Category: Science


By collecting rainwater, students of the Technological University of Mexico (UNITEC) were able to generate electricity using a microturbine and supplying the vital liquid to homes in a poor community in Iztapalapa, in Mexico City.

This system is similar to that used in dams, which uses rainwater to rotate a microturbine and generate electricity. Currently, it is only possible to recharge portable 12 volt batteries, whose energy is sufficient to power LED lamps but not to provide power to the entire house.

The system called “Pluvia” collects rain from the roof of the house, where the surface must be adapted so the water will flow into a gutter, if unable to modify the ceiling, sheets to simulate a slope are added, routing fluid in one direction, said Omar Enrique Leyva Coca , who developed the project with Romel Brown and Gustavo Rivero Velázquez .

 

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Today psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire announces the results of a two-year study into dream control. The experiment shows that it is now possible for people to create their perfect dream, and so wake up feeling especially happy and refreshed.

In 2010, Professor Wiseman teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create ‘Dream:ON’ — an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted ‘soundscape’ when they dream. Each soundscape was carefully designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach, and the team hoped that these sounds would influence people’s dreams. At the end of the dream, the app sounded a gentle alarm and prompted the person to submit a description of their dream.

The app was downloaded over 500,000 times and the researchers collected millions of dream reports. After studying the data, Professor Wiseman discovered that the soundscapes did indeed influence people’s dreams.
Richard Wiseman, professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “If someone chose the nature landscape then they were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers. In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin.”

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Inspired by natural materials such as bone — a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells — MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

The new materials represent a simple demonstration of the power of this approach, which could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering. Lu is the senior author of a paper describing the living functional materials in the March 23 issue of Nature Materials.

“Our idea is to put the living and the nonliving worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional,” Lu says. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach.”

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How To Donate Your Voice To Someone Who Can't Speak

Here’s a good deed you can do without parting with a single thing. Synthetic voices for people who have lost the ability to speak only come in generic types—think of Stephen Hawking’s voice—but one fascinating project wants to build custom voices for each person. To do that they need your help: specifically, a recording of your voice.

VocalID is the brainchild of two speech scientists, who are turning their research into a much larger project. Voice is intensely personal and, like a prosthetic leg or arm, it makes sense it should be customized to each person.

Here’s how it works—and don’t worry, this does not mean someone will be walking around with the same voice as you out there:

After recording a couple hours of audio in, say, a quiet room with an iPhone, you send it to VocalID, where a program called ModelTalker chops it up into the basic units of speech that can be recombined as novel words and sentences. In that same step, characteristics of the patient’s voice—based on what limited sounds they can make—are blended in to the donor’s to create a whole new one. You can listen to how it works out on VocalID’s website.

VocalID is still in its beginning stages, and they’re looking for help from everyone including voice donors, financial support, and programmers. A priority is making voice donation even easier, cutting down recording time, especially for kids. But as it stands already, your voice is just about the easiest thing to donate.

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Gottfried Wilhelm von Liebniz was a philosopher and mathematician in search of a model. In the late 1600s Leibniz decided there was a need for a new, purer arithmetic than our common decimal system. Leibniz discovered the model for this new arithmetic in the five-millennia-old book that is at the heart of Chinese philosophy: the I-Ching, or Book of Changes.

This ancient text was such an influence on Liebniz that he titled his article on the new arithmetic: “Explanation of the binary arithmetic, which uses only the characters 1 and 0, with some remarks on its usefulness, and on the light it throws on the ancient Chinese figures of Fu Xi”. Fu Xi was the legendary first author of the I-Ching. The arithmetic Liebniz described was binary code, which is used in almost every modern computer, from iPhones to China’s own Tihane-2 supercomputer.

To understand what Liebniz glimpsed in the I-Ching, we need to unlearn something that, in the digital era, most of us take for granted. When we listen to an MP3, look at a digital photo or watch the latest DVD box set of Game of Thrones, we are experiencing a digital representation of reality. That representation is basically just a string of binary signals that we commonly notate as 1s and 0s. Liebniz’s insight was that even the most complex aspect of reality could potentially be represented in the binary form as 1s and 0s.

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A colour-blind artist says he has successfully implanted an electronic chip into his skull that allows him to hear different shades and hues as sound vibrations.

Neil Harbisson, 31, was born with a rare conditions called achromatopsia that limits his colour perception to just black and white. Since 2004 the Camden-born Harbisson has been developing a device which he calls an “eyeborg” to help him ‘see’ colours.

The “eyeborg” consists of an camera that curls over the top of Harbisson’s head like an antenna, converting colour input into specific sounds. The process is similar to synaesthesia - a neurological phenomena that mixes up an individuals’ sensory input leading to various  conditions such as perceiving numbers as colours.

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A moss core

It sounds like the next purposefully bad SyFy channel production: “Zombie moss! It came from beneath the Antarctic!” Researchers pulled up a sample of moss that had been sitting frozen for the last 1,500 years. Remarkably, it came back to life and started to grow again. This isn’t quite the same as an unfrozen caveman lawyer, but it’s pretty cool.

The moss sample came from a frozen core extracted from a moss bank in the Antarctic. It was sliced and placed in an incubator set to maintain normal light and temperature conditions geared for growth. A few weeks later, the sample began to grow. Carbon dating places the age of the moss at at least 1,530 years old.

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3D Brain Visualizations Let People Watch Their Neurons Firing In Real-Time [Video]

Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, and Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, have created a way for you to see each thought as it flies through your mind. The Glass Brain project was on display at SXSW, and gave visitors a chance to see how their brains react to different stimuli.

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For a long time, we’ve known that spider’s silk is the bee’s knees. It’s so incredibly dense and possesses such herculean strength that it can theoretically be used to create bulletproof skin (skin, not just vests). And it conducts heat far better than copper, our usual conductor. The stuff is five times as strong as steel, but harvesting large quantities of it proves difficult at best.

That’s changed, as we can now commercially produce spider’s silk. AMSilk has figurted out how to do it without having a billion black widows running around some horrible barn. That wouldn’t work anyway, since spiders are cannibalistic and angry creatures. They’d eat each other before creating enough silk to make a nice shirt, much less a bulletproof vest. Instead, the company uses something that’s almost equally horrifying: the bacteria E. coli! That’s right, AMSilk uses the bacteria known for horrible food poisoning to create a material that’s useful for all sorts of things.

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Scientists unlock mystery of out-of-body experiences (aka astral trips)

Some people claim that they have experienced out-of-body experiences—aka “astral trips”—floating outside of their bodies and watching themselves from the outside. A team of scientists found someone who says she can do this at will and put her into a brain scanner. What they discovered was surprisingly strange.

Andra M. Smith and Claude Messierwere from the University of Ottawa described this subject’s ability in their paper, published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience:

She was able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat, and rolling along with the horizontal plane. She reported sometimes watching herself move from above but remained aware of her unmoving “real” body. The participant reported no particular emotions linked to the experience.

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Mushroom composite

Behold the mighty mushroom. Neither plant nor animal, the mysterious fungus is a class, or kingdom, of its own, and has fascinated cultures around the world for centuries. But while they do make a tasty omelette filling, does the real magic of mushrooms lie not in their flavour, but in their potential to combat one of our biggest killers – cancer?

The ancient Egyptians believed eating mushrooms brought long life. While their scientific method was perhaps not entirely sound, modern scientists investigating the medicinal properties of the organism are beginning to produce some fascinating results. There are thousands of species of mushroom growing in the wild, but most studies have focused on three main varieties – reishi, maitake and shiitake.

Reishi, otherwise known as ganoderma, has been used in Chinese medicine for 2,000 years and numerous studies have investigated its much-vaunted anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. In a paper published last year in the US’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, a team of scientists linked its use to cancer-cell death. The team, from the Taiwanese research centre Academia Sinica, found that F3 polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate molecule found in reishi mushrooms, can induce antibodies to recognise and kill antigens associated with tumours or cancer cells.

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Phlebotomy. Even the word sounds archaic—and that’s nothing compared to the slow, expensive, and inefficient reality of drawing blood and having it tested. As a college sophomore, Elizabeth Holmes envisioned a way to reinvent old-fashioned phlebotomy and, in the process, usher in an era of comprehensive superfast diagnosis and preventive medicine.

That was a decade ago. Holmes, now 30, dropped out of Stanford and founded a company called Theranos with her tuition money. Last fall it finally introduced its radical blood-testing service in a Walgreens pharmacy near company head­quarters in Palo Alto, California. (The plan is to roll out testing centers nation­wide.) Instead of vials of blood—one for every test needed—Theranos requires only a pinprick and a drop of blood. With that they can perform hundreds of tests, from standard cholesterol checks to sophisticated genetic analyses. The results are faster, more accurate, and far cheaper than conventional methods.

The implications are mind-blowing. With inexpensive and easy access to the infor­mation running through their veins, people will have an unprecedented window on their own health. And a new generation of diagnostic tests could allow them to head off serious afflictions from cancer to diabetes to heart disease.

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In what seems like a plot straight out of a low-budget science-fiction film, scientists have revived a giant virus that was buried in Siberian ice for 30,000 years — and it is still infectious. Its targets, fortunately, are amoebae, but the researchers suggest that as Earth’s ice melts, this could trigger the return of other ancient viruses, with potential risks for human health.

The newly thawed virus is the biggest one ever found. At 1.5 micrometres long, it is comparable in size to a small bacterium. Evolutionary biologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, the husband-and-wife team at Aix-Marseille University in France who led the work, named it Pithovirus sibericum, inspired by the Greek word ‘pithos’ for the large container used by the ancient Greeks to store wine and food. “We’re French, so we had to put wine in the story,” says Claverie. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Claverie and Abergel have helped to discover other so-called giant viruses — including the first, called Mimivirus, in 2003, and two others, known as Pandoraviruses, last year. “Once again, this group has opened our eyes to the enormous diversity that exists in giant viruses,” says Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved in the work.

Two years ago, Claverie and Abergel’s team learned that scientists in Russia had resurrected an ancient plant from fruits buried in 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost. “If it was possible to revive a plant, I wondered if it was possible to revive a virus,” says Claverie. Using permafrost samples provided by the Russian team, they fished for giant viruses by using amoebae — the typical targets of these pathogens — as bait. The amoebae started dying, and the team found giant-virus particles inside them.

Under a microscope, Pithovirus appears as a thick-walled oval with an opening at one end, much like the Pandoraviruses. But despite their similar shapes, Abergel notes that “they are totally different viruses”.

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The Wyss team designed a printer that can precisely print multiple materials in 3D to create intricate patterns. Then they addressed a challenge in tissue engineering: embedding 3D vascular networks.

They developed a “fugitive” ink that can easily be printed, then suctioned off to create open microchannels that can then be populated with blood-vessel-lining cells to allow blood to flow.

Harvard bioengineers say they have taken a big step toward using 3-D printers to make living tissue. They’ve made a machine with multiple printer heads that each extrudes a different biological building block to make complex tissue and blood vessels.

Their work represents a significant advance toward producing living medical models upon which drugs could be tested for safety and effectiveness.

It also advances the ball in the direction of an even bigger goal. Such a machine and the techniques being refined by researchers offer a glimpse of the early steps in a sci-fi healthcare scenario: One day surgeons might feed detailed CT scans of human body parts into a 3-D printer, manipulate them with design software, and produce healthy replacements for diseased or injured tissues or organs.

“This is the foundational step toward creating 3-D living tissue,” said Jennifer Lewis, senior author of the study published Feb. 18 in the journal Advanced Materials, in a university release.

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In what could prove to be a major breakthrough in quantum memory storage and information processing, German researchers have frozen the fastest thing in the universe: light. And they did so for a record-breaking one minute.

It sounds weird and it is. The reason for wanting to hold light in its place (aside from the sheer awesomeness of it) is to ensure that it retains its quantum coherence properties (i.e. its information state), thus making it possible to build light-based quantum memory. And the longer that light can be held, the better as far as computation is concerned. Accordingly, it could allow for more secure quantum communications over longer distances.

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59,000 generations of bacteria, plus freezer, yield startling results

After 26 years of workdays spent watching bacteria multiply, Richard Lenski has learned a thing or two.

He’s learned that naturalist Charles Darwin was wrong about some things. For one, evolution doesn’t always occur in steps so slow and steady that changes can’t be observed.

Lenski also learned that a laboratory freezer can function as a time machine.

A professor at Michigan State University, Lenski has watched E. coli bacteria multiply through 59,000 generations, a span that has allowed him to observe evolution in real time. Since his Long-Term Experimental Evolution Project began in 1988, the bacteria have doubled in size, begun to mutate more quickly, and become more efficient at using the glucose in the solution where they’re grown.

More strikingly, however, he found that one of the 12 bacterial lines he has maintained has developed into what he believes is a new species, able to use a compound in the solution called citrate—a derivative of citric acid, like that found in some fruit—for food.

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The Alpha IMS retinal prosthesis, implanted in a human patient

DARPA, at the behest of the US Department of Defense, is developing a black box brain implant — an implant that will be wired into a soldier’s brain and record their memories. If the soldier then suffers memory loss due to brain injury, the implant will then be used to restore those memories. The same implant could also be used during training or in the line of duty, too — as we’ve reported on in the past, stimulating the right regions of the brain can improve how quickly you learn new skills, reduce your reaction times, and more.

The project, which DARPA has wittily named Restoring Active Memory, is currently at the stage where it’s seeking proposals from commercial companies that have previously had success with brain implants, such as Medtronic. As yet, we don’t know who has submitted proposals to DARPA, but it’ll probably be the usual suspects. Medtronic, which creates deep-brain simulation (DBS) implants that are almost miraculous in their ability to control the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease (video embedded below), is surely interested. Brown University, which famously created a brain-computer interface that is implanted into the brain and communicates wirelessly with a nearby computer, must be a contender. Companies with big R&D budgets, like IBM and GE, might be involved as well.

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For the past few years, bendy electronics have become a new trend. It may seem like sci-fi, but phones that roll up and fit in your pocket and televisions that you can fold up and carry to a friend’s house are that much closer to becoming reality thanks to a new discovery by a team of scientists at the University of Houston. These researchers figured out that by using a gold nanomesh material, they can create the perfect surface for electronics: one that is flexible, conductive, and transparent all at once.

Although there has been talk about bendable smartphones and even bendable batteries, no one has been able to create a material for truly flexible electronics that allows for rolling, folding and easy carrying. In fact, no one has been able to create something that has all three ideal features of such devices: flexibility, conductivity and transparency. However, the Houston team took gold nanowires and created a mesh material. This material was then embedded on a transparent polymer. Gold is more ideal than previously tested metals, such as silver and copper, as it doesn’t oxidize easily, giving it better overall long-term conductivity. To test this material, the scientists stretched it up to 160 percent. The nanomesh material only lost a small portion of conductivity when stretched to its limit, but that conductivity returned when it snapped back to its original form.

So although some smartphone manufactures are working on flexible models of their devices, they aren’t really fully flexible and they cannot be stretched. This new discovery, however, means that future models could be both, as well as transparent. With the size of smartphones increasing to near-tablet size, models that can roll up or be folded into a pocket-sized square would be welcome additions to the technology market.

Cuttable sensor

Printing foldable mobile phones on a sheet of paper from a normal 2D printer is just a decade away, according to Jürgen Steimle, head of the Embodied Interaction Group at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany. Steimle and his colleagues took a step towards this in 2013, when they used a standard printer loaded with nanoparticle ink to print a paper circuit that works even after the sheet is torn.

In the past couple of years, similar applications have popped up in laboratories around the world. “People are starting to realise the power of printing,” says Vincent Rotello, a chemist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is working on a printable test strip for pathogenic bacteria in water.

The convergence of nano and printing is partially due to the success of one eye-grabbing device, the 3D printer, which produces objects to a three-dimensional template by extruding soft plastic noodles that rapidly consolidate into the shape of the desired object. Scientists are now adding nanoparticles to the plastic, thereby giving these products “smart” properties, but the humble 2D printer, which is far more commonplace, is being revitalised by nanoparticle ink.

Steimle’s sensor, for example, needs only a normal inkjet printer, commercial photo paper, and a silver nanoparticles suspension that can be bought online. With these ingredients, Steimle and colleagues can lay a circuit on the paper that works like a touch sensor. When that’s linked up to a computer, software can recognise which areas of the paper are being touched by the fingers of a user. It’s not just simple and effective to set up – it’s cheap too. “The ink needed to cover a sheet of A4 costs only one dollar, but about 20 cents is enough for a functional circuit”, says Steimle.

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A lot of animals have an amazing sense of smell, so they can often pick up things that even sensitive odor sensing machines might miss. We already know that dogs and even bees have an impressive ability to sniff out diseased cells, but now a group of scientists in Germany have genetically modified fruit flies so their antennae glow if they smell cancer cells.

Led by Dr. Giovanni Galizia, the team from the University of Konstanz in Germany discovered that not only could the fruit flies tell cancerous cells from healthy ones, they were also able to separate out five individual lines of breast cancer cells. This shows that the fruit flies have a much keener sense of smell than even those cancer sniffing dogs, although I must admit that fruit flies aren’t nearly as cute or cuddly.

Unlike some dogs, fruit flies aren’t exactly great at communicating with humans, so the researchers needed to give the tiny insects a way to signal when they smelled trouble. To create an indicator, Dr Galizia’s team developed a genetically mutated variant of the little guy, where its antennae would take on fluorescent properties if as little as a single molecule carrying the odor hit the fly’s receptors.

Dr. Galizia is confident that the fruit fly will eventually become standard equipment in oncologist offices, allowing for earlier cancer detection than any of the current methods both man-made and canine. They’d just better make sure that they stash those fruit flies away before the cleaning lady arrives shaking a can of Raid.

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