Category: News Posts

3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Tablet Rewrites The History Of Math

A 3,700-year-old clay tablet has proven that the Babylonians developed trigonometry 1,500 years before the Greeks and were using a sophisticated method of mathematics which could change how we calculate today.

The tablet, known as Plimpton 332, was discovered in the early 1900s in Southern Iraq by the American archaeologist and diplomat Edgar Banks, who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

The true meaning of the tablet has eluded experts until now but new research by the University of New South Wales, Australia, has shown it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, which was probably used by ancient architects to construct temples, palaces and canals.




However unlike today’s trigonometry, Babylonian mathematics used a base 60, or sexagesimal system, rather than the 10 which is used today.

Because 60 is far easier to divide by three, experts studying the tablet, found that the calculations are far more accurate.

Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” said Dr Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science.

It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius. The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.”

This means it has great relevance for our modern world. Babylonian mathematics may have been out of fashion for more than 3000 years, but it has possible practical applications in surveying, computer graphics and education.

The Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived around 120BC, has long been regarded as the father of trigonometry, with his ‘table of chords’ on a circle considered the oldest trigonometric table.

A trigonometric table allows a user to determine two unknown ratios of a right-angled triangle using just one known ratio.

But the tablet is far older than Hipparchus, demonstrating that the Babylonians were already well advanced in complex mathematics far earlier.

The tablet, which is thought to have come from the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa, has been dated to between 1822 and 1762 BC. It is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York.

Plimpton 322 predates Hipparchus by more than 1000 years,” says Dr Wildberger.

It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education. With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own.”

A treasure-trove of Babylonian tablets exists, but only a fraction of them have been studied yet. The mathematical world is only waking up to the fact that this ancient but very sophisticated mathematical culture has much to teach us.”

The 15 rows on the tablet describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles, which are steadily decreasing in inclination.

The left-hand edge of the tablet is broken but the researchers believe t there were originally six columns and that the tablet was meant to be completed with 38 rows.

Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” added Dr Mansfield.

The new study is published in Historia Mathematica, the official journal of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.

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You’ve Just Thrown Away The Healthiest Part Of Your Avocado

If you’re like the rest of the avocado-eaters of the world, you approach your avocado like so: Cut around the avocado length-wise with a knife, then twist the two halves to separate them.

In a slightly unsafe fashion, you aim your sharp knife for the seed, hacking away until you get a firm grip, twist again to dislodge the seed. And then, you throw the seed away.

Well, according to Scientists of the American Chemical Society, you’ve just thrown away the healthiest part of your Avocado On Toast breakfast. Here’s a hint: It’s in the seed.




Scientists gathered 200 dried avocados and pulverized the seeds down to a powder.

After close examination, they discovered the avocado seed husk carries a “gold mine of medicinal compounds” capable of treating “a whole host of debilitating diseases.”

Dr. Debasish Bandyopadhyay from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, explains “it could very well be that avocado seed husks, which most people consider as the waste of wastes, are actually the gem of gems because the medicinal compounds within them could eventually be used to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

Researchers found dodecanoic acid in the husk powder, said to increase high density lipoprotein (known as HDL), which in turn, can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Docosanol, a crucial component in antiviral medications and treatment to cold sores and blisters, was also found in the husks. Dr. Bandyopadhyay and his colleagues hope to modify these compounds to develop medications with fewer side effects.

Diving for treasure” really takes on a whole new meaning with this discovery. The discarded avocado seeds from breakfast is not trash, it’s a nutrient-packed, heart-protecting gold mine.

But, you need not dip your hands into the trash to fetch this valuable stone seed. At least, not yet. In light of the research findings, experts believe this could one day lead to a new wave of supplements containing the healthy compounds contained in avocado husks.

For now, the jury is still out on the safety of consuming raw avocado husk powder.

Just to be clear: you cannot eat the pit or the husk. Repeat: DO NOT EAT AN AVOCADO PIT.

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Curiosity Switches ‘Brains’ As NASA Activates Backup Computer In Bid To Bring Crippled Rover Back To Full Operation

NASA has switched its Curiosity rover to a ‘backup brain’ in a bid to restore to rover.

The Martian vehicle has been suffering from a major technical issue that has prevented the rover’s active computer from storing science and some key engineering data since Sept. 15.

Researchers hope that by switching the rover to its backup side, it can resume full functionality.

At this point, we’re confident we’ll be getting back to full operations, but it’s too early to say how soon,” said Steven Lee of JPL, Curiosity’s deputy project manager.

Like many NASA spacecraft, Curiosity was designed with two, computers, known as a Side-A and a Side-B computer.




After reviewing several options, JPL engineers recommended that the rover switch from Side B to Side A, the computer the rover used initially after landing.

We are operating on Side A starting today, but it could take us time to fully understand the root cause of the issue and devise workarounds for the memory on Side B,” said Lee.

We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap,” Lee said.

‘It’s certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to.

But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size.

The rover continues to send limited engineering data stored in short-term memory when it connects to a relay orbiter, adn NASA says it is otherwise healthy and receiving commands.

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This Wild Fruit Could Be The Next Strawberry

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and … groundcherries? A little-known fruit about the size of a marble could become agriculture’s next big berry crop.

To prepare the groundcherry (Physalis pruinosa) for mainstream farming, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Zachary Lippman, Joyce Van Eck at the Boyce Thompson Institute, and colleagues combined genomics and gene editing to rapidly improve traits such as fruit size, plant shape, and flower production.

Their results show that it’s possible to take a plant that’s practically wild and bring it close to domestication in a matter of years.

The team describes their work, a shortcut around traditional breeding techniques, October 1, 2018, in the journal Nature Plants.

I firmly believe that with the right approach, the groundcherry could become a major berry crop,” says Lippman, a plant scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Some scientists might consider the idea a reach, he adds. “But I think we’re now at a place where the technology allows us to reach.”




New tastes

For growers, new crops mean a chance to diversify and offer more options to consumers. The next major berry has eluded food producers for years, Lippman says.

Groundcherries are appealing candidates because they are drought tolerant and have an enticing flavor.

You have to taste the fruit to fully grasp its complexity, says Lippman, who describes it as tropical yet sour, sometimes with hints of vanilla.

Groundcherries (also called “husk cherries” and “strawberry tomatoes”) are native to Central and South America and belong to a group of plants known as orphan crops.

They’re grown as small-scale crops, regionally, or for subsistence. Orphan crops rarely make it into mainstream agriculture because of limitations such as poor shelf life or low productivity.

Improving these plants for large-scale production through breeding is a huge investment of time and money, Lippman says.

It can take anywhere from a decade to thousands of years to domesticate a crop from the wild. Researchers and growers need to figure out the plant’s genetics, adaptations, and how to cultivate it.

That’s why few orphan crops become household names.

Quinoa, the fluffy, high-protein grain that’s now standard in supermarkets, has risen through the agricultural ranks, but other orphan crops like groundnut, teff, and cowpea remain relatively unheard of outside their home regions.

Some consumers may be already be familiar with the groundcherry — like its relative, the tomatillo, the orange fruits are covered in thin, papery husks. They occasionally show up in U.S. farmers markets where “they sell like hotcakes,” Lippman says.

But groundcherries are not easy to grow. Now, Lippman thinks that the traits he and Van Eck have introduced may position the fruit for large-scale production.

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Astronomers May Have Discovered The First Moon Ever Found Outside Our Solar System

An artistic rendering of the Kepler-1625b planetary system.

A pair of astronomers believes they’ve found a moon orbiting a planet outside our Solar System — something that has never before been confirmed to exist.

Though they aren’t totally certain of their discovery yet, the find opens up the possibility that more distant moons are out there. And that could change our understanding of how the Universe is structured.

The astronomy team from Columbia University found this distant satellite, known as an exomoon, using two of NASA’s space telescopes.

They first spotted a signal from the object in data collected by the planet-hunting telescope Kepler, and then they followed up with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is in orbit around Earth.

Thanks to the observations from these two spacecraft, the team suspect this moon orbits around a Jupiter-sized planet located about 4,000 light-years from Earth. And this planet, dubbed Kepler-1625b, orbits around a star similar to our Sun.

Scientists have strongly believed for decades that moons exist outside our Solar System, but these objects have remained elusive for scientists up until now.




There have been just a couple of candidates that astronomers have speculated about in the past, but nothing has been confirmed.

That’s because moons are thought to be too small and too faint to pick up from Earth. However, this suspected exomoon, detailed today in the journal Science Advances, is particularly large, about the size of Neptune, making it one of the few targets that our telescopes can detect.

You can make the argument that this is the lowest hanging fruit,” Alex Teachey, an astronomy graduate student at Columbia University and one of the lead authors on the paper said.

“Because it is so large, in some ways, this is the first thing we should detect because it is the easiest.”

Teachey argues that finding more moons outside our Solar System will change our understanding of how planetary systems formed thousands of light-years away.

Our cosmic neighborhood is filled with moons, and they explain a lot about how our planets came to be. Exomoons could tell similar tales.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

However, none of our moons come close to the size of this one, which creates a puzzle for astronomers.

Because it is so unusual, or at least has not been anticipated largely by the community, this poses new challenges to explain it,” says Teachey. “How do you get something like this?

It was only a few decades ago — in the late 1980s and early 1990s — that astronomers confirmed the existence of planets outside our Solar System.

Since then, thousands of these distant worlds, known as exoplanets, have been confirmed by spacecraft like Kepler and other telescopes.

Perhaps the most popular way to find exoplanets is by staring at stars, waiting for them to flicker. When a planet crosses “in front” of its host star, it dims the stars’ light ever so slightly.

These dips in brightness can be used to determine how big a planet is and the kind of orbit it’s on.

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Apple Watch Series 4 Will Have FDA-Cleared ECG, Fall Detection

Well, we finally know what cardiac project Apple was talking with the FDA about two years ago.

Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams announced today at Apple’s special event in Cupertino that the company has received FDA clearance for both an atrial fibrillation-detecting algorithm and an ECG that will be built into the company’s Series 4 Apple Watch, due to start shipping September 21.

Williams announced several other new health features as well, most notably fall detection, which takes advantage of the device’s new accelerometer and gyroscope.

I’m also pleased to say we’ve received clearance from the FDA,” Williams said at the event. “This is a De Novo clearance, so it’s the first of its kind.

The irregular heart rhythm alert has also received FDA clearance. Both of these features will be available to US customers later this year and we’re working hard to bring them to customers around the world.

MobiHealthNews was half right when we predicted in February of this year that an algorithm for detecting atrial fibrillation could be the Apple’s first FDA-cleared product.




The company did receive clearance for such an algorithm, likely using data from the recently-concluded Apple Heart Study to submit the application.

Williams also announced that the Watch will alert users to low heart rates in addition to high ones. But the far bigger news is the ECG, which is accomplished by adding electrodes to the digital crown and the back of the Watch.

In addition to an optical heart sensor there is a new, Apple-designed electrical heart sensor that allows you to take an electrocardiogram, or ECG, to share with your doctor, a momentous achievement for a wearable device,” designer Johnny Ives said in a prerecorded video played at the event.

“Placing your finger on the digital crown creates a closed circuit with electrodes on the back, providing data that the ECG app uses to analyze your heart rhythm.”

It takes about 30 seconds for a user to take an ECG, which is then stored in Apple’s Health app. This means, via Apple Health Records, some users will also be able to send readings directly to their doctors.

It’s amazing the same watch that you wear every day to make phone calls and respond to messages can now take an ECG,” Williams said.

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Nobel Prize in Physics Shared by Woman for 1st Time in 55 Years

Members of the Nobel Committee for Physics sit in front of a screen displaying portraits of this year’s Laureates: Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland.

Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this morning for their groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou were awarded one half of the award, with the other half going to Arthur Ashkin.

Strickland is only the third women to be awarded a Nobel in physics ever. (The other two were Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.)

We need to celebrate women physicists because they’re out there… I’m honored to be one of those women,” Strickland said, according to the Nobel Prize Foundation.

When she received the call this morning telling her about the award, as many Laureates in the past have said, she was in disbelief.

First of all, you have to think it’s crazy. So that was my first thought and you do always wonder if it’s real,” Strickland said during a press briefing this morning at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Sweden.

Ashkin, of Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, is being honored for his invention of optical tweezers; these laser beam fingers can grab the teensy living cells, including particles, atoms and viruses.




This new tool allowed Ashkin to realize an old dream of science-fiction — using the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

In 1987, he used the tweezers to grasp living bacteria without harming them, according to the academy statement.

Achievements by Strickland, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, and Morou, of the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France, led to the creation of the world’s shortest and most intense laser pulses.

The duo invented what is called chirped pulse amplification, a process in which laser pulses are stretched in time, amplified and then compressed.

When a pulse gets squished in time, becoming shorter, the same amount of light is packed into a tiny space and so the pulse’s intensity skyrockets.

When asked this morning about the groundbreaking discovery, Strickland said, “It’s thinking outside the box to stretch first and then amplify. Most people were amplifying and trying just to compress whatever they had amplified.”

This technique is used in millions of laser eye surgeries every year, according to the academy statement.

Askkin will receive half of the 9 million krona ($1.01 million) Nobel Prize award, and Mourou and Strickland will share the other half.

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Suspected Ricin Poison Packages Found at Pentagon

The packages were found at a delivery facility on the Pentagon grounds, not inside the main building.

A Pentagon spokesman said authorities had found at least two packages suspected of containing ricin, a poison made from castor beans.

Spokesman Chris Sherwood said the FBI was investigating and few details were available.

He said the packages had been found on Monday at a delivery facility that is on the Pentagon grounds but not inside the main building that includes the offices of the defense secretary.

Sherwood said the packages were addressed to a person at the Pentagon. He would not reveal the name.




Ricin is part of the waste “mash” produced when castor oil is made.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if it is made into a partially purified material or refined, ricin can be used as a weapon capable of causing death under certain circumstances.

The seeds of the castor plant, from which castor oil (and ricin) are extracted.

Meanwhile, at least two people were taken to hospital after a suspicious white powdery substance was found in a Houston building where Republican senator Ted Cruz’s electoral campaign office is located, but tests showed the substance to be non-hazardous, fire officials in Texas said on Tuesday.

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Let Gmail Finish Your Sentences

Google’s new machine-learning tools for its mail service can save you time and typos — as long as you are comfortable sharing your thoughts with the software.

In theory, the Smart Compose tool can speed up your message composition and cut down on typographical errors.

While “machine learning” means the software (and not a human) is scanning your work-in-progress to get information for the predictive text function, you are sharing information with Google when you use its products.

If you have already updated to the new version of Gmail, you can try out Smart Compose by going to the General tab in Settings and turning on the check box next to enable Experimental Access.

Next, click Save Changes at the bottom of the Settings screen.




When you return to the General tab of the Gmail settings, scroll down to the newly arrived Smart Compose section and confirm that “Writing suggestions on” is enabled.

If you do not care for Google’s assistance after sampling the feature, you can return to the settings and click “Writing suggestions off” to disable Smart Compose.

Once you enable it in the settings, Gmail’s new Smart Compose feature can finish your sentences for you as you type.

The new feature is available only for English composition at the moment, and a disclaimer from Google warns: “Smart Compose is not designed to provide answers and may not always predict factually correct information.”

Google also warns that experimental tools like Smart Compose are still under development and that the company may change or remove the features at any time.

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A Brain Implant Brings a Quadriplegic’s Arm Back to Life

Ian Burkhart lifts a peg using his paralyzed right arm, thanks to a machine interface that can read his thoughts and execute them on his behalf.

Ian Burkhart has been a cyborg for two years now. In 2014, scientists at Ohio State’s Neurological Institute implanted a pea-sized microchip into the 24-year-old quadriplegic’s motor cortex.

Its goal: to bypass his damaged spinal cord and, with the help of a signal decoder and electrode-packed sleeve, control his right arm with his thoughts. Cue the transhumanist cheers!

Neuroengineers have been developing these so-called brain-computer interfaces for more than a decade.

They’ve used readings from brain implants to help paralyzed patients play Pong on computer screens and control robotic arms. But Burkhart is the first patient who’s been able to use his implant to control his *actual *arm.

Over the past 15 months, researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and engineers from Battelle, the medical group that developed the decoder software and electrode sleeve, have helped Burkhart relearn fine motor skills with weekly training sessions.

In a paper in *Nature, *they describe hooking a cable from the port screwed into Burkhart’s skull (where the chip is) to a computer that translates the brain signals into instructions for the sleeve, which stimulates his muscles into moving his wrist and fingers.

When Burkhart thinks “clench fist,” for example, the implanted electrodes record the activity in his motor cortex.

Those signals are decoded in real-time, jolting his arm muscles in all the right places so that his fingers curl inwards. But he can do more than make a fist: Using the one-of-a-kind system, he’s learned to shred a video game guitar, pour objects from a bottle, and pick up a phone.




Card swiping is the most impressive movement right now,” says Herb Bresler, a senior researcher at Battelle. “It demonstrates fine grip as well as coarse hand movements.”

If Burkhart can swipe credit cards after a year, he might play the piano after five—that’s how long similar chips have lasted—because he and the computer have been learning from each other.

But the implant will stop collecting signals in July when it’s removed, even if the chip is still providing good data, because the clinical trial was structured for a two-year period.

In those two years, the computer trained itself on Burkhart’s thoughts, learning which signals translate to what movements, while he figured out how to make commands more clearly (often with the help of visual cues).

That’s the real achievement here. We’ve shown we know how to process the data,” says Bresler. “The chip is a limiting factor. We need to work on new ways of collecting brain signals.

Though similar neuroprosthetics have been helpful in reducing tremors in Parkinson’s patients, they still have a ways to go.

Besides the serious, invasive surgery, there’s always a chance the body will reject an array, blocking any attempts to record and transmit brain signals while ensuring you get patted down at every airport security scanner, forever. “Something will replace this array,” says Bresler.

Future signal collection devices will cover a larger area of the brain and be less invasive.”

Drawbacks aside, the electrode sleeve and decoding software wouldn’t be where they are today without the array driving them.

With improved collection devices, these products could eventually help stroke victims recover by reteaching their brain to use their limbs, while quadriplegics could mount similar systems on their wheelchairs.

At the very least, the neuroprosthetic experiment suggests that in the future, paralysis might not mean dependence—and that deserves a fist bump.

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