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Friendly Reminder…

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Railguns aren’t the only thing the U.S. Navy is bragging about this week. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. announced they have successfully turned seawater into fuel.

When your car runs out of gas, you find a gas station and fill it up. For ships and planes, however, there aren’t any stations out in the middle of the ocean. Instead, the Navy’s vessels are refueled by oil tankers that come to them.

All of that will change in the future. By extracting carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas simultaneously from seawater, and then using a catalytic converter, scientists created fuel that looks and smells pretty much the same as regular ol’ petroleum-based fuel.

The advantages of seawater-based fuel is twofold. First, the ships don’t need to be redesigned in order to use the new seawater-based fuel since it’s basically the same. Second, the ability to create fuel from all that water around aircraft carriers means less dependence on oil. The U.S. Navy envisions ships will be able to create their own fuel for themselves and for planes. So long oil tankers!

“Game-changing” as the breakthrough is, the U.S. Navy says ships that generate their own fuel from seawater aren’t going to start sailing the seas anytime soon — they’re at least ten years away. For now, the U.S. Navy’s scientists are focusing on how to produce larger quantities of seawater-based fuel.

Smart contact lens

Search and advertising giant Google is developing a “smart” contact lens that monitors blood sugar levels for diabetes sufferers.

The lens includes a small piece of circuitry that measures glucose levels from the tears that naturally lubricate the eye. It also includes a wireless sensor, which Google has stated could be used to communicate data collected with an app.

Tears were chosen, Google has explained, as they are one of numerous fluids the body produces alongside blood that can carry details of a person’s glucose levels. The use of a contact lens may transpire to be an easier way to monitor these levels, and potentially display the results to a wearer using small LED lights that blink when readings are above or below a healthy threshold.

Google has said it has completed several studies to advance development of a prototype, which currently reads glucose levels once per second. The company is also in talks with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring the technology to US diabetes sufferers in future. The company has not commented on any UK-specific launch or testing, although Wired.co.uk understands talks have taken place with British medical charities.

It is estimated that three million people in the UK have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, with a further 850,000 suffering without diagnosis. Most home monitoring involves pricking the finger to extract a drop of blood, and using strips of material or a machine to determine the current status of glucose levels.

The smart contact lens project is being run at Google X, the company’s research and development lab for projects outside of the business’s core focus areas. Other projects known to be underway at the lab include self-driving cars and internet-equipped air balloons.

Unified Unseen Theory

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Through quantum mechanics—the new physics—we have started to recognize that the invisible energy fields are actually more primary in shaping the material world than the material world is in shaping itself.”
Bruce H. Lipton
Art by: Dunno. You know? Lemme know!

Back in 2011, University of Southern California Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis said new technology will soon allow massive 3D printers to build entire multi-level houses in under a day.

A group of 3D printed houses, 200 m2 each, recently appears in Shanghai, China. These building were created entirely out of concrete using a gigantic 3D printer, and each costs only 30,000 RMB ($4,800).

The company behind these 3D printed building, Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co, said it has for years been working on developing the system and its materials. The company owns 77 national patents of construction materials, such as glass fiber reinforced gypsum and special glass fiber reinforced cement.

While Hobbyist models of 3D printers are currently available for only a few hundred dollars and lets users feed plastics and polymers into a machine, the company takes this technology to a bigger level. Using concrete, instead of plastic, WinSun wants to revolutionize the way homes and other structures are built.

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Illustration of an astrocyte

Everything we do — all of our movements, thoughts and feelings – are the result of neurons talking with one another, and recent studies have suggested that some of the conversations might not be all that private. Brain cells known as astrocytes may be listening in on, or even participating in, some of those discussions. But a new mouse study suggests that astrocytes might only be tuning in part of the time — specifically, when the neurons get really excited about something. This research, published in Neuron, was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

For a long time, researchers thought that the star-shaped astrocytes (the name comes from the Greek word for star) were simply support cells for the neurons.

It turns out that these cells have a number of important jobs, including providing nutrients and signaling molecules to neurons, regulating blood flow, and removing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters from the synapse. The synapse is the point of information transfer between two neurons. At this connection point, neurotransmitters are released from one neuron to affect the electrical properties of the other. Long arms of astrocytes are located next to synapses, where they can keep tabs on the conversations going on between neurons.

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If you thought the post on twins sharing consciousness was awesome, wait until you hear this.

A 44-year-old French man one day went to the trip to the doctor’s because he felt a pain in his left leg. He’s a married man with two kids and a steady job. Doctor’s found that he had hydrocephalus as a child (when your brain is filled with fluids) so they decided to run some brain scans.

What they found was that the majority of his head was filled with fluid. Over time, the buildup caused his lateral ventricles to swell so much that his brain had been flattened to a thin sheet. Doctors estimated that his brain mass had been reduced by at most 70%, affecting the areas in charge of motion, language, emotion, and, well, everything.

Shockingly, he was fine. While his IQ was only 75, he wasn’t mentally challenged. He held a steady job, raised a family, and didn’t have trouble interacting with others. Over time, his brain had adapted to all that pressure, and even though he had fewer neurons that most, Jacques was still a fully functional human being. The doctors drained the fluid and while his brain is much smaller now, he is still a healthy individual with a normal life.

Hum…

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Astronomers have found the first Earth-sized exoplanet within a star’s habitable zone. The planet is the closest thing yet to the coveted ‘Goldilocks’ orb that scientists have long sought — a world roughly the size of Earth orbiting a star at a distance that is just right for liquid water to exist.

“We definitely think it’s one step closer to finding a true Sun–Earth analogue,” says study co-author Elisa Quintana, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and at the nearby NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. But because the star that the exoplanet orbits is a cool, dim one unlike the Sun, Quintana and her colleagues consider the planet more of a cousin to Earth than a twin. The researchers describe the discovery today in Science.

The planet is the latest of the bonanza coming from the Kepler space telescope, which spent four years staring at a patch of sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra before suffering a mechanical failure last May. Kepler looked for exoplanet transits, in which the light of a star dims slightly as an orbiting planet passes across its face as seen from Earth.

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A Rare Genetic Mutation in These Siblings Makes Them Immune to Viruses

Viruses are incompetent but smart little things. Unable to make proteins on their own, they hijack ours for their own nefarious purposes. But what if we gave the viruses broken proteins? An incredibly rare genetic disorder in a brother and sister pair does exactly that, making them immune to many classes of viruses—and suggesting new possibilities for antiviral treatments.

The immunity to viruses for these siblings, however, comes at a cost. Their cases, reported recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, are only the second and third ever described of this rare genetic disorder. The first was in a baby who died at 74 days. The 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl in this report have suffered developmental delays, hearing loss, fragile bones, and a weakened immune system. That makes it all the more remarkable that they rarely got ear infections or the flu.

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Scientists in Canada have made DNA cubes that are programmed to unzip and reveal molecules locked inside them in response to a carefully chosen trigger. Hanadi Sleiman and colleagues at McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, designed the cubes to release the drug cargo they might be carrying only in diseased cells and not normal cells.

‘In the future, we would like to use our DNA cubes in the treatment of cancer and other diseases with a genetic component,’ says Sleiman. The cube opens into a flat assembly when a specific RNA sequence, in this case a gene product that is unique to prostate cancer cells, binds to two single-stranded DNA overhangs on the corners of the cube, disrupting the hydrogen-bonds that maintain the cube’s shape. Sleiman says it would be easy to change the sequence to which the cube responds and since the cube has two overhangs, ‘it would also be possible to make a cube that responds to two different triggers.’

The DNA cube was also modified with hydrophobic and hydrophilic chains to modulate its cellular uptake and prevent enzymatic degradation.

‘Compared with previous DNA origami-based designs the present system does not rely on the use of M13 [bacteriophage] DNA and can therefore be applied to many targets,’ comments Hiroshi Sugiyama, a DNA nanotechnology expert at Kyoto University in Japan.

Friendly Reminder…

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Using a few perforated sheets of plastic and extensive computation, Duke University engineers have demonstrated the world’s first three-dimensional acoustic cloak.

The new device reroutes sound waves to create the impression that both the cloak and anything beneath it are not there.

The acoustic cloaking device works in three dimensions, no matter which direction the sound is coming from or where the observer is located, and holds potential for future applications such as sonar avoidance and architectural acoustics.

“The particular trick we’re performing is hiding an object from sound waves,” said “By placing this cloak around an object, the sound waves behave like there is nothing more than a flat surface in their path.”

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Payment System Reads Your Palm For Quick Check-Outs [Video]

A Swedish startup called Quixter has demonstrated a technology that lets buyers use their hands to make payments. Quixter’s payment technology involves scanning the vein patterns of a person’s palm to verify the person’s identity. Though vein-scanning isn’t new, it’s the first time that a payment system is using the whole palm to do so. To make a payment, the user needs to first enter their ID code and then scan their palm. The scan reads the user’s vein patterns, which is unique to an individual. The user’s purchases are collected in an invoice and paid twice a month through direct debit.

Quixter was started by Fredrik Leifland, an engineering student at Lund University. Leifland wanted to come up with a quicker way to make payments. The system is currently used in 15 places around the Lund University campus, and has approximately 1,600 users. Quixter is convenient for people who don’t want to carry their wallet or money around with them, but even Leifland admits that it takes a lot of work to get retailers and financial institutions to go for the system. The company has plans to expand, but it may be a while before it finds its way outside Sweden.

Check out a demo in the video below.

Hardcore trip enthusiasts have been using psilocybin mushrooms for years in an attempt to gain access to the Technicolor trapdoor into the unknown. Of course, there are also those who just want to watch their friends’ faces melt off and listen for subliminal messages on all their favorite records.

The scientific community, however, says there is more to the “magic mushroom” than just an emotional glimpse inside the looking glass of the universe, but similar to our friend marijuana, it also has medicinal properties that could one day be used to cure a myriad of mental afflictions.

Researchers from the University of Florida recently published a study in the journal Experimental Brain Research that suggests specific components of psilocybin mushrooms have the ability to create new brain cells. The discovery can be used to develop ground breaking new treatments for severe mental conditions…even improve learning.

In fact, researchers suggest that when given to mice, psilocybin mushrooms proved successful in restoring crippled brain cells as well as easing the symptoms of conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression – sometimes even working as a cure.

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Little by little

“The spiritual journey does not consist in arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have, or becomes what he is not.

It consists in the dissipation of one’s own ignorance concerning one’s self and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins the spiritual awakening. The finding of God is a coming to one’s self.”

Aldous Huxley

'Cherry tree from space' mystery baffles Japan

A cosmic mystery is uniting monks and scientists in Japan after a cherry tree grown from a seed that orbited the earth for eight months bloomed years earlier than expected — and with very surprising flowers. 

The four-year-old sapling — grown from a cherry stone that spent time aboard the International Space Station (ISS) — burst into blossom on April 1, possibly a full six years ahead of Mother Nature’s normal schedule. 

Its early blooming baffled Buddhist brothers at the ancient temple in central Japan where the tree is growing. 

“We are amazed to see how fast it has grown,” Masahiro Kajita, chief priest at the Ganjoji temple in Gifu, told AFP by telephone. 

“A stone from the original tree had never sprouted before. We are very happy because it will succeed the old tree, which is said to be 1,250 years old.” 

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In some parts of Ethiopia, finding potable water is a six-hour journey. People in the region spend 40 billion hours a year trying to find and collect water, says a group called the Water Project. And even when they find it, the water is often not safe, collected from ponds or lakes teeming with infectious bacteria, contaminated with animal waste or other harmful substances.

The water scarcity issue—which affects nearly 1 billion people in Africa alone—has drawn the attention of big-name philanthropists like actor and Water.org co-founder Matt Damon and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who, through their respective nonprofits, have poured millions of dollars into research and solutions, coming up with things like a system that converts toilet water to drinking water and a “Re-invent the Toilet Challenge,” among others. Critics, however, have their doubts about integrating such complex technologies in remote villages that don’t even have access to a local repairman. Costs and maintenance could render many of these ideas impractical.

“If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything,” wrote one critic, Toilets for People founder Jason Kasshe, in a New York Times editorial, “it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work.” Other low-tech inventions, like this life straw, aren’t as complicated, but still rely on users to find a water source.

It was this dilemma—supplying drinking water in a way that’s both practical and convenient—that served as the impetus for a new product called Warka Water, an inexpensive, easily-assembled structure that extracts gallons of fresh water from the air.

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Thymus

An elderly organ in a living animal has been regenerated into a youthful state for the first time, UK researchers say.

The thymus, which is critical for immune function, becomes smaller and less effective with age, making people more susceptible to infection.

A team at the University of Edinburgh managed to rejuvenate the organ in mice by manipulating DNA.

Experts said the study was likely to have “broad implications” for regenerative medicine.

The thymus, which sits near the heart, produces T-cells to fight off infection.

However, by the age of 70 the thymus is just a tenth of the size in adolescents.

“This has a lot of impacts later in life, when the functionality of the immune system decreases with age and you become more vulnerable to infection and less responsive to vaccines,” one of the researchers, Dr Nick Bredenkamp, told the BBC.

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