Category: News Posts

New Solar Panel Design Could Charge Your Phone With Ambient Light

These days, we use our cell phones for a lot more than just making calls.

Smartphones have become essential tools for monitoring our health, interacting with our vehicles, and entering the world of augmented reality.

But these expanded smartphone functions have brought with them the need for us to find new ways to keep our cell phones charged.

Recently, some have attempted to power smartphones through wireless power transmission or by capturing the kinetic energy of the user’s movements.

Now, researchers have devised a method to charge cell phones with ambient light.

Scientists at Dracula Technologies, a French solar energy company, have developed “LAYER” technology — short for “Light As Your Energetic Response.

Essentially, LAYERs are thin, flexible solar cells that can be manufactured using an inkjet printer.

These cost-effective, foldable sheets are composed of a unique conductive plastic that can capture energy from both solar and artificial light — making this technology much more versatile than many of its predecessors.

A LAYER could either be printed onto the electronic device itself, or a larger sheet could be fixed to something that might capture more light, such as a backpack.

That object, then, would be hooked up to the device.

These solar cells only take about an hour to print and can be customized in shape and color, or even transparent.

While the researchers are still looking for ways to shorten the time it takes the solar cells to charge cell phones, they are confident that the technology is almost ready for real-world applications.

In a few months’ time, we should be able to charge a smartphone,” Ben Dkhil said in the interview.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Laboratory Cultured Sea Urchins

Sea urchins can be raised from egg to egg in the laboratory.

With proper food, the larvae can be grown to maturity in about 3 weeks. When mature larvae are exposed to the proper chemical cues metamorphosis occurs.

Over the next 5 days the small urchins develop internal organs and then begin to feed. Sexual maturity can be reached in as little as 4.5 months.

By then the urchin is about a centimeter in diameter. Several different approaches to the study of developmental genetics are covered.

These include:

  1. Hybrids between the sand dollars Dendraster and Encope, in which both crosses produce offspring that have predominantly paternal characteristics;
  2. a preliminary description of two mutants, one which produces abnormally shaped blastula that may lead to a significant number of exogastrulae, and another that produces a large number of four- part symmetrical urchins;
  3. urchins produced by parthenogenetic activation and from reaggregated larval cells.

Almost all of sea urchin genetics has been limited either to studies of inter-specific and inter-generic hybrids or to the area of molecular biology.

To some extent, hybrid studies have been forced on the sea urchin embryologist because genetics at a more refined level has not been possible.

Hybrid studies have been useful and they played a particularly important part in the early investigation of the role of the nucleus vs. that of the cytoplasm.

Horstadius (1973) pre-sents an extensive discussion of these early investigations.

In many ways, research at the molecular level is just beginning, in spite of the fact that the literature is already very extensive.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Boston Dynamics Unveils Stunning Robot That Can Run, Jump And Execute The Perfect Backflip

Boston Dynamics’ humanoid robot can execute a perfect backflip.

Atlas, which can also keep its balance when it’s pushed and get back up if it falls over, can now perform impressive gymnastic moves.

Boston Dynamics has just released footage of the machine’s latest trick, and viewers are both impressed and concerned.

As well as being able to jump from block to block and turn 180-degrees in mid-air, Atlas can do a backflip and land securely on its feet.

Like a human, it even lifts its arms in the air as if to celebrate, though this may also help it balance.

However, as the final part of the clip shows, it can’t always pull the move off successfully.

Atlas’ control system coordinates motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace,” says Boston Dynamics.

Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint.

The Atlas hardware takes advantage of 3D printing to save weight and space, resulting in a remarkable compact robot with high strength-to-weight ratio and a dramatically large workspace.

Stereo vision, range sensing and other sensors give Atlas the ability to manipulate objects in its environment and to travel on rough terrain.”

Atlas stands at 1.5m tall, weighs 75kg and has 28 joints in its body.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Have Created Brain Implants That Could Boost Our Memory By Up To 30%

Scientists have developed a groundbreaking brain implant that can boost human memory.

In recent years, studies have shown that so-called ‘memory prostheses’ can be used to improve memory in rodents and primates, helping them to perform better on cognitive tasks.

Now, researchers have shown for the first time that the technique can enhance human memory, too, by mimicking processes that occur naturally in the brain.

The new study, presented at the Society of Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC this past weekend, found that stimulating a region in the brain responsible for learning and memory can improve performance on memory tasks by up to 30 percent.

Researchers recruited 20 volunteers who were undergoing epilepsy monitoring, in which they were fitted with electrodes targeting the brain’s hippocampus.

Subjects were first asked to participate in a training session, where they were given visual delayed-match-to-sample (DMS) tasks.

Each participant was shown images in a sample presentation, and later had to recall the images during a match phase up to 75 seconds later.

The researchers then modeled the neural recordings from the training session to pinpoint the regions likely activated during the task.

Then, in a second session, the researchers used the implant to stimulate the subjects’ brains with micro-electric shocks based on the model.

In the trials, the technique was found to improve performance by as much as 30 percent.

While prior research has shown similar methods to enhance memory in some mammals, the researchers say it’s the first time it’s been demonstrated in humans.

These studies have yielded a prosthetic system that restored DMS task-related memory in rodents and nonhuman primates, and is now extended to successful memory facilitation in humans,” the authors wrote in an abstract detailing their presentation.

The work has implications for the treatment of memory disorders, suggesting that stimulating the brain based on patterns in a healthy brain could help to improve function, according to New Scientist.

And, it could pave the way for memory-enhancing prosthetics.

Cognitive task performance on MIMO stimulated trials was compared with non-stimulated and random pattern stimulated trials,” according to the researchers.

MIMO stimulation resulted in a 15-25% improvement in DMS task performance in five patients, demonstrating successful implementation of a new neural prosthetic system for the restoration of damaged human memory.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Flowing Water On Mars’ Surface May Just Be A Rolling Sand Instead

Two years ago, NASA made a big splash when it announced the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. But it turns out, the space agency might have been wrong.

The surface features that NASA thought were made up of liquid water may actually be flowing grains of sand instead, according to new research from the US Geological Survey.

And that could decrease the chances of microbial life living on the Red Planet.

The features in question are dark streaks that show up periodically on Martian hills, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSLs.

When one of NASA’s spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, studied these lines more closely, it found that the RSLs were made up of hydrated salts meaning they were mixed with water molecules.

At the time, NASA thought that was significant evidence that flowing liquid water caused these bizarre streaks.

But researchers at the USGS say these features look identical to certain types of slopes found on sand dunes here on Earth.

Those slopes are caused by dry grains of sand flowing downhill, without the help of any water. It’s possible the same thing is happening on Mars, too.

Since liquid water is key for life here on Earth, many thought these strange lines of flowing water may help support life on the Martian surface.

But now these RSLs may not be the best place to look for life anymore.

Of course, it’s still possible that life could exist on Mars, but researchers may want to focus on other places, like under the surface.

It’s thought that liquid water exists underground, where it’s a bit warmer and easier for water to stay a liquid.

Mars still has water now, it just might be in fewer accessible places,” Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program said.

The RSLs seemed to contain water because of the weird way they behave: the streaks seem to seep down the hills, a bit like water trickling downward.

That, and they grow thicker in the warmer months. While Mars is pretty frigid, its temperatures can exceed -9 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, making the surface a bit more accommodating for water.

In fact, water on Mars is thought to contain a type of salt called perchlorates that can make it easier for water to exist as a liquid at colder temperatures.

Scientists thought that maybe the warm summers allowed this salty water to flow.

Researchers still think that what the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found is solid, and that hydrated salts are involved.

But they’re probably not as wet as NASA originally thought. “This suggests there isn’t a large amount of liquid water associated with RSLs,” Dundas, a research geologist with the USGS said.

There may be a small amount of liquid water involved… but this is pointing to a relatively dry mechanism.”

So this may mean Mars’ surface isn’t as habitable as we thought, but that doesn’t mean the search is over yet.

There are lots of things that speak to Mars at least having the potential for life early on,” says Meyer. “And if it did happen, it has the potential for life hidden deep down below the surface.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Back to Saturn? Five Missions Proposed To Follow Cassini

For 13 years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back captivating observations of Saturn, and its rings and moons, solving some mysteries but raising plenty of new questions.

With the spacecraft’s demise on Friday, the stream of data from Saturn has dried up.

Until we go back, that’s a very distant world now,” Linda Spilker, the project scientist for Cassini, said during a news conference on Friday.

The details of the rings, and those small moons snuggled in so close — those are all gone until we go back.

NASA currently has no plans to return to Saturn, but that could change. In the latest round in a scientific competition called New Frontiers, NASA specified categories of missions it would consider.

Those include a probe to study Saturn’s atmosphere or a mission to go to Titan or Enceladus, two moons known to have oceans.

The New Frontiers program solicits ideas for missions from teams of scientists and engineers. These projects can be ambitious, costing up to about $1 billion.

Earlier proposals included Juno, now orbiting Jupiter, and Osiris-Rex, currently en route to the asteroid Bennu.

NASA may announce finalists by the end of the year. A winning mission is to be selected by summer 2019 for launch around 2025.

At least five submitted proposals take aim at Saturn, Titan or Enceladus.


As a spacecraft, Dragonfly would be an oddity: It would have propellers, like a helicopter — “a nuclear quadcopter to look for life on Saturn’s moon, Titan,” Peter Bedini, a program manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a recent talk.

Proponents of this concept say a quadcopter would be an ideal way to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The air is thick there, thicker than on Earth.

The landscape is varied, interspersed with obstacles — rivers, lakes and seas of liquid methane — that could prove inaccessible for a rover.

The booming popularity of flying drones in recent years makes the technology potentially feasible for interplanetary exploration, too.

In the past, scientists have suggested exploring the moon with balloons and airplanes. But Titan’s geology — sand dunes, eroded gullies — is more interesting than what is in the air.

Dragonfly would fly from place to place, but would spend most of its time performing experiments on the ground.

A second Titan proposal, Oceanus, is led by Christophe Sotin, the chief scientist for solar system exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which was Cassini’s home base.

The Oceanus spacecraft would study the moon from orbit, potentially identifying habitable regions for life.


Jonathan I. Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, was a member of the science team managing the Huygens probe, which traveled to Saturn with Cassini and landed on Titan.

He would be the principal investigator on a proposed mission to revisit Enceladus, a small moon just 313 miles wide.

The discovery of geysers shooting from its south pole was a stunning surprise, and now the moon is considered a prime place for look for life.

The proposed spacecraft, called Enceladus Life Finder, would fly through the plumes like Cassini did but with more sophisticated instruments capable of identifying a wide variety of molecules including amino acids, which would hint at signs of life.


The Saturn Probe Interior and Atmosphere Explorer would essentially do what Cassini did on Friday: descend into the planet’s atmosphere. But it would go much deeper.

The main part of the mission would end quickly — in about 90 minutes, as the probe parachuted into the atmosphere. It would take measurements of certain elements like helium that are hard to measure.

The ratio of helium to hydrogen is a crucial measure indicating how far from the sun a planet formed in the early days of the solar system.

Cassini attempted to measure that in its final plunge, but that data, from high in the atmosphere, will not be conclusive.

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft dropped an atmospheric probe into Jupiter in 1995, and this proposal is the “same exact idea as the Galileo probe,” said Amy Simon, an expert on planetary atmospheres at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

She would be the principal investigator for the mission.

To understand how the solar system formed, it’s crucial to understand its biggest fixtures. Saturn, of course, is the second largest planet, after Jupiter.

The two of them together tell you a lot of what happened in the early solar system,” Dr. Simon said. “It will answer those few fundamental questions that we could not do with Cassini.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

A Pump That Could Bring Your Heart Back To Life

This image, from a video, shows a robotic sleeve designed to encase a diseased heart and gently squeeze to help it pump blood. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital developed the experimental device in hopes of improving treatment of heart failure. (Ellen Roche/Harvard University/Science Translational Medicine via AP)

Scientists are developing a robotic sleeve that can encase a flabby diseased heart and gently squeeze to keep it pumping.

So far it’s been tested only in animals, improving blood flow in pigs. But this “soft robotic” device mimics the natural movements of a beating heart, a strategy for next-generation treatments of deadly heart failure.

The key: A team from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital wound artificial muscles into the thin silicone sleeve, so that it alternately compresses, twists and relaxes in synchrony with the heart tissue underneath.

It’s an approach dramatically different from today’s therapies and, if it is proven in people, it might offer an alternative to heart transplants or maybe even aid in recovery.

You can customize the function of the assist device to meet the individual needs of that heart,” said Frank Pigula, a cardiac surgeon who took the idea to Harvard colleagues developing soft robotics while he was at Boston Children’s Hospital.

More than 5 million Americans, and 41 million people worldwide, suffer heart failure, a number that is growing as the population ages.

A heart left damaged by a heart attack, high blood pressure or other conditions becomes progressively weaker and unable to pump properly.

For severe cases, the only options are a transplant or battery-powered mechanical pumps that are implanted into the chest to take over the job of pumping blood.

These ventricular assist devices, or VADs, prolong life, but running blood through the machinery can leave patients at risk of blood clots, strokes and bleeding.

That shouldn’t be a risk with the robotic sleeve.

The nice thing about this is it can go on the outside of the heart, so it doesn’t have to contact blood at all,” said Harvard associate engineering professor Conor Walsh, senior author of a recently published paper on the idea.

The researchers programmed the robotic sleeve to move in the same pattern as the weakened heart muscle it surrounds while strengthening and optimizing each heartbeat.

The device can be tailored to compress different sections of the heart.

As the sleeve relaxes, it helps the damaged heart expand and refill with blood to be pumped out with the next heartbeat, said Pigula, who is now with the University of Louisville.

Researchers have previously tried “socks” and other ways to encase or compress the heart, but these efforts have met with little success.

Unlike those prior attempts, the new sleeve is “smart, it’s robotic,” said O’Connor.

They really worked on developing a device that can mimic the contraction of the weakened heart muscle and augment it so there is improved heart function without the theoretical clot risk.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Is There A Healthier Ways To Eat Dessert?

Sticking with a healthy eating plan is hard work. There is no way around that, but for many it means giving up the foods that they love the most.

But, you don’t have to do that! If you are limiting yourself so much that healthy eating becomes more of a hindrance than a help, then your good habits won’t last long.

So what does this mean? You can still eat dessert– and enjoy it! Learn some smart substitutions to make your dessert a healthy part of your day.

The key to including dessert is to enjoy that sweet treat without overloading on calories, fat, and sugar.

Desserts can often make it hard to maintain a healthy weight. But who wants to give up their favorite foods? Willpower is hard to fight against.

As with many things in life, moderation is key, so you’ll need to stop yourself before you overindulge. Try sensible portions; you can eat 1 slice of pie and still be in your calorie range for the day.

Not every chocolate cake or banana nut muffin is created equal. Look for things without a lot of butter, nuts, or creamy frosting.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

This Oceans-Covered Newly Discovered May Possibly Be A Habitable Planets

Nasa scientists have discovered an alien solar system that they believe has two planets that are completely submerged under water.

The worlds, dubbed super-Earths because they are rocky and larger than our own planet, are orbiting a star called Kepler-62 that lies 1,200 light-years away in the constellation of Lyra.

Both exist in the so-called habitable zone around their home star where water essential for life as we know it can exist as a liquid.

The star is slightly smaller and cooler than the Sun, being only a fifth as bright, and has been found to have five planets in orbit around it by a planet-seeking space telescope.

Nasa has simultaneously announced the discovery of another super-Earth in another star system, labelled Kepler-69, in the neighbouring constellation of Cygnus, with two known planets, known as Kepler-69b and Kepler-69c.

In the first system, two of the planets, labelled Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, have intrigued planetary scientists because of their likely nature.

Computer modelling by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) indicates that they are both covered by global oceans without any land protruding.

It means that though the planets are theoretically habitable, any life there must be aquatic perhaps a kind of alien fish!

Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the CfA, led the study into Kepler-62’s strange worlds. She said: “These planets are unlike anything in our solar system.

They have endless oceans. “There may be life there, but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy.

Nonetheless, these worlds will still be beautiful blue planets circling an orange star and maybe life’s inventiveness to get to a technology stage will surprise us.”

The new study suggests that Kepler-62e is 60 percent larger than the Earth while Kepler-62f is about 40 percent larger.

They are too small for the team to be able to measure their masses, but they expect them to be composed of rock and water.

Kepler-62e will be the warmer world and is likely to be cloudier than our own planet. The more distant Kepler-62f would need the greenhouse effect from plenty of carbon dioxide to warm it enough to host an ocean.

If that is not the case, it might become more like an ice-covered snowball.

Kepler-69c is the super-Earth in the second new planetary system. It is 70 percent larger that Earth and orbits its home star in 242 days.

That star is similar to the Sun, being 93 percent as big and 80 percent as bright.

To date, Kepler has discovered 115 confirmed exoplanets, with 2,740 more suspected, since its launch in March 2009.

It does so by staring constantly at around 160,000 stars in one small region of the Milky Way in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra.

The space telescope is watching for any dip in a star’s light that may indicate a transit a planet passing in front of it.

By measuring the effects on the star’s light that the transit has, scientists can learn a surprising amount about the planet itself.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Why Do People Believe In Weird Things?

Psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have all come forward with theories to explain, as Michael Shermer expressed it as the title of a book, “why people believe weird things.”

Shermer, a leading non-believer of the supernatural, takes the traditional skeptical view grounded in psychology.

Filled with uncertainty, life can often be frightening, leading many to gravitate to what he considered “pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time.

Belief in an afterlife or some kind of “grand design” is comforting and assuring, providing order to the universe.

Mythologies, religions, and the occult all have roots in the pre-scientific age, Shermer pointed out, these kinds of beliefs forged before reason and rationalism dominated intellectual discourse.

The faith in some kind of god or spiritual plane of existence laid the foundation for today’s popularity of ESP, UFOs, and ghosts, he argued, any phenomena outside the rigid boundaries of science an alluring and perhaps irresistible proposition.

Anthropologists also have good reasons “why we believe.” Evolution has conditioned us to believe things are alive when we are not quite sure, some suggest, it being a far better survival strategy to assume that that big brown formation over yonder is a hungry bear than just a rock.

Thinking that the thing that just went bump in the night is a ghost instead of rusty pipes could thus very well be instinctual, one more reason it should not be surprising that the supernatural is often accepted as truth.

Control too, or more accurately the lack of it, is responsible for much of our supernatural ways, anthropologists argue.

“In the absence of perceived control, people become susceptible to detecting patterns in an effort to regain some sense of organization,” wrote Bruce Hood, a fancy way of saying that the mind actively looks for explanations.

Anxiety or economic distress make people that much more interested in feeling a sense of control, this perfectly in synch with the consistent spike in paranormalism experienced during tough times or social/political turmoil.

Perceptually, the world is chronically ambiguous and requires an interpretation,” summed up Stewart Guthrie, professor emeritus of anthropology at Fordham University and author of Faces in the Clouds, this accounting for everything from the Virgin-Mary-in-the-burrito phenomenon to the “peak experience” Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell reported while in space in 1971.

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Pass it on: New Scientist