science + technology news

Google Glass can now display captions for hard-of-hearing users

October 3, 2014

Captioning on Glass display captions for the hard-of-hearing (credit: Georgia Tech)

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have created a speech-to-text Android app for Google Glass that displays captions for hard-of-hearing persons when someone is talking to them in person.

“This system allows wearers like me to focus on the speaker’s lips and facial gestures, “said School of Interactive Computing Professor Jim Foley.

“If hard-of-hearing people understand the speech, the conversation can continue immediately without waiting for the caption. However,… read more

Harvesting hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water at lower cost

October 2, 2014

Credit: Alain Herzog.

Swiss researchers have created a method of producing hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water at 12.3 percent conversion efficiency, a record using earth-­abundant materials instead of expensive rare metals.

The EPFL researchers used a pair of solar cells made with a mineral called perovskite and low-cost electrodes to create an electrolyzer that separates the water molecules.

The high efficiency is based on a characteristic of perovskite cells: their… read more

Graphene flaws could be used to create hypersensitive ‘electronic nose’

October 2, 2014

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC assistant professor of mechanical engineering (credit: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services)

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers have discovered a way to create a chemical sensor that could increase sensitivity to absorbed gas molecules by 300 times, based on imperfections in graphene sheets.

The researchers discovered that gas molecules accumulate at micrometer-sized, individual graphene grain boundaries, making them ideal spots for sensing gas molecules.

The irregular nature of the grain boundary produces hundreds of electron-transport gaps with… read more

A bucket-full of this material can absorb all the oxygen in a room

The stored oxygen can be easily released again whenever and wherever needed
October 1, 2014

This exotic crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen. Crystals are black when saturated with oxygen and pink when the oxygen has been released. (Credit: University of Southern Denmark)

A new crystalline material absorbs 160 times more oxygen than in the air around you — only a spoonful bucket-full (10 liters) of it is enough to suck up all the oxygen in a room, according to its developer, Professor Christine McKenzie in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Southern Denmark.

A few grains of this material might absorb enough oxygen from the… read more

MIT researchers design ‘perfect’ solar absorber

New system aims to harness the full useful portion of the solar spectrum, no solar trackers required
October 1, 2014

This rendering shows a metallic dielectric photonic crystal that stores solar energy as heat (credit: Jeffrey Chou)

MIT researchers say they have developed a material that comes very close to the “ideal” for converting solar energy to heat (for conversion to electricity).

It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun — but not much of the rest the longer-wavelength infrared portion of the solar spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is re-radiated by the material,… read more

Massive electrode array system will do first large-scale network recording of brain activity

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory awarded NIH grant
October 1, 2014

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is developing a neural measurement and manipulation system -- an advanced electronics system to monitor and modulate neurons -- that will be packed with more than 1,000 tiny electrodes embedded in different areas of the brain to record and stimulate neural circuitry (credit: LLNL)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) a grant Tuesday to develop an electrode array system that will “enable researchers to better understand how the brain works through unprecedented resolution and scale.”

The electrode array is part of an advanced electronics system to monitor and modulate neurons, using more than 1,000 tiny electrodes embedded in different areas of the brain to record and stimulate… read more

How cancer cells assure immortality by lengthening the ends of chromosomes

October 1, 2014

Visualization of template telomeres reeled in like fish to repair damaged cancer DNA (credit: Penn Medicine)

On Sept. 23, KurzweilAI noted that scientists at the Salk Institute had discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that might allow for increasing telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres at the ends of chromosomes to keep cells dividing and generating.

We also noted that cancer cells hijack this process and that the scientists expect that the “off” switch might help keep telomerase activity below this threshold.

Now in… read more

First Ebola case diagnosed in US confirmed by CDC

September 30, 2014

Ebola virus virion (credit: CDC)

In the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed today through laboratory tests that a person who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia  was hospitalized Sept. 28 for testing for Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.

Local public health officials have begun identifying close contacts of the person for further daily monitoring for 21… read more

Do neurons see what we tell them to see?

Perception of a face's identity predicts whether a specific neuron will fire when presented with an image of blended faces
September 30, 2014

Which president is this?

Neurons programmed to fire at specific faces may have more affect on conscious recognition of faces than the images themselves, neuroscientists have found.

Subjects presented with a blended face, such as an amalgamation of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, had significantly more firing of such face-specific neurons when they recognized the blended or morphed face as one person or the other.

Results of the study led by… read more

Can you out-think a computer in judging photos?

Deep-learning algorithm can weigh up a neighborhood better than humans.
September 30, 2014

A new algorithm can outperform humans at predicting which of a series of photos is taken in a higher-crime area, or is closer to a McDonald's restaurant.

An online demo puts you in the middle of a Google Street View with four directional options and challenges you to navigate to the nearest McDonald’s in the fewest possible steps.

While humans are generally better at this specific task than the algorithm, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) found that a new algorithm consistently outperformed humans at a variation of the task in which… read more

New molecule found in space suggests life origins

September 30, 2014

Dust and molecules in the central region of our Galaxy: The background image shows the dust emission in a combination of data obtained with the APEX telescope and the Planck space observatory at a wavelength around 860 micrometers. The organic molecule iso-propyl cyanide with a branched carbon backbone (i-C3H7CN, left) as well as its straight-chain isomer normal-propyl cyanide (n-C3H7CN, right) were both detected with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in the star-forming region Sgr B2, about 300 light years away from the Galactic center Sgr A*. (Credit: MPIfR/A. Weiß --- background image, University of Cologne/M. Koerber --- molecular models, amd MPIfR/A. Belloche --- montage)

Astronomers have detected radio waves within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space corresponding to an unusual carbon-based molecule called isopropyl cyanide, needed for life, as described in the journal Science (Sept. 26.)

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, a group of radio telescopes known as the ALMA Observatory, researchers studied the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2, located 27,000 light years away from Earth.

Organic molecules usually… read more

How to build a low-cost ‘cloaking’ device using ordinary lenses

"Rochester Cloak" can hide objects across range of angles and wavelengths
September 30, 2014

A multidirectional `perfect paraxial’ cloak using four lenses. From a continuous range of viewing angles, the hand remains cloaked, and the grids seen through the device match the background on the wall (about 2 m away), in color, spacing, shifts, and magnification. /(Credit: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester)

University of Rochester scientists have developed a cloaking (as in Harry Potter) method that uses four standard lenses that keeps the object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away from the optimal viewing position.

Previous cloaking devices have used “high-tech or exotic materials,” said John Howell, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester.

“This is the first device that we know of that… read more

‘Greener,’ low-cost transistor heralds advance in flexible electronics

September 29, 2014

This transparent transistor, which functions even when wrapped around a thin pen, could help make flexible electronics widely accessible (credit: American Chemical Society)

As LG demonstrated this summer with its new 18-inch partially flexible curved screen, the next generation of roll-up displays may be tantalizingly close.

Now UCLA and Yonsei University researchers have taken the next step, with an inexpensive, simple new way to make transparent, flexible transistors that could help bring roll-up smartphones with see-through displays and other bendable gadgets to consumers in just a few years, as they reported… read more

Turning the Moon into a giant cosmic ray detector

September 29, 2014

Square Kilometer Array

Scientists from the University of Southampton plan to turn the Moon into a giant particle detector to help understand the origin of ultra-high-energy (UHE) cosmic rays — the most energetic particles in the Universe.

The origin of UHE cosmic rays is one of the great mysteries in astrophysics. Nobody knows where these extremely rare cosmic rays come from or how they get their enormous energies. Physicists detect them on… read more

Ultra-low-energy-consuming transistors and circuits

September 29, 2014

Energy-efficient tunnel FET switches and circuits (credit: E2 SWITCH)

European project E2SWITCH is developing new electronic systems with ultra-low energy consumption, based on tunnel FET (TFET) heterostructures for switches (transistors) and circuits.

The idea is to design that will be built on silicon substrates but designed to operate at voltages that are up to five times lower than those used in mobile phones, while reducing thermal dissipation.

Transistors and circuits based on lower voltages result… read more

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