Archive for November, 2012


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Sometimes it’s tough to get excited about stuff happening in quantum technologies, not because it’s anything less than fascinating but because it can be so hard to wrap your head around this stuff and anyhow the practical applications often seem very far away. But this is one of those milestones that you have to appreciate: Physicists have for the first time teleported quantum information from one macroscopic object to another.

Researchers have been able to teleport quantum information for a while now. Quick quantum primer: This isn’t Star Trek-style teleportation, but the transfer of information–of quantum states–from one place to another without that information crossing the space between them in any way. This is achieved through the strange quantum phenomenon of entanglement, which allows two quantum objects to share the same quantum state such that if you influence one particle you also influence the other, whether they are separated by nanometers or light-years.

So by entangling two photons, for instance, physicists have demonstrated the ability to transmit quantum information from one place to another by encoding it in these quantum states–influence one of the pair and a change can be measured in the other without any information actually passing between the two. Researchers have done this before, between photons, between ions, and even between a macroscopic object and a microscopic object. But now Chinese researchers have, for the first time, achieved quantum teleportation between two macroscopic objects across nearly 500 feet using entangled photons.

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Chris Eliasmith has spent years contemplating how to build a brain.

He is about to publish a book with instructions, which describes the grey matter’s architecture and how the different components interact.

“Then I thought the only way people are going to believe me is if I demonstrate it,” says the University of Waterloo neuroscientist.

So Eliasmith’s team built Spaun, which was billed Thursday as “the world’s largest simulation of a functioning brain.”

Spaun can recognize numbers, remember lists and write them down. It even passes some basic aspects of an IQ test, the team reports in the journal Science.

Several labs are working on large models of the brain- including the multi-million-dollar Blue Brain Project in Europe – but these can’t see, remember or control limbs, says Eliasmith.

“Right now very large-scale models of the brain don’t do anything,” he said in an interview.

His Waterloo team took a different approach, using computers to simulate what goes on inside the brain, similar to the way aircraft simulators mimic flight.

The clever creation is the first to bridge what Eliasmith calls the “brain-behaviour gap.”

Spaun, which stands for Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network, has 2.5 million simulated neurons organized into subsystems to resemble the prefrontal cortex, basil ganglia, thalamus and other cognitive machinery in the brain. It also has a simulated eye that can see, and an arm that draws.

The simplified model of the brain, which took a year to build, captures many aspects of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and psychological behaviour, says Eliasmith, director of Waterloo’s Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience.

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Indeed!

“It is entirely possible that behind the perception of our senses, worlds are hidden of which we are unaware.”

Albert Einstein

Art by: Dunno. You know? Lemme know!

Artist Phil Hansen uses unique media (his torso, x-rays, a tricycle…) to create his version of meta-art, videos that document the creation process — showing that art is action, not just result.

Harry Houdini's incredible book about home science experiments — free online!

As any steampunk will gleefully tell you, the Victorian era was a period of incredible discovery, where scientific breakthroughs occurred at an astonishing rate. Which was the perfect environment for a book like Scientific Amusements to be published – a hodgepodge of science, illusion, party tricks, naturalism, and more under a single banner.

Part of Harry Houdini’s incredible collection of books about science and spiritualism, a copy of Scientific Amusements was left to the Library of Congress, and is now digitized and free for us to look through. Posted on the wonderful Public Domain Review, it’s an incredibly wide-reaching book, that does very little to explain any of the science behind the amusements.

Parts of it are still classic science experiments to this day — after all, it begins with a discussion of mass and falling bodies. But some of the other sections are more like bar bets (page 7’s Match Problem), party tricks (the useful to this day way of opening a wine bottle without a cork, page 25), and the sorts of optical illusions that are still found in children’s science books.

But for the really fun stuff, have a gander at “chemistry without a laboratory” for a tour of at-home science that’d be a lot harder to get away with in this day and age.

Get it HERE!

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Astronomers have discovered a new, enormous black hole that could change our understanding of how galaxies evolve.

Holding the mass of 17 billion suns, the black hole at the centre of the NGC 1277 galaxy may be the largest discovered to date. It is 250 million light-years from the Earth.

Most supermassive black holes are contained within very large galaxies. But the NGC 1277 galaxy is remarkably small compared to the black hole at its centre.

The researchers, who reported their findings in Nature today, say black holes usually take up 0.1% of a galaxy’s “stellar bulge” (the collection of stars at its centre). It’s thought this black hole comprises 59% of its galaxy’s stellar bulge mass, and 14% of the galaxy’s mass overall.

For this reason, the black hole has been described as “overmassive” rather than simply supermassive.

In its entirety, it is thought to be 11 times wider than Neptune’s orbit of the sun.

“This is a really oddball galaxy,” team member Karl Gebhardt of The University of Texas said in a statement. “It’s almost all black hole.”

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Inhale the fresh air, smell the scent of the pine forests. Hear nothing but the wind in the trees. See the deep blue sky above black volcano sands. Hike epic volcanic trails far above the atlantic ocean. Feel the elements. Be yourself. This short film, a hommage to the beautiful Island of La Palma by  Christoph Malin. Fullscreen view is recommended!

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert sculpture sand geometric

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert sculpture sand geometric

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert sculpture sand geometric

Geometric Sandcastles by Calvin Seibert sculpture sand geometric

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The universe may grow like a giant brain, according to a new computer simulation.

The results, published Nov.16 in the journal Nature’s Scientific Reports, suggest that some undiscovered, fundamental laws may govern the growth of systems large and small, from the electrical firing between brain cells and growth of social networks to the expansion of galaxies.

“Natural growth dynamics are the same for different real networks, like the Internet or the brain or social networks,” said study co-author Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist at the University of California San Diego.

The new study suggests a single fundamental law of nature may govern these networks, said physicist Kevin Bassler of the University of Houston, who was not involved in the study.

“At first blush they seem to be quite different systems, the question is, is there some kind of controlling laws can describe them?” he told LiveScience.

By raising this question, “their work really makes a pretty important contribution,” he said.

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The completion of human and primate genome sequences (including some close, extinct relatives) reveals a great deal about the evolutionary innovations behind modern humans. All indications are a large collection of relatively subtle genetic changes added up to considerable differences in our brains and anatomy.

So, it was a bit shocking to see a headline claiming a single gene separated us from our fellow apes. The article behind the headline turned out to be wrong, of course. But there was an additional research paper behind that article. The story this told turned out to be rather interesting, even after the hype was stripped away.

The second paper was the product of a research group studying the evolution of human micro RNAs. These are short pieces of RNA that form a “hairpin” structure: two stretches of complementary sequence that can base pair to form a double helix, separated by a short loop that lets the RNA fold back on itself.

Micro RNAs, unlike messenger RNAs, don’t code for other proteins. Instead, they help control which messenger RNAs do get made into proteins. The hairpin structure is recognized by a complex of proteins inside the cell, which process it in a way that leaves a short guide sequence exposed. The guide sequence can then base pair with sequences on messenger RNAs, leading the protein complex to them. The complex will typically either block the messenger RNA from being translated into protein or cause it to be destroyed altogether.

The net result of this: a single micro RNA can determine whether a much larger number of genes are made into proteins. In that sense, they act a lot like the proteins that bind to DNA and regulate the activity of large collections of genes.

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Just a matter of time!

Art by: Dunno. You know? Lemme know!

Cosmos, installed above the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is powered by nearly 12,000 LEDs hooked up to a computer. Villareal’s software generates random patterns that mimic stars, galaxies and other thought-provoking objects, making the work different every time you look at it. “It’s almost like a musical instrument that you have to tune and get just right,” said Villareal. “It’s a process of discovery, because I don’t know in advance what it’s going to be.”

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A new tool for neuroscientists delivers a thousand pinpricks of light to a chunk of gray matter smaller than a sugar cube. The new fiber-optic device, created by biologists and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, is the first tool that can deliver precise points of light to a 3-D section of living brain tissue. The work is a step forward for a relatively new but promising technique that uses gene therapy to turn individual brain cells on and off with light.

Scientists can use the new 3-D “light switch” to better understand how the brain works. It might also be used one day to create neural prostheses that could treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The researchers describe their device in a paper published today in the Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Optics Letters.

The technique of manipulating neurons with light is only a few years old, but the authors estimate that thousands of scientists are already using this technology, called optogenetics, to study the brain. In optogenetics, researchers first sensitize select cells in the brain to a particular color of light. Then, by illuminating precise areas of the brain, they are able to selectively activate or deactivate the individual neurons that have been sensitized.

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American scientists have developed a hybrid printer that prints cartilage, which could one day be implanted into injured patients to help re-grow cartilage in areas such as the joints.

The 3D tissue printer, featured in a study published in the journal Biofabrication by the Institute of Physics, is a mix of a traditional ink jet printer and an electrospinning machine.

In this study, done by scientists at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, the hybrid system produced cartilage with better mechanical stability than those created by an ink jet printer.

“This is a proof of concept study and illustrates that a combination of materials and fabrication methods generates durable implantable constructs,” said Dr. James Yoo, a professor at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and an author on the study.

Other methods of making cartilage, such as robotic systems, are also being developed to improve implantable tissue.

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Emergence Chris Walsh Sydney

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Stephane Vetter captured this outstanding time-lapse of the night sky using a Sigma 8 mm fisheye lens, meaning that what you see in the video is a true representation of the entire visible sky. Titled Leonid and Zodiacal Light, the brief but jaw-dropping clip was shot November 17th of this year and includes a five-hour star trail and Vetter even takes time to label signifiant stars and other objects visible in the sky. Make sure you watch it full-screen.

The structure and the growth of the Universe may be similar to that of human brain and the Internet, a new study has found.

Researchers found that the structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth share more similarities than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain and other complex networks, such as the Internet or a social network of trust relationships between people.

“By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,” said Dmitri Krioukov, co-author of the study from the University of California (UC), San Diego.

“But the discovered equivalence between the growth of the universe and complex networks strongly suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of these very different complex systems,” said Krioukov in a UC statement.

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