Tag: science

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

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

What Can You Actually Do With Your Fancy Gene-Editing Technology?

The unthinkable has become conceivable,” said David Baltimore from the California Institute of Technology, at a historic summit on human gene editing currently taking place in Washington, D.C.

We are close to altering human heredity and we need to decide how we as a society are going to use this capability.

The summit—a three-day event organized by August scientific institutions from three countries—offers a chance for scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and interested members of the public to “consider the scientific and societal implications of genome editing” at a time when it has never been easier or more powerful.

It’s a spiritual successor to a similar conference at Asilomar, California, in 1975, when delegates debated the ethics of nascent genetic-engineering technology.

Baltimore was involved in both meetings, and he says that things are very different now.

The difference lies in a suite of new tools for changing a person’s DNA, especially the much-hyped CRISPR-Cas9 system, which allows scientists to easily delete, tweak, or insert genes.

With this power at hand, old questions about playing God, making designer babies, and ushering in dystopian Brave New Worlds of genetic haves and have-nots, take on fresh urgency.

These same leitmotifs are trotted out with every new wave of genetic technology—IVF, cloning, stem-cell therapies, mitochondrial-replacement therapy—but some say they are more pertinent than ever.

In the past, it’s been simple for scientists to dismiss these possibilities,” said Robin Lovell-Badge from The Francis Crick Institute. “But we’re rapidly getting to the point where we can no longer deny them.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Physics Behind Dandelion Seed Plume Dispersal Revealed

An image of a dandelion fruit in the University of Edinburgh wind tunnel with the flow visualized using smoke seeding and illuminated using a laser sheet gives the viewer an idea of how the flow moves around the dandelion’s parachute.

Fluffy dandelion seeds act like parachutes. Understanding this may improve drone design and miniaturization.

The fluffy dandelion seed head, that gauzy, white sphere that is really a cluster of seeds on wispy filaments — infuriates gardeners, but delights physicists.

That’s because those seeds may lend key insights into the physics of parachutes, useful for designing small drones, or micro air vehicles (MAVs).

An interdisciplinary collaboration of three groups including researchers in fluid dynamics, micro fabrication and biomechanics at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh will present their findings on the topic at the 70th annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, held Nov. 19-21, in Denver, Colorado.

Investigators reveal why, at low Reynolds numbers, the rules for big parachutes don’t apply to small dandelions.

The Reynolds number, the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces, is often used in engineering to predict whether flow conditions will be turbulent, a high Reynolds number, or laminar.

Although the physics and design rules of man-made parachutes are well-understood, until the Edinburgh team’s effort, the flow around the miniature parachute of the dandelion was not.

The answer, according to research team member Cathal Cummins, is in the vortex.

In our work, we uncover the flight mechanism of a parachuting dandelion fruit, and reveal a new type of vortex, responsible for its flight capacity,” Cummins said.


The work can potentially be applied to miniaturizing MAVs useful for remote observation and dispersion in a range of applications, from agriculture to space exploration, especially in conditions hazardous to humans.

Their works starts with a parachute model.

The dandelion has evolved a parachute that addressed atmospheric considerations, carrying its seed in slow, steady descent and with minimal use of materials.

In terms of physics, the dandelion parachute has evolved to achieve high drag without sacrificing stability, and with very little material — it’s 90 percent empty space.

This leads to a quadrupling of the drag coefficient compared with an impervious membrane, such as a wing section.

Our research could shift the paradigm in the design of small passive flyers such as micro air vehicles,” Cummins said.

Previous models of the dandelion fruit considered that each parachute filament acts independently, and that the total drag force supplied by the parachute can be found by adding up each of these contributions.

In the laboratory, researchers showed that building a low-porosity miniature parachute leads to a destabilizing of this STV, and hence a turning moment causing the fruit to spin.

By choosing a highly porous parachute, the dandelion allows just enough airflow through its canopy to stabilize this STV, eliminating this turning moment.

At the same time, the drag coefficient of the parachute is quadruple that of a low-porosity one. “Our research shows that the dandelion’s parachute is an exquisite example of less is more,” Cummins said.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Earth Will Be Rocked By A Year Of Devastating Earthquakes

earthquake roation

DEVASTATING earthquakes could be on the rise next year as the rotation of Earth slows down, scientists have warned.

The speed of Earth’s rotation fluctuates extremely mildly – extending or decreasing the length of a day by a millisecond – but this tiny deceleration could have devastating consequences.

Scientists have warned if the rotation slows it could lead to more major earthquakes.

Research from Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula looked at earthquakes with a magnitude higher than seven since 1900.

The duo found five years since the turn of the 20th century where there were significantly more 7.0 earthquakes – all of which were years that earth’s rotation speed had slowed down slightly.

Prof Bilham told the observer: “In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year.“The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.”

And in 2018, the Earth’s rotation speed is set to slow down leading to a jump on the six magnitude seven or higher quakes we have had this year.

Prof Bilham said: “The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year.”


The inference is clear. Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes.”

We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018.

Exactly why a decrease in rotation speed can lead to more major earthquakes is unclear, but experts believe it could be down to changes in the Earth’s core which ultimately has an effect on the surface.

The team also could not say exactly where the earthquakes will occur, but Bilham suggests that a slower rotation speed will lead to more tremors on and around the equator – such as South America, New Zealand and other places that sit on top of the Ring of Fire.

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The Big Bang: What Really Happened At Our Universe’s Birth?

It took quite a bit more than seven days to create the universe as we know it today.

Our universe was born about 13.7 billion years ago in a massive expansion that blew space up like a gigantic balloon.

That, in a nutshell, is the Big Bang theory, which virtually all cosmologists and theoretical physicists endorse. The evidence supporting the idea is extensive and convincing.

We know, for example, that the universe is still expanding even now, at an ever-accelerating rate.

Scientists have also discovered a predicted thermal imprint of the Big Bang, the universe-pervading cosmic microwave background radiation.

And we don’t see any objects obviously older than 13.7 billion years, suggesting that our universe came into being around that time.

All of these things put the Big Bang on an extremely solid foundation,” said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. “The Big Bang is an enormously successful theory.

So what does this theory teach us? What really happened at the birth of our universe, and how did it take the shape we observe today?

The beginning

Traditional Big Bang theory posits that our universe began with a singularity — a point of infinite density and temperature whose nature is difficult for our minds to grasp.

However, this may not accurately reflect reality, researchers say, because the singularity idea is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The problem is, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe general relativity in that regime,” said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech.

It’s going to be wrong, because it doesn’t take into account quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics is certainly going to be important once you get to that place in the history of the universe.

So the very beginning of the universe remains pretty murky. Scientists think they can pick the story up at about 10 to the minus 36 seconds one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Inflation was the ‘bang’ of the Big Bang,” Filippenko said. “Before inflation, there was just a little bit of stuff, quite possibly, expanding just a little bit. We needed something like inflation to make the universe big.

During inflation, dark energy made the universe smooth out and accelerate. But it didn’t stick around for long.

Scientists don’t know what might have spurred inflation. That remains one of the key questions in Big Bang cosmology, Filippenko said.

Cosmologists and physicists are working hard to refine their theories and bring the universe’s earliest moments into sharper and sharper focus.

But will they ever truly know what happened at the Big Bang?

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How To Succeed In The Asteroid Business Without Really Mining

When most people think of asteroids, they might think of phrases like “civilization killer.” Or “boring rock.”

But other people think “business opportunity.” A growing set of companies, including Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, want to mine asteroids for all they’re worth.

After digging out materials like water and precious metals, entrepreneurs can sell those commodities in space—to the maybe-burgeoning exploration industry  and back on Earth.

But Earthlings are still a long way from mining asteroids. In the meantime, then, mining companies need a short-term financial plan to stay in business.

To make money and advance their technology in the lean years the ones between mission planning and cashing in on those sweet, sweet space rocks they sometimes have to get creative.

Not every nascent space company gets to rely on billionaire backing (that’s what the main mining-of-the-future competitor, Planetary Resources, did).

No, Deep Space Industries had to start by searching for funders.

Last fall, the upstart company snagged a seed investment from the firm Metatron Global, money that will help it make general hires and drive product development.

But that’s not the only kind of investment the company is looking for. Other collaborators are putting money into specific R&D projects, like Deep Space Industries’ first planned mission: Prospector-X.

Set for launch in 2017, this nanosatellite will stay in low-Earth orbit, testing the tech that will go to an actual asteroid—like propulsion, navigation, and resistance to radiation.

To support that prototype mission, Deep Space Industries has partnered with Luxembourg. Yes, the country.

Why … Luxembourg? It’s known for finance and banking, says Meagan Crawford, Deep Space Industries’ director of communications, and has “a deep background in mining and the steel industry, as well as a vibrant high-tech industry.

But that money is a long ways away. Which is why it’s important to realize that Prospector-1’s bones are a “solar system exploration platform,” says Crawford.

That platform doesn’t have to be mine-oriented. Once Deep Space Industries has its own Prospector-1, it plans to sell other copies of the platform to other entities.

Businesses, sure. But also nations. “Countries that don’t have their own space programs who are looking to break in to the space industry,” says Crawford.

Kind of like a space-program starter-kit,” I say.

She says yes.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Could This Trick Make You Like Your Vegetables More?

Could we learn to like our vegetables more!? It’s a question that many of us may have wondered, as we struggle to get through a plate of broccoli.

Now, an experiment done with a group of UK school children thinks it might have the answer!

The study wanted to see if it was possible to train ourselves to like a food that we didn’t like before.

To find out, a group of young scientists aged 9 to 11 were split down into two groups.

Half of them were asked to eat a piece of the green vegetable kale every day for 15 days, while the other half ate raisins – and there were some very interesting results!

Most of the kids who ate kale every day found that they did like it more by the end of the experiment.

So, by making yourself eat something you may not really like over a period of time, you could learn to not hate it as much!

However, there were still some in the kale group who really didn’t like it – even after the 15 days was up.

It was discovered this was because they had more fungiform papillae on their tongue, which contain our taste buds.

The more fungiform papillae a person has, the more strongly they will taste flavours – especially bitter ones – so these children are known as ‘supertasters‘.

About one in four people could be ‘supertasters‘, which makes them more sensitive to strong foods, like lemons, spices and bitter vegetables, like Brussels sprouts

Therefore, these people may need to eat kale for slightly longer before they learn to love it.

Jackie Blissett, professor in health behaviour and change at Coventry University, said: “It’s been wonderful to work with these young scientists, and they’ve helped shed some light on one of the great mysteries: why some of us might not like our Brussels sprouts!

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Pass it on: Popular Science