AN award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world. Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach. The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text.
Up until now the 15th century cryptic work has baffled scholars, cryptographers and codebreakers who have failed to read a single letter of the script or any word of the text. Over time it has attained an infamous reputation, even featuring in the latest hit computer game Assassin’s Creed, as well as in the Indiana Jones novels, when Indiana decoded the Voynich and used it to find the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. However in reality no one has come close to revealing the Voynich’s true messages.
Many grand theories have been proposed. Some suggest it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci as a boy, or secret Cathars, or the lost tribe of Israel, or most recently Aztecs … some have even proclaimed it was done by aliens! Professor Bax however has begun to unlock the mystery meanings of the Voynich manuscript using his wide knowledge of mediaeval manuscripts and his familiarity with Semitic languages such as Arabic. Using careful linguistic analysis he is working on the script letter by letter.
Some people recall a dream every morning, whereas others rarely recall one. A team led by Perrine Ruby, an Inserm Research Fellow at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, has studied the brain activity of these two types of dreamers in order to understand the differences between them. In a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the researchers show that the temporo-parietal junction, an information-processing hub in the brain, is more active in high dream recallers. Increased activity in this brain region might facilitate attention orienting toward external stimuli and promote intrasleep wakefulness, thereby facilitating the encoding of dreams in memory.
The reason for dreaming is still a mystery for the researchers who study the difference between “high dream recallers,” who recall dreams regularly, and “low dream recallers,” who recall dreams rarely. In January 2013, the team led by Perrine Ruby, Inserm researcher at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, made the following two observations: “high dream recallers” have twice as many time of wakefulness during sleep as “low dream recallers” and their brains are more reactive to auditory stimuli during sleep and wakefulness. This increased brain reactivity may promote awakenings during the night, and may thus facilitate memorisation of dreams during brief periods of wakefulness.
Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu, in southern Egypt, have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years, predating the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least a few decades.
The step pyramid, which once stood as high as 43 feet (13 meters), is one of seven so-called “provincial” pyramids built by either the pharaoh Huni (reign ca. 2635-2610 B.C.) or Snefru (reign ca. 2610-2590 B.C.). Over time, the step pyramid’s stone blocks were pillaged, and the monument was exposed to weathering, so today, it’s only about 16 feet (5 m) tall.
Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 x 61 feet (18.4 x 18.6 m).
The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.
BYU engineer Dah-Jye Lee has created an algorithm that can accurately identify objects in images or video sequences — without human calibration.
“In most cases, people are in charge of deciding what features to focus on and they then write the algorithm based off that,” said Lee, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “With our algorithm, we give it a set of images and let the computer decide which features are important.”
Not only is Lee’s genetic algorithm able to set its own parameters, but it also doesn’t need to be reset each time a new object is to be recognized — it learns them on its own.
Maybe you’re meandering, alone and lost, through an abandoned castle surrounded by a crocodile-filled moat. Suddenly, a flame-breathing dragon hurls towards you, snarling and gnashing its teeth, coming in for the kill. Do you wake up from this bizarro nightmare, covered in sweat and close to tears? Or do you stay in the dream, grab your imaginary sword, and walk boldly into battle?
If your answer is the latter, then Jayne Gackenbach would suspect you’re also a hardcore gamer.
Gackenbach is a psychologist at Canada’s Grant MacEwan University and arguably the world’s preeminent expert on how video games can impact dreaming. In the early 1990′s, her son Teace (with whom Gackenback later co-authored a book on gaming) started playing Nintendo, and Gackenbach found herself fascinated with the potential impacts of her son’s new hobby. Namely, the various ways in which hardcore gameplay — characterized in part by regular playing sessions of more than 2 hours, several times a week, since before the third grade — seem to transform the nighttime imaginings of study participants who fit that profile. Those transformations, Gackenbach says, also offer insights into how video gaming might shape an individual’s experiences in the waking world.
“The major parallel between gaming and dreaming is that, in both instances, you’re in an alternate reality, whether a biological construct or a technological one,” she says. “It’s interesting to think about how these alternate realities translate to waking consciousness, when you are actually reacting to inputs from the real world.”
Look around the Amazon rainforest today and it’s hard to imagine it filled with people. But in recent decades, archaeologists have started to find evidence that before Columbus’s arrival, the region was dotted with towns and perhaps even cities. The extent of human settlement in the Amazon remains hotly debated, partly because huge swaths of the 6-million-square-kilometer rainforest remain unstudied by archaeologists. Now, researchers have built a model predicting where signs of pre-Columbian agriculture are most likely to be found, a tool they hope will help guide future archaeological work in the region.
In many ways, archaeology in the Amazon is still in its infancy. Not only is it difficult to mount large-scale excavations in the middle of a tropical rainforest, but until recently, archaeologists assumed there wasn’t much to find. Amazonian soil is notoriously poor quality—all the nutrients are immediately sucked up by the rainforest’s astounding biodiversity—so for many years, scientists believed that the kind of large-scale farming needed to support cities was impossible in the region. Discoveries of gigantic earthworks and ancient roads, however, hint that densely populated and long-lasting population hubs once existed in the Amazon. Their agricultural secret? Pre-Columbian Amazonians enriched the soil themselves, creating what archaeologists call terra preta.
Terra preta—literally “black earth”—is soil that humans have enriched to have two to three times the nutrient content of the surrounding, poor-quality soil, explains Crystal McMichael, a paleoecologist at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Although there is no standard definition for terra preta, it tends to be darker than other Amazonian soils and to have charcoal and pre-Columbian pottery shards mixed in. Most of it was created 2500 to 500 years ago. Like the earthworks, terra preta is considered a sign that a particular area was occupied by humans in the pre-Columbian past.
If you’ve entered a rapid-fire creativity contest that asks you to create a work of art in 48 hours, your first response might not be to ask a computer for help. But that’s exactly what Angelina, an algorithm created by British developer Mike Cook, is for. Most recently, the algorithm was put to the test in a rapid game development challenge called the Ludum Dare, which puts developers all over the world to the test of creating a game in that short period of time. The result, a game called “To That Sect,” takes on the Ludum Dare in surprising ways.
This year’s prompt was simply the word “One,” which, unlike those in the past, doesn’t specifically relate to any gameplay elements such as time limits or genres. This played to Angelina’s strengths, as the developers were able to use an already-formed template game design, in which the player must collect one type of object and avoid another, and instead allow Angelina to make aesthetic choices that reflect its theme, which was also algorithmically generated using a web app called Metaphor Magnet. This was truly where Angelina showed its strengths, as, with the help of the app, it was more flexible in its interpretations of the thematic word “One” than any human would be. It chose to integrate the term into the game’s verbally elucidated theme by associating it with the term “Founder” – related in that a founder is the first person to create or discover something, an originator. Angelina then re-entered this term into the database, where it came up with a decidedly creepy range of terms, such as “disgruntled child,” “tombs” and “charmed.” The game’s aesthetic choices, such as the textures, sounds and colors, are entirely Angelina’s work, and they do an impressive job of evoking a mood.
When I first saw this,” says cell biologist Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, “it was with total amazement.”
This is a worm. It’s called a planarian. It’s about an inch long, and you’ll find it gliding along the bottoms of rivers and ponds all over the world. It’s very flat, like a moving bit of pasta — nothing special to look at, but it has a hidden talent that has made it famous. It can regrow its body parts better than almost any other animal on Earth. So if by some chance something bites its head off …
… or removes its tail, or zaps its head and its tail simultaneously …
… the dangling middle piece will, within a couple of weeks, grow both its front and its back to full size. Meanwhile, the severed head, if left alone, will also generate a full-sized new worm. The lonesome tail will do that, too, so where you started with one worm, you’ll now have three. This worm likes to regenerate.
The spy agency is reportedly in a race to build its own quantum computer to stay ahead of others seeking to own the mother of all decryption machines.
The National Security Agency has a vast toolkit for getting access any kind of electronics equipment, but it pales compared to a quantum computer, which could break the strongest encryption in much less time than conventional, transistor-based computers.
According to report in The Washington Post and based on NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the spy agency is in a race to build its own quantum computer to stay ahead of others seeking to build the mother of all decryption machines. This is similar to the Manhattan project, the race to build atomic bombs 75 years ago.
Research labs around the world, companies such as IBM and Google, and countries are working to harness quantum mechanics for drug discovery, predictive analysis, machine learning and complex optimization for areas such as finance and logistics.
The NSA has allocated nearly $80 million for quantum computer development, with most of the work taking place at the Laboratory for Physical Sciences at University of Maryland’s College Park campus. Conventional computers require binary data (ones and zeroes), whereas quantum computers uses qubits, which can represent one, zero, and any state in between. This allows quantum computers to operate much faster than a conventional computer.
A new study suggests the existence of a state of mind called dysanaesthesia, which is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness.
With anesthetics properly given, very few patients wake up during surgery. However, new findings point to the possibility of a state of mind in which a patient is neither fully conscious nor unconscious, experts say.
This possible third state of consciousness, may be a state in which patients can respond to a command, but are not disturbed by pain or the surgery, according to Dr. Jaideep Pandit, anesthetist at St John’s College in England.
Pandit dubbed this state dysanaesthesia, and said the evidence that it exists comes partly from a recent study, in which 34 surgical patients were anesthetized, and had their whole body paralyzed except for their forearm, allowing them to move their fingers in response to commands or to signify if they are awake or in pain during surgery.
Australian and US researchers have developed a compound which reverses muscle ageing in mice, saying it could be one of the keys to reversing ageing in humans. When used in trials, the compound gave mice more energy, toned their muscles, reduced inflammation, and led to big improvements in insulin resistance.
Scientists say it actually reversed the ageing process, not just slowing it down, and say that for humans the effect would be similar to a 60-year-old feeling like a 20-year-old. And they say human trials could start within the year.
“I’ve been studying ageing at the molecular level now for nearly 20 years and I didn’t think I’d see a day when ageing could be reversed. I thought we’d be lucky to slow it down a little bit,” University of New South Wales geneticist Professor David Sinclair said.
“The mice had more energy, their muscles were as though they’d be exercising and it was able to mimic the benefits of diet and exercise just within a week.”
Professor Sinclair led the study from his base at Harvard Medical School in the US.
“We think that should be able to keep people healthier for longer and keep them from getting diseases of ageing,” he said.
Biomedicine researchers at Dresden’s Technical University succeeded in curing several HIV-infected mice with the new method which uses an enzyme to cut the virus from the DNA of infected cells.
“There are various methods and similar approaches, but removing the virus from infected cells is unique,” said Professor Joachim Hauber, head of the antiviral strategy section at partner research institute, Hamburg’s Heinrich Pette Institute.
He said this approach was the only one so far which could actually reverse an HIV infection, leaving the treated cells healthy.
Whether this would function with people could only be established in clinical trials, he said, for which the money is not yet available.
Binary arithmetic, the basis of all virtually digital computation today, is usually said to have been invented at the start of the eighteenth century by the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. But a study now shows that a kind of binary system was already in use 300 years earlier among the people of the tiny Pacific island of Mangareva in French Polynesia.
The discovery, made by analysing historical records of the now almost wholly assimilated Mangarevan culture and language and reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that some of the advantages of the binary system adduced by Leibniz might create a cognitive motivation for this system to arise spontaneously, even in a society without advanced science and technology.
Scientists from the University of Lyon have discovered a new way to split hydrogen gas from water, using rocks. The method promises a new green energy source, providing copious hydrogen from a simple mixture of rock and water.
It speeds up a chemical reaction that takes geological timescales in nature. In the reaction, the mineral olivine strips one oxygen and hydrogen atom from an H2O molecule to form a mineral called serpentine, releasing the spare hydrogen atom. The results were discussed at this week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, and have been published in the journal American Mineralogist.
The researchers heated olivine minerals in water to a couple of hundred degrees Celsius, and added a little bit of ruby (aluminium oxide) to the mix to provide a source of aluminium atoms. The whole mix was placed into a miniature pressure cooker, formed of two diamonds, that squeezed the mixture to 2,000 atmospheres pressure. The transparent diamonds allowed the scientists to watch the reaction take place.
Using the microphones and speakers that come standard in many of today’s laptop computers and mobile devices, hackers can secretly transmit and receive data using high-frequency audio signals that are mostly inaudible to human ears, a new study shows.
Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz, researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics, recently performed a proof-of-concept experiment that showed that “covert acoustical networking,” a technique which had been hypothesized but considered improbable by most experts, is indeed possible.
Their findings, detailed in a recent issue of the Journal of Communications, could have major implications for electronic security. ”If you have a high demand for information security and assurance, you would need to prepare countermeasures,” Hanspach wrote in an email to Inside Science. In particular, it means “air-gapped” computers — that is, computers that are not connected to the Internet — are vulnerable to malicious software designed to steal or corrupt data.
With evidence growing that meditation can have beneficial health effects, scientists have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body.
A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation.
The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Of all the stones the ancients could have chosen to use in building Stonehenge, why did they pick those famous bluestones?
A provocative new study suggests it’s because of their special acoustic qualities. The study adds a surprising twist to previous research that revealed Stonehenge may have been used as a concert venue.
For the study, researchers at the Royal College of Art in London tapped on more than 1,000 rocks in the Carn Menyn area of the Preseli Hills in southwestern Wales, the region where the iconic monument’s bluestones are believed to have come from.
“We found it was a noteworthy soundscape, with a significant percentage of the actual rocks making metallic sounds like bells, gongs, tin drums, etc., when tapped with small, handheld ‘hammerstones,’” study co-leader Paul Devereux, a research associate at the college and an expert in archaeo-acoustics.
Most people either keep the cremated human ashes of their loved ones in an urn or scatter them at a special place. Swiss enterprise Algordanza has a different option for preserving the memory of deceased loved ones — by turning their ashes into diamonds. Diamonds are formed when, under extreme pressures and high temperatures, carbon atoms adhere to each other and form crystals. Algordanza replicates this process with the human ashes.
The human body is about 18% carbon and when a body is cremated some of the carbon is left among the ashes. Algordanza creates a “Memorial Diamond” from the ashes by first removing the non-carbon elements until only raw organic carbon with traces of boron is left. The organic carbon is converted to graphite, which is then placed in a diamond press with starter crystals. The graphite and the crystals are subjected to extremely high heat and pressure. A rough diamond results from this process and it is cut down to the desired shape and then polished. The resulting memorial diamond tends to have a bluish tint because of the levels of boron.
An adult human body normally produces about 2 kg of ashes when cremated, and the company needs at least 500g of ashes to create a memorial diamond. Orders for a memorial diamond take at least three months to complete.
That’s the verdict cast by human evolution experts on an analysis in Nature journal of the oldest human genetic material ever sequenced.
The femur comes from the famed “Pit of Bones” site in Spain, which gave up the remains of at least 28 ancient people.
But the results are perplexing, raising more questions than answers about our increasingly complex family tree.
The early human remains from the cave site near the northern Spanish city of Burgos have been painstakingly excavated and pieced together over the course of more than two decades. It has yielded one of the richest assemblages of human bones from this stage of human evolution, in a time called the Middle Pleistocene.