of Singapore and Technical University of Crete, Greece. It shows how a quantum simulator can reproduce all kinds of exotic complex quantum behavior. This will enable researchers to simulate - and thus engineer - materials with exotic electronic conduction properties, potentially opening up a range of new applications.

 

Quantized eigenenergies and their associated wave functions provide extensive information for predicting the physics of quantum many-body systems. Using a chain of nine superconducting qubits, Google and others implement a technique for resolving the energy levels of interacting photons. They benchmark this method by capturing the main features of the intricate energy spectrum predicted for two-dimensional electrons in a magnetic field—the Hofstadter butterfly. They introduce disorder to study the statistics of the energy levels of the system as it undergoes the transition from a thermalized to a localized phase. This work introduces a many-body spectroscopy technique to study quantum phases of matter.

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Scientists demonstrate one of largest quantum simulators

Scientists demonstrate one of largest quantum simulators | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Physicists at MIT and Harvard University have demonstrated a new way to manipulate quantum bits of matter. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, they report using a system of finely tuned lasers to first trap and then tweak the interactions of 51 individual atoms, or quantum bits.

 

The team's results represent one of the largest arrays of quantum bits, known as qubits, that scientists have been able to individually control. In the same issue of Nature, a team from the University of Maryland reports a similarly sized system using trapped ions as quantum bits.

 

In the MIT-Harvard approach, the researchers generated a chain of 51 atoms and programmed them to undergo a quantum phase transition, in which every other atom in the chain was excited. The pattern resembles a state of magnetism known as an anti-ferromagnet, in which the spin of every other atom or molecule is aligned. The team describes the 51-atom array as not quite a generic quantum computer, which theoretically should be able to solve any computation problem posed to it, but a "quantum simulator"—a system of quantum bits that can be designed to simulate a specific problem or solve for a particular equation, much faster than the fastest classical computer.

 

For instance, the team can reconfigure the pattern of atoms to simulate and study new states of matter and quantum phenomena such as entanglement. The new quantum simulator could also be the basis for solving optimization problems such as the traveling salesman problem, in which a theoretical salesman must figure out the shortest path to take in order to visit a given list of cities. Slight variations of this problem appear in many other areas of research, such as DNA sequencing, moving an automated soldering tip to many soldering points, or routing packets of data through processing nodes.

 

"This problem is exponentially hard for a classical computer, meaning it could solve this for a certain number of cities, but if I wanted to add more cities, it would get much harder, very quickly," says study co-author Vladan Vuleti?, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics at MIT. "For this kind of problem, you don't need a quantum computer. A simulator is good enough to simulate the correct system. So we think these optimization algorithms are the most straightforward tasks to achieve."

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2014: NASA Shows New Tongan Island Is Born and Is Made of Tuff

2014: NASA Shows New Tongan Island Is Born and Is Made of Tuff | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
In late December 2014, a submarine volcano in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga erupted, sending a violent stream of steam, ash and rock into the air. The ash plumes rose as high as 30,000 feet (9 kilometers) into the sky, diverting flights. When the ash finally settled in January 2015, a newborn island with a 400-foot (120-meter) summit nestled between two older islands – visible to satellites in space. 

The newly formed Tongan island, unofficially known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai after its neighbors, was initially projected to last a few months. Now it has a 6- to 30-year lease on life, according to a new NASA study.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai is the first island of this type to erupt and persist in the modern satellite era, it gives scientists an unprecedented view from space of its early life and evolution. The new study offers insight into its longevity and the erosion that shapes new islands. Understanding these processes could also provide insights into similar features in other parts of the solar system, including Mars.
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If the Brain Cannot Decide, It Alternates the Possibilities: The Remarkable "Curvature Blindness" Illusion

If the Brain Cannot Decide, It Alternates the Possibilities: The Remarkable "Curvature Blindness" Illusion | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new optical illusion has been discovered, and it’s really quite striking. The strange effect is called the ‘curvature blindness’ illusion, and it’s described in a new paper from psychologist Kohske Takahashi of Chukyo University, Japan. Here’s an example of the illusion: A series of wavy horizontal lines are shown. All of the lines have exactly the same curvature.

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Scales, Feathers and Hair Have a Common Ancestor

Scales, Feathers and Hair Have a Common Ancestor | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Reptiles have scales. Birds have feathers. Mammals have hair. How did they all get them?

 

For a long time scientists thought the spikes, plumage and fur characteristic of these groups originated independently of each other. But a study published Friday suggests that they all evolved from a common ancestor some 320 million years ago.

 

This ancient reptilian creature — which gave rise to dinosaurs, birds and mammals — is thought to have been covered in scale-like structures. What that creature looked like is not exactly known, but the scales on its skin developed from structures called placodes — tiny bumps of thick tissue found on the surface of developing embryos.

 

Scientists had previously found placodes on the embryos of birds and mammals, where they develop into feathers and hairs, but had never found the spots on a reptilian embryo before. The apparent lack of placodes in present-day reptiles fueled controversy about how these features first formed.

 

“People were fighting about the fact that reptiles either lost it, or birds and mammals independently developed them,” said Michel C. Milinkovitch, an evolutionary developmental biologist from the University of Geneva in Switzerland and an author of the new paper. “Now we are lucky enough to put this debate to rest, because we found the placodes in all reptiles: snakes, lizards and crocodiles.”

 

In their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Milinkovitch and his team report the first findings of the anatomical structures in Nile crocodiles, bearded dragon lizards and corn snakes. They concluded that birds, mammals and reptiles all inherited their placodes from the same ancient reptilian ancestor.

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DNA origami structures created that are larger than ever before

DNA origami structures created that are larger than ever before | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A collection of large, complex objects sculpted out of DNA have been unveiled by three separate research groups, expanding the range of nanometre-scale structures that DNA self-assembly can make. Groups led by California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech’s) Lulu Qian, Harvard’s Peng Yin, and Technical University of Munich’s (TU Munich’s) Hendrik Dietz have each developed complementary methods.

 

Shawn Douglas from University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in these studies, emphasizes that the largest DNA structures now weigh billions of Daltons, and are a thousand times heavier than the largest were a decade ago. The tubes Dietz’s team constructs can also be up to 1000 nanometers long, ten times as big as the largest DNA structures were previously.

 

Remarkably, DNA construction is already at least 26 years old, from when New York University’s Ned Seeman published his group’s assembly of cubes from ten DNA strands in 1991. In the years since, researchers have built progressively bigger and more intricate DNA objects, and used them for computational and mechanical functions. One key underlying technology, known as DNA origami, relies on forcing one long scaffold strand of DNA into a desired shape using dozens of other, shorter, staple strands.

 

Dietz’s team was inspired by viruses, whose outer shells contain just a few types of protein subunit closed into regular shapes. They explored whether DNA origami subunits might do the same, trying different designs and studying their properties using cryo-electron microscopy. They discovered that these first-level subunits needed to form precise shapes and be rigid to successfully self-assemble at second and third levels.

 

‘The subunit needs to withstand collisions from solution molecules – the faces have certain relative angles and if they fluctuate too much they’ll never form a closed object,’ Dietz explains. They also shouldn’t bind too tightly, because they’ll get stuck in partially formed states. ‘If we have sufficiently weak interactions then subunits can associate but also dissociate. If you have some erroneously stuck subunits they fall off again.’

 

The TU Munich team’s final designs used V-shaped first-level DNA origami subunits, which could link up into second-level 350 nanometer diameter rings or ‘reactive vertices’. Depending on their shape, the reactive vertices could link up and close onto each other in third level virus-sized cages that were tetrahedral, hexahedral or dodecahedral. The largest weighed 1.2 billion Daltons and contained 220 DNA origami units. Similarly, the rings can link up into third level, 1000 nanometre-long tubes.

 

While TU Munich’s approach means all assemblies have to be symmetrical, the Caltech team’s multi-level assembly approach creates custom designs. They produce two-dimensional images from a jigsaw of 64 DNA origami tiles, reaching up to 8,704 pixels and 700 micrometres wide. ‘Once we have synthesized each individual tile, we place each one into its own test tube for a total of 64 tubes,’ explains Qian’s grad student Philip Petersen. ‘First, we combine the contents of certain tubes together to get 16 two-by-two squares. Then those are combined in a certain way to get four tubes each with a four-by-four square, and then the final four tubes are combined to create one large, eight-by-eight square composed of 64 tiles. We design the edges of each tile so that we know exactly how they will combine.’

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Breaking electron waves provide new clues to high-temperature superconductivity

Breaking electron waves provide new clues to high-temperature superconductivity | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Superconductors carry electricity with perfect efficiency, unlike the inevitable waste inherent in traditional conductors like copper. But that perfection comes at the price of extreme cold—even so-called high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) only emerges well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Discovering the ever-elusive mechanism behind HTS could revolutionize everything from regional power grids to wind turbines.

 

Now, a collaboration led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory has discovered a surprising breakdown in the electron interactions that may underpin HTS. The scientists found that as superconductivity vanishes at higher temperatures, powerful waves of electrons begin to curiously uncouple and behave independently—like ocean waves splitting and rippling in different directions.

 

"For the first time, we pinpointed these key electron interactions happening after superconductivity subsides," said first author and Brookhaven Lab research associate Hu Miao. "The portrait is both stranger and more exciting than we expected, and it offers new ways to understand and potentially exploit these remarkable materials."

 

The new study, published in the journal PNAS, explores the puzzling interplay between two key quantum properties of electrons: spin and charge. "We know charge and spin lock together and form waves in copper-oxides cooled down to superconducting temperatures," said study senior author and Brookhaven Lab physicist Mark Dean. "But we didn't realize that these electron waves persist but seem to uncouple at higher temperatures."


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Out of Neutron Star Collisions Comes Gold and Other Heavy Elements

Out of Neutron Star Collisions Comes Gold and Other Heavy Elements | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New calculations show that the accretion flows that form after a neutron star collision can eject large amounts of matter that is rich in gold and other heavy elements.

 

Gold has long been appreciated for its beauty, its rareness, and a number of astonishing physical properties, like the fact that a single coin can be beaten into an area of more than 30 square meters. As much as gold has been searched for on Earth, there has been a long debate about its cosmic origin. But the detection this past summer of both gravitational waves and an electromagnetic flash from a neutron star merger (see 16 October 2017 Viewpoint) implies that heavy elements are forged around the most extreme objects in the Universe: neutron stars and black holes. A new theoretical study by Daniel Siegel and Brian Metzger from Columbia University, New York [1], simulates in detail the postmerger accretion of neutron star matter onto a black hole and confirms earlier, but less sophisticated, studies claiming that such systems are indeed promising production sites for gold and other heavy elements. The results may provide new insights into the recent neutron star merger observations, such as why the electromagnetic flash that accompanied the gravitational waves was so bright.

 

The heaviest elements are formed through the so-called “r process,” in which a nucleus grows larger by rapidly capturing multiple neutrons. Neutrons are favored over protons, whose positive charge repels them from the positively charged nucleus. After capturing a neutron, the nucleus is not generally stable. Instead, it may transform a neutron into a proton in a beta decay, thereby emitting an electron and an antineutrino. The next neutrons need to be captured on a very short time scale, before the next beta decays set in. This is the defining feature of the rprocess, and its basic workings were already understood in the late 1950s [2].

 

Although it’s clear what the r process needs—an explosion with lots of neutrons—where this actually happens has been a mystery for decades. The first suspected culprits were massive stars that explode as core-collapse supernovae. Later on, researchers developed an alternative r-process scenario involving mergers of neutron stars in binary systems, but this idea retained an “exotic” aura as such mergers had never been observed before. It is rather obvious that neutron stars would be an ideal place for the r process; after all, they consist predominantly of neutrons. Much less obvious is whether there is any way to eject the matter in the first place. A neutron star has an enormous gravitational pull, with a gravitational binding energy in excess of 100 MeV/nucleon. By comparison, the most energetic nuclear reactions release less than 10 MeV of energy per nucleon. So nuclear reactions would fall far short of liberating any matter from a neutron star surface. To rip a neutron star apart, it takes a merger with another extreme object, either a black hole [3] or another neutron star [4]. Besides being potential heavy element sources, these violent collisions were also predicted [4] to produce short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), which are brief and enormously bright flashes of gamma rays.

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First 3-D printed objects that connect to WiFi without the use of electronics

First 3-D printed objects that connect to WiFi without the use of electronics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Imagine a bottle of laundry detergent that can sense when you're running low on soap—and automatically connect to the internet to place an order for more.

 

 

University of Washington researchers are the first to make this a reality by 3-D printing plastic objects and sensors that can collect useful data and communicate with other WiFi-connected devices entirely on their own.

 

With CAD models that the team is making available to the public, 3-D printing enthusiasts will be able to create objects out of commercially available plastics that can wirelessly communicate with other smart devices. That could include a battery-free slider that controls music volume, a button that automatically orders more cornflakes from Amazon or a water sensor that sends an alarm to your phone when it detects a leak.

 

"Our goal was to create something that just comes out of your 3-D printer at home and can send useful information to other devices," said co-lead author and UW electrical engineering doctoral student Vikram Iyer. "But the big challenge is how do you communicate wirelessly with WiFi using only plastic? That's something that no one has been able to do before."

 

The system is described in a paper presented Nov. 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery's SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Asia.

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Soft robots get superpowers: why future robots won’t look like robots at all

Soft robots get superpowers: why future robots won’t look like robots at all | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Future robots won’t be limited to humanoid form (like Boston Robotics’ formidable backflipping Atlas). They’ll be invisibly embedded everywhere in common objects. Such as a shoe that can intelligently support your gait, change stiffness as you’re running or walking, and adapt to different surfaces — or even help you do backflips.

 

That’s the vision of researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Colorado, Yale University, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, who describe the burgeoning new field of  “material robotics” in a perspective article published Nov. 29, 2017 in Science Robotics.

 

Disappearing into the background of everyday life

The authors challenge a widespread basic assumption: that robots are either “machines that run bits of code” or “software ‘bots’ interacting with the world through a physical instrument. “We take a third path: one that imbues intelligence into the very matter of a robot,” says Oregon State University researcher Yiğit Mengüç, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in OSU’s College of Engineering and part of the college’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute.

 

On that path, materials scientists are developing new bulk materials with the inherent multifunctionality required for robotic applications, while roboticists are working on new material systems with tightly integrated components, disappearing into the background of everyday life. “The spectrum of possible approaches spans from soft grippers with zero knowledge and zero feedback all the way to humanoids with full knowledge and full feed­back,” the authors note in the paper.

 

For example, “In the future, your smartphone may be made from stretchable, foldable material so there’s no danger of it shattering,” says Mengüç. “Or it might have some actuation, where it changes shape in your hand to help with the display, or it can be able to communicate something about what you’re observing on the screen. All these bits and pieces of technology that we take for granted in life will be living, physically responsive things, moving, changing shape in response to our needs, not just flat, static screens.”

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Boy Or Girl? It's In The Father's Genes, but the Gene is not Known Yet

Boy Or Girl? It's In The Father's Genes, but the Gene is not Known Yet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A study of hundreds of years of family trees suggests a man's genes play a role in him having sons or daughters. Men inherit a tendency to have more sons or more daughters from their parents. This means that a man with many brothers is more likely to have sons, while a man with many sisters is more likely to have daughters.

 

A Newcastle University study involving thousands of families is helping prospective parents work out whether they are likely to have sons or daughters.

 

The work by Corry Gellatly, a research scientist at the university, has shown that men inherit a tendency to have more sons or more daughters from their parents. This means that a man with many brothers is more likely to have sons, while a man with many sisters is more likely to have daughters.

 

The research involved a study of 927 family trees containing information on 556,387 people from North America and Europe going back to 1600. "The family tree study showed that whether you’re likely to have a boy or a girl is inherited. We now know that men are more likely to have sons if they have more brothers but are more likely to have daughters if they have more sisters.

 

However, in women, you just can’t predict it," Mr Gellatly explains. Men determine the sex of a baby depending on whether their sperm is carrying an X or Y chromosome. An X chromosome combines with the mother’s X chromosome to make a baby girl (XX) and a Y chromosome will combine with the mother’s to make a boy (XY).

 

The Newcastle University study suggests that an as-yet undiscovered gene controls whether a man’s sperm contains more X or more Y chromosomes, which affects the sex of his children. On a larger scale, the number of men with more X sperm compared to the number of men with more Y sperm affects the sex ratio of children born each year.

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New luminescent nanoparticles leave a fingerprint glowing for 2 months

New luminescent nanoparticles leave a fingerprint glowing for 2 months | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new fingerprinting technique that uses long-lived luminescent nanoparticles provides sharp images of otherwise invisible prints (Anal. Chem. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.7b03003). The method offers better resolution than standard fingerprinting for forensic investigation, the researchers say.

 

When collecting fingerprints at crime scenes, investigators choose from a handful of reagents to reveal the patterns deposited on surfaces by skin oils and proteins. They dust or spray surfaces with black carbon-based powder, organic dyes, or fluorescent molecules depending on what will maximize the prints’ visibility on a given surface, whether porous, nonporous, dark, or multicolored.

 

To enhance the contrast of fingerprints against surfaces, researchers would like to stain them with molecules or metallic nanoparticles that glow when light is shined on them. But some surfaces—including metal and plastic—themselves fluoresce under ultraviolet light, which can obscure the details of a glowing print.

 

Quan Yuan, at Wuhan University, and her colleagues wanted to eliminate this background fluorescence. Surface fluorescence typically disappears once the UV light is turned off, so they sought a material with long-lasting luminescence that would continue to shine even after UV exposure was over.

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A Greener Cryptocurrency Than Bitcoin From Bittorrent Inventor, Bram Cohen

A Greener Cryptocurrency Than Bitcoin From Bittorrent Inventor, Bram Cohen | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The inventor of Bittorrent has now turned his attention to blockchain technology and building a greener Bitcoin called Chia. Bram Cohen released Bittorrent to the world in 2004, but, in early 2017, he stepped away from the company he built to focus on blockchain technology. A very technical paper was co-authored by Cohen and released in September 2017 titled "Beyond Hellman's Time-Memory Trade-Offs with Applications to Proofs of Space," that covered “Proofs of Space” as a blockchain consensus method. Then, in November 2017, Chia was announced to the world, with a presentation available and the associated slides covering the concepts they plan to develop.

 

Engineering work has begun on the resurrected Proof of Space (PoSpace) protocol that makes use of empty space on your hardrive and adding another consensus algorithm, Proof of Time (PoT), to both get around problems with a pure PoSpace protocol, and the energy-consuming, heat-producing Proof of Work (PoW) performed by Bitcoin.

 

Visa says they process 150 million transactions per day, while Bitcoin processes only about 300,000. Those Bitcoin transactions come at a cost, however; it is estimated that Bitcoin energy consumption is currently around 30 terawatt-hours per year. The average home in the U.S. consumes about 11 megawatt-hours per year, which works out to about 3 million homes worth of electricity consumption. Cohen plans to change all that by replacing proof-of-work miners with what he calls “farmers.”

 

How It Will Work

The goal is to make a better bitcoin, fix the centralization problems, reduce the environmental impact and remove the instability that can happen when miners have an excessive amount of influence on mining operations from cheap electricity and massive mining operations.

 

Chia is calling it “farming” instead of “mining” because it is more environmentally friendly and there is no massive energy consumption or wasted heat. This model opens up the farming operation to anyone that has free disk space. In the PoSpace system, farmers will allocate unused disk space to the network. The chances of successfully mining a block are going to be proportional to the amount of space allocated divided by the total capacity of the network. With a 4TB hard drive going for as little as $100 these days, it will even be simple and inexpensive to create a dedicated Chia farm.

 

According to Cohen's presentation on Chia, they have solved various problems with PoSpace, including grinding attacks, by adding PoT and alternating between them. To quote from his presentation on both: "When a new block is minted, it propagates rapidly to all full nodes and farmers start working on top of it. When a farmer finds a new block, they publish it to the network.

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Negative piezoelectric effect is not so rare after all

Negative piezoelectric effect is not so rare after all | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The piezoelectric effect, which causes a material to expand along the direction of an applied electric field, is common in many materials and used in a variety of technologies, from medical ultrasound to vibration-powered electronics. But the negative piezoelectric effect, in which a material contracts rather than expands in the direction of the applied electric field, has been considered a rare and counterintuitive anomaly, and has received little attention.

 

Now in a new paper published in Physical Review Letters, physicists Shi Liu and R. E. Cohen at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, D.C., have identified 93 materials that exhibit the negative piezoelectric effect, showing that it is much more common than previously thought. They also investigated the origins of the negative piezoelectric effect, which may lead to the development of new piezoelectric devices.

 

"The negative longitudinal piezoelectric effect was not well-examined in the past," Cohen told Phys.org. "Our paper is the first work to carry out a systematic investigation of the mechanism of the negative piezoelectric effect. Taking advantage of the well-curated open-source materials database hosted by the Materials Project, we are able to quickly identify nearly 100 materials possessing this unusual response literally within minutes. This work highlights how detailed quantum mechanical calculations and material informatics can work together to accelerate materials discovery and design."

 

As the researchers explained, piezoelectricity contains two components: a clamped-ion contribution, which is purely electronic, and an internal-strain contribution, which arises from microscopic atomic relaxations.

 

In the new study, the physicists discovered that the key difference between conventional and negative piezoelectric materials is which contribution is larger. In conventional piezoelectrics, the internal-strain contribution dominates, while in negative piezoelectrics the clamped-ion response dominates, indicating the presence of strong ionic bonds and small atomic relaxations in these materials.

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Physicists Set New Record with 10-Qubit Entanglement and Parallel Logic Operations using a Superconducting Circuit

Physicists Set New Record with 10-Qubit Entanglement and Parallel Logic Operations using a Superconducting Circuit | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Physicists have experimentally demonstrated quantum entanglement with 10 qubits on a superconducting circuit, surpassing the previous record of nine entangled superconducting qubits. The 10-qubit state is the largest multiqubit entangled state created in any solid-state system and represents a step toward realizing large-scale quantum computing.

 

Lead researcher Jian-Wei Pan and co-workers at the University of Science and Technology of China, Zhejiang University, Fuzhou University, and the Institute of Physics, China, have published a paper on their results in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters. In general, one of the biggest challenges to scaling up multiqubit entanglement is addressing the catastrophic effects of decoherence. One strategy is to use superconducting circuits, which operate at very cold temperatures and consequently have longer qubit coherence times.

 

In the new set-up, the researchers used qubits made of tiny pieces of aluminum, which they connected to each other and arranged in a circle around a central bus resonator. The bus is a key component of the system, as it controls the interactions between qubits, and these interactions generate the entanglement.

 

As the researchers demonstrated, the bus can create entanglement between any two qubits, can produce multiple entangled pairs, or can entangle up to all 10 qubits. Unlike some previous demonstrations, the entanglement does not require a series of quantum logic gates, nor does it involve modifying the physical wiring of the circuit, but instead all 10 qubits can be entangled with a single collective qubit-bus interaction.

 

To measure how well the qubits are entangled, the researchers used quantum tomography to determine the probability of measuring every possible state of the system. Although there are thousands of such states, the resulting probability distribution yielded the correct state about 67% of the time. This fidelity is well above the threshold for genuine multipartite entanglement(generally considered to be about 50%).

 

In the future, the physicists' goal is to develop a quantum simulator that could simulate the behavior of small molecules and other quantum systems, which would allow for a more efficient analysis of these systems compared to what is possible with classical computers.

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